Interview: Writer Mike Kennedy On the Impending 'Bleedout'

The former Vogster producer and writer talks to MTV Geek about his post-apocalyptic comic book tie-in to the MMO Crimecraft.

Mike Kennedy wants to show you a world without oil--and it's pretty much going to be a grimy nightmare, according to his recently-released OGN, Bleedout from Archaia's new Black Label imprint for mature readers. A tie-in to a recent expansion for the free-to-play MMO, Crimecraft, of the same title, Bleedout provides the why's and wherefores of the game's fiction--how Sunrise City became run by gangs and why it's effectively isolated from the rest of the world.

To that end, Kennedy employed a bit of fuel crisis paranoia, imagining a near future where the world's oil supply simply disappears overnight thanks to a combination of over-consumption and possible scientific interference. The book--which is dialog-free and tells its story through captions--breaks down the various factions that control Sunrise City, from the heavily armed survivalists of the Sons of Liberty, to the street-level narcotics pushers of the Discipline. Each chapter is illustrated by a different artist, with quite a few talented illustrators on board including Nathan Fox, Sanford Greene, Howard Chaykin, and Ben Templesmith. At a slight remove from these stories (he's the narrator), is Pilot who has beef with the various gangs with a grip on the city and who acts as the player's mentor in Crimecraft.

Kennedy recently spoke to MTV Geek about working on the title and carrying story between the game and the page.

MTV Geek: Why did Vogster decide to go the OGN route with Bleedout?

Mike Kennedy: This took a little bit of an interesting path from gestation. It was originally--I was originally a producer on this game called Crimecraft, a free-to-play MMO shooter that you can download right now on crimecraft.com, and it [became] available on Steam recently, and it's been making some pretty good headway.

So I was a Producer on that game and we wanted to inject a campaign mode, a story, something to explain the [backstory] and how the world got to be the way it was. And we wanted to do it without having to spend hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars on expensive cutscenes. So, I thought, "Hey, why don't we do it in comic book segments?" I'd been working in comics on the side for about 10 or 15 years and I knew a bunch of artists, so [why not] do them as comic book sequences? And we could get a number of different artists to do each of the episodes.

[caption id="attachment_43146" align="aligncenter" width="576" caption="A screenshot from the recent 'Bleedout' Expansion"]A screenshot from the recent 'Bleedout' Expansion[/caption]

And we decided to go that route, not just for efficiency, but it was an interesting visual direction as well.

We put all of these materials together, had all of this artwork done [in] comic book style that we then turned into motion comics. But then after we were finished with all of that, we were like, "We have all of this great artwork, this needs to be printed." We've got some great artists and this is some really great material. It [was] created as a comic book, so let's put it together and release it as a comic book.

So that's when we approached Archaia with the title, and they liked the lineup, they liked the material, and we turned it into a print product. And we started filling out some of the nooks and crannies and filling in some of the gaps in the story, and making a full, fleshed-out book with all of the other perspectives and extra material added as well.

Geek: To what degree to elements from the book actually show up in the game? Are you actually encountering some of the bosses and factions that show up here?

Kennedy: That was kind of an interesting challenge in writing the pieces. The campaign was released as 10 weekly episodes--they actually did have them as individual chunks. Every Saturday night they were releasing, or unlocking a new episode so that you'd have something to talk about at the water cooler the next day. So it was kind of a challenge to create each. In the book, they are chapters, but in the game, they're little self-contained pieces of story, but they all build on each other. And each of those pieces kind of unveils a new part of the world, specifically focusing on a different crime lord.

The city's run by seven different crime lords and so seven of those chapters kind of focused on a different one of those crime lords--what their backstory was, what their current agenda is, with little hints of what's going to happen when they all come together in this upcoming civil war.

Geek: Could you expand a bit on the setting of the book and the game, Sunrise City? From the book, it seems like it's sealed off as its own little playground for all of these criminals.

