GKP Developer's Diary #001 - Fear No Evil...
As evidenced by the last blog entry, I've got a bit of a "thing" for the creative process. I think that I more, than anything, find the idea of creating and crafting new ideas to be an exciting and life-affirming process. Maybe it's because I like to pat myself on the back or maybe it's because it's the purest expression of what sets us apart from the rest of the organisms on this planet. We create. We forge new paths and new histories. We play God (or the Devil). And we can do it all with a few words and a willingness to think outside the box.
I wanted to use this blog for a number of reasons. Chief among them is letting folks get a glimpse into how we think about things here at Giant, Killer. I can talk for hours (and have) about what goes into any one of our ideas. But writing it down, codifying it, making it real is a totally new thing for me.
So that's what this first GKP Developer Diary is all about.
Speaking of gods and devils...
I'm going to type, for as long as I'm able, about what's going on in my head regarding one our biggest in-house properties, Inner Demons.
I want to talk about how the idea came into being, how it's shaping up, and where I think we'll take it in the next few months, years, and decades.
I've always been big into horror, or more accurately, the supernatural. I've never been too big on being scared but I've always had a huge curiosity when it comes to the things that go "bump" in the night. I grew up in a semi-religious household, surrounded by super-religious households. This means that, more often than not, I'd hear some old wives' tales about ghosts, hauntings, mysterious deaths, demons dragging kids out of beds for being naughty, etc.
It scared the crap out of me. To be honest, it still gives me chills when I think about it.
But, in spite of the fear these stories induced, I was intrigued at the idea of these unseen powers in our world. Powers that defied description, logic, or even Death.
Before long I started to look at these supernatural forces in much the same way I look at elements in superhero stories and in science fiction, something decidedly other that I could add to my toybox of stories.
Which only made things confusing for me.
See, I wanted to do horror as I understood it. Desperately. But it wouldn't take long before I lost interest in it. I think it's because of my own aversion to being scared but it could also be that I haven't found a way to translate that one emotion into something with as much depth as I would like. It's something I'll continue to work on that as a writer and creator.
In the meantime, I found myself really discouraged early on. I wanted to take a look at a world where fear was the order of the day but I didn't really care to examine the fear of it.
This went on for a while. Easily the better part of two years. I'd start a "scary" project and then put it on the backburner to work on something less frustrating.
I looked at ways to spice it up. I thought about a vampire-centric world but didn't like the way it turned out. A world where various werefolks coexisted. Numerous low fantasy worlds where the dark and grim and gritty went hand in hand with the horror and bloodshed of the supernatural. None of it took.
This went on for a bit longer.
Eventually I took a step back and really took the time to think about what it was that excited me about horror. And I soon realized that the thing I liked most about horror wasn't the fear, drama, or suspense. Not always anyway. No, it was the supernatural element found in a lot of horror pieces. More specificially, it was the "super" in supernatural.
A lot of what drew me to those stories of ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witches, and the like was the power of these creatures and how alien they were relative to us "normal" humans. It was part of what made Superman or Spider-Man so cool to me or what made the Jedi seem like total badasses.
So I shifted gears. I looked at the "problem" from a different angle. And it worked for the most part. I found it a lot easier to craft and create when I focused on what made me the most excited about the project. Imagine that!
I also took the time to look back at the media I'd been ingesting this whole time and verify that I was correct in my assumption.
Mignola's Hellboy, McFarlane's Spawn, Silvestri's Witchblade and The Darkness... These were all characters in comics that were supernatural in origin and the thing I liked most about their stories was the agency their power and otherworldliness gave them. They were different from us in profound ways but written in a way that was supposed to make them at least likeable if not characters we could relate to.
I looked at my bookshelf, at the heaps and heaps of roleplaying game core and sourcebooks. I took at look at Palladium's Nightbane and Beyond the Supernatural. I flipped through book after book in my White Wolf World of Darkness and New World of Darkness collection. All of them were full of supernatural protagonists. They had power and were able to affect real and tangible change in the world of mortals. That was the thing that made them really stand out to me. Sure, it'd be cool to turn into mist and live forever, but what really spoke to me was the influence they exerted in their supernatural communities and on us humans.
My whirlwind tour of interests also took me to the television.
