Last week, Namco Bandai announced ShiftyLook, a new webcomics platform to revitalize some of the game company's out of date and unknown gaming properties. During the Namco Bandai panel at WonderCon 2012, the company revealed "Pigs" writer Ben McCool and "Cuba: My Revolution" artist Dean Haspiel will team up to premiere "The Five Dimensional Adventures of Dirk Davies," loosely based on the 1980s Namco arcade game "Warp & Warp."
The original "Warp & Warp" arcade cabinet was released in 1981 and saw players hunting down mysterious aliens in two different worlds: the Space World and the Maze World with specialized power-ups in each. Players used a gun in Space World and time-delay bombs in Maze World. While the game was eventually released in the United States as "Warp Warp," it was mostly localized to Japan, gaining a home console version on the original Nintendo Famicom in the form of "Warpman."
McCool and Haspiel spoke with CBR News about adapting the original concept of "Warp & Warp" into "The Five Dimensional Adventures of Dirk Davies," old-school video games, the origins of the project and the desire to play the original arcade cabinet at this year's WonderCon.
CBR News: Ben, what's the story of "The Five Dimensional Adventures of Dirk Davies" and how did you manage to build a concept based on a pixel-based alien shooter from the 1980s?
Ben McCool: The original "Warp & Warp" game didn't really offer up too much of a concept; being released way back in 1981, substantial storylines weren't yet a feature of video games. But this was a shoot 'em up with a cool twist: players hunted down aliens in either the "space" or the "maze" worlds, jumping between them at will. So I decided that these dimension-hopping hi-jinks could be expanded upon, developed and turned into a really fun story.
So in "The Five Dimensional Adventures of Dirk Davies," our private dick of a protagonist (the aforementioned Dirk Davies) is assigned the task of hunting down a murderer who's hiding somewhere amongst the vast reaches of time and space. But in this zany world, a murdered man can be literally brought back to life if his killer is slaughtered and a guy who's already been snuffed had some crucial information that'll help save the target of a political assassination. So his killer must be found and taken out...
Confused? Heh, don't worry -- this'll all seem a lot more straightforward once you start reading the story. Or at least, I hope it will!
Dean, considering "Warp & Warp's" origins, how difficult was it for you to come up with character and environmental designs for Ben's script?
Dean Haspiel: When I first perused the original source material, I laughed. There wasn't much to go on. In fact, I was a little bit worried and realized we were starting from scratch. However, anyone who's met Ben McCool for two-minutes knows he has a tremendous gift for gab and that talent easily translates to his scripts, which are equally provocative. Ben has the innate ability to embed creative lightning into the artist's head, timed to strike like beacons of inspiration and he writes like how Dick Tracy villains look -- in a good way. So, with that in mind, it was easy to derive his dimension-hopping detective, Dirk Davies, who in my view was a pulp/sci-fi version of Ben McCool. A charming grifter with bed-head and a gun made in the future.
Who are the key players in this story and what do they have to do with the original game, if anything?
McCool: Dirk Davies is an original creation and writing him has been an absolute blast. Not only is he a highly skilled sleuth with an abundance of underworld-dwelling informants, but also a brilliant combatant: his array of weaponry is nothing short of startling, and with the oddball monsters, aliens and sleazebags he comes up against, he'll need every one of 'em just to stay alive...
What initially drew you to the project and what appeals to you most about adapting this game's concept for a whole new audience to enjoy?
McCool: I am a huge fan of old school video games; my iPhone is filled with retro arcade game apps, and I gleefully waste hours at a time playing the things. (Here's hoping my deadline-setting editors aren't reading this, eh?) So as soon as I learned of what Namco Bandai are doing through Shifty Look I wanted in immediately. The idea of giving a long-forgotten property a 21st Century makeover seemed to good to be true, and with the level of creative freedom we've been offered I'm having an absolute blast.
Haspiel: Ben McCool called me up and the project sounded like the kind of break I needed from drawing memoir and piece meal work. Hell, I just wanted to work with Ben. I trusted him to figure out the nuts and bolts of the story and to give me the latitude to flex my best impressions of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Jim Starlin comics art.
The original game is undeniably retro -- have either of you actually had the chance to play it?
Haspiel: I never played Warp & Warp but I was partial to Namco's Dig Dug, Galaxian, Galaga, Pole Position, and Xevious, when I was a teenager.
McCool: Tragically, no. But that's not for the want of trying! Warp & Warp is a notoriously difficult gaming unit to track down, and despite my very best efforts (including traveling out to the Jersey Shore to a pinball/gaming museum) I haven't been able to find it. But I'm not giving in just yet. Namco Bandai is bringing the game to C2E2 and I can't wait to check the machine out!
On a side note, I was intrigued to hear that a sequel of sorts, "Warpman," was released in Japan only on Nintendo's Famicon in 1985. This has also proved elusive. Considering it never received a Western release, I doubt even Dirk Davies would be able to track a copy of that down!
Why do you think "Warp & Warp" was a good choice to flesh out a fuller universe?
McCool: There's quite literally an infinite amount of time and space and as a result, plenty of great opportunities for storytelling! With Dirk Davies able to hop between dimensions and travel back through time at will, he has an overwhelming wealth of possibility staring him in the face and I very much hope to be able expand upon the adventures I've put him up against already.
What were the challenges of providing this property with a cohesive story and characters? Were there any restrictions either of you had to adhere to while going through the process?
Haspiel: As of this interview, I've only illustrated the introductory episode but Ben and everyone at Cryptozoic encouraged me to have a blast with this series thus far, which is refreshing from an editorial and creative stand point.
McCool: No real restrictions to speak of; the name of the game was simply to have big time fun with the characters and the crazy world in which they're battling through. I've never scripted a story broken into 3-5 panel installments like this before, but enjoyed the challenge.
What did you find most rewarding about creating this new world to explore?
McCool: I always enjoy concocting new worlds and characters, and this project was no exception. Being able to cherry pick certain points in time to set a scene (and create outlandish, danger-filled dimensions) was superb, and I really enjoyed thinking up new and peculiar ways to test Dirk Davies' survival skills.
Haspiel: Besides visually realizing Ben McCool's maze of a mystery, my aim is to draw a world that looks like Hammer Horror science fiction but feels like electronic pulp with a twist of psychedelic analogue.
If you could redesign a game based on the work you've done to date for "Warp & Warp," what kind do you think it would be?
Haspiel: I'd like to redesign a mash-up of Asteroids, Defender and Star Castle. Blasting space rocks and avoiding energy blasts from an enemy stronghold while rescuing soldiers is more fun than drinking beer (but don't tell Ben that)!
McCool: If I could redesign any game? Wow, that's a tough one. LucasArts' "Monkey Island" is my fave series of all time, but I enjoy good ol' fashioned shoot 'em ups as much as I do strategy and adventure. So long as there's an imaginative story with fulfilling characters I'm in!
Look for "The Five Dimensional Adventures of Dirk Davies" on Namco Bandai's ShiftyLook website.