Since its release in January of 2009, Bolt Creative's "Pocket God" game has managed to do something that few apps in the iTunes store do - stay in the Top 10 week in and week out. The game puts players in the role of an all-powerful god who either enhances or wreaks havoc on the lives of little island Pygmies. A location map lets players choose from different island environments to populate with Pygmies, and from there they can either help them fish and have fun or terrorize them with dinosaurs, thunderbolts, killer sharks, erupting volcanoes, and a slew of other weapons and creatures. "Pocket God" has been downloaded over two million times since its release, and a dedicated community has formed around the game, partially due to Bolt Creative’s constant updates, developer blog and general accessibility to those playing the game.
In 2010, "Pocket God" will be making the jump into another medium, as Bolt Creative and Ape Entertainment announced today that they have entered into an agreement to launch a comic series based on the game. The four-issue miniseries will be arriving in digital form first through iVerse Media, after which print versions will be hitting comic shops.
CBR News spoke with Ape Entertainment's David Hedgecock as well as Dave Castelnuovo of Bolt Creative to learn more about the upcoming project.
CBR News: Let's start by talking a little bit about the "Pocket God" game. Dave, since its release about a year ago, "Pocket God" has consistently been in the top apps on iTunes. What do you think it is about the game that has resonated with people?
Dave Castelnuovo: First off, I just want to say I am a huge comic fan and it’s an honor to do an interview on CBR. I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I’m a trade waiter, not an individual issue collector. I count my habit in inches of bookshelf space that my wife allows me per month.
As far as "Pocket God" goes, it has an instant accessibility and ties into our collective dark side (without being too dark). I love "South Park" and "Adult Swim," so we naturally came to create something with that same kind of humor. In addition to that, the game is very viral because it’s an open sand box. There are no rules, no levels, no progression; you can just play with the characters in any way you see fit. In that way, someone can just pull their iPhone out at a bar or at school and show their friends the result of our last update rather than having to finish a level to get to the payoff.
We have also found that it’s a huge hit with what I call the edgy parents, parents that give their $500 iPhone to their 5 year old and don’t mind them drowning Pygmies to their hearts content. The open sandbox is really appealing to younger kids because they don’t need to learn any rules in order to interact with the environment. The fact that 5 to 50 year olds like our game is a testament (insert 5 cent god word) to how we are able to straddle the line and make it sadistic enough for adults but not too sadistic where they take it away from their kids.
What led to the decision to take the property into another medium?
Castelnuovo: I feel like it’s a natural evolution to the "Pocket God" world. The game is about the characters and the humorous situations they are placed in. With this as the fundamental draw, we can take it anywhere. We have plans to expand it to different devices and also different styles of play. "Pocket God" is our Mario.
Speaking of the "Pocket God" world, how are you using the comic to expand the world you created in the game?
Castelnuovo: Our fans are really interested in the back story of the Pygmies. They are so passionate about the game that they create their own cartoons, videos, and even toys. Also, they like to read into every little addition we make to our updates. One update. we improved the look of the night sky and [designer] Allan Dye added some nice touches, like a red star. For the next 3 or 4 updates, fans started asking us about what the new red star meant, and if aliens were going to come from the red star or if the Pygmies are going to a new planet. The comic is a perfect way to flesh out the mythology of the island and give them the deeper meaning behind things that make an appearance in the game.
In the game, the Pygmies are pretty much cannon fodder for players. Can we expect them to have more developed personalities in the comic?
Castelnuovo: I’m not a huge fan of fluff stories where flat characters are just put through a set of paces and achieve an outcome with no connection to the reader. We definitely want to develop a deeper world with different personalities and looks for each Pygmy. The comic is an important long term proposition for us, and this is the only way we can make these stories interesting over a long period of time. The secret behind the success of the game is that it was engaging to us while we developed it, and we aim to do the same with the comic. If we can make the characters and stories interesting (and funny) to us as we develop it, I’m confident that it will strike a chord with others as well.
Will we also learn more about the mysterious god that wreaks havoc on the lives of the Pygmies?
Castelnuovo: This is actually the perfect place for a teaser. We would like to keep the nature of the mysterious god a mystery.
The god is actually the player of the game. You are the god of these Pygmies in your pocket, and we don’t want to shoehorn the god into these stories just because it’s an element of the game, it has to make sense and work on a story level. We have been throwing around a few ideas of how this can happen, and I think people will be happy with the end result.
David, how did Ape Entertainment and Bolt Creative come together for this project?
