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Interviews > Mike Kennedy (Video Game Developer: Snake Plissken's Escape)
How did you end up
being a comic book writer and video game producer etc?
I'd been into comics since a kid, and my first real job in high school was
working in a comic shop, so comics and writing stories were always in my blood.
I'd gone to conventions and made a few friends at Dark Horse in their early
years (this was the late 80s), and those relationships lasted while I went
through college. I never once thought of comics as a career, and graduated
college with a degree in computer graphics, which were still pretty young. This
was 1991, and things were still 8/16-bit sprites and floppy discs or
cartridges. Pre-internet, pre-CD-ROM, pre-3D, etc. So it was a great time to get
into games, and as a career path, it took off like a rocket. I started as an
artist and designer, but started doing as much writing and directing as I could,
since story started playing a bigger and bigger part in games. Soon, campaign
and storyline direction became my focus on whatever games we were working on.
friends at Dark Horse offered a few writing gigs here and there: Ghost,
Star Wars, Alien vs Predator, Lone Wolf 2100, etc. It was
never more than just fun stuff on the side, but a cross-over between the two
industries came up a lot. Bringing comic artist friends onto game projects to do
concept art and storyboards, for example. Tim Bradstreet, Chris Warner, and
Francisco Velasco brought some great stuff to the table on Plissken…
How did the Snake Plissken's Escape Video Game come
about and how did you and Andre Emerson get the assignment to be involved in it?
It was all Andre's doing -- he'd been a huge fan of the character and films, and
we often talked about how cool it would be to do a Snake Plissken game while we
were working on Dead to Rights and the (shelved) sequel (that was half
finished and looking awesome before being farmed out and completely
re-designed). DTR was a nice success for Namco at the time, so they were
open to his pitch and proposal. He did some expert networking and got ahold of
Carpenter and (Debra) Hill, explained the vision, and they were on board. After
whatever negotiations were necessary, it was greenlit internally.
At that point,
we started outlining the feature set, campaign structure, and production plan
right away. We started making concept art, storyboards, test animations, etc,
built upon the DTR engine. Since we had added a lot of really cool
features into the DTR2 build, we leveraged a lot of those advances in the
design. Andre was the guy with the drive and vision pushing it forward. There
were, I think, three of us at the early stages hammering out design basics.
Andre and I focused more on campaign structure and story stuff, while he and the
others focused on gameplay design.
Can you tell us more about the campaign design and
approved storyline created for the game? Snake's past, present and future would
be explored through new and original stories for instance.
It was gonna be awesome. It was set after LA, after the Big Crash, dropping the
rest of the country (world, even) into nearly the same level of desolation as
we'd seen in NY and LA. We had a plot that would take him across the continent
in yet another manipulated mission for a questionable authority, but since we'd
have such a larger canvas, longer running time, and (in a sense) unlimited FX
(Special Effects) budget, we were able to get big with everything. We did
explore his past, and even had a flashback sequence to the Leningrad Ruse that
suggests (inconclusively) how he lost the eye. Old friends and foes come into
play, some from the novel, some from the unproduced animated feature screenplay,
and many original creations of our own. The contract with Namco was for three
games, so we were aiming for a trilogy with some big ramifications. I think it
was the cornerstone of John, Debra, and Kurt's hope to keep the character alive,
fresh, and big profile for years and years to come.
How involved were John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Kurt
Russell in the project and what kind of requests and input did they have? Kurt
Russell was suppose to provide with likeness, voice and motion capture for Snake
Plissken for instance.
At the early stages, they were very involved. Still one of the biggest thrills
in my career was the day spent with the three of them at Debra's house in the
Hills. We spent hours not only talking about who Snake was, what he represented,
his drives and peeves, and what he would and wouldn't do. They all were very
passionate still for the character and world, and excited by this chance to
bring him back big.
Kurt was all on board. In fact, that same afternoon, we had his face and head
cyberscanned by Gentle Giant so we could start working on a functioning 3D model
of Snake. We had a rough temporary body model already made, but it was key to
have him recognizable as Snake from the neck up. He IS Snake! Unfortunately,
that's the extent of his involvement, since the project got shut down before the
real participation would have begun.
