It’s not often that I find a mobile game worth talking about. But thanks to Dan Abnett, DUNGEON HUNTER: CHAMPIONS has me intrigued.

Dan Abnett is a renowned comic book writer. He’s done work for both DC and Marvel and is perhaps best known for his work on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. He’s also known for his novels taking place within the WARHAMMER 40K universe. So when I found out he was writing for DUNGEON HUNTER: CHAMPIONS, needless to say, I was a little surprised.

DUNGEON HUNTER: CHAMPIONS is a mobile, online action RPG with MOBA elements. The game features hundreds of playable characters and is set within a multiverse of different fantasy and science fiction worlds.

I had a chat with Dan about the game and his role in it. We also had a discussion about the role of story, atmosphere, and character in video games:

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ComicsVerse: So, tell me a bit about yourself and your background?

Courtesy of Bell of Lost Souls

Dan Abnett: Well, I am a freelance writer. I’ve been writing comics for a very long time, working for Marvel, DC, 2000 AD. I’ve also written a lot of novels. Dare I say over fifty. For all sorts of things, but particularly WARHAMMER which I’m particularly well known for.

And I’m not a gamer [Gasp!]. I’m fascinated by games. I like role-playing games, but I’ve never been a player of computer games or anything like that. It’s mainly because I think they’re great, and if I started playing them I’d never get any work done. So I made a conscious decision to sort of avoid that addiction.

But I’m guessing about ten years ago I started to be approached by different game companies. They saw a correlation, I suppose, between some of the stories you would build for a major comic and the sort of storylines that might work really well in a game. So, I was approached and hired on to write stories or characters or dialogue for games. I find it fascinating and a really rewarding experience.

I really love working with game companies, and sometimes my complete ignorance of games has proven to be an asset. Because I’m the idiot in the corner who asks the really stupid questions. My innocence is sort of an asset.

And this has been a very enjoyable game to work on, I must say. There’s a very close correlation between this game and the sort of fantasy / cosmic storytelling that I do in comics like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, which is the thing that people mostly blame me for.

ComicsVerse: Could you talk a bit more about the differences between writing a comic book and writing for a video game? Are there any similarities?

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Dan Abnett: There are loads and loads of similarities. When you’ve been writing comics for a long time, or you’ve been writing books for a long time, you become sort of enmeshed in this idea of a long term fiction. The idea of a long story that will play out over a great distance of time can be very rewarding.

Things change, you change direction, you incorporate new ideas. You actually have time to respond to what readers might like and actually incorporate these things in the way the story goes forward.

And those are the really transferrable assets when it comes to writing a game.

A game can change as a result of the players, both in a literal sense through their decisions, but also the enthusiasm the players have for a particular aspect of the game. The writers can see what’s popular and adjust accordingly.

So that idea of adding ideas in as you progress is something I find useful. I suppose it’s a matter of thinking on your feet. Like, when I’m approached by a major comic company to write a series, they’ll say “Give us your outline for the first year of the story”, I know for a fact that even though I’m writing that down, it’ll change by the time I get to write those issues.

It’s mainly because you don’t have all your great ideas down when you’re writing the outline, you get them over the course of the year as you get the chance to develop your work.

Games are very much like that. Having said that, writing games is a massively different experience because so much more time is spent on the worldbuilding.  You’re constructing the actual laws and rules of the way your world works and the way the characters interface. So there’s a lot of invisible work that never gets to be seen directly by the player.

There’s also an aspect of working in games that’s a blessed relief for someone like me. Someone who essentially sits in a darkened room 24 hours a day writing with no human contact, slightly withering like a plant in the dark.

Working on a game, you work with a team of people. Often a very large team of people. Often a team of people spread across the world. Even more so than a comic where you might work with six or seven people, you might have hundreds in a game. And that kind of interface is a marvelous thing for a lone creator. To be able to bounce ideas off of people.

I think games are very a communal thing, both as an end product and as a creative endeavor.

ComicsVerse: What, specifically, attracted you to this project?

Courtesy of Gameloft

Dan Abnett: Well, the massive paycheck obviously [chuckle].

