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Matthew Ritter has written a couple comic books, including the ongoing Nova Phase which I recently reviewed and the graphic novel Retropunk. He has worked as a writer for several game companies including Telltale games and has contributed to the story of games like Walking Dead Season 2. He has also written articles for various websites including Bloody Disgusting. Hear more about what it’s like to work in the video game and comic book industries right here, right now.
Nicole D’Andria: For people who don’t know what your comic book Nova Phase is about, how would you describe it?
Matthew Ritter: Um, I sometimes go with Super Mario meets Cowboy Bebop. Which isn’t actually a very good description. El Darado in space is another one. It’s a story about a treasure hunt in space. Action, adventure, space western glory. Done with graphics like from an old arcade game from the late 80s and early 90s.
ND: What inspired you to write Nova Phase?
MR: Hard question. I love space. I love westerns. I love space westerns. I also love video games. Even more than that, I love pixel art as its own art form. I know an artist who’s perhaps the greatest pixel artist in the world! (He’d disagree but I love his stuff) and I asked him if he wanted to do a comic. We tossed ideas around.
ND: Why did you decide to have the artwork in Nova Phase be 8-bit? Are you planning on using this style for any of your other comics?
MR: I would love to do other comics in the style, but it’s a very taxing style. It’s hard. As for the why, I love pixel art. I really do. I think it’s a valid art form in itself. It’s beautiful, it brings about a symbolic understanding that’s hard to get with anything else. It’s like the natural progression of mosaic. Beautiful and just uh… well beautiful.
ND: What was it like working with Adam Elbatimy?
MR: Amazing. He puts up with my weird scripts, and he tries to make them work. He comes to me with edits and suggestions on how to improve it. He doesn’t complain too much when I move around some of his word balloons and ruin his composition to make the story fit what I want. He’s smart. He’s dedicated, and he’s willing to work around his actual day job which is great. I wish I could get the comic to sell well enough so he could just draw for a living, so does he. It’s hard though. I’d buy this comic!
ND: What is your other series Retropunk about and how will it differ from the usual robot comics?
MR: Retropunk isn’t much of a robot comic. There is a robot in it, but retropunk is a story of… family. It’s an action adventure story and the main thrust of it is about the value of human life, and how family is earned and built, rather then simply something you have naturally. Something I tend to write about a lot.
ND: You have also created the indie video game successfully funded on Kickstarter called Boon Hill. Can you tell me a bit more about this game and what inspired you to make it all about reading gravestones?
MR: Gravestones are sweet! Okay, sheesh, now I’m going to sound pretentious as hell. There’s a book called the Spoon River anthology. It’s a book of poetry based on grave stones. It’s beautiful. Go buy it, read it, it’s glorious. I thought, hey, what if I made a game like that?
It’s not out yet actually. It was supposed to take 3 months, currently it’s going on a year and three months. We’re hoping to have it done by the New Year, but we keep saying that and it keeps taking longer. We made a lot of mistakes as new developers. A lot of mistakes. Luckily I made sure to scope the game down as much as possible. Wish I’d done it even more!
Definitely advice I’d give aspiring game designers. Scope down. Always, always, scope down. Having worked on more than a few games, scope down as much as you can. What is the really important part of the game? Does that pickpocket mechanic add anything? Does changing the color of your outfit add anything? Scope down! Once the game is done? You can start scoping up if you still have time and money to work with.
ND: What exactly is entailed working as a pixel artist on games like Boon Hill?
MR: Lots of assets. Trying to draw assets (Adam actually did most of the pixel art on this too) lots of graves, animations. Trying to make different tiles that can be fit together in interesting ways. It’s definitely different from drawing a comic.
ND: As a writer for Telltale Games, what is some of the work you’ve worked on for them?
MR: I worked a little on the second season of Walking Dead, and I’ve been working on Tales From the Borderlands. Which is looking really great. Stylish and fun.
ND: Can you tell me a bit more about some of the other video games you have worked on?
MR: I don’t even remember them all at this point. A lot of unfinished or canceled projects. A lot of personal projects that never made it out. I have an old Atari styled psychological horror game done in flash that’s 98% done and never got finished because programs kept disappearing and I suck at CS2/3. I did some pixel art for some Pixel Jam games who also make Atari styled games. Beautiful stuff, check it out! I wrote some for a cool space rouge like that was funded through Kickstarter. Just a short story. What was that one… https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/181428952/approaching-infinity-a-space-adventure-roguelike/posts/1019579 Approaching Infinity! I don’t even know if the writing made it in.
ND: Your love of retro game graphics seems to permeate in everything you do. What is your favorite retro game and why?
MR: That’s nearly impossible to answer. I love a lot of them. Games like Snatcher, Pac-Man, Zaxxon, Wonderboy in Monster World, Alex the Kid in Miracle Land, Star Control 2, on and on and on. And on. There’s a ton of great games out there. Lots of wonderful stuff to see. As for Retro graphics…
The Metal Slug games may have the best animation I’ve ever seen classic game wise. Currently? Maybe the stuff Way Forward does. Their pixel art is amazing.
ND: As a freelance writer on various websites like Bloody Disgusting, what are some of the articles you’ve written that you are the most proud of?
MR: What?! No! Don’t go looking for those! They’re terrible! Heh, they’re not that terrible. I just don’t think I’m a very good journalist. Mostly editorial stuff here and there. Like I did one article on the history of inventory systems in horror games. Or another on the nature of Tank Controls. Weird really niche stuff like that.
ND: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book writers?
MR: Do it because you love the art form. Don’t do it because you want to make a movie or get rich. There are easier ways to do either of those things. Write comics because there are stories you want to tell that can only be told in comics. Use the medium, explore it. Realize there are interesting elements that don’t exist anywhere else. Let your mind expand into that space. If it’s a space you want to explore, go, explore it.
ND: What advice do you have for people who would like to create video games? Are there any particular programs you like to use for creating them or other helpful tips?
MR: Scope down! Learn to program! Make games!
Make. Games. That is the best advice I can give. Get games made. Join game jams. Meet other people. Connections… but mostly make games. Get games done. Get your stuff in games. If the game sucks? Whatever, no one will remember it. If the game sucks but has some good ideas? No one will remember it. If the game is okay. No one will remember it. If the game is good no one will remember it. Honestly, no one will remember most games, but they will be able to see that you can make a game. That you’ve worked on a game. That experience is something that can’t be recreated in a class room or in your head.
If you want to learn to be a car mechanic, fix cars. If you want to make games, make games.
ND: Thank you for your advice and your time Matthew! You can follow and learn more about him @MatthewmRitter.