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Q&A: Marvel Writer Matt Fraction On Writing Iron Man 2 Game

Longtime Iron Man comics writer Matt Fraction is contributing to the story of Sega Studios' upcoming Iron Man 2, and Gamasutra sat down with him to discuss his past experiences and development lessons learned.
The upcoming Iron Man 2 by Sega Studios San Francisco (formerly Secret Level) is being co-marketed with the film of the same name, again starring Robert Downey Jr. and due out in May 2010. But, following some mixed critical reaction for the (nonetheless impressively selling) original Iron Man game, publisher Sega decided to establish a more direct connection to the comics for the narrative in the game. Longtime Invincible Iron Man and Uncanny X-Men writer Matt Fraction has been tapped to contribute to the game's script, bringing both a familiarity with the character and world, and experience in satisfying license holder Marvel. Gamasutra sat down with Fraction -- originally an indie comics writer -- to discuss his involvement in the project, the collaborative process, and what he's learned about video game writing and development along the way. How did you get involved writing this video game? Matt Fraction: Well, co-writing. There are two guys at Sega, Mike Kirkbride and Kyle Brink, who wrote an awful lot. They were comic guys and were fans of my Iron Man work, and they were working with Marvel West. Marvel wanted the games and the films and the comics to all start to feel [like one] piece, so the Sega guys, who were fans, contacted me. I had never written a game before. I thought it sounded like fun to try. Were you trying to extend your existing comics work with Iron Man? MF: Yeah, yeah. I wanted it to... Well, I had been writing the book for almost two years at this point, and I started to feel a little proprietary about it, a little possessive, like I know something about something. I just wanted Tony [and] the [other] characters to sound like they sounded in my head a little bit, and to try and write the sort of game that I would want to play, a little bit. You know, the kind of cutscenes that wouldn't make me want to hit the X button a little quicker. As a writer who has never written for a video game, how did you find it? Was it a markedly different experience? MF: You know, there's a learning curve when you're working with a development team, and their stuff is being developed before the story is coming together, and there are different notions and ideas. There's stuff that shows up in the game, and you're thinking, "We have to figure out a way to work this part in, because development has been working on it." So it was a little bit like storytelling by algebra. We had different parts of the equation figured out but still a lot of mystery. Rather than it being a straight linear matter of "This happens, that happens, this happens," it was "This happens and that must happen because we know we've got Crimson Dynamo." It was different. It was a different muscle group to work out, a whole different kind of experience. But it was a lot of fun and really challenging. On that note, I assume you are accustomed to having more direct authorship, whereas on Iron Man 2 you noted you were a co-writer. MF: Well, I was sort of used to collaboration [with artists], so it was very much similar to the modes I'm used to working in. I came from an advertising and art directing background, so I'm used to a bunch of people running around a room. I'm used to group authorship. But I might feel proprietary about the characters at the same time. Still, I know that I'm not the boss of the company, so at the end of the day, Iron Man isn't "mine," per se. I'm used to collaborating, and I like it, so it was yet another collaboration. How does that collaboration work on a day to day basis? MF: There was a long process with meetings and talks. It starts with a simple list, a plot list. This happens, then that happens, there's this mission, then that mission. The list becomes an outline, the outline becomes a text document, the text document becomes a very long text document, the very long text document becomes almost a screenplay, because they're broken into scene numbers and things like that. Slowly, an act was building up. One of the things that I hear from developers who have worked on comic-licensed games is that it's often a trial going back and forth with whoever owns the property, making sure they adhere to all kinds of specific style and character rules. Is that any worse in games, where it's an external company, than it is working directly for the licensor? MF: It's largely the same. I think that was, actually, primarily what I was there for in a lot of ways, so it went pretty easily. What I tended to get notes on was always more development stuff. Michael and Kyle had worked with developers, so they had a much better idea what the game -- with a capital G -- would be, and I was the ephemeral story guy. My biggest thing was that I wanted the grain and the tooth of the world to all feel like the books -- and, I guess, like the movie now. What kinds of development issues came into play? MF: You know, at one point I had thought, "Oh, it would be great [if] then, at this point, there can be a level that's like a first-person shooter, the character is trying to escape from a place. We can just go into that! That would be cool. There's this weird first-person segment in the middle of the game!" And they were like, "Yeah, no. We can't do that." I was like, "Oh, okay, I gotcha." It's stuff like that. Or, for example, you can't suddenly turn it into a piloting game. The game is the game, and it's about the designers building the game. There was a learning curve that I had to adapt to very quickly. Do you play many games yourself? MF: I do. I'm not very good at them. But yeah. I'm so excited for The Beatles: Rock Band, I can't even say. I'm also playing a lot of [Call of Duty:] World at War, fighting the Japanese swamp zombies obsessively at night. But I'm not a terrifically accomplished gamer. Do you have any interest in pursuing game writing further? MF: Yeah. I'd love to do it earlier. I'd love to work with developers from square one and see what happens. Photo credit: Nightscream Wikipedia Commons

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