No. No. I was asked if I was interested in developing characters. Quite often when I’m writing a series of novels, the stories themselves are virtually determined by the people in that story. I know exactly what they’re going to do, why that’s important, and why it’s dramatically satisfying. Working on a game is almost like working on a novel in real time. You’re watching those characters do things, and you’re watching the choices of the players.

So for DUNGEON HUNTER: CHAMPIONS, my interest came from the fact that we were creating characters, and those characters had to be really distinct and really interesting.

And also, we were creating an environment that’s completely unique to this franchise. We’re dealing with what might be described as science fiction, cosmic fantasy, or even steampunk settings, moving away from the sort of fantasy that we’ve dealt with in the past.

There’s plenty of fantasy in this, but there’s now a broader range of inspiration. You mentioned “worldbuilding”. It’s worlds that we’re building.

ComicsVerse: You’re speaking about narrative, lore, and mythos on a level you usually only see in traditional RPGs. Mobile games aren’t typically known for that sort of thing. What is DUNGEON HUNTER: CHAMPIONS doing differently in regards to the story? 

Dan Abnett: One thing we wanted to do was to create a satisfying sense of ongoing narrative that builds up to a bigger picture.

Typically when you’re playing a mobile game your interface with that game will be comparatively brief. It’s a short form of entertainment compared to sitting down and playing a massive online game where you adventure and quest for hours and hours.

So for a mobile game, it’s about precision. We need to communicate a lot through a (literally) smaller screen and a shorter playing time. So it’s a matter of taking story ideas, spreading them across different scenarios and levels in a way that accumulates into something significant. So after a while, I hope you get the same sort of feedback of being engrossed in a long-term adventure that you would’ve gotten playing another game for hours and hours straight.

In mobile games, storytelling has to be really quick, and really communicable for the player, but that doesn’t mean the thinking behind the story isn’t big.

I can’t speak for the competition, but maybe there’s a sense that a mobile game is often a disposable thing. It’s a bit of fun, but it doesn’t have any weight or significance, and it’s built that way. It’s built to be shallow.

Here, we’ve placed very simple elements that link everything together. So maybe there’s a greater sense of satisfaction as you play. You’ll want to know more about the people you’re meeting, why they’re there, why you’re there, what’s really going on.

It’s not necessarily a matter of saying more but using each moment wisely. We want to keep the player as hungry to learn more as they are to play more.

ComicsVerse: So, it sounds like this game has an expansive story. Should we expect the narrative to keep expanding post-launch?

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Dan Abnett: Yes is the simple answer. But right from launch, you’ll be presented with great characters and amazing situations. But there will also be some really interesting questions that come with these situations to keep pulling you forward, to keep you interested in playing the next round.

It’s a way of combining the fun of fantasy combat with a greater sense of purpose, mystery, something you’re opening up and unlocking as you play.

Games are often about wielding giant swords and watching stuff explode and that’s fun, that’s great, but you can add more context. You can generate more interest for these things. It doesn’t have to be a “here and gone” thing, but something you can retain and come back to.

ComicsVerse: So tell me a bit more about the world of DUNGEON HUNTER: CHAMPIONS. What’s the tone, what’s the theme, what’s the style? What’s the backstory for this multiverse?

Dan Abnett: Well yeah we’ve got a multiverse with multiple tones, and I think that’s one of the delights of the game. When you encounter certain environments or meet certain characters, they may feel completely different from the traditional fantasy we’ve come to associate with DUNGEON HUNTER. That is absolutely there from the word go.

And that’s part of the trick, to make sure these shifts aren’t jarring, and if they are jarring for them to jar in a really interesting way. When a fantasy character meets a science fiction character, we should relish in the fact that they’re entirely alien to each other.

So you’ll go to different places with very, very different styles. There’s a steampunk feel to some of it, but we also have hard sci-fi, cosmic settings as well.

There’s a lot of extraordinary things that you’ll encounter, and if we’ve done our job right you won’t go, “Why is there a giant barbarian standing in the middle of that spaceship”? It’ll all make sense, and you’ll understand how these things intersect.

