In What Are You Playing This Weekend? we discuss gaming and such with prominent figures in the pop-culture arena. We always start with the same question.
Brian Clevinger is the creator of 8-Bit Theater, a long-running web comic loosely based on the characters of the NES game Final Fantasy. He parlayed that success into the creation of Atomic Robo, a wisecracking robot who, in his eponymous comic book series, battles menaces throughout history alongside famous scientists. The Gameological Society talked with Clevinger about Borderlands and the two Atomic Robo games due out this year: a mobile platform game called Violent Science and a tabletop role-playing game from Evil Hat Productions.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Brian Clevinger: Too much of Borderlands 2. I’ve got a level 50 Commando, Siren, and Assassin. I finally got back to my Gunzerker who’s clocking in at 29. There’s a new character and higher levels and stuff coming this week, so I’m basically screwed.
Gameological: What do you love about Borderlands?
Clevinger: I have a soft spot for the franchise because the original was unexpectedly brilliant. It had no reason to be anything but a straight-up, “grim and serious” shooty game with some RPG elements tacked on. But the art style was a breath of fresh air, and when it came out, it was the first big budget game in a while that admitted it was a video game.
Gameological: It also enjoys taking the piss out of shooter conventions from its more serious Call Of Duty brethren.
Clevinger: Yeah, and I don’t think it’s malicious, but anything that’s so overly self-serious makes itself a juicy target.
Gameological: Part of the major-studio mentality seems to be, “This is art! Never mind the 10-year-olds teabagging you and calling you terrible names!”
Clevinger: Video games are in this weird apologetic mode where they’re so sorry for being forms of entertainment that they’ll gut themselves of any sense of fun. Corporate comic books do this too. “Dear me, we can’t let these fantasy adventure stories be fun! Cram some rape and gore in there so everyone knows how Very Serious and Mature it all is.”
Gameological: While Borderlands embraces a love of just blowing things up.
Clevinger: The Borderlands franchise and Saints Row just knock all that crap off and go: Hey, why not rocket launchers?
Gameological: Would you ever consider licensing Robo for a downloadable add-on in a game like Marvel Vs. Capcom?
Clevinger: After carefully scrutinizing the contract for loophole backsies clauses where they try to own Robo? Yes, where do we sign?
Gameological: Is that why you developed Violent Science, for some future Robo on Ivy action?
Clevinger: One step at a time. Today, a mobile game. Tomorrow, boob physics.
Gameological: If you use Boob Physics as an issue title, we will expect a cut of the sales. What differentiates Violent Science from other cheap cash-ins?
Clevinger: Nothing! [Laughs.] Wait, no. Don’t print that. The good folks at The Fictory are working on an Atomic Robo animated short. They also branched out into a little mobile game studio and decided, hey, let’s put some peanut butter and chocolate in an iPad, and out popped Violent Science.
Gameological: So is there a cross promo with Jif?
Clevinger: Don’t do the peanut butter thing. It voids your warranty. Just download the app. It’s a fun little run-and-gun-and-jump side scroller. I usually can’t stand anything where the controls are on the screen, but the inputs here are simple enough that it doesn’t bother me at all. Also? I’m not at all biased.
Gameological: It seems like a banner year for Robo between the Kickstarter film, mobile game, and tabletop game.
Clevinger: We’ve also got Volume Eight and Free Comic Book Day this Spring. And the next series of Real Science Adventures. It’s our spin off where we show off parts of Robo’s world that we don’t get to see in the main series.
Gameological: Real Science Adventures focuses on other characters in the Robo series?
Clevinger: Yeah. This time around it’s six issues of Tesla’s team back in the 1800s. And, hopefully, we’ll get started on Volume Nine and the third Real Science Adventure toward the end of the year.
Gameological: You’ve written a lot of backstory for the Atomic Robo RPG. Is that what spawned Real Science Adventures?
Clevinger: No, there’s just a lot of history to the setting. It’s a bit like the research I do. Maybe 5 percent of it ends up on the page. But the other 95 percent isn’t a waste because it informs which 5 percent should be in print. Y’know? So this is our chance to put the other stuff out there.
Gameological: Video games seem like a great choice to explore a world since you’re involved with the world for a very long time. But few games want to take advantage of the depth.
Clevinger: Y’know, everyone thinks of games as cinematic. And delivering stories in cinematic ways. But cinema is passive. Games are active. Portal tells a story through player action. It’s not a better story than Citizen Kane. But Citizen Kane: The Prequel: The Game would probably be shit.
Gameological: A good game hits a middle ground.
Clevinger: Yeah. You can tell stories either way. But with games, I feel like at some point there’s a guy near the top who gets cold feet and makes an executive decision to just clone the last big hit and call it a day.
Gameological: You don’t want to hit cutscene after cutscene, but you also want to feel like what you blow up matters to the story.
Clevinger: It’s not easy. It sounds like it should be, right? But getting all the elements together into a coherent story and game—and game as story—is some kind of fifth dimensional hyper-chess.
Gameological: How would you do a studio-style Atomic Robo game?
Clevinger: If we do a big-time Robo game, I’m just gonna say, “Y’know what, let’s do it like Earth Defense Force.” Bam. The characters you love plus tons of ridiculous explosions. Maybe include a random level generator so I never have to write another script again.
Gameological: So you’d be the suit saying “Do it like X—I’m off to do some blow?”
Clevinger: Yes! [Laughs.] In my defense, EDF is by no measure a hit franchise. So, even when I’m selling out for blow, it’s to an unprofitable niche market.
And now, we put the question to you. Tell us what you’ve been playing lately, and which games—video or otherwise—are on your playlist for the weekend.