Who was there: Dark Horse public relations representative Jeremy Atkins, BioWare comics editor Dave Marshall, Knights of the Old Republic comic author John Jackson Miller, Mass Effect franchise writer Mac Walter, The Old Republic senior writer Alexander Freed, and Dragon Age producer Mark Darrah.
What they talked about: Mass Effect and Dragon Age studio BioWare was on hand today alongside big-time comic book publisher Dark Horse to talk about the duo's partnership and what it means.
Dark Horse got right to business, confirming to the audience that Mass Effect: Invasion, the latest series comic book, is due out on October 19. According to the publisher, the book's narrative will tie directly in to the fiction of the upcoming Mass Effect 3, which is due out on March 6, 2012.
More specifically, the panel dove into the narrative of Invasion, saying it will follow Aria and relate how her home planet of Omega is important not only story-wise, but also strategically in the bigger picture. Invasion takes place between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, leading directly up to the events of the upcoming video game.
The panel also talked about the upcoming Old Republic comic series, Lost Suns. This story follows two previously released Old Republic comic books--Threat of Peace and Blood of the Empire--which were both prequels. It was created and written by Dark Horse with the help of the game's development team at BioWare's shop in Austin, Texas.
According to Freeman, Lost Suns' narrative is the first to take place during the events of The Old Republic, BioWare's upcoming massively multiplayer online role-playing game. The fiction follows a spy for the Republic, who is the son of a Jedi grandmaster but is not a Jedi himself. The character gets keyed on to an "enormous" secret and teams with a "senile" Jedi to learn more.
The conversation then switched to the relationship that BioWare and Dark Horse have forged, and the implications for both parties.
Mass Effect video game story writer Mac Walter said, "We aren't going to tell [Dark Horse] how to write their comics." He further expanded on the subject, saying that the relationship between the two is based on trust and is very hands-off.
While the partnership was described by panelists as autonomous, Walter said there is definitely collaboration between the pair. He called their relationship a "perfect handshake of two different areas of expertise."
In the question-and-answer session, a fan queried Dark Horse about the difference between working on the Star Wars franchise and working on BioWare properties like Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Dark Horse editor Dave Marshall admitted that there are definitely more levels of oversight working on the Star Wars series but that he feels this is not a problem but actually a strong point.
"We're very used to working with the oversight. It means we make better comics," Marshall said. He elaborated, saying that the important part of working with Lucasfilm is channeling into a direct conduit with writers, producers, and directors.
Freed said the partnership between the two has helped connect the video game world with the comic book contingency. He said licensed comic books stem back to the beginning of the medium, but video game comics have existed only since the 1980s.
In the beginning, Freed said comics didn't interlink with the original property, noting that they were "the equivalent to a T-shirt."
According to Freed, Dark Horse was a player in the first movement toward integrating these worlds across different media types. Free said, "What happens in these comic books counts. It's a fun working progress to do both at once and to know both things actually matter."
Freed also explained how the development thought process changes from video games to comics, calling the difference "tremendous." Freed admitted that the "fundamentals are the same," but that's largely the only similarity.
Freed said that there is a "player-first mentality in games" and that "comics can set up characters and do what they're naturally inclined to do."
Quotes: "Mass Effect is our new Star Wars."--Dark Horse's Marshall, on BioWare's space role-playing game franchise.
"We don't talk about Shepard with pronouns."--John Jackson Miller, on the Mass Effect comic books honoring the decision to keep the captain gender neutral.
"Whenever you stray away from the strengths of the medium, you need to know what you're doing."--Alexander Freed, on extending too far from either comics or video games.
"My head explodes just thinking about it."--Mac Walters, on the possibility of open-ended comic books on an iPad.
Takeaway: Dark Horse and BioWare have developed a working relationship built on trusting each other to do what's right for the needs of both.