John Scalzi’s Morning Star Alpha Digital Comic Blurs The Line Between Traditional And Interactive Storytelling
The advent of ebooks has given the publishing industry a much-needed shot in the arm, but for the most they’re a simple matter of translating printed pages into a digital form. Comic books could do the same thing, and so far have, for the most part. After all, even if all you do is port the visual storytelling of a comic from ink and paper to crystal-clear clarity on a tablet screen, that’s already a huge upgrade in the user experience (I’m a huge comic reader; I haven’t bought a hardcopy comic in something like two years.) But emerging technology gives digital comics the chance to evolve, in ways much more interesting than the developmental dead-end of so-called “motion comics.” Old Man’s War author John Scalzi knows a thing or two about storytelling, and with an upcoming project called Morning Star Alpha, he’s striving to give digital comics a true narrative upgrade.
As we first reported earlier this year, Morning Star Alpha is a tie-in to an upcoming mobile shooter game called Morning Star. It’s being developed by Bungie co-founder Alex Seropian’s Industrial Toys company. Set to release later this year, Morning Star follows a research vessel called the MSRV-Joplin, which investigates a mysterious signal within our own solar system, only to have things go pear-shaped after a Farscape-style plot twist dumps them on the other side of the universe and into the middle of a massive interstellar war. Morning Star Alpha, the tie-in comic, will release a few weeks prior to the game.
Cross-media tie-ins are nothing new for games. Pick a popular game franchise, chances are you can explore its mythology deeper in related novels or direct-to-DVD movies or what-have-you. Scalzi and Morning Star Alpha artist Mike Choi have more ambitious plans. Choi tells IGN, “This is not a motion comic. We all wanted to do something brand new with sequential storytelling without corrupting it with shitty voice acting or animation.”
Morning Star Alpha will include the same animated elements seen in motion comics, but that’s just the beginning. Instead, MSA will take a page from a much more low-tech form of storytelling: the “choose your own adventure.” The digital comic will contain “decision points” where readers can choose between alternatives that will change the direction of the story. Branching narratives are old hat in video gaming, so it makes perfect sense to introduce it into a game-related comic.
That being said, it’s not an easy task for writer Scalzi. “It’s a lot of fun to play with [Morning Star Alpha’s] branching realities,” says the Redshirts writer. “The constraint, as a creator, is that these stories still meet up at specific points. Characters have to stay consistent.”
The digital comic — which will be available for free — will also do more than just provide some backstory to the game. Morning Star Alpha will contain “Findables,” which will grant readers benefits within the game itself. The crossover will also work in the other direction. As Seropian explains, “Once players discover characters and other story elements in the game, this will unlock longer ‘nerdipedia’-type descriptions [in Alpha].” Granted, that’s only an advantage if the world and story of Morning Star is interesting enough to make players want to delve deeper into its mythology. Sounds like a job for an experienced science fiction writer. The guy who wrote the Old Man’s War books, for instance…
It’s an admirable and ambitious effort for a mobile game, a field that so far has been mostly dedicated to casual-friendly games. This sounds more like Mass Effect: The Mobile Version, complete with a constantly evolving codex full of information about the Morning Star universe. I wish them luck.
There’s no official release date for the game or the digital comic at this point, but we’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, you can check out a Morning Star Alpha preview below.