Here’s a totally unsurprising surprise: at NAG (and by extension NAG Online) we love comic books. Which self-proclaiming geeks out there wouldn’t admit to liking comic books? So you can understand our excitement when we got a chance to chat to Steve Niles, one of the comic book industry’s leading horror writers. What did we chat about? F.E.A.R.3 of course! Steve, along with horror film director John Carpenter, penned the script for the next sci-fi horror FPS in the F.E.A.R. universe. He’s also collaborated with Stefano Raffaele on a F.E.A.R.3 comic book that will come out alongside the game.
F.E.A.R. 3 is landing towards the end of May. To keep you going until then, we present to you this South African exclusive interview lovingly transcribed from a modern-day, Skype conference call recording – ooh, snazzy!
NAG Online: Hi Steve! Thanks very much for chatting to us!
Steve Niles: Oh of course! This is great!
NAG Online: Steve with your experience in telling some pretty dark stories through comics, you’re perfect for work on F.E.A.R. 3. How did you become involved with the project?
SN: I got a call from my rep actually offering me this and it was just one of those situations that timed out perfectly. I’d literally just finished F.E.A.R 2 about, maybe, a month or two earlier so it was very fresh in my head – and I had just had a project kind of fall through with John Carpenter. So it was really like the stars had aligned perfectly for us. You know, I got the call from my rep; I talked to the folks at Warner Brothers about doing F.E.A.R. 3, and I literally asked if I could bring a friend, and then told them it was John Carpenter. It all happened very fast. Once they found out, you know especially because John and I not only play games, but we knew the F.E.A.R. franchise very well, it just became a lot of fun and we jumped right in. Yeah, like I said: the stars just aligned perfectly!
NAG Online: Scripting games is a bit of a break-away from your traditional medium of storytelling. Was there any apprehension at all heading into the project?
SN: Uh, the gaming industry, as advanced as it is, is still in its infancy and it reminds me a lot of when I started in comics. There’s no one way to write a videogame. You know, like with movies, pretty much everyone uses Final Draft; there’s one format per screenplay. When we [John Carpenter] started working together, we had to combine a lot of technical stuff, and then layer and combine it with the story. So the way we decided to work with them is John and I literally wrote a screenplay. We sat down and we actually used Final Draft, which we use to write screenplays, and we wrote it like a movie. Except, you know, after every certain section we had to write four or five alternate versions of what could happen. There were certain things we’d have to write ten pieces of dialogue for. At first I thought it was going to be really hard, but it wound up just being a lot of fun. It actually doesn’t have the limitation of a screenplay, and we wound up with this gigantic document. It turned out that there was a lot of experimentation, but everybody was really open to it, and basically it was just a matter of finding the right way to communicate the story with the technical stuff, and we worked it out really well I think.
NAG Online: On top of the script for the game you’re also doing a comic book with Stefano Raffaele that describes what happens to Point Man between the original F.E.A.R. and the events in F.E.A.R.3. Now, there were two expansion packs [Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate] between the F.E.A.R. games that kind of dealt with the same thing. Have you taken those into consideration or have you gone off in a different direction?
SN: Mostly what we’re doing is F.E.A.R.1 and F.E.A.R.2 and the characters we’re dealing with are obviously Alma and then Point Man and Fettel. So what we’re really trying to do is just bring all of the parts together so that it almost winds up like a trilogy. So some of that stuff, you know, well we definitely played everything so all of that was taken in mind, but for the most part what we’re trying to do is really clarify the F.E.A.R.3 universe. I think everybody involved did a really great job.
NAG Online: You’ve sort of already touched on this, but how do you approach a story for a videogame? How do things change considering that this is storytelling that people interact with, rather than simply read?
