Some of the developers that made Halo — a game that people said couldn’t be done on a home console, but which went on to be one of the biggest console games of all time — bet that hardcore gaming fans will enjoy shooters on mobile tablets and smartphones.
And create another multimillion dollar market in the process.
Alex Seropian, the co-founder of Bungie and a former Disney game executive, is revealing his mobile gaming startup Industrial Toys and its first efforts: Midnight Star, a first-person shooter for iOS, and Midnight Rises, an accompanying digital comic.
Seropian and cofounder Tim Harris showed me a demo of both the digital comic app and free-to-play game yesterday. We’ll find out soon whether this bold bet — that a good story and hardcore action can hold the attention of mobile gamers — will pay off. Seropian said the game is debuting soon, and it will be preceded by Midnight Rises, a graphical novel/digital comic written John Scalzi (whose 2013 novel Redshirts won a Hugo award, the highest honor for science-fiction and fantasy books) that lays the backstory for a new sci-fi epic.
“In a shooter, we provide the context for everything you do,” Seropian said. “You can get immersed. And the game is more meaningful when it is surrounded by context. The story provides that context. The characters make it interesting.”
In Midnight Rises, the story begins 120 years in the future in 2134 with the activation of the Morningstar Protocol. That is a directive that goes into effect when aliens make contact with Earth. The governments of the world rally together to deal with the threat and figure out if the aliens are good or evil. Humans have barely started traveling among the stars.
They send out a modified mining spaceship, the Joplin, to investigate the signal. We meet the hero, Charlie Campbell, who is the communications director on the mission. The user can make choices, like who to visit on the ship, and which details to read about the various characters. There’s an illustrated timeline that bridges story from the present day to the comic’s events and the events of the game. You can unlock information in the comic that will be useful to you in the game.
The novel is beautifully drawn by artist Mike Choi, a former X-Men comic artist who serves as the concept artist for Industrial Toys for the shooter as well. That provides for a consistent art style across both the comic and the game, Seropian said. This is a true transmedia effort, designed specifically for the Apple iPad and iOS devices.
“We have a new approach to telling a story,” Seropian said. “We are building a big universe.”
The graphic novel is cool. But the project will live or die on the game’s quality. The team working on it includes cofounder Brent Pease, Harris, and console game veteran Mike Dekoekkoek.
The name comes from the nature of the alien communication. The term “morning” is used to describe it if the communication is peaceful, while the word “midnight” is used if it turns hostile. The game begins as the mining ship nears the alien communication site on another planet. The comic doesn’t have animations, but it creates the illusion of motion through parallaxing, or moving an image sideways across the tablet screen.
The story begins with a cinematic trailer that is similar to the animated sequences that precede the action in console video games. There are dozens of such cinematics in Midnight Star, which takes the player through a full story told in four major chapters. The whole game is expected to last four or five hours, with plenty of replayability as well as multiplayer combat.
Seropian said he pulled the team at Los Angeles-based Industrial Toys together to build hardcore games for the new world of tablets.
“This whole thing started for us because we were playing games in bed,” Seropian said. “I realized my own gaming patterns were changing, and no one was making games that were great for the tablets. That’s how we got started.”