Superhero Shorts: City of Heroes: Infinite Dark
Superhero Shorts: Infinite Dark
Welcome to this week’s edition of Superhero Shorts where I take a look at a different superhero themed short film and get the creator of the film to answer a few interview questions. This week I’m glad to feature another machinima short from the MMO City of Heroes called Infinite Dark which was the winner of a City of Heroes held contest where among other things, he won a car! Here’s a link to the contest writeup where you can see the other entries and you can of course watch Infinite Dark right below. For his other projects you can also visit his own website at ToddWorld.com.
First off, I think this is an amazing machinima video with a lot of things added to it to give it that extra oomph. I really loved the video effects to make it look like a news report. The way it was scripted felt like it was an actual movie trailer, throwing together a bunch of the best little scenes to give enough of a taste of the movie without giving the whole thing away. I can’t say for sure, but it also feels like it doesn’t have too much “inside information” and could easily be enjoyed by someone who’s never even heard of the game City of Heroes. The story of the movie also seems rather ambitious and grand, with mistaken identities, a global threat, and a hero/villain team up. I can totally see why this video won the contest. The picture quality could be a bit better, and the voice acting could always be better, but I generally have no complaints. It’s a great watch. And enough from me, it’s time to hear a bit from the creator of the video, Todd Cowden.
Bubbawheat: Can you tell me a little bit about what you remember about the contest, and why you decided to enter it at the time?
Todd Cowden: There are quite a few things that stand out in my memory about the CoH contest. The least of which was 3 months of late nights and weekends, at least one morning where my daughter asked, “Mommy, why is Daddy asleep on the computer room floor?”, and too many headaches from programming a custom plug-in for Maya so I could create and export complex camera movements. I also remember my wife screaming at 1am when the winners were announced. I just knew she was going to wake up the kids…and the neighborhood.
The most amazing part of the contest was the CoH community. There were so many incredible entries, to this day my kids still yell out “Dooooomsday is upon you!” at the oddest times. Everyone was so helpful and supportive of each other.
As to why I entered, well I have to admit the outrageous prize package was a pretty big carrot but honestly I’m pretty sure I would have entered regardless. I saw several outstanding machinima films from Star Wars Galaxies and was interested in trying my hand at it. The contest was the perfect excuse.
BW: This is the only City of Heroes video you have on your YouTube channel, were there any other videos you made or tried to make and never published, or even just wanted to make?
TW: Sadly, “Infinite Dark” is the first and only CoH video, or machinima that I’ve ever made. It’s funny, there is a Toon Town video on my YouTube channel but that’s actually one that my daughter made. She’s a huge Toon Town fan. The interesting thing is “Infinite Dark” actually only has 6 more views than her Toon Town video. I think she’s going to pass me soon.
I’ve thought about putting together other CoH videos from time to time but it’s such a tremendous amount of work and time that usually I find other ways of getting that creative urge out. Usually it’s an illustration, but I’ve also spent a little time writing.
BW: The video seems like the setup to a much larger story, have you written that story out anywhere, or is it just in your head?
TW: Typically when I create a new CoH character I try to have at least a basic backstory established in my mind. There needs to be something interesting or unique about him or her. 8 Baller was no different. With 8 I wanted him to be raised on the streets of Paragon, in the ‘bad’ side of town. His story would truly be one of a character fighting against all odds to become a hero. For that reason I didn’t give him any ‘super powers’ that may give him an advantage. But in the beginning that was all I knew about him. It wasn’t until later, when I created a CoH website that I really fleshed out his story.
Later, I created a full issue comic that explored 8’s past in depth, and really helped define him as a character. In the comic he comes face to face with his alter ego 8 Brawler for the first time. The comic ended in a cliff hanger and I had a number of people that read the comic email me and ask what happened next, and when I was going to continue the story. Eventually, I had a little time between projects so I sat down and wrote a story that would be the next chapter in 8’s saga. It was entitled “Best Laid Plans”.
When the contest came along it just seemed to make sense that it would be a great chance to continue his story. And even though I only created a trailer, I wanted it to feel that it was truly a part of something epic. So before I captured any video at all I sat down and outlined the entire “Infinite Dark” movie. That made it easy for me to “pick my favorite scenes” from the movie and highlight them in the trailer. After that I just had to figure out how to recreate those scenes and shots in the CoH engine.
BW: It seems that you’ve also played the other superhero MMOs that are on the market, do you have a favorite?
TW: Yes I played Champions Online during their beta and actually thought that was pretty good. But when they launched they nerfed all the powers on launch day and you no longer felt like a powerful superhero so they lost me at that point.
I even tried DC Online, which should have been an easy home run but I think they really missed the mark. Look at any of the interviews before launch and you’ll see where I feel they went wrong. They spent soooo much time ‘getting the DC world right’, but at some point they completely forgot that this was supposed to be a game for the players. Sure, Superman is Superman and Gotham City is accurate down to the square foot, or whatever, but the player customization was severely lacking. Seriously, if you’re limiting the number of color choices for a player to create his own unique custom character to three colors….because you’re afraid he will make something hideous. That’s the wrong way to design things.
City of Heroes is by far my favorite in the group. I’ve admired their design approach since day 1, and I’ve been a CoH player since beta. They are very focused in what they do, never trying to do too much at one time. As a result, what they do, they do very well. When they launched an MMO with essentially no inventory system I’m sure many people said they were crazy. But the truth is, what they had done was narrow down all their options and choices to the core game play elements. The bare essentials of “creating a unique superhero however you wanted him/her” and then use that hero to fight crime and save the city. And they’ve kept that laser focus with every release since, never adding too large a new piece to the puzzle at one time.
What makes CoH so strong is that players can really create their heroes any way they want so they can tell their story.
BW: I also see that you’re involved in a game called Aniballs, how did that come about, and what part do you play in it?
TW: Aniballs is my latest project. It’s a mobile game I developed with my kids. I’m a firm believer that games can teach people just about anything they need to know. And if people can learn from playing games, just imagine how much they can learn from making them.
So for the past year my kids and I (ages 9, 12 and….well much older) have learned a new programming language, learned how to develop for mobile platforms, a little physics, a little trig, and more than you could ever imagine about endangered species.
It’s been a great experiment and we actually launched the game on the Android Marketplace earlier today.
BW: And finally, what’s your favorite superhero movie?
TW: Saving the toughest question for last huh? I really liked Christopher Reeve’s Superman but the later movies just got to campy…sort of like the 80’s and 90’s Batman movies did. And Brandon Routh really did an amazing job as Superman, the writing just wasn’t there. It’s a shame he won’t be making a return appearance.
Well, after being a dad for 12 years I’d have to say “the Incredibles” is my all-time favorite superhero movie. Like any Pixar film, it’s the story that makes the movie. I should probably add a disclaimer that I haven’t had the chance to see the new “Avengers” film yet.
I’m right there with you, I love that movie. It’s amazing that you were able to make a game like that with your kids, it looks pretty sweet, good luck with it. Next week I’ve got a great interview with someone who created an amazing hand drawn Superman short film, stay tuned! Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.