When Namco made its announcement last week about the console-specific characters to be included in the home versions of Soul Calibur II, comic book fans were pleasantly surprised to find that Spawn would be exclusive to the Xbox game. Spawn's creator, Todd McFarlane, is also lending his touch to Necrid, a character that will be included in all the home versions of the game. We had the chance to talk to comic book creator and patron saint of action figure collectors Todd McFarlane about working with Namco on Soul Calibur II.
GameSpot: When did your relationship with Namco begin?
Todd McFarlane: We've actually been quite lucky over the years to get a lot of our product put out in Japan. I know from a business level people say it's a tough country to crack, but, even going back to the early issues of the Spawn comic books and the toys, we've always sort of been there. Once you get your toe in the door there, then everybody starts to introduce you to their buddies, and other people are sort of connected either directly or indirectly. So basically from all the other stuff we've done through the years with the movies and the toys, and we've done some other video games in the past with other companies, so that was always there. Then I've got a buddy that runs the LA office who's always making runs over to Japan to keep his relationships going. So this is one of those situations where if you keep your face in front of people long enough you'll meet everybody.
GS: So did Namco approach you?
TM: In almost everything we do I'm not usually the guy who instigates stuff. I'm usually a step behind who's courting who. [laughs]
GS: When the final decisions were made, when did the process of doing the sketches for the character take place?
TM: I think it came out of a bigger conversation. We were having conversations about whether anyone wanted to do a Spawn video game, and out of that Soul Calibur II came up. And it sort of went "Would you guys like to try to design a character for us?" And out of that conversation it went "Would it be OK if we put Spawn in it as a guest star?" And then later on his role became a little more prominent. I think everybody was just politely asking questions, and there weren't many times when either side said "no."
GS: In terms of the actual process, how did you settle on which Spawn would be included in the game?
TM: We've done a few different takes on the Middle Ages in the toy line. I think they were looking for two main things--the Spawn everybody sort of knows, and then they were looking for a variation that was close to looking like that Spawn.
GS: As far as Necrid goes, where did he come from?
TM: I think they gave us some descriptions of some of the things they'd like this character to do in terms of what his role was and whether he'd be a good or bad guy and how he'd interact with everyone.They draft up these bibles, if you will, on the characters in the game as they're putting it together. So they came to us with like a paragraph or so--I don't think he had a name at that point--and we said, "OK, let's take a whack at it and see what we come up with."
GS: How familiar were you with the Soul Calibur franchise before this all started?
TM: Well I'm not a big video game guy, you know--given that I'm at that age where games weren't sophisticated enough for me growing up. But as I got older, got married, and had kids and stuff, games have always been chasing me. So I've always been amazed to follow the development of video games. I'm not a big gamer, but even I've heard of Soul Calibur. There's probably from a dozen to half a dozen strong brand names in games that I could bandy back and forth, and Soul Calibur's one of them.
GS: How much input did you have in Spawn's portrayal in the game?
TM: We had discussions about what we wanted to do. I think there's a very fine line between staying true to the other mediums that he's in and taking a bit of artistic license, so it's good for what it is you're doing. I'm not a big believer in letting any tail wag a dog. For instance, if you look at the toy line, you'll see that there are quite a few different Spawns. That doesn't necessarily mean that all of them are in the comic book; it just means that it's a cool toy. It looks good and it was enough to entice you to buy it. You don't have to string all the continuity together so tightly, so I'm less concerned about whether he does something that's not exactly what he did in issue 55 of the comic book than if it's good for gameplay.
If he does something that's good for gameplay and it's sort of close to what he did, then I'm thinking it's cool because there may be a lot of people who aren't familiar with Spawn, and they need a character who's interesting to look at and plays well. So I know there's a concern about his cape, which is why he doesn't have the cape. I think it's there in some animation before you get into the game, but the cape is an odd thing to animate in terms of the memory it takes up and to make it believable. I've written issues of him where the cape doesn't even come out, so that's OK. We can make him capeless if it means he can maneuver and look like he's fighting in a more sophisticated way that lets you see the action and makes him more exciting to look at. I mean it still looks like Spawn minus the cape, OK? Superman minus the cape is still Superman.
GS: Now that technology has improved, do you have any interest in having a dedicated Spawn game at some point?
TM: Oh yeah.
GS: Do you see the partnership with Namco extending to McFarlane Toys creating figures for the game?
TM: We are actually doing figures for Soul Calibur II. They're not full-size 7-inchers. I think we scaled them back down to about 5 inches and put them in these little boxes to try something a little bit new. The fun thing is that you can put in details and textures that you can't see on a flat screen all the time. You're trying to create the illusion, but it's still 2D on the TV. So we had some fun converting the characters into 3D figures.
GS: Have you had a chance to see the game in motion? Are you pleased with how it's looking?
TM: Yeah, the stuff I've seen looks pretty cool. They've shown me some of the other characters and how they move and fight. One of the things I've discovered is that I'm so used to looking at stuff not moving with comic books and design work and things like that. So I was looking at some stuff thinking that I'd add some detail, but once they started moving, kicking, and flipping, it all works. You don't have to be nearly so anal about that kind of stuff because they're perpetually in motion, and you don't ever get to lock in on anything. It showed me some of the bad habits of stationary visuals that I have.
GS: Did you expect Spawn to offer you all these opportunities? Is it still fun to do your work?
TM: Well we're having fun in the sense that, because work is still work you know, we're able to hang around mediums like music, TV, video games, comics, and toys, which are things you'd hang around for anyways after work. But we actually get to indulge in that in our daytime hours. I still think there's a lot of room for Spawn to infiltrate the minds of others, you know? So if we came out with a dedicated game, a couple more movies, and we got the Spawn animation going for five years, then it would seep in a little bit deeper and farther than it has right now. I don't say "Look at us. Look how good we are," and I'm always asking "Who doesn't know about Spawn, and how could we get them to know about it?"
GS: Thanks for your time.