Created by legendary developer siblings The Pickfords, Plok is a fondly-remembered cult smash which appeared on the SNES way back in 1992. Ste and John Pickford's history in the games industry pre-dates that game by quite some margin, and the talented duo were among the first British developers to take consoles seriously, creating titles like Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II, Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warpship and Ken Griffey Jr. presents Major League Baseball during the 8 and 16-bit eras.
Post-Plok they've continued to create games for a wide range of formats, including the N64, GameCube, Game Boy and - more recently - iOS. However, the unlikely SNES hero hasn't been totally forgotten and has already starred in a series of comics.
With the fourth volume about to be issued, we caught up with Ste Pickford for a wee chat.
Nintendo Life: What's happened in the wacky world of Plok since the last volume of comics?
Ste Pickford: The big, overarching theme in the Plok comic is looking at his actions in the SNES game from a different angle. The enemies and the big boss he defeated (assuming you were very good at the game - it was notoriously difficult to beat) exist in the comic as living creatures getting on with their own lives, with their own natural ecology and motivations. They don't just exist as enemies to be defeated. The Queen of the fleas was a mother, the fleas were her litter. Doesn't her life matter, or the lives of her children? Maybe Plok was the bad guy for wiping them all out and killing their mother? He's certainly the bad guy from the flea's perspective.
In a video game you naturally take the role of the avatar you control, but in a comic (or any kind of fiction) you, the reader, are less closely tied to any particular character, so you can more easily look at a situation from different perspectives. I think it's interesting making a comic of a video game, and using the different properties of the medium to look at the fictional world in a different way.
In first three volumes of the comic we've had a new Queen land on Plok's planet, and he's set off to defeat her again, just like in the game, but she has a protector this time in the form of Commander Zob the eco-ranger, and he views Plok as a dangerous criminal who is indiscriminately destroying a rare and protected species.
In volume 4 Plok is captured by Zob and his sister Xöb, and is taken to their home planet to stand trial for his crimes - essentially the crimes committed by the player in the SNES game. So in a way, it's the player who is going to stand trial in the comic.
Is it challenging coming up with new strips, storylines and characters?
We've got a big storyline in our head, so that isn't a problem, and we've got an expanding cast of characters - sometimes it's more challenging to stop adding new characters! But the actual individual strips are sometimes difficult to come up with, as we try to have at least one gag in each page-long episode.
The strip started as more of a video game gag each week, but as we've developed the bigger, on-going story, sometimes we have an episode where we want to move the story along and there's isn't an obvious gag to go with it. As we publish new episodes / pages once a week (or more like once a fortnight at the moment), we want each episode to be entertaining on its own, so we sometimes struggle to find a gag or an angle to make the episode work as a stand-alone comic strip.
The other thing we've been doing with the strip is bringing in characters from our other games, kind of creating a kind of Expanded Pickford Brothers Universe, so there's no problem with coming up with new characters. Zob is from our ZX Spectrum game Zub, we've got Plok's sidekick Wubba who's from our N64 game Wetrix, and we've got a few other characters we're just waiting to add to the cast.
How long does it take to create a strip, from conception to drawing, colouring, and so on?
The whole process of making the comic is done in between other jobs, so it's hard to say exactly.
John writes the scripts, and even if they only take half an hour to write, I know he ruminates on them for days or even weeks sometimes, waiting for that stroke of inspiration to add a gag to a plot development.
Drawing a strip probably takes me a full week of evenings after work, one night doing a rough, one night doing the pencils, one night the inks, and the colouring always seems to take longer than everything else for some reason. It's quite draining, and since we switched to 6 panels an episode instead of 4, it's quite full-on for the whole week. That's why we're about once a fortnight now, as I need a week off after most episodes to catch up on TV, video games or reading in the evenings.
The fact that you're up to volume 4 of the Plok comic would suggest there's a healthy amount of interest in the character. Do you think you'll ever make another Plok game in the light of this interest?
We'd love to do another Plok game, but we don't have the resources to make something that would do justice to Plok at the moment. That's one of the reasons we started the comic - we felt like we could make a comic we'd be happy with without any money, but a good Plok game would need funding, and we don't have that.
People have suggested Kickstarter, but I feel like the games that do well on Kickstarter are essentially remakes of fondly remembered old games. Not only am I not sure Plok is quite famous enough to succeed on Kickstarter anyway, we'd also not want to remake the old game. We wouldn't want to make another '90s platformer, we'd want to do something new and different. A different type of game, with original ideas. Original game ideas don't do well on Kickstarter.
I have said to people on twitter that we'll do a new Plok game if we sell one million books. That should provide the funding we need. So, if you want to see a new Plok game, buy the comic books!
Is it true that Plok began life on Rare's custom arcade hardware? Could you give us a little bit of history on his inception?
Yes, Plok was the main character in a game called Fleapit, which we designed and started making for Rare's Razz Board around 1990, and was intended to be a coin-op arcade game. Plok himself and his abilities were essentially identical to what appeared in the SNES game, and the fleas were there in the same form too, but the levels and setting of the game were different. The studio closed before the game was finished, so we took the character and designs with us and a few years later got the game off the ground again as a SNES game at Software Creations where we worked at the time.
We're sure we're not the first to ask this question, but could we ever see the original SNES Plok on Wii U/NX, 3DS or smartphones?
We had some discussions with Nintendo about SNES Plok on the Wii U, but there were some difficulties that it was hard to overcome, and I don't think it's going to happen now.
You've got a history of supporting Nintendo systems - what's your stance on the NX? Are you tempted to support the platform with new or past titles?
Even though I love Nintendo hardware there isn't a strong business case for small indies like us working on consoles. If we had a hit game then we'd do our best to get it on the Nintendo machines, but unless we were funded it's unlikely we'd target a console for the first release of a new, original game.
Can we expect to see the Plok comic continue in the future?
Yes, Volume 5 is currently being written and drawn, and being published as a regular webcomic on the Plok website and covers the actual trial of Plok.
What are you guys working on currently, games-wise?
We've been doing bits and pieces of contract work, and are also working on an original game called I Sent My Monkey To The Moon, which we hope to get finished and released on mobile soon, time allowing.
We'd like to thank Ste for taking the time to speak with us. If you're interested in ordering the latest Plok volume, then click here. You can also order volumes 1, 2, and 3, as well as the special colouring book. Yes, we said colouring book.