ComicsVerse: So it sounds like you’re talking about genre-bending, and that’s something a lot of writers are afraid to tackle. What are some things you’re doing to make the world of DUNGEON HUNTER: CHAMPIONS meld together into a cohesive whole?

Courtesy of Gameloft

Dan Abnett: I think a number of things. Genre-bending is actually a fairly good way of describing it. It’s almost more like genre-splicing or making a genre cocktail. We’re putting these ingredients together to maybe make something that hasn’t been done before.

And we’re also trying to kind of embrace the incongruity of these worlds coming together, and that’s where the characters come in. Rather than just say “wouldn’t it be cool to mix a space setting with a fantasy setting”, we’re putting these opposing themes together in a way that embraces their differences. It’s part of the fun to see these characters that normally shouldn’t meet.

And even though they’re sharing objectives, they’re dealing with them in a very different way. We have several characters that are very light-hearted, and they clash very much with some of the more traditional fantasy heroes. But that, to me, really works.

And actually, it’s something I think we’re seeing a lot of lately with some of the great “shared universes”. I mean to go back to Marvel, the more cosmic side of the universe was completely separate from the more earth-bound superheroes like Captain America and look what they did just in the last two weeks with a film that brings those characters together. Characters that shouldn’t necessarily work alongside each other, but they absolutely do!

I think that’s one of the inspirations I took as a comic book writer with a notorious track record for doing things because they’re fun. Wouldn’t it be great fun to see this character alongside that character?

So I guess that’s it. Maybe the comics are bleeding through more than I thought they were.

ComicsVerse: So tell me more about the characters in DUNGEON HUNTER: CHAMPIONS?

Courtesy of Gameloft

Dan Abnett: Well we’ve got some great characters from the fantasy homeworld of DUNGEON HUNTER: CHAMPIONS, some characters that we’re familiar with. We tried to interpret them in ways that are bold and exciting without forgetting their past.

But we also have characters from other worlds. For example, we have characters from the Steampunk world who are using magic or a sort of “techno-magic” in ways that are completely unfamiliar to us.

We also have this great setting, which sort of post-apocalypse meets ROLLERBALL, I suppose. And the characters from that work are all about junk salvage and improvisation. It’s all sort of modern and grungy and exciting, and so is their attitude.

To them, the fantasy characters are sort of a joke, and they do stuff in a much more aggressive way.

So there is that great contrast, and sometimes we play with that,  and when we design these characters we think about how they’ll interact together.

ComicsVerse: Are there any specific characters you want to tell us about?

Dan Abnett: Oh goodness me! There are so many that I find very, very appealing. There is a character we refer to as “The Inkmaster” who uses a sort of Chinese style dip brush. He creates magic by drawing things, which I think is visually very exciting indeed.

Courtesy of Gameloft

There’s another character that we refer to as “Roller Girl”. She’s the champion of the arena where they play this ROLLERBALL type game, and she’s just such a fun character, one of my favorites to write and think about. She is so anarchic and she takes no prisoners.

And there’s another from the same world as her. He’s sort of the anti-Macgyver. He’s sort of a junk-specialist who can build anything. The problem is he loves blowing things up, and his entire career has been dogged by the things he’s blown up. There are so many countries and cities he’s had to leave because he’s blown something up.

This is what I’m saying about there being a sort of cheeky sense of humor. But their backstories grab you quickly, and they’re fully-realized characters. They’re not just the joke in the midst of the game, they don’t just fall under comic relief. They’re very much part of the world and what’s going on within it.


So Dan had a lot of interesting things to say about DUNGEON HUNTER: CHAMPIONS.

I gotta admit: I’ve never been a fan of mobile games. As Dan said in the interview, they often feel disposable. Too often, they feel like skinner-box distractions designed to spend your money and little else.

But hearing Dan talk so passionately about story, atmosphere, character, and worldbuilding was truly surprising and honestly a bit refreshing. Gameloft really seems to understand how story can enhance gameplay, how style, atmosphere, and narrative tie into the overall gaming experience.

It feels weird to say this, but I’m actually excited to try this game out. Hopefully, this game lives up to its promises. If it does, then it should serve as a lesson for the industry on the importance of worldbuilding in video games.

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