David Hedgecock: I’ve been a big fan of the "Pocket God" video game app for almost a year now. I just love the idea of a game that is just fun for fun’s sake. However, there definitely was an "Aha!" moment for me - I was visiting family over Thanksgiving and my nephew, who is now 6 (Hi, Caleb!), and I were messing around on my iTouch. I showed him "Pocket God" (without parent permission and, yes, I am one of "those" uncles who does his best to undermine all the good parenting my brother and his lovely wife work so hard at). Caleb instantly fell in love with the game. In minutes, he had found a dozen new ways to terrorize the pygmies and had both of us laughing while he did it. It was that moment that I realized "Pocket God" was something special, and knew I wanted Ape to help build the "Pocket God" world.
After that, it was just a little market research, a little putting together of a solid business plan, a touch of putting the right talent on notice and a lot of making some new friends over at Bolt Creative.
Who is the creative team on this project?
Hedgecock: I wish it was me! But, luckily for "Pocket God" fans everywhere, we have some incredibly talented folks involved instead. Our new EIC, Jason Burns, is handling the bulk of the writing duties with back-up stories being handled by some of the Ape crew faithful including Jim Hankins ("Teddy Scares," "Penguins of Madagascar").
On art chores, we have one of the most amazing new talents to come to comics in a long time - Rolando Mallada. Rolando is our first contract exclusive artist here at Ape, and his penciling style is perfect for what we have in mind for "Pocket God." We will have back-up stories done by a few other artists, all of whom are familiar members of the Ape Crew family.
Whether you are a fan of "Pocket God" or a fan of good stories, we’re going to have a book for you.
Can you tell us about the release plan and how the print version of the comic will differ from the digital version?
Hedgecock: We’ll be releasing the comic first as a digital application. "Pocket God" was born as an app, and its fans come from that media space, so it was only natural for us to give them first crack at reading about their favorite island misfits.
All of the comic book apps will have a comic shop locator number in them so fans of the digital comic can find a local comic shop. This will be important, as the print version of the comic will have exclusive stories that will only be found in the print version. In this way, we hope to give something special to fans no matter how they decide to buy the book. Get the digital version early or wait a little while for the print version and get a little more story. I recommend doing both!!
How about the "app enhancements" that you'll be including with the digital comic?
Hedgecock: We’re in discussions with Dave and Allan at Bolt Creative about this now. There have been a number of ideas thrown around so far and all of them are exciting, but it’s probably a little early for me to go into detail.
I will say this, though - rest assured that elements of the comic will be making their way into the game. Fans of "Pocket God" tend to pay close attention to the details in the game, it will be smart of them to do the same with the comic...and that’s all I’ll say!
Dave, how is Bolt Creative planning to entice comic readers to come and check out the game?
Castelnuovo: Well, we are not looking at the comic as a marketing tool that can sell more apps. The sales of our app continue to do well, and now it’s time for us to prove that we can take these characters and have them do well on another platform. Our main goal is to create a comic that can stand on its own, that both adults and kids can enjoy. If we do that, I think people will be naturally interested in the game.
That said, we want to do everything in our power to use the game to support the comic, especially the printed comic. I love print comics and don’t want them to become extinct as digital platforms start gaining in popularity. We are thinking of a few ways to direct users to purchase the printed comic from their local comic book shop where we would reward them with exclusive content in the game as well as let them know when a new issue is available and where they can buy it. So far we have sold over 2.1 million apps, which is more than any other app has sold so far, and we want to do our best to make sure these fans discover the comic.
You mentioned earlier that the comic was a 'long term proposition.' Do you have more stories to tell if this first comic series proves successful?
Castelnuovo: Definitely. We have been working with this property for over a year now, and we keep getting new ideas to play with. It’s really easy and fun to brainstorm within the framework of this world. As long as we can keep it fun, we will never run out of material. Also, we have 30 updates under our belt and the first run of the comic will explore only a fraction of the current world. Counting the fact that we are still adding new updates and the comics will also be exploring new locations and characters that haven’t been added to the game, it’s easy to see that we will have stories for a long time to come.
David, as Ape Entertainment moves forward, do you see game-related comics becoming a consistent part of your strategy?
Hedgecock: Ape Entertainment isn’t targeting video games, per se. What we are targeting are properties that we think we can make really great comics about.
In "Pocket God," we saw a great opportunity to add to the popularity and story of the game. When I told Brent and the crew about wanting to do a "Pocket God" comic, there was palpable excitement about it. It’s the same thing that happened when we were working on getting the Dreamworks Animation properties - everyone just knew that it made sense for us to do and that we could do it really, really well.
For more information on the upcoming comics, stay tuned to www.ape-entertainment.com. To learn more about the "Pocket God" game, you can head over to www.boltcreative.com and www.pocketgod.blogspot.com.