Kennedy: Yeah, well that's kind of the big backstory, that was kind of the driving force for creating this in the first place. The game was an interesting environment when it first launched--there was no story or explanation for how the world got that way, why the city is walled off, where are the cars? It was an interesting visual location, and an interesting aesthetic, but so little narrative explaining any of it.

So we came up with the world scenario--actually, we were pretty excited by it because it kind of ties into actual things that are going on in the world today. Not just tying into our political/terrorist fears, but actual economic concerns and the whole peak oil scenario that we genuinely face. So I took that--the very real 45-50 year scenario we face, and crunched that into a fictional nine month period that causes this big collapse. But it's that complete global financial ruin that such an event that brings about the end of civilization as we know it.

[caption id="attachment_43147" align="aligncenter" width="576" caption="Image from 'Bleedout' by Nathan Fox "]Image from 'Bleedout' by Nathan Fox [/caption]

So yeah, the city does kind of devolve into--on the surface it does kind of look like a Mad Max scenario, but it's more than just "no more cars," and everything that dominoes out of that.

Geek: The book's pretty much filled with criminals and villains. Could you talk a little bit about creating a world without heroes?

Kennedy: Well, in this particular volume, in this particular launch campaign it was a challenge, because the game is called Crimecraft, and it is all about forming your gang and being a criminal, and running around, and setting your turf, and making your reputation as a badass.

So having a hero in all that, they'd definitely have to be an antihero. There is that character in the book--there's the character of Pilot. In the game, he's kind of your mentor that teaches you things and kind of reveals all of this conspiracy and backstory stuff. In the book, he's got a bit more focus and you can actually put the pieces together to see his story and how he got from point A to point B.

[caption id="attachment_43149" align="aligncenter" width="576" caption="'Bleedout' art by Ben Templesmith"]'Bleedout' art by Ben Templesmith[/caption]

But yeah, it's definitely a world of antiheroes. People may have their dark sides, but they do dark things for noble reasons.

Geek: So how much does Pilot's arc actually get expressed in the game?

Kennedy: Yeah, and that's the interesting way that the book and the game supplement each other. They both have their additional features. You can read the book, you can play the game, you can do both and get additional things out of each element. Each chapter of the book is only six to eight pages, but in the game, those comic pages set up the specific episode events that you as the game player will get deeper into. And in the course of those missions in that episode, you will get additional backstory that's not in the book. And yet the book collects and gives you things that are not in the game.

For example, there's a lot of conspiratorial plots between the different factions that's in the game, but that's not in the book.

Geek: On the game narrative side, what are some of the challenges of getting some of that secondary story across to MMO players?

Kennedy: The fallback is always having "Oh! There's a newspaper box!" And [players] can go open up the newspaper and read the stories, but you know, that's always completely at-will and optional. So what we tried to do in the mission design was--there was a narrative setup for the episode.

[caption id="attachment_43148" align="aligncenter" width="576" caption="'Bleedout' art by Sanford Greene"]'Bleedout' art by Sanford Greene[/caption]

We wanted to structure it kind of like a TV show, you know, we had a "Previously on..." and a little bit of pre-rendered video, which was the motion comics [which] set up the theme for this week's episode, and this week we [would] focus on the Ryujin gang. And then you got into the gameplay and you got all of these missions that stem [from] new events that do kind of fit into that theme. So when you go into each of those missions, you'll be talking to NPCs, they'll give you a mission and give you the perspective of "Hey, there's this thing going on, I need help with this." In the course of that mission, you'll discover things that point out that maybe that first guy was not exactly telling you the truth.

And so each episode of gameplay has a lot more intrigue than just the cutscenes at the beginning and the end.

Geek: What other comic work do you have coming up?

Kennedy: You know, lately, it's been a lot more on the publishing side and lining up printers and things like that--more editorial than actual writing lately. But I've definitely got some projects that I'd like to try to get rolling and maybe out by next summer.

Bleedout is on shelves now through Archaia's Black Label line.

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