I'm not sure if you got the memo, but I'm a pretty big fan of the Valiant reboot. They're doing phenomenal stuff over there and somehow, all five of their current titles are simply fantastic -- and that's a hugely impressive feat. As if that wasn't enough, they're tapping into my gamer nostalgia, too. You see, they're doing these rather awesome 8-bit covers and they're even coming out with an 8-bit iOS game (Harbinger Wars: Battle for Las Vegas) based on their current big event, HARBINGER WARS.
Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to chat with the team at their New York office about the 8-bit move and, well... just about everything else! Included in the chat is CEO & CCO Dinesh Shamdasani, 8-bit artist Matthew Waite, game designer Dan Kitchen, publisher Fred Pierce, and Hunter Gorinson, the marketing & communications manager.
Comic Vine: First and foremost, tell me the origin story of Valiant going 8 bit.
Dinesh Shamdasani: We’re up against established characters, established companies, so the best thing we can do is try to outthink the competition. So, what we try to do is we try to have regular meetings where the entire team – everybody from every department – gets together. There’s usually a topic at hand and we’ll come in with five or six ideas each and we’ll brainstorm. So, we had a meeting about what we could do with covers – we wanted to move towards doing something people haven’t seen before. Warren Simons, our Executive Editor, came in with the idea to do 8-bit covers. He’s seen Wreck-It Ralph recently and he loved the new youth of that world and tapping into nostalgia. We loved the idea and Atom! Freeman, who is our sales manager, is friends with Matthew [Waite] and told us immediately, “I know exactly who can do this.” He got in touch with Matthew and Matthew put together a test piece.
Matthew Waite: There was an Iron Man contest so I did all of the Iron Man armors as 8-bit characters. I loved the idea so much that for Christmas I sent Atom! all of the character designs of 8-bit Valiant characters, not thinking about it – I just thought it looked cool and sent it as a thanks for everything he's ever done for me. Then all of a sudden they talked about doing the 8-bit stuff and Atom! contacted me and said, “Hey, we’re in the process of doing something along these lines,” and it was just perfect timing.
CV: Aside from an awesome dose of nostalgia, what would you say the objective is behind Valiant going 8-bit?
DS: It’s very simple. Everything we do is aimed at making the very best comics we can and getting them into the reader’s hands. We've had a tremendous launch – publisher of the year, all of the books are reviewed very, very well across the board -- and we've been looking for ways to get the books into reader’s hands. We’re doing a huge convention circuit, Free Comic Book Day is a big event for us, and 8-bit is a way to tap into video game fans as well. It’s an initiative that allows us to tap into a larger fanbase that maybe that hasn't heard we’re back or tried out the books yet. This is an excellent way for them to jump onboard – it’s the same with the game. This is something we can do that’s cool, that no one’s done before. It’s innovative and we can tap people like Dan [Kitchen] to do quality products and get it out there. People can try it for free and hopefully trust the product from a different point of view and we've already seen people comment, get excited and try the books.
CV: Will the 8-bit theme be reoccurring, and for Matthew, would you be interested in creating an all 8-bit back up story or even full issue?
MW: If the opportunity arises. Obviously the best thing to do would be like a QUANTUM & WOODY type scenario. Doing a full 8-bit type of story… I don’t think it would work in the actual Valiant universe, but for Q&W, I think it could work. I’d be totally interested in doing something along those lines. As a reoccurring theme… I think Valiant hit the net right on the head with being nostalgic with the books. The median age of comic book readers is 25 to probably 45 and we grew up with these. So, I think it’s getting people excited and future covers with these would be a great, great thing. It would get people excited.
CV: First of all, let me just praise you guys for the free 8-bit game. That’s simply an amazing thing to do. Can you speak your mind about the game and what it has to offer?
