In episode #242 of X-Band: The Phantom Podcast, released February 2023, the Chronicle Chamber team interviewed Ash Nicholls, owner and director of Art of Play, about some of the most thrilling news in the Phantom world this year - their new project The Phantom Game.
In this post, we look to summarise the key takeaways from that conversation for you to read through, remind yourself of, and get excited about! If you haven't watched or listened to the podcast yet, do yourself a favour and check it out at the bottom of the page - it's worth hearing the passion!
Art of Play is an award-winning game development studio specialising in online and app-based games. The company has created games for well-known franchises such as Clone Wars, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spider-man, Spongebob Squarepants, and Paw Patrol, producing 70 games across 7 years immediately prior to the pandemic.
This means they have worked with major players in the industry such as Nickelodeon, Hasbro, Viacom, Sony Pictures, and Paramount, and have produced a range of styles of 2D and 3D games, typically employing designs from the original shows.
In the interview, Ash revealed that The Phantom Game will be Art of Play's first console game, marking a new chapter in the company's journey. Of course the game is based on our beloved comic book character, and the team is eager to bring the iconic hero to life in a new and exciting way for phans of the franchise, but in a way that respects the history and traditions of the existing universe - and satisfies existing phans!
According to Ash, the team is using traditional methods combined with the latest technology and design techniques to create a high-quality gaming experience for players.
Ash shared the following details about the game and its development:
Inspired by the release of the NECA figurines, he reached out to King Features Syndicate (KFS) in early 2022 and had positive conversations with them over the course of the next six months to explore the concept and planning approach of the game.
In December 2022, Ash signed the necessary contracts with KFS after visiting their offices in New York.
The game will be created using the Unity 3D engine, with a mix of traditional animation and modern lighting effects. The environment is 3D, while the characters will be 2D.
Art of Play aims to sell at least 20,000 units of the game, starting with digital downloads and later offering physical collector’s copies.
The game will be playable on popular gaming consoles Nintendo Switch, Playstation, and xBox as well as on desktops/laptops via Steam. A mobile app version is also in the works.
Ash estimates that the digital version will be priced at $39 AUD, while the physical copy will be sold for $60 AUD, and the collector’s box will be around $80 AUD (all prices very preliminary only).
The development of the game will cost over $500,000 AUD, which will be entirely funded by Art of Play.
Playing the game
The game play will be a classic action 2D side-scrolling 'beat em up' with an added layer of depth provided by the Phantom's unique morality. There will be two playable characters, the 21st Phantom and Diana, with Devil accompanying the player throughout the entire game. One level will even feature Hero as a rideable option.
The game is divided into 5 chapters with 3 levels each, so 15 levels total. While the main objective is to work through the storyline chapter by chapter, some levels will be able to be extracted and played as a separate game mode, such as the Phantom in a boxing ring which can be used as a training ground for combat skills. There will be a couple of cooperative levels when you play as both Diana and Phantom, or take on the action together if in 2-player mode.
It is expected that the main storyline could be completed in 2-3 hours, with high replayability due to alternate endings, multiple game modes, and collectible elements.
In terms of combat skills, players will have access to grappling, strangle-holding, a huge range of punches and kicks, and of course the Phantom's sidearms. There will also be stealth modes for sneaking up on enemies.
The Phantom's morals are a key aspect of the game and will impact the way it ends. Players will have the freedom to play as they choose, but the ending of the game will be affected by their actions. This morality clause has led to a lot of planning.
“The use of his guns, specifically, and how to integrate that into the game play so that we’re not restricting the player but keeping in line with the fact that the Phantom uses his guns pretty much as a last defence … killing too many people on one level will require the player to go back and replay it," Ash explains. "Finding the balance between action and morality is important in defining who we want the Phantom to be and staying true to the rich history of the comics."
A potential collecting aspect of the game (pending approval from KFS) would be finding images of classic comic book covers to add to a personal gallery. Art of Play will work with the Chronicle Chamber team to ask phans to suggest and vote for their favorite covers, with the suggestion of including a top 50 in the game.
Ash wants the game to be accessible to all ages, both long-time phans and new gamers, young and old. Repeat plays will yield different results and add to the replayability of the game.
The plot for the game is being written by Ash in collaboration with Australian phan-favourite author Matt Kyme. KFS has approved the structure of the story, with dialogue still awaiting approval. The story is a key part of the game and will be influenced by the player's choices, with multiple endings possible depending on how the game is played.
Ash was understandably reluctant to give too much away about the plot, but did confirm that the main storyline is set in the 1930s and takes the Phantom on a journey around the world, starting in Bangalla and traveling to “the main areas of the world where The Phantom is popular.” Under duress from the CC team, Ash confirmed that Australia would be one of those (specifically, the docks of Sydney Harbour). You don’t have to read between the lines too much to see it likely that India, Sweden, USA, and Brazil will also be on the itinerary.