How far was the video game developed before it was
cancelled and how close does the playable pre-production demo that was created
represent the final version of the game?
At some point for reasons I'm not totally clear on, Namco decided to shift gears
suddenly and dial back on internal development, leaning more on third party dev.
That decision led to the shutdown of Dead to Rights 2: Hell to Pay (which
itself was looking awesome, well over half-done… bits of it showed up in the
farmed-out sequel and PSP (PlayStation Portable) spin-off, but that's a whole
other story…). The team was split up between a few other projects that needed
support, with about 10 of us assigned to get Plissken off the ground. We
built two mini-levels, a bunch of new Snake-specific character models,
animations, and features (including climbing, hanging, etc… all of that
Splinter Cell stuff that was just starting to heat up). Those two
mini-levels were fully playable, albeit without any scripted story events – just
sandbox shooting galleries, proving the earliest unique features. We had the
whole campaign outlined, with concept art for many of the key locations and
characters defined. You can see a lot of that in the presentation videos we
prepared for Namco brass.
Is it true that the video game was cancelled due to the
death of Debra Hill?
No, not at all. It was cancelled well before her passing. While her health had
been a concern, even during our visit, she was the most vocally participating of
the three up to that point. I can't say for sure, but I think it was cancelled
as part of Namco's internal re-focus away from original US development back to
importing and localizing Japanese developed titles. I believe it was a financial
belt-tightening on the company's part, not anything specific against any
particular title or team, just a necessary downsizing (that ultimately led to
their acquisition by Bandai).
How was it working with John
Carpenter, Debra Hill and Kurt Russell as well as Namco?
primaries were great, and I was truly looking forward to working with them a lot
more. They had some really interesting ideas about how to mix some AI
(Artificial Intelligence) into the character so that he kept his "independent"
personality – for example, if the player tried screwing around out of character,
the character himself would take over and get back in line. We were talking
about ways to keep Snake from ever "losing" or looking like a chump even through
the tropes of "death" and respawning. It would have been pretty groundbreaking
stuff that I still haven't seen today.
Working with Namco, on the other hand… let's just say things would have been
different if they were as excited by the prospect as the team was. I just think
the handful of decision-makers involved didn't understand the value and
potential of the property.
Were you disappointed that the video game was canned and
what did you look forward to the most about working on this video game?
Incredibly disappointed. But after they cancelled DTR2, I honestly wasn't
surprised. There had been writing on the walls during that whole period, but we
on the team chose to ignore it and focus on building what we all believed was
going to be an incredibly cool and high-profile AAA title.
I was super-excited about getting to spend time in the voiceover booth and mocap
(Motion Capture) stage with Kurt. That would have been such a thrill.
What's your favorite memory or memories of working on the
Definitely that afternoon with John, Kurt, and Debra. They were all so cool and
inviting and down to earth. They admittedly didn't know much about what was
possible or acceptable in video games at that time (outside of a shared love of
GTA (Grand Theft Auto), but they were into doing something
narratively new and groundbreaking. They wanted to keep the character mysterious
and independent, somehow separate from the player controlling him, but without
denying the player the thrill of being Snake. It was a great day. They signed my
copy of the novelization! And I shouldn't mention it (since I wasn't supposed to
be doing it), but… I recorded our brainstorming session. That's a folder of MP3s
I'll treasure for years. (And no, I don't think I can ever share them at the
risk of pissing them off…)
What are you currently doing and what else do you enjoy
doing in your spare time?
After 20 years in games, I hopped the fence from video games to comics entirely.
I've been publishing artbooks, comics, and graphic novels, first as Publisher
for a company called Archaia, then as my own publishing company Magnetic Press
after Archaia got bought out by BOOM! Studios. Magnetic merged with another
publishing company Lion Forge last October, so I'm currently directing the
Magnetic line for them, bringing in some really cool and unique comics and
graphic novels from some amazing talent from around the world. Some pretty
exciting stuff! (You can check it out at:
Thank you for your time, Mike.