Morning Star Alpha, the tie-in graphic novel for the game, is an even bigger risk. Add-on apps for games have earned the reputation of being rushed, shallow and of poor quality, and most players don't take these digital comics seriously, no matter how fanatical about the series they may be. Convincing people to play a new shooter on their iPhones is one thing – getting them to read a digital comic about that game is another world of salesmanship.
So far, Morning Star Alpha has three things working in its favor: It's free, it offers a new way of reading on-screen comics, and it comes from an all-star team, written by award-winning sci-fi author John Scalzi, drawn by Marvel and DC artist Mike Choi, and overseen by Halo creator Alex Seropian.
And a fourth thing – it looks really cool. Morning Star the game follows near-future astronaut Charlie Campbell to a hostile planet controlled by the Dust, a malicious race determined to kill everything, and everyone, in its path. Campbell's crew is slaughtered and he accidentally has a hand in remotely imploding the Sun, destroying Earth and all of its inhabitants. But there's hope. Campbell has access to a time-traveling device, and he can still save the world.
Morning Star Alpha the comic offers deeper narrative arcs for this story, filling out the characters and making the entire experience more robust. It's free, and it's on the same device that people will play Morning Star – still, it's not necessary to read the comic to understand the game, and vice versa.
This is the first project of its kind for Scalzi and Choi. Scalzi is a Hugo Award-winning sci-fi author of Redshirts and Old Man's War, and he recently retired as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America association; Choi is a veteran comics artist, most recognized for his work within the X-Men universe. They're used to working with classic formats – novels and comics – but the Morning Star universe appeals to both of them for the same reason.
"I'm easily bored," Scalzi says. He describes Morning Star Alpha not as a graphic novel, but as "what graphic novels can be in this medium;" an evolution of on-screen comics. Panels are interactive and readers can participate in the story, making choices for the characters and affecting the plot.
"If it were just another graphic novel, if it were anything close to a graphic novel, I probably wouldn't be as interested in it as I am," says Choi. "I probably would still be doing Marvel or DC stuff. From a personal standpoint, this is definitely a brand new experience, being a part of something that's – I don't want to say 'bigger,' but definitely different, definitely more ambitious – and, fuck it, bigger."
It's not a standard graphic novel, thrown onto a tablet – each panel is fullscreen and readers can explore the pages on parallaxing panels, finding certain items, tapping them, learning more about the universe. Players will also be able to make choices for characters within the narrative.
Seropian, a co-founder of Industrial Toys with former comic-store owner and Seven Lights founder Tim Harris, is pretty sure this is the first comic of its kind. Other formats they investigated either stuck a standard graphic novel on an iPad, or were motion comics, which attempted to read like an animated television show. He doesn't want Morning Star Alpha to be like those.
"This was kind of like digitizing a comic book, and this was just bad animation," Seropian says. "We didn't want to do either of those two. We wanted to take what we loved about reading graphic novels and add to it to make it an even better experience."
The graphic novel and the game are fluid, with choices from the comic bleeding into the game, and events in the game feeding into the comic. The app also features a timeline and extra information about the Morning Star series. It's a symbiotic process, and the comic isn't an afterthought, as so many other tie-in apps appear to be, Scalzi says.
"Talking about the video game and talking about the graphic novel, what we want to do here is establish that they're not separate," he says. "Because of the medium, because it's all on the tablet, because it's on mobile, we are putting out these discrete events within the universe that exist on a spectrum of interactivity. There are things you can do with the graphic novel that are unlike what you've been able to do with a graphic novel before. There are things we're doing with the video game that are specifically tailored to be in the tablet format. Both of these things cross-talk with each other."
"One of the things that I always makes sure, as a writer, is that no matter what you pick up in that universe, that thing in and of itself is a complete experience, that you don't feel like you're missing out on things because you haven't read the first book or the second book," Scalzi says. "No matter where you step in, that universe is going to work for you. That's the philosophy that we put in work here. Morning Star Alpha is, in and of itself, a complete entertaining experience. Morning Star is a complete entertaining experience. They are a part of a larger universe, but if you do each of them individually, you'll have fun with each of them individually. But they do mesh together, they do work together, they do speak to each other, so you will get a larger experience if you go through both of them."
No matter where you step in, that universe is going to work for you. That's the philosophy that we put in work here.John Scalzi, Morning Star Alpha
Or as Seropian puts it: "You won't miss what you don't see."
Scalzi, Choi and Seropian stress how much of a collaboration the project is, and how they feed off of each other's talents and expertise. Seropian and Harris, for example, have a trained eye when it comes to on-screen experiences, Choi says.
"What makes the app, in my opinion, really unique and totally different from what I've seen out there, even the newer stuff coming out – it's spearheaded by Alex and Tim," he says. "I think they know what's going to look good on an app screen. I'm not just saying that because they're right here."
It's still a new experience, for Scalzi specifically. He says he's had offers to work on comics before, but this is the first one he's said "yes" to. The interaction between the game – he consulted on that story, too – and the comic was too much for him to pass up.
"I'm not going to deny that it was a lot of work, and that Alex and Tim owe me lots of love and money, because all that is true," Scalzi says. "But the thing is, it's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun."
Morning Star Alpha will launch a few weeks before Morning Star, both heading to iOS devices this year.