Last Wednesday, Dark Horse Comics released the first installment of the DRAGON AGE spin-off comic THE SILENT GROVE as an exclusive digital-only series via their online store for the PC and tablets. The 4-issue miniseries is written by the games' Lead Writer David Gaider with help from fellow Bioware writer Alexander Freed, who has written for the STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC MMO and its spin-off comics miniseries also published by Dark Horse.
David Gaider has form as a writer and storyteller – his career at Bioware goes all the way back to the BALDUR'S GATE games, the NEVERWINTER NIGHTS games and STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC. He has also written three DRAGON AGE tie-in novels, THE STOLEN THRONE, THE CALLING, and ASUNDER. As a comics reader and the Lead Writer who oversees the entire world of DRAGON AGE and its characters, Gaider is the perfect choice to write a tie-in comic. THE SILENT GROVE sees Alastair from DRAGON AGE: ORIGIN recruiting the pirate queen Isabella and Dwarven rogue Varric from DRAGON AGE 2 on a mission to the nation of Antiva, a country of intrigue and assassins not unlike the Renaissance Italy of the Borgias. Apart from IDW's ill-judged attempt to publish a DRAGON AGE tie-in comic a couple of years ago, the tie-ins add to the mythos of the game story and give fans a chance to revisit familiar and popular characters and settings, which is fitting for the current model of transmedia publishing where the owners of games franchises keep multimedia tie-ins consistent in order to create a continuum of story material to raise awareness of the franchise brand, as well as keep fans interested in the content.
Dark Horse gave me a chance to talk to David Gaider about the new comic, media tie-ins and the video game.
Do you as Lead Writer and Mike Laidlaw as Lead Designer work closely together to determine how the world of Dragon Age and its characters are put together properly to ensure the parts fit together well as a game and a narrative?
Yes, I'd say that's accurate. Mike gives the writing team a lot of ownership over what we do, and tries to give us higher level direction without micro-managing the story, and that takes a lot of meetings. A lot of talking. That's not to say that he doesn't have a lot of specific ideas, as well, but with Mike it's always a discussion. He's much bigger on collaboration than anything else, which makes for a great work environment.
Was Dragon Age designed as an ongoing and evolving narrative that can continue to generate stories and characters beyond just one or two games and expand into other media?
Originally? No, I wouldn't say that. When I helped create the Dragon Age world originally, it was very much just with the games in mind. That said, we tried to create a place that had lots of seeded story and conflict in it… even in places where the game might not go. Which was important, as initially we didn't know where in the world we wanted to set the first game. So there's a lot there for other media to grab hold of.
Whose idea was it to launch a Dragon Age comic with Dark Horse? I'm interested in the decision-making process in creating multimedia and transmedia tie-ins to a games franchise or IP, especially after IDW's less successful attempt at a Dragon Age comic previously.
My understanding is that it was Dark Horse who expressed interest—though, to be honest, I couldn't say for certain. Most third party companies that want to do a tie-in product would probably come to BioWare and say, "hey we'd like to do something with you guys". They talk to the business people, and at some point it comes down to the project level… and that's where people like Mike come in. For this project, eventually they brought me into the discussion to even see if I was interested. Which of course I was. So then they say, "Yay! Do it!". Very scientific.
How did the idea for "The Silent Grove" come about?
Dark Horse had some experience in making successful tie-in comic series, so they had some suggestions on the sorts of things the series should include– though even then they didn't express them as hard and fast rules. They wanted some characters that were familiar to the audience and some lore explored that would give the comics some relevance to that audience. Which made sense to me. So I pitched a few ideas from the "stuff I always wanted to do but couldn't fit into a game" pile, and that got them excited… so we went from there.
"The Silent Grove" features Alaistair, Isabella and Varric going to Antivan on a secret and probably less-than-reputable mission. After all, you don't have a King taking two rogues with him on a holiday. How did you decide what story to tell and which characters to feature, since both Dragon Age games feature a lot of characters who are rich in personality and nuance?
I asked myself "who would I enjoy writing again, that wouldn't feel like work?" And then somewhere between that list and a number of brainstorm discussions, I ended up with these three.
Do you pick them for the value of how their personalities will play off each other as well as plot potential?
Yes to both—though, quite frankly, there are few combinations of Dragon Age characters that I couldn't make work if I tried. So really it boils down to "is there anything left to tell with these characters?"
Do you decide on plots and settings with each tie-in story based on the potential to reveal more of the world of Dragon Age and hints of what might be featured in the next game?
In part, yes.
You admitted that despite writing for games for a long time, writing comics was actually something new to you. How did you work with Dark Horse and Alexander Freed to script "The Silent Grove"?
I write a detailed outline of the story, essentially providing the action (and as much dialogue as I can) in narrative form, and then Alex takes that and transforms it into a panel-by-panel script (which is what the artist needs to actually make the comic). The script goes back and forth between us a few times to make sure we're both on the same page, and then eventually I sign off on it. It's a pretty painless process. Dark Horse initially asked me if I wanted to do the scripting as well as the outline, but I decided against that—at least for now. Alex has experience scripting, and it's amazing watching him work.
In this era of Transmedia, we're seeing comics and novel tie-ins of popular games being produced more carefully and with the direct input of the games' writers and creators rather than a quick cash-in by writers who contradict the story canon. Is this a conscious decision by Bioware and EA and games companies in general, to be more involved?
Yes, I think it's partly out of desire to have tie-ins that authentically feel like they belong in our universe… but I think you could just as easily suggest it's a way for BioWare to not be more involved. Like I said earlier, someone who already knows the ins and outs of the IP needs less oversight… and that amount of oversight, especially when you're in the middle of crunch working hard on getting a game out the door, can be pretty hard to provide. I think we're still in the process of figuring out how to go about this in the smoothest way—though that's just my impression. Other than my direct work on the novels and the comics, I'm not involved much in the process that leads up to the green light for me to begin.
Are all the media tie-ins – the novels, the comics, the upcoming anime, the live action webseries with Felicia Day – intended to tie back into the game as the primary focus of the Dragon Age story?
Not necessarily, no. Sometimes a side story is just that. Sometimes we plan it so that the tie-in foreshadows a coming plot, or adds more detail to a plot that already exists. Having the stories tie into each other like that adds value to them both, for the committed fan as well as the person who enjoys, say, a comic or an anime or what have you and had no idea they might like Dragon Age prior to that. But there's no Great Plan when it comes to tie-ins… or none that I'm aware of. Maybe Mike is hiding something.
(Thanks to Aub Driver for arranging this interview)
DRAGON AGE: THE SILENT GROVE can be bought from Dark Horse Digital or you can wait till July to buy the printed trade paperback.
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