I looked at my video game collection, spanning some twenty-five years and saw a lot of games where the hero was of supernatural origin and able to really shake things up. The Devil May Cry series, anything Shin Megami Tensei, Castlevania, Darksiders, etc.
I took at all of the anime I own. Full disclosure... I, like a lot of folks in my age range, am a pretty big fan of Japanese animation. I like to think I only watch the "good" stuff but since all art's subjective I don't put too much thought into it.
This last stop was where I really cemented my view of the supernatural as a story element. The Japanese are known far and wide for their deep appreciation of the supernatural and their ability to monotize that same appreciation in the form of popular media. Hell, three of the video game series I noted above were made in Japan. And the fourth, Darksiders, was created in large part by Joe Madureira, a self-professed lover of Japanese manga (comics) and animation whose entire art style oozes that affinity.
I looked back on all of the supernatural themed anime I've watched over the years. Hellsing, Kekkaishi, Witch Hunter Robin, Ga-Rei: Zero, Tokyo Majin, Mushishi, X/1999, Fate/stay night, Berserk, Blue Exorcist, Death Note, D. Gray Man, Soul Eater... The list really can go on and on.
Anyway, those stories all fit the same mold. Spectacularly powerful or at least active individuals fighting in a mundane world. There were times where fear played a big role but, ultimately, these were heroes like Superman or Spider-Man, that were acting rather than reacting.
And that's where I settled on my definition of horror and why I'm sure I could tell a story in that vein but probably never build a world in it.
Horror is passive. The characters are passive. The story happens to them and they survive if they're lucky. The audience is passive, waiting to be scared, pretty much discouraged from actively picking apart the story and unraveling the narrative. Unraveling the narrative means you're missing the whole point. You have to be willing to suspend disbelief and willing to let the creator/author/director/etc. put you in a position of vulnerability. That's just my definition anyway. But it's my working definition.
Conversely, I find myself drawn to stories where human beings fight back against the darkness or the darkness itself is personified and given motive, depth, and a chance at a resolution. I like stories where the "other" feels a bit more familiar.
Then there's the fact that I don't feel, as an author, that the onus is always on me to dictate how you should feel. In singular pieces, such as poems, short stories, and film, I have no problem telling you I want you to be sad when this character's uncle passes away or that I want to invoke feelings of rage at social injustice. That is the nature of the short form for me.
But the long form, the worlds I build? No. There's no place for that. When I set out to build a huge world with multiple characters and facets I want it to be as much of you playground as it is mine. This mostly applies to the tabletop roleplaying game products I design but it holds true for every one of our universes here at Giant, Killer.
For Inner Demons I didn't want to rule out fear. It's intrinsic to the material. But I did want to free myself from the responsibility of scaring each and every reader/viewer/player with every piece I produced. That wouldn't be the core theme of the world.
The core theme would be survival and the good and bad things it pulls out of us.
It's really easy to imagine being a human landing in a world where the shadows are darker, the nights are colder, and fear is so palpable you feel as though you're choking on it. What I wanted to explore is the fear the supernatural face as well. What terrified a blood sucking demi-god? What forces a walking mass of fur and fangs to steer clear of a dark alley? What proves more frightful than the power to bend reality to your own whims?
That's the kernel of the universe we're building in Inner Demons.
We want to establish a massive cosmology that draws on a variety of belief systems. We want to touch on a lot of monster myths. We want to create some of our own as well. And, at the core of it all, we want to present a world where the heroes aren't necessarily helpless or at least have a chance of seeing the credits roll.
I envision this project as an expansive one that crosses the border into just about every medium. I'm fleshing out an anthology that incorporates stories featuring characters from each of the main monster "races" in the world. I've started work on a comedic drama television series in the universe. I've got the groundwork laid for a tabletop RPG that uses a modified version of Giant, Killer's T3: Target, Task and Test system. I've even played around some with the idea of pitching a dungeon crawler-style video game that plays with themes and characters from the setting.
The more I plan for it the more I'm convinced that we've got something special here. I'm steering clear of being derivative. It's not easy. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, psychics, angels, and demons are well-worn territory in popular culture. But that doesn't mean that there aren't stones left to be turned.
Well, I think that's it for today's spiel. Congratulations if you made it to the end of the page. I'll try to be more succinct in the future. But I don't make any promises.