[DISPATCH] THIRTEEN QUESTIONS Producer Frank Barbiere Answers Questions
Frank J. Barbiere speaks about his involvement in THE THIRTEEN QUESTIONS prototype, plus more!
Welcome to another new edition of the [DISPATCH], a weekly direct report from us to you, with news, recaps, exclusive content and more.
We recently released THE THIRTEEN QUESTIONS prototype for all paid 3W/3M subscribers. When we initially opened it up to members of THE CIRCLE, our premium subscription tier, we explained that it was a small glimpse into where things are headed in the future, pointing the way forward for some of the things we’ve been working on.
All of that is still headed your way, but with all our paid subscribers now being able to go before the Assessor, we wanted to remain committed to our goal of showing you the process behind the things we’re working on. Today we’re proud to share part of a conversation with comic book and video game writer Frank J. Barbiere. Frank played a crucial role in creating the prototype, and we think you’re really going to enjoy what he has to say.
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Below, please enjoy an excerpted version of our conversation with Frank. We’ll be sharing more of it with you soon.
3W/3M: Before we get to THE THIRTEEN QUESTIONS prototype, it began in an even earlier form. What was your initial take on the Typeform version that went out to THE CIRCLE members?
Frank J. Barbiere: I was impressed with what 3 Worlds / 3 Moons was able to come up with just in that format. I felt like there was clearly something evocative there. It was fun. It wasn't just a word document, there were little bits of interactivity. I feel like that was really the seed of just like, “Oh, where can we take this?”, because that in and of itself is a fun exercise which was really just a quiz-like. I think they managed to get some of the branding and some of the IP in there and made it feel a little more elevated rather than just a list of questions.
So I found it immediately inspiring that that was what we were able to do with just text, what can we do if we start actually moving it into a medium that felt more like video game adjacent or visual novel adjacent.
And how did you actually get involved in working on the next iteration that ultimately became what’s now been released to the community?
I had started talking to Nick [Spencer] – he and I had known each other from working at Marvel – and he knew I had done some video game stuff. He was kind of generally picking my brain about exploring some digital things and what I would think, kind of having blue sky conversations about where things could go. Finally, Nick was like, “We did this activity, THE THIRTEEN QUESTIONS, and people seemed to enjoy it. Could this be something we could prototype?”
Again, it’s a very clear lane. It’s interactive insofar as you’re making some choices, and really kind of helped us wrap our heads around what we would try to make.
Were you given a clear mandate in terms of what the final product should be, or was there a lot of freedom to find it?
We were just blue skying “what could this look like? What kind of options do we have, how do we make it different? And then THIRTEEN QUESTIONS was presented and we said, “OK, let’s turn this into some kind of interactive experience.”
From there it was really just me working – and working with a programmer – to put together what we could physically make from this that feels engaging and feels – I want to say game-y, even though it’s not quite a game, but like we settled on a visual novel-type experience. You see this if you play the experience and know anything about the broader landscape and genres of video games.
That’s where we want to move toward and we kind of arrived there through, not quite trial and error, but putting on our thinking caps and thinking what kind of activities we were suited for. What was something we could make on our own that wasn’t was something that wasn’t, “Oh, cool. Let’s make an immersive 3D first-person shooter out of THIRTEEN QUESTIONS.” It was just a little bit of problem solving, a little bit of creativity, but we had agency to pretty much do whatever we wanted, but we were using that material as our source.
You mentioned there was a game designer on this with you, and that’s of course Jake Patton, who works as a senior combat designer. Why was he the right person for the job?
I worked with Jake back when I was at Airship Syndicate where we worked on the Darksiders game and the League of Legends game and I literally sat next to him. He's super smart, he knows how to do actual coding and design – which I do not know how to do. I struck up a friendship with Jake. He has really smart sensibilities and is someone I knew was capable of me kind of bringing ideas to him and turning it into something.
I feel like a lot of times when you don't have that person in your life, you can't actually make things. [Laughs] I'm very fortunate that, I got to know him through work and then as a friend and he was on board to to help us design the prototype.
At what point did Sasha E Head get involved in the project?
Sasha is the designer at 3 Worlds / 3 Moons and is kind of in charge of branding, and when she came in she actually made some of the UI elements and put it together visually for us. So that's what I think it all came together and felt like a 3 Worlds / 3 Moons product versus just a generic visual novel that we randomly put together.
[Before Sasha] we had it so you could just kind of click through the text, and there was a box at the bottom where it would display and then just nothing in the middle. Pretty quickly, we were able to get some art in – almost like a comic script, we wrote it out and you'll see it almost feels like comic panels flashing through. Sasha looked at it, and she works in video games, she works in UI, she understands what it is. She was able to be like, “Oh yeah, this is what we’ll need from my end,” and at that point it came together quickly. We had the bones of it together and then really just had to put that polish layer on.
It was nice to have all these people on hand. If anyone's ever tried to make something – anything at all – the hardest part is kind of putting the team together. I feel very fortunate that we were able to quickly align and to work with the creative people who are at this company as well and have a very solid creative vision. It took a lot of heavy lifting off to have someone like Sasha who already was at the company to bring kind of the brand of the UI to it.
I heard a rumor that there were some mockups before an artist was even hired.
Can you tell us about that process, where you know you’re going for the language of a visual novel but don’t have an artist on board yet?
I think Jake literally just googled some art assets. We did not obviously ship these, they were used just for internal purposes. Oh, no, he was even smarter. He grabbed panel art from the existing 3 Worlds / 3 Moons comics and basically like cut out two figures and put them on each side and used backgrounds.
I actually helped a little bit with that as well. I did contribute some Photoshop skills [Laughs], but we really were just mocking up the interface of what it could look like. It was, I'll say functional, but not pretty in any way, shape, or form. It was still the kind of thing where we could see the way forward. And I can’t emphasize enough having Sasha come in, and then obviously Alejandro [Aragon] do the artwork just elevated it.
That is the interesting thing that I think is a lot like writing comics in bigger game design worlds, especially when you're writing before anything is made, you have to do a little bit of that “I need to imagine how it's going to be” and have a very clear view of what you want the final product to be. And even though you're just writing text or like documentation, as long as you have that in your head and can get that shared language, you know you can get to the finishing point. Once we settled on a visual novel format, we understood the conventions of that, and even when we just had the placeholder stuff in there we knew it was going to work.
When the prototype was released this summer, it was described as setting up a new phase for 3 Worlds / 3 Moons. What else can you tell us about this next phase and maybe what's ahead for our subscribers?
We are definitely doing a lot of planning and thinking toward cool digital experiences that build on the foundation we built here and, as you said, this was a prototype. So it was rather small in scale and meant to just be like, “Hey, we can get out here and do this.” But again, I'm just happy to say that we are taking all the lessons we learned here and trying to build something more ambitious, something that feels interactive, feels fun, and will hopefully let people like express some creativity and see a different side of the universe than the what they get in the comics.
Thank you to Frank for chatting with us. We’ll be presenting the full conversation about THE THIRTEEN QUESTIONS prototype soon, including working with the art team, finding the right composer and music, and some of the biggest lessons learned from this process.
And now, let’s take a look at the week that was…
[REWARDS] Previously available only to members of THE CIRCLE, now paid subscribers at all levels can get their hands on THE THIRTEEN QUESTIONS prototype. This is just a taste of where things are headed…
[MAPS] The second Map from the pages of [MAPS] has been unveiled, focusing on a THERRA LABYRINTH brought to life by IC4 Design.
Thanks for joining us. We’ve got more [MAPS] on the way!