Mike Carey, for the uninitiated, is a Liverpool born writer of comic books, films, novels, and now X-Men based videogames. A short while ago, we got the chance to catch up with him and ask some questions about what it was like writing the story to X-Men: Destiny.
How did you get involved with writing for games, and what are your aspirations for this medium?
I wandered in from the comic book world, essentially. Most writers these days are doing this, I think: seeing themselves not as comic book writers or novelists or screenwriters but as writers, period. Almost nobody among the creative people I know is committed to staying in one medium. So for the games work I’ve done, my comics work – and to a much smaller extent, my prose writing – was my CV.
And, as with all my other writing, my aspirations are to tell a cool, engaging, absorbing story that plays with ideas I find interesting. In a way, for me, the medium really is NOT the message. Obviously, you adapt your storytelling style and approach to the medium you’re working in, but in terms of what I want to get out of a writing gig, that’s pretty universal.
Is X-Men Destiny going to be canon in the X-Men universe or does it happen totally separate from the events that are currently happening in the X books. If it is in the X-Men canon, without giving details, does it tie in to what’s going to be happening in the upcoming Schism storyline? How important is this to you?
X-Men Destiny is not canon. It’s an alternate timeline, essentially like the Age of Apocalypse, Days of Future Past, and (kind of) my own recent Age of X. X-Men lore allows for these parallel continuities, and is rich in them. In this case, what we’ve done is to keep some of the flavour and some of the broadest strokes of recent X-Men continuity – the destruction of the Xavier Academy, the move to the West Coast, the battle against a rising tide of anti-mutant intolerance – and put our own spin on them. And in much the same way, although we don’t acknowledge Schism, we kind of have our own version of that, too. Our X-Men have fragmented into different groups with different goals, and depending on what happens in the course of the story that may intensify or reverse.
Does the existence of the Marvel universe and its fans excite your imagination, or make you feel constrained?
When I first came on board as the writer of X-Men, I was completely unprepared for the sheer volume of online discussion that accompanies any event in the X-verse – for the size of that internet community and the intensity of its engagement with the books. Vertigo books have their fan communities, obviously, but they’re smaller, and the way you interact with them, as a creator, feels very different. It was a little scary, to say the least. With a few significant exceptions, though (mostly related to Rogue, Gambit and Magneto) my interactions with fans have been hugely positive. Knowing that the stories you’re telling mean so much to so many people is inspiring: it keeps up a pressure, yes, but it’s a positive pressure – if you don’t bring your best game to that arena, when you’ve got a capacity crowd and all, well, it’s nobody’s fault but yours.
You hold the 2nd longest run as an author on Hellblazer after Garth Ennis. Did growing up in Liverpool give you a stronger connection while writing John Constantine?
I certainly mined my own past for story ideas when I was writing Hellblazer – especially in the very first arc when he comes home, and in the story called The Gift that came towards the end of my run. I like being a Scouser in London, and I very much like the fact that John is in the same situation. You see things differently when you have a strong attachment to a city, but it’s not the city where you were born. I mean, London is John’s home, now, and it’s the context where he makes sense – but Liverpool shaped him, and I wanted to get that across.
Ignoring the fact that the movie tie-in Constantine game ever existed, if you were offered to write a Hellblazer video game where would you take our beloved magician? It’s not like his life could get any worse. Would it be something that you’d be interested in or does John not really belong in the world of video games?
I wrote a Hellblazer graphic novel, All His Engines, for which the wonderful Leonardo Manco did the artwork. That story started in London but took John to Los Angeles, a very different urban environment where he had to learn the rules all over again. I think that was the highlight of my time on the book – the best single Hellblazer story I told, and probably the best I had in me to tell. And it would make a great video game. So I’d probably try to adapt and expand on that.
Three new X-Men characters have been created for the X-Men: Destiny game. What’s it been like writing for these all new characters? Were you involved in their creation/character evolution?
When I came on board, I had a lot of input into who the characters would be and how their back stories and personalities would work. We wanted, above all, to have them come into the trigger situation at the start of the game with very different vectors, and very different relationships to what was already going on. We have one character who comes from a mutant family, one who has strong ties to the Purifiers, and one who is non-aligned but whose entire life is derailed in some big and inevitable ways when he learns that he has mutant powers. It was all about trying to use character as a way into the game. Hopefully it means that playing as each of the three will result in a very different experience.
How does writing for games differ from writing in comic format? Especially when games may have branching outcomes, not one specific story.
The biggest difference is that you can follow all of the different possible consequences from one action – have branching storylines. That’s an exciting freedom. With a monthly comic book, if you stay on it for long enough, every story you tell closes off the possibility of telling half a dozen others. You take characters down a particular path, ignoring the other ways they could have gone and the other courses of action they could have taken. In a video game, you can have your cake and eat it too. You can allow genuine choice and let the player control the story.
The pacing of a game is very different, too. The story logic feels more like the logic of a movie screenplay than like an episodic book told in chapters.
In one sense, though, they’re the same. You have to make character be the focus and let action arise out of character, so it feels real and carries weight within the story.
X-Men: Destiny is released today on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii and DS.