Hey folks and welcome to the another written BGCP creator interview. We are lucky enough to be chatting today with Gordon Rennie.
Gordon Rennie is an incredibly talented artist from the Scotland. He has worked in the comic book and videogame industries respectively for the last 30 years.
His credits include:
- Judge Dredd
- Rogue Trooper
- Aliens vs Predator
As well as multiple other cool titles that you can find over on Amazon.
BGCP: Hi Gordon, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Would you mind starting off by telling us a bit about yourself, your educational background and your career?
Gordon Rennie: My education? A useless arts degree from a Scottish redbrick university, guaranteed to get you nowhere at the point I got it in the late 80s.
I started doing interviews and reviews for the UK comics press – back in the days when that was an actual thing and they paid actual money – which is something that most frustrated writers end up doing. Warren Ellis was starting out at the same time, working for the same people. One of those comics press mags was Speakeasy, which was morphing into the short-lived Blast comic, that was part of that early 90s surge of (equally short-lived) ‘mature’ comics like Crisis and Revolver. I pitched some comic strip ideas to the editor and he bought just about everything I offered him.
And that was it. I was a professional comics writer. It seemed a lot easier in those days…
BGCP: You obviously began your career in the comic industry with Sewer Patrol releasing in 1991. Could you tell us how that first gig came about and what you learned from that early experience?
Gordon Rennie: It was the first thing to appear in print, but it wasn’t the first professional thing I wrote. I had already by then written the first chapters of White Trash and Sherlock Holmes & The Curious Case of the Vanishing Villain, both of which would appear in the last issue of Blast and then be picked up by as separate comics in their own right by Tundra. Trust me, they were much better and more memorable stories than Sewer Patrol, which was basically a sort of dumb and disposable Future Shock thing.
Sewer Patrol did have one notable thing about it; I didn’t get paid for it. It appeared in the last issue of Toxic, and the spivs in charge of that comic sent me three post-dated cheques for it, all of which bounced, of course. So early on in my career I learned a valuable lesson from it; don’t believe or work for spivs.
BGCP: Just a couple of years after that, you managed to score a gig writing for 2000AD with Missionary Man. How did that opportunity come about? Did you apply for that yourself or did 2000AD seek you out?
Gordon Rennie: Well, it was the Judge Dredd Megazine, not 2000AD. I was still blacklisted from 2000AD at that time, as a result of having written too many mean reviews of it in previous years. I sometimes think Megazine editor David Bishop mainly hired me to spite his erstwhile colleagues at 2000AD, all of whom would be gone from there within a few years.
I had pitched David a few things, all of which he rejected in his famously blunt style of the time. He liked Missionary Man, though – a sort of Pale Rider/High Plains Drifter apocalyptic western set in the Cursed Earth wasteland of Judge Dredd’s world. My main stroke of luck on it was David diving it to Frank Quitely as his fist mainstream comics work. Those first Missionary Man stories really aren’t very good story-wise, but – much to my chagrin, keep on getting reprinted due to the Quitely artwork.
BGCP: You worked on and off with 2000AD for a good number of years following this. How was your experience working with them as a company?
Gordon Rennie: Great. They pay regularity and on time – which, trust me, is the main thing after my early experience with the Toxic spivs – and I get to do a lot of hopefully fun and interesting stories in the comic I grew up reading. How we laugh at the time I was in no uncertain terms told I’d never ever work for Tharg.
BGCP: Going through your body of work, I notice that you have written for a good number of licenced properties. How does that affect your creative control if at all? Are there certain rules laid out by the company that you have to stick to before you plot out your storyline? Does it vary depending on the property that you are writing for?
Gordon Rennie: Have I? Warhammer, of course. Some Doctor Who. What else? Predator and some other Dark Horse stuff.
It really does depend on the IP and how much control the holder wants to exert on it. Some just want the licence money and then don’t really care what you do in your silly comic, and some have very definite ideas on what you can and can’t do with their property.
Games Workshop are pretty possessive with their Warhammer IPs, but the most ferocious I’ve ever encountered is – probably unsurprisingly – Lucsasfilm. I worked on a Star Wars game and while I never answered to Lucasfilm directly, their comments and directives were very much passed on to me by the games developer and it was clear they looked at everything I was doing on the game. They seemed to like what I was doing because, rather flatteringly, they told the developer to bring me back to do some more extra dialogue work on the game that the developer had wanted to do in-house.
BGCP: Do you have a favourite IP that you have enjoyed working with the most?
Gordon Rennie: Judge Dredd, Doctor Who and Star Wars, which were the holy trinity of my growing-up years and which I’ve been lucky enough to all write for. Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen your name scroll up the screen on a Star Wars thing, with the starfield in the background and the John Williams music playing.
BGCP: You wrote the script for the first Killzone game that dropped back in ’04. Before we dive into your videogame work, what is your background with the medium? Have you always been a gaming fan and what are some of your all-time favourites?
Gordon Rennie: I had been playing games as far back as the Sega Mega-Drive days in the early 90s, so I was well acquainted with games, game stories and game tropes. The jump from playing games to making them and seeing and understanding how the sausage meat is made, is a big one. Definitely a real eye-opener seeing what goes on into the hugely complex business – and getting more complex with every new tech generation – of making a game.
Favourite games? Early Tomb Raider, all the GTA games from III to IV and generally ones where you get to blow stuff up and shoot people in the face.
BGCP: How did the decision to move across to videogames come about? Was it just about doing something new and different or did you specifically choose the medium of videogames because you are a gaming fan?
