G.I. JOE Fanboy Gets to Make the Video Game

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“It all started with the filecards” by Dax Berg, Lead Designer at Double Helix

Ahh the summer..

As a kid you always discover the best things in the summer. Maybe it’s the lack of school to divert your shortened “kid attention span.” It could be that those are the times when the weather is better and you are out more in the neighborhood socializing and discovering new things instead of being cooped up inside.  Whatever the reason, it was definitely the summer of 1984 when I first discovered the G.I. JOE universe.

Unlike 95% of the kids my age, I didn’t get introduced to G.I. JOE through the two traditional means (this being either through the toy line or the cartoon series).

Early on as a kid the only action figures I collected were Star Wars, and being the completionist that I was, the thought of purchasing any other toy outside of the series I was collecting to me was “money not well spent”.

Also being a kid born and raised smack dab in Middle America (Kansas to be specific), we didn’t get any other channels other than the “Big 3”.  The G.I. JOE cartoon was on the new “Fox channel” and that channel for me wasn’t on the dial. (Unfortunately little did I know years later all I needed was one of those UHF circle antennas that could be purchased at any Radio Shack for 5 bucks – the lack of this little antenna in more ways than one robbed me of parts of my youth).  J

No, I discovered G.I. JOE through a tertiary medium; the medium of comics.

That summer my mother was working for a company putting together a trade show and one of the booths was a new local comic shop.  The shop couldn’t pay the full price of the floor fee so they paid part of it in cash and the other part was done in trade for comics.  My mother getting a portion of this gave the entire part of her share to me to buy all the comics a young kid could dream of and that was more than enough to get me hooked.

To this day no matter how busy it gets at work you can still find me every Wednesday during lunch time at “Comics Toons N Toys” in Tustin, California picking up my latest books.

In that first huge pile of comic books (that came up to my knees) I got from the shop that day back in ‘84, a few dozen of them were from the G.I. JOE series.

G.I. JOE #21 was my first experience with anything “JOE” related, and what an issue to pick up as my entrance into the G.I. JOE Universe! It is still is one of my favorite comic books to this day in showing how you can tell a story in the medium without a single word of dialogue or effect sounds. (It also doesn’t hurt that this was the 1st appearance ever of Storm Shadow and the reveal of Storm Shadow’s and Snake Eyes identical Arashikage Clan tattoos).

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I loved the Superheroes comics in that knee high pile but there was something I was drawn to more in the comics about the Heroes (the ones without the “super” prefix).  These weren’t men with super serum injected into their veins, or guys that could lift busses and toss them around like toy cars. In my mind, these were soldiers that anyone could end up being, each with their own distinct personalities and traits.  Each of these characters had a voice (whether they used it or not) and a style that was uniquely their own.

From that point on I was a “G.I. JOE fanboy”.  I collected the standard G.I. Joe American Hero book, the G.I. Joe Special Missions comic, even G.I. Joe Yearbooks, which were for the most part reprints of other stories I already had.  A year later a comic in the series would pop up which led me further down my fanboy path.  This comic was called G.I. Joe Order of Battle.  It was basically reprints of the toy line’s classic filecards.

As a kid I quickly became obsessed with collecting these data cards.  I would trade some of my other action figures with other kids on the block not for their JOE Action figures, but for their G.I. JOE filecards. I would scour the neighbor hood looking for that one kid who didn’t care about his filecards and just wanted the toys.  I could get nearly all of his filecards for only a few of my action figures in trade (to me an awesome deal).

This trading went on for months until I hit the mother load.  That’s right, I finally found the one kid in my school whose parents were rich enough to get him the U.S.S. Flagg – a toy known by most kids my age as the “Granddaddy of all toys”.  This guy had nearly every G.I. JOE Action figure and did not see the value in the filecards way I did.  I actually traded all of the cards he hadn’t already thrown away plus every file card he would get in the future for (of all things) comic books, which thanks to my mother, I had plenty of.

From then on I was set. I kept my filecards in a red binder and eventually in an empty Air Jammer Road Rammer box in the bottom part of my closet and would pull them out for immediate reference as I read through every new and old G.I. JOE issue.

Fast forward 25 years later and here I am still collecting comics (actually I owned a comic and game shop for five years before got into the video games industry).  But now I get to make a video game set in the universe I grew up loving as a kid.  You take away all of the deadlines and stress that comes with the job (yeah there actually is quite a bit in this industry) and it truly feels like a dream come true.

You can see my love of the comics coming through in the game.  Stalker from the cartoon, for example, has a very limited role, but in the comics, Stalker is a big time character.  In the game I made Stalker the Field Commander.  Anytime there is an issue on the ground Stalker is your man who can help you out.  He has the biggest dialog role by far.

As a kid reading the comics I always imagined Stalker sounding like Carl Weathers in the Rocky or Predator movies.   It is too bad we didn’t get him to do the voice over for the game, however, David B. Mitchell who plays the role did an amazing job!

One of my highlights of making the game is obviously the filecards.  I worked with Brian Reed (who is a great comic book writer himself) on the initial story plot which takes place after the movie and retells a classic JOE story in the new JOE universe.  You G.I. JOE fans out their will realize the familiar plot a few mission into the game and you won’t be disappointed.  Anyhow, after the script was finished, Brian did not have time to write the filecards with me so Paul Benjamin, our Producer for the PSP game out of Fizz Factor in Austin and I wrote them.  Each filecard has amazing artwork attached to it and updated information that I hope every G.I. JOE fanboy will appreciate.

There are a total of 75 filecards in the game that you will unlock as you play through.  Each of these filecards was meticulously looked over time and time and again before they were finally approved by Hasbro.  You’ll notice they are identical in style to Hasbro’s new toy line and all of the information is correct to the new G.I. JOE universe.

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The circle is now complete!

Over the next few months, our team will go more into the game details and the game mechanics but laying down the foundation of how I became a Joe fanboy is important to any of you who spend the time reading this.  We look forward to sharing our experiences making the game and will be writing more soon – now back to work!

Dax Berg is the Lead Designer / Game Director for the G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra video game releasing August 2009 alongside the live-action movie from Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment, in association with Hasbro.   Launching on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS and PSP, G.I. JOE The Rise of Cobra is an accessible third person action-arcade shooter that allows players to recreate and relive the greatest moments from the film, cartoon series and action toy line.

Last Updated: May 8, 2009

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