Dan Kitchen: I was approached by Dinesh and the fellows over at Valiant to create this and my background actually quite diverse. I was actually in the midst of the industry back then doing a lot of the 8-bit games. My career started back in the late ‘70s and I was one of the senior designers for Activision in the early 1980s, doing the 8-bit Atari 2600 games and moving onto the Nintendo 8-bit platform and the SEGA 8-bit platform and then the 16-bit world and all the way to today where we have Facebook and iPhone products. I certainly have experience designing and being involved in these games and when they told me about it I thought it was a fabulous idea to bring current comic characters into a world we all remember growing up and spending multiple hours with. To make the team completely genuine, I actually hunted and found one of my original artists who I worked with for many, many years to create many of the 8-bit games that we did in the ‘80s and ‘90s. We brought him on staff and he just had a wonderful time recreating his youthful career to be able to draw within the restrictions we had put upon ourselves back then. I think that makes it a very unique and very accurate product.
CV: How does the gameplay differ between playing as Bloodshot and Peter Stanchek?
DK: There’s various weapons and they use their attributes that they have in the comics to thwart the variety of 8-bit enemies that you would expect to see if you were kind of going back in time and playing this in the early ‘90s. Obviously, we don’t have any of the special particle effects and all of the wonderful things you can do today because we really replicated using these types of weapons, guns and mechanics if you had the limitations of the 8-bit world. It’s very entertaining.
CV: Are there any unlockables?
DK: There will be a number of unlockables you can secure… which would be added maneuvers, new weapons, and some easter egg locations. We’re really taping into the old style of level design. There will be some very special things to unlock.
CV: Fill in the blanks: Battle for Las Vegas is what you would get if ____ & ____ had a baby.
DS: It’s gotta be Contra and, you won’t believe it, Gregg, but Duke Nukem II. Do you agree, Dan? What do you think?
DK: I agree, absolutely.
CV: Obviously you can’t give specifics, but do you have any other unique promotions lined up?
DS: Yes. The 8-bit comics are a lot of fun. When we looked at Matthew’s 8-bit characters we thought, “Wow, that would be cool,” and the video game would be the same way. We got a whole level two series of comics coming out and we’ll be announcing that soon – doing a whole other wave. The video game as well – we’ve got a lot planned. I’ve been playing through the game just because it’s fun to get to the boss levels. There’s a lot to get excited about but I don’t want to spoil anything just yet!
DK: It was an absolute pleasure working with the team at Valiant. I’m a big fan of their covers of their characters and the opportunity to match the 8-bit retro with the great characters they've created was just an absolute pleasure. It’s a real labor of love and brought me back to some of the golden days of the game industry and had a wonderful time doing it.
CV: I remember one of the classic games was a crossover. It was X-O Manowar and Iron Man. Is there any potential for something like in the future?
DS: We’re still chasing a number of things but we’re also having people come to us and say, “Hey, wouldn't this be cool?” So, there’s a couple of things like that in the works but nothing I’d be free to talk about just yet. There’s some cool things on the horizon.
CV: For the crowd who didn't grow up with this kind of gaming experience, what can you say to encourage them to give Battle for Las Vegas a shot?
DS: If nothing else, the game is tremendous fun. We’re all playing it in the office now to make sure it works correctly and Dan’s team has done tremendous work… but it’s really an excuse, frankly. We all pretend we’re playing it to check it, but really it’s so much fun we just keep wanting to play it. My favorite thing, Dan, is getting enough coins to get the flamethrower for Bloodshot. It’s too much fun.
CV: How long would you say the game is?
DS: It has taken me about seven hours to get through the free portion and then around another seven for the next. It’s not a short game.
DK: We've replicated a large world as we used to do in the old days.
CV: Moving on to general Valiant questions. We know a Shadowman movie is moving forward, but if you had to pick another Valiant title to get the big screen treatment, which would it be and why?
DS: That’s a tricky question to answer. We've got a number of films in the works and we haven’t announced them all. I’m afraid I’ll give something away if I say anything! What about you, Dan and Matthew? What would you like to see?
MW: Honestly, I think X-O Manowar would be a very good episodic kind of movie.
DK: I agree, absolutely. I’d love to see that expanded to movies and gaming as well. It would be a tremendously great character to follow.