SN: Exactly, that was the biggest thing! As a gamer too, there are certain things in videogames that I don’t like and that I wanted to try and get around, and one of the jobs that John and I really took seriously was trying to make the gameplay and the story as cohesive as possible. As a gamer, you know that situation when you’re sitting there with really smart characters, and then they come up on a door and suddenly they’re confused! You know, suddenly they’re like “We need a key. Yes! We need a key!” and so we tried to avoid that situation because we’re pretty sure these hard mercenaries know how a door works. So we made it so that you’re not going to have that stop-and-start that you can get with a lot of games. Obviously people are getting better and better at it, so just trying to keep that story and game-flow going was really, really important.
NAG Online: You’ve said in other interviews that one of the “most important thing about writing horror, is having characters you care about. If you fear for the characters, then you’re scared.” How have you applied that ethos to your handling of the script for F.E.A.R.3?
SN: Absolutely. One of the themes that wound up coming out and that was actually kind of a surprise for everybody I think, when you think of F.E.A.R.3, you don’t necessarily think of family. But when we got down to the core characters, you know, Alma is the mother of Point Man and Fettel; in a very odd sort of way we’re telling a story about these very damaged characters who are trying to find out who they are, and considering that this entire family was created in a lab, there’s just some great drama to play off there. Even with the so-called “bad guys”, you’ve got a lot of sympathy – and once you have sympathy for a character and you’re invested in that person, then those are the best opportunities for horror or for any drama really. So we wound up focusing on this family – this very strange, strange family we have and I think we wound up getting a lot of really good, human emotion out of that.
NAG Online: Comic books made from videogames are becoming more and more regular; we’ve got Halo comics and Mass Effect comics. Are there any other videogames out there that you’d like to create a comic book version of?
SN: Wow! You know, that’s really tough. I had so much fun with the F.E.A.R.3 one that I’d definitely be open to it. It’s a really fun world to work in, but nothing leaps to mind right now, but I’d definitely be open to it. Like I say, it’s just been such an adventure and I wound up writing something I never would have written in any other format, so that interests me a lot.
NAG Online: You’ve already mentioned you play a lot of videogames so in your opinion what are some games that have nailed narrative techniques in the past?
SN: Well, you know, they’re getting so much better at it. Obviously, games like BioShock do a really great job. I was actually just playing another game that was written by a comic book writer that came out a few weeks ago called Bulletstorm. It was written by Rick Remender who does Fear Agent and I think he writes Punisher now for Marvel. So I wound up playing that and again he focused a lot on dialogue and a smoothness of jumping from action to gameplay to cinemas [cutscenes] and all that that can be so jerky, but that game I thought did a really good job of making that all cohesive.
NAG Online: Well, those are my questions. Thanks very, very much for taking the time to chat!
SN: Thank you!
We’d like to thank Rob Donald from Warner Bros. who helped us land this interview. We’d also like to thank everyone else from Warner Bros. who got involved in making this happen. Obviously, we’d especially like to thank Steve Niles for being so gosh-darned awesome in taking the time to answer our questions.
As you are breaking away from your traditional mediums of storytelling, was there a level of apprehension heading into the project?
I’m a huge fan of videogames, so the opportunity to work on a videogame was more exciting than anything else.
John, this isn’t the first time you’ve been part of the production of a videogame. In the 2002 videogame version of your film The Thing, you leant your likeness to the character of Dr. Faraday. What is it like heading back into a new videogame project after nine years?
It was really fun working with Steve Niles on F.E.A.R. 3. However, there has been no character in the history if videogames as dynamic and handsome as Dr. Faraday in THE THING.
John, it’s been said that you’re consulting on the game’s cinematic sequences. What has it been like applying real-world directing techniques to the world of videogames? Are there specific horror film techniques that have made a good transition to videogames?
Videogames have a different narrative structure than movies. Where you’ll mostly see a three act narrative with a beginning, middle and end in movies, videogames are much more quest drivesn and have a different tempo. Its a different level of complexity because you have so many different factors you have to take into account.
Seeing as storytelling is one of your fortes, in your opinions what are some games that have nailed narrative techniques in the past?
The F.E.A.R. series, DEAD SPACE & DEAD SPACE 2, BIOSHOCK & BIOSHOCK 2.