In this article, the Lightstep Chronicles game design team shares the experience of transferring a comic book into the realm of video games.
First, there was a comic book. Then we looked around and assessed the abundance of talent that surrounds us and said, “why stop there?”
From the moment Imagine Incredible was established, the idea of crossing some of the comic book titles that were being developed into other media was never too far from our minds. Thanks to the close connections with Eipix – an experienced game development company which helped get Imagine Incredible up on its feet – the know-how and the resources were already in place, and it was all about finding the right fit.
Lightstep Chronicles (LSC) felt like the right fit. A vast and expansive space opera with a meticulously envisioned and designed world that’s both visually stunning and intellectually intriguing, It seemed ready to be adapted into any other medium – video games, books, animated film, movies, action figures, etc. You name it, we imagined it!
Of course, at first it was all wishful thinking and we were getting waaaaay ahead of ourselves, but as LSC grew with each page, so did our vision and desire to see how other media would shape the story. Finally, after little to no convincing, LSC: The Game was a-go!
Lost in translation
Comic books and video games are dramatically different media. The one crucial difference is that comics present a fixed narrative that requires no active participation from the reader, while video games are interactive and the player – to a smaller or greater extent – determines the course of the action and its outcome. In other words, comic books only show you what they want to show you, while a video game has to create a broader context in order to provide the player with choices and create an illusion of a whole world open for exploring.
This means that even if you decide that the game should directly follow the narrative of the source material, the adaptation process is still hardly straightforward. We would have to meander around the main storyline and create additional narratives, as well as tweak the existing storyline of the comic book in order to make it interactive.
Since we liked the comic book story just as it was, we chose to write a whole new story set in the Lightstep universe. The story would share the same settings, the visual style, and perhaps even the timeline of the comic book, but we would introduce brand new characters with adventures of their own.
The idea was to set the foundation for a universe that would be revealed across various projects in different media, with stories that complement and expand each other, sometimes overlapping, and sometimes existing wholly on their own.
It was a megalomaniacal project, to be sure, but we felt that LSC contained numerous stories worth telling, and the potential to work in multiple storytelling media. Aside from the comic book, there was also a Lightstep novel being written, and the universe slowly began revealing itself to us.
The Lightstep universe is filled with elaborate details, both in the art style and its inner workings
Before we could get anything done, we needed to familiarize ourselves with the Lightstep universe and create an entire lore of this world, which would serve as a canvas on which these stories will be told.
The first step in building the Lightstep lore was analyzing how the world works. We started by looking at everyday lives of the inhabitants of the Lightstep universe, trying to see them as humanely as possible through all their good and bad deeds, beyond the class distinctions that dominate the Lightstep universe. We tried to understand the long term psychological effect of Lightstep drive (the mechanism at the center of the story which makes the time pass slower on planets that employ it) on those exposed to it. We examined a new method of calculating time – a method that favors the rich and mocks the lives of those living on slow worlds.
We took known space anomalies and structures, and applied the LSC philosophy and physics to them. For example, a healing ointment in the LSC universe works in such a way that it instantly heals your wounds by making time pass faster over the wound. So, a broken leg still needs 6 months to heal, but thanks to this ointment, the leg instantly grows old and it seems like it has healed itself in a blink of an eye.
Once we were able to size up the world before us, the real grunt work commenced. The second step was taking every tiny piece of information from the comic book and writing it down, in order to create a “LSC bible” that would contain everything we know about the universe. This information would be considered canon.
The Lightstep Chronicles lore was an extensive document that contained a vast amount of information about the universe that answered the fundamental questions such as:
- What are the light-step planets and how do they work?
- What is the background behind races and political systems?
- What is the numerical system?
- How is time measured?
- How is the class system defined and implemented?
- What are the types of transportation?
Once we gathered all the pre-existing “facts”, we set about filling in all the blanks, defining new elements that fit into the existing structure and noting them for adaptation. This allowed us to create new characters and adventures that would not contradict the events from the comic book.
Building a universe
One of the most demanding aspects of developing a Lightstep Chronicles game is capturing its glorious architecture and design. The comic book, beautifully illustrated by Miloš Slavković, boasts a lush and impressive Art Deco style that’s somehow both futuristic and charmingly retro. Since we wanted to expand the story, we needed to build upon the existing framework to create a broader world that would not simply repeat the patterns set by the comic book.
Here we also needed to establish some basic rules. For instance, if a Lightstep world had a grandiose and ornate Art Deco style, its slow world counterpart would follow the same basic stylistic principles, but have much more rudimentary, simplified looks. Also, the comic book managed to create a wholly new and distinctive look, which meant that we had to try and do the same. This meant that there could be no everyday objects with everyday looks – everything needed to be re-shaped and re-designed to look different and unfamiliar.
A behind the scenes sneak peek into the makings of a universe – layer by layer
Through its development, the game went through numerous story changes, from tiny details to main plotlines and the overall narrative. Our starting point was a sort of a Fallout-themed concept that chronicles the entire life of the protagonist. In the first hour, player was supposed to play through the protagonist’s formative years, allowing the player to relive the hero’s personal successes and tragedies as a set up for the immediate, main adventure of the game.
It quickly became apparent that such a concept weighed heavily on the pace and the flow of the game. Despite its breathtaking settings, LSC is a dark story that touches upon many difficult subjects and goes to some very dark places. We wanted the game story to reflect this, and not just be a backdrop for the classic good guy/bad guy duality with some fancy CGI fireworks thrown in for the wow effect. Still, we also wanted the game to be actually playable and fun, so we needed to do a better job of balancing between these variables.
The second version was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and its most famous movie variation “Apocalypse Now”. From the earliest contemplations of a new direction, we felt that the struggles of Conrad’s characters are very relatable to the dark atmosphere of the LSC world and could be easily transported into it. We took the premise of going deep into the enemy territory, and made it so that our main character also goes deep into her own mind, questioning the reality around her. She observes the cruelty of Lightstep nobles, and slowly changes from loyal soldier to full blown insurgent, completing her path towards complete transformation.
The future is unwritten
As we’re typing this, LSC game is still very much a work in progress, and it will remain so until we have a game that we are perfectly happy with. LSC is a grandiose story and a grandiose world that deserves a grandiose game. We hope and believe that this game will be able to stand next to its glorious comic book counterpart.
Lightstep Chronicles was accepted for funding as part of European Union’s Creative Europe – Media programme and the Secretariat of Finance of the Provincial Government of Vojvodina.