Sara Pezzini isn't one to play games, but that's not stopping her from appearing in one.
At Comic-Con International in San Diego, Top Cow Productions announced its development of a "Witchblade" video game based on the comic book company's flagship character. But getting Sara from the paneled page to the digital realm isn't as easy as eviscerating a pack of thugs with a sentient artifact — there is a considerable amount of steps involved when it comes to bringing a video game to life, let alone a game based off of a comic book character. CBR News spoke with Top Cow President Matt Hawkins to learn more about the "Witchblade" game and its development process.
"I've been trying to develop a Witchblade video game for a very long time and developing video games on comic book properties is actually very hard," he told CBR. "With the costs of producing an Xbox 360 and PS3 game pushing $50 million now, [video game companies] want either massively preawareness branded properties or they want to internally generate and build their own characters, as you see with a lot of publishers."
Certainly, the "Witchblade" franchise and Sara Pezzini as a character come with their own amount of international recognition. "Witchblade, for us, is our preeminent character," said Hawkins. "We've sold well over $150 million books worldwide at this point and it's been published in 21 languages and 55 countries around the world. We've had two television series, one in Japan and the TNT series in 2001. I just came out of a meeting for the Witchblade film we're developing. There is so much going on with this character and this brand and it really is and has been the lynchpin franchise in our arsenal for almost 15 years."
With a lot riding on the "Witchblade" franchise, Top Cow has been understandably selective when it comes to assembling the right team to make the video game a reality. One of Top Cow's partners is Buzz Monkey Software, an Oregon-based video game developer responsible for titles such as "Tomb Raider: Legend" and "Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal." In partnering with Buzz Monkey, Hawkins is attempting to replicate the success that Top Cow had with creating "The Darkness" video game alongside developer Starbreeze.
"When we started developing 'The Darkness,' [Starbreeze] started putting together a demo for the game with what the characters would look like, and then at that point go out and seek a publisher to push [the game] over the hump," said Hawkins. "That's really the only way to do it right now and that's the process I'm trying to replicate based on what we did with 'The Darkness' before."
Helping the process along is Union Entertainment, a talent management group specializing in video game packaging, previously collaborating with Top Cow on the "Darkness" game. "I worked with a company called Union Entertainment that's run by a guy named Rich Leibowitz, who's a smart and savvy guy and has represented a lot of video game developers over time. He was sort of the lynchpin guy who worked with me getting Starbreeze set up and getting Paul Jenkins to write the 'Darkness' game," said Hawkins. "It's kind of like packaging a film project where you put the elements together and then you take it to the studio or the publisher or whatever it might be and make it into as attractive a package as possible."
Fans of the "Witchblade" comic book series will certainly find themselves attracted to the game thanks to the involvement of series writer Ron Marz and original co-creator Marc Silvestri. "We have a story already written for the game that Ron Marz helped write [alongside] Dan Jevons, who works for Union. He worked with Ron to help develop the idea," said Hawkins. "Rich and I oversaw and produced the direction and the effort in which we want to go in. Marc Silvestri worked on it as well. "
Still in the early stages of development, Hawkins couldn't reveal too much about story and gameplay elements, though he was very clear on what he doesn't want the "Witchblade" game to become. "We don't want some little social networking game," he said. "It's like what we wanted with 'The Darkness.' We want a big game with a lot of action, great story, one of these next generation console games, because that's what these characters deserve."
Hawkins spoke to the fact that the Witchblade lends itself to some fascinating story and gameplay directions, saying: "With the Witchblade specifically, you have this weapon that's a separate entity and character in and of itself, and I think that's a key and vital point of the Witchblade mythology — you have the Sara Pezzini character and you have the Witchblade itself, so how do you differentiate those and sort of the emotional resonance of both as separate entities? We're looking at crazy shit. She's going to get the Witchblade early on in the storyline and she evolves with the Witchblade and it gains powers and abilities over time. The interesting thing about the Witchblade is it's essentially a sentient gun interacting with other characters and how that works. It'll be a grounded thing where you have Sara Pezzini as a homicide detective and you also have this supernatural world that we see in the comics too and the strange overlap between those two."
This early in development, Top Cow has yet to find a publisher for the "Witchblade" game — and according to Hawkins, the company is going to take its time to make sure they've secured the right partner. "There could have been a Witchblade video game three or four times over the last ten years," he said. "We've gotten several offers and several places that people want to come in and do this or do that. But Marc Silvestri and I don't want some piece of shit video game to come out that looks like two-thirds of these other comic book franchise video games to come out from Marvel or DC sometimes. They're getting better now but if you go back ten years ago, there were some bad games put out. 'Arkham Asylum' is the shining example of what can be done if they do it the right way — I love that game — but for me, we [at Top Cow] are so concerned about this needing to be good, it needs to represent the characters well, the story has to be good, and we want to work with people who actually give a shit. We've turned down a lot of money over the years on 'Witchblade' specifically for some company that would have put it out [poorly]. These things just mean too much to us to just do them willy nilly, and that may sound arrogant, but it's not arrogance. We just care."