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PDZ.com interview with Eric Trautmann, Part 1

Original interview transcript from PerfectDarkZero.com.

Meet the author of Welcome to the War and one of the creative minds behind the world of Perfect Dark Zero™. In part one, Eric talks about the basic design principles that guided his work on Issue #0. In part two, he takes us behind the scenes for a discussion of the comic book creation process. In the final installment, Eric offers some personal observations about his work and reveals a closely-guarded secret about the Carrington Institute.

ID Confirmed: Begin Transmission

Operative: Trautmann, Eric S.
Classification: Content Editor
Team: Xbox Worldwide Content and Marketing/New Media & Franchise Development
Mission:  “Welcome to the War,” Issue #0 of Perfect Dark Zero comic book
Mission Parameters: Script, Book Design, and Lettering
Mission Hot Zone: E3 2005 in Los Angeles, California

“Welcome to the War” is the title of Issue #0 of Perfect Dark Zero, an original comic book that chronicles an incident from the life of everyone’s favorite agent of the future, distributed free to attendees at last month’s E3 trade show. Operative Eric S. Trautmann, whose cover occupation is Content Editor with the Xbox Worldwide Content and Marketing/New Media & Franchise Development team, led the Issue #0 mission team: he designed, scripted and lettered the book, and in part one of our three-part interview he discusses his background and his work during the book's initial design stage.

Part One

Question: Please tell us a little about yourself: your professional background, your education, what you do for Microsoft Game Studios, and any special training you’ve had that’s related to or helped you prepare for this particular assignment.

Eric S. Trautmann: I’ve been a professional writer since I was 16 or 17 years old, and a diligent amateur since I was considerably younger.

I sold my first story to a “magazine” (a regional-interest publication about the Adirondack region of upstate New York, where I grew up). Naturally, within days of cashing the check, I learned that the magazine had folded before ever releasing a single issue. Some would consider this both “special training” and a dire prophecy of things to come.

After college, I worked for a dice-and-paper game company for many years, primarily on a licensed game based on the Star Wars films (though I also contributed to a couple of Star Wars magazines, worked on properties as varied as Indiana Jones, Necroscope, and Stargate SG-1). This inexorably led to periodic consulting work for Lucas Licensing. When the game company closed its doors for reasons too bizarre and horrifying to relate here, I was eventually recruited into Microsoft by Jordan Weisman (of FASA and WizKids fame), making me one of the founding members of Microsoft’s fledgling efforts in entertainment licensing.

Since then, I’ve spearheaded the creation of the Halo novels, and was given the opportunity to write The Art of Halo: Creating a Virtual World for Del Rey (among other things). I’ve provided scripted dialogue for several Microsoft titles, including MechWarrior 4, Crimson Skies and Halo.

When Rare joined Microsoft Game Studios, I immediately lobbied to get a chance to develop the setting for the Perfect Dark property. I’m a sucker for tales of high-tech espionage, so naturally I was a huge fan of the original game. Fortunately, the folks at Rare liked what I’d done for Crimson Skies and Halo, and I got right to work.

Question: If you had to summarize the core design philosophy of “Welcome to the War” in a few sentences, what would you say?

“Please, please, please don’t suck.”

My fundamental approach to virtually everything I write is the same: “What story in this setting, with these characters, would I enjoy reading?” In general, the characters – if they’re properly designed – speak for themselves. I can “hear” their voice in my head. After that, it’s a matter of placing these characters in compelling danger/conflict, and just “see” what they do. 

Question: What were some of the most important challenges in the design process?

One of the most important challenges was figuring out how to showcase Joanna in a way that hardcore fans of the property would appreciate and enjoy, while simultaneously introducing her to a whole new audience.

At the same time, “Welcome to the War” was very clearly a promotional vehicle, in the same vein as many such “freebie” comic books. I am a huge comic book fan/geek (and I’ve “married into” ownership of a comic book shop), so I’ve read several such efforts. One thing I’ve always hated is that, to my eye, such freebies are not terribly conscious of pacing, storytelling, dialogue, etc. They’re just not good comics. Either the art is weak, or the story is hampered by the misguided desire to simulate exactly what happens on the screen, or the dialogue is childish. I desperately wanted this piece to work on its own merits, so that comic fans might be intrigued by this character and world, even if they’re not aware of the video game and its backstory. 

Question: “Welcome to the War” offers our first glimpse of Joanna Dark’s world outside the game itself, and it’s clearly a dangerous place. Tell us something about how this world really works.

In Joanna Dark’s world, corporate influence has grown to such a degree that even massive international conglomerates as we currently understand them have been dwarfed by sprawling “hypercorporations” that can quite literally buy entire countries.

The hypercorps possess elite private “security” forces that rival many world armies, and they have the most cutting edge hardware to get the job done. Joanna is an agent for one of these forces, and now, a cold war between rival hypercorps is starting to turn hot.

And behind the scenes, forces that even the hypercorps do not truly understand are stirring…

(Cue suspenseful music.)