Gordon Rennie: The Killzone guys – and it wasn’t even called Killzone then – came looking for me, as they were fans of my Rogue Trooper work in 2000AD, and were already ripping off Rogue Trooper – sorry, were ‘inspired’ by the strip for some of the things in Killzone. (Killzone Geist = the Norts from Rogue Trooper, basically.) So, basically, I just got this email out the blue asking if I wanted to come to Amsterdam for a meeting about working on their game.
Alas, the Killzone juggernaut rumbled on to eventual completion without me – first game I worked on, first game I was fired from – but it was certainly the beginning of teaching me how to – and sometimes how not to – make a game.
Gaming paid much better than comics. And I got to travel to exotic places like Amsterdam, Dundee and Liverpool. I’ve probably worked on about 40 games over the last twenty years, doing everything from being there on day one laying down the basic story, to a day or two’s work polishing dialogue on weird Korean fantasy RPGs with names I can’t even remember.
BGCP: How does one land a gig writing the script for a brand new IP exclusive to Sony consoles? (I am asking for the purposes of the interview but I would also like to know the answer to that myself as an aspiring writer!)
Gordon Rennie: I got my first games work because of my experience in comics. These days, there are dedicated games writers who begin in the industry instead of coming into it with a track record elsewhere, but I’m afraid I’ve no idea who they do that.
BGCP: In a situation like that are there already a ton of story aspects established such as the game’s setting or art design or does all of that come from or change based on the script that you write?
Gordon Rennie: It really does vary from project to project. In the early days, the story and the writer were almost an after-thought for the game designers. They’d build the game then decide to bring in a writer to try and make sense of it all. Another games writer compared this kind of writing to coming in to put up the wallpaper after the house had been built. Thankfully, that’s a lot rarer now and they want writers early in the process to do the world-building or work on any rough plot ideas that exist.
BGCP: You also wrote the scripts for Rogue Trooper, Splatterhouse & Aliens vs Predator. How was your experience writing for those titles?
Gordon Rennie: Rogue Trooper was great; the most problem-free major games job I ever had. I was called in very early on it and shaped the story. Everything went really smoothly on it – I think we lost one level for time schedule reasons – and shuffled a few story things around to deal with it, but that was the only hiccup. It’s still a game I’m proud of, although it’s been a long time since I played it.
Aliens vs Predator should have been fun too – me, working with essentially the same development team as Rogue Trooper – but we didn’t figure out the problems of dealing with a large Hollywood studio who had mixed and often contradictory ideas on what could and couldn’t be done with their franchise IP. Lucasfilm, they weren’t. Added to the problems, game industry macro-economics saw the AvP publisher swallowed up by a bigger publisher partway through development and the new guys cancelled the game. Rebellion had to find another publisher while keeping the development process going on their own, that must have been a a strain on resources. The game came out, although another writer replaced me late in the day. I’m afraid I’ve never played it.
One final laugh on it – during production, the fanboys were gloating about how there was also the Colonial Marines game in development, and it was going to kick AvP’s ass when it came out. Well, Colonial Marines came out a few years later, was terrible, got terrible reviews and has a lower Metacritic score than AvP.
Splatterhouse was… interesting. I did what I thought was pretty good work on it, got paid, even got flown to New York to talk about it at a comic con panel…..and then it all fell to shitty pieces. The developers were spectacularly fired off the game by the publisher, who took the game in-house to finish/redo it themselves. Everyone I knew on it – including the guys at the publisher who championed it – ended up getting fired, and the whole mess made Namco Bandai rethink their entire strategy of trying to make games for the American market. It came out and to the surprise of absolutely no-one, sank without trace.
I enjoyed working on it, though.
So there you go. Three games: The Good, The Okay and The Ugly.
BGCP: I have to ask about the cancelled Highlander game that you wrote for prior to its cancellation in 2010. I have always been a big Highlander fan and I was so gutted when the videogame adaption was cancelled, (which we actually discussed on Episode 14 of the BGCP: Disassembled Podcast.) What can you tell us about that cancelled project? Was it a direct adaption of the movies or was it a fresh take? Can you tell us any more about why it was cancelled?
Gordon Rennie: I can honestly tell you very little about it. It was being published by Eidos and the same people there worked on Rogue Trooper and liked my work and asked me to do an emergency rewrite on the cut-scene script. Which I did over a weekend, at a super-inflated pay rate. They liked what I did, the American screenwriter who was overseeing the project for the Highlander IP holder really liked what I did… and then the game got canned at some point after this.
I did about three days work on it, had no contact with any of the actual developers, but I imagine it was all more games industry macro-economics stuff. Eidos had been taken over by another UK publisher – someone had described it to me as the small fish swallowing the bigger one – and the whole operation was starting to financially fall apart. So I guess Eidos just couldn’t afford to finish or release the the game – and the emergency rewrite I did suggested a game with development problems – and cut their losses on it.
BGCP: Looking to the future, is there a chance that we will see you working on a videogame script again at some point?
Gordon Rennie: I haven’t done any major games work since Strange Brigade a couple of years ago, which was right up my alley. Other than dialogue-polishing work for the odd game here and there and writing most of the Judge Dredd mobile game, I’ve been concentrating on comics and some animation work.
BGCP: Finally, is there anything that you currently have in the pipeline that you can tell us about or anything that you would like to promote?
Gordon Rennie: My writing partner and I are working on an original IP animation pilot for Ubisoft that isn’t a game, but is very games-related.
Another interview in the bag; it was very interesting getting to chat with the enigmatic Gordon Rennie. I don’t think anyone can accuse him of holding back on his true feelings and it was refreshing to hear such honest answers given by someone in the industry.
If you enjoyed this interview, you can check out another one of my written interviews with the brilliant Chris Evenhuis here.
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