CV: On Comic Vine we have a monthly segment called “Does Batman Always Win?” It’s where we place him against a character from another publisher in a random encounter to see who would win in a fight. It's random so he doesn't know anything about them, and they don’t know anything about him. Two characters who have been requested are Bloodshot and Ninjak. I’m pretty sure I know what your answer will be, but how do you think that would go down?
Fred Pierce: Batman’s a character I grew up with, so I have a loyalty to Batman. But I would think that under most circumstances, Bloodshot would be able to kill Batman and I think Ninjak and Batman would match up pretty well.
DS: Really, you think so? I gotta say, Fred, I think Batman hands Ninjak his ass, but with Bloodshot, I think you’re right.
FP: So you think Batman beats Ninjak?
DS: I gotta say I do! I think where Ninjak stands right now -- not including the things that haven’t come out yet – the character that the fans know right now, I think Batman takes it. I think Ninjak puts up a great fight, but I think Batman takes him.
FP: And I don’t think Batman’s beating Bloodshot.
Hunter Gorinson: I still just have the quote, “My loyalty is to Batman” ringing around my ears from Valiant Publisher Fred Pierce.
FP: Growing up… you could never be Superman, but you could be Batman!
CV: If you could have Batman make a cameo in one of the Valiant titles, where do you think he’d make the best appearance?
FP: Shadowman. The Dark Knight in a dark book would make a lot of sense.
CV: While we’re on the topic of Ninjak, do you currently have big plans or is it TBD? Not saying I’d love for him to get his own ongoing or anything…
DS: Massive plans. There’s some very cool stuff for Ninjak that we absolutely cannot talk about, unfortunately.
CV: Excellent! QUANTUM & WOODY was recently announced and there’s a lot of readers out there who are new to the Valiant universe – I’m one of ‘em. So, what would you say sets this title apart from the others… and for long time fans, why will they love it?
DS: First of all, this is the title Batman should appear in because it would just be so much fun to have Quantum next to Batman when he looks just like Batman. It was a very, very difficult decision to decide we’re going to do QUANTUM & WOODY as our sixth title. It’s something we talk about a lot internally -- is it too similar? Is it the right next step for us to do this kind of a book? We would not have done it if we had not felt that Q&W brings something new to the universe. The warmth, the heart, the fact the two are adopted brothers… that’s really what the book is about. It’s about two brothers who are finding a way to become a family again and that’s the heart of the book and why it’s different. Also, James Asmus and Tom Fowler have done such a great job with it. When James sent in his pitch, everyone in the office agreed this is the one. We've seen a number of pitches up until then and some were very good but they didn’t quite hit that level we needed them to hit. We know Q&W fans are die-hard fans and Q&W is an A+ book. James has done such a tremendous job – he’s really tapped into how to bring a character into today’s world and what we can do with the characters going forward.
CV: Without giving an actual figure, can you hint at roughly how many more titles you have in the works?
FP: I get yelled at whenever I answer this question! We want to create enough titles that the industry can absorb and we will be growing fair and steady. How’s that?
CV: That’s a very safe answer! I obviously have to ask about HARBINGER WARS and ‘Planet Death’ while I have the opportunity to chat with you guys. Is there perhaps anything you can tease about what’s to come with those?
HG: Coming out on the other side of those, it’ll be a very big summer.
CV: Are there any other crossover plans within the franchises?
DS: Our Free Comic Book Day special will have the answer to those questions. The inside of the back cover has a very, very, very special sneak peek of something Valiant fans will go gaga over. And once we announce a little more I think they’ll get very excited about what ‘Planet Death’ and HARBINGER WARS leads up to.
CV: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the Comic Vine community about the 8-bit promo and Valiant in general?
DS: Some of the rejected 8-bit covers are my favorite. The SHADOWMAN one in particular is my favorite and it’ll break my heart forever that we can’t use it.
MW: That one was one of my favorites. I did a Pac-Man version of Shadowman basically chasing blue ghosts.
DS: It is amazing. It is the greatest thing ever.
Battle for Las Vegas will come out on iOS and Android devices May 2nd and HARBINGER WARS #2 hits stands May 1st.