The main foes will be the Singh Brotherhood, with each level featuring a set of Singh members to fight against. However, each area will also have a unique group of geographically specific mercenaries. As the Phantom, players will try to resolve conflicts through diplomacy, but the roughnecks won't be inclined to listen. “This game will require some strategy, but it's not a mindless brawler … It will be fun, and that's the most important thing," says Ash.
Ash explains, “The morality clause to the whole game means that if you play the game a certain way you’re going to see an ending. If you play a different way you’re going to see a different ending. We want players to think about how they tackle combat and how they tackle the game as they play through. This is a key part that King Features are digging as well. What a player does has an effect on the outcome of the game.”
The plot has a strong emphasis on the innocence and traditions of The Phantom, which comes across as being vitally important to Ash. “The story has a lot to do with lineage and family … that sort of stuff hits home. That’s a very strong narrative point throughout the game. Family, lineage, generations, it all comes into play and then the ending is gangbusters. It gave me chills. I’m hoping that phans will get as much out of it as we have just in writing it … It’s a corker, it really is.”
The complete story will be shared a few days after the game's digital launch, and there will also be a tie-in comic book.
As for the art style of the game, this has been inspired by the dynamism of comic book covers and will feature frame-by-frame animation. Ash and the lead artist on the project, Anthony Spay, have already spent months on character design with Anthony overseeing the artistic style and supplying concept art.
Art of Play’s internal artists and colorists are working on traditional hand-drawn animations, and will maintain the balance between realism and comic book style. The game will feature agile and athletic movements for the Phantom to suit the brand and the character; this process has already taken over a month to develop .
Ash sees it as important to get the Phantom’s agility and movement just right. "He will not cumbersome and lumbering like The Punisher, or too nimble and agile like Spider-Man." Ash and Anthony are working to find the balance of a perfectly muscular character in a completely skin-tight costume who moves athletically. “The Phantom needs to feel legit.”
The game will also include cut scenes and comic panels that pop up in the corner of the screen during the action. The aim is to make the game feel like a comic book and, while time-consuming to produce, the traditional hand-drawn animation will allow for ease of playability on a range of platforms without drawing high levels of computing power.
The game will even include small easter eggs and maybe a cameo from Mandrake or other Defenders of the Earth characters, with the hope that after this game, Art of Play might shift into the DotE universe for the sequel.
The soundtrack for The Phantom Game will be created by Clark Aboud, with plans to include geographically distinct music for the various countries that the Phantom visits.
Excitingly, Ash is hoping to get Billy Zane to narrate the “For Those Who Came In Late” opening of the game and potentially even voice the Phantom character. The quality of the animation, game screens and story will soon be shown to Billy as part of the pitch to get him on board for the voiceover.
Promotion plans for the game includes a Kickstarter event in July 2023 to help fund the collector's box set version of the game. High-level rewards may include original art and wrapped arcade games.
In October 2023, the game will be showcased at the New York Comic Con. The team also hopes to organize events in Sweden and India and plans to engage in guerrilla and grass-roots marketing initiatives. Cosplayers may also be utilised to promote the game.
Ash is eager to involve phans in the process and wants to keep them updated on the development of the game by releasing information and images over time.
In the next few weeks, preview images of the Phantom character and his moves will be released, followed by in-game teaser images at the end of February. The core parts of the story will be revealed around the middle of 2023 and concept and finished art will be shared, along with videos from the creator discussing the progress of production.
All of these will be available to Chronicle Chamber patreons a few days before they appear on the official game website ThePhantomGame.com and Art of Play’s social media platforms. Make sure you've visited the website and signed up for all future updates.
The first release of the game will be digital-only. Pending technicalities like approvals and the ratings process, this should be in the middle of 2024.
By the end of 2024, a mobile app version will be available, as a cut-back version at a lower resolution and missing some features, but still including all 15 levels. A second Kickstarter may be employed to assist with this, but Ash is hopeful that the game will be self-funding.
The physical boxed version will be published and distributed globally, with a strong presence in the US market through Limited Run Games. Pre-orders for the boxed version will open when the digital game is released, with discounts for those who have already bought the digital version.
There are also plans for limited edition collectible box sets with special art, likely signed and limited to 500-1000 copies. A comic book version of the game is also being considered, which will be available as part of the box set.
There will be YouTube playthroughs posted a few days after the digital game is released, with the creator discussing their decisions throughout the game.
DLC (downloadable content) expansion packs are being considered, depending on the success of the game, and the possibility of merchandise such as t-shirts and statues is being discussed.
As you can see, Ash did not hold back and is being entirely transparent with the phans as to the process behind the game. We hope that you are as excited as we are. Bring on mid-2024!