Podcasts/Episode 127

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The Letters Page: Episode 127

Original Source

Primary Topic

Sentinel Comics Animated Universe

Intro

Time for a very animated episode!

Show Notes:

Run Time: 1:38:51

In this episode, we start off by talking a bit about the previous animated series stuff, as it's all quite excellent. Seriously, go listen to those other animated series episodes - they're great.

Then, after about four and a half minutes of banter, we get into this latest phase of animated shows: four shows (including one entirely new show) and two movies! That takes us... a while.

Finally, we get to your questions right around the one hour and eighteen minute mark. Thank you for the great questions, everyone!

The week this episode comes out will feature a live Editor's Note recording at 11 AM Central Time this coming Friday, November 15th! We hope to catch you then!

Characters Mentioned

Summary

Overview

  • They lead off going over how much they enjoyed the previous episodes on the Animated Universe (#64, #79, and #87) when they reviewed them as prep for this one, so maybe give them another listen yourself as they were a lot of fun.
  • Those episodes took forever for them to prep for, however, as they came up with the plots for every episode of 4 seasons-worth of content (2 seasons of The Freedom Five, 1 each of Prime Wardens and Dark Watch) plus 3 movies. They are not going into that much detail for Phase 3 as now they’ve got 4 different series to juggle.
  • While they were doing the work for Phase 2, they also made note of the story threads that were put down that would get picked up in Phase 3, so let’s look into that a bit.
  • So, Phase 3 run from August 2010 through July 2011. This included the FF show (still the most-viewed of them), a full-length season of PW (the first season came in mid-season), DW (remaining a half-season, starting in January 2011), a new teenager-focused show that also comes in mid-season, and then 2 movies in the summer of 2011.
  • The more kid-friendly show takes up that really episodic format and lets FF become less so over the course of Phase 3. With the popularity of DW, the existing multii-part episodes of FF, and the work that PW in particular had been doing of adapting a familiar comics story rather than doing new stuff, these will be more arc-based shows. They’ll adapt a story from the comics for the screen and will take their time doing like a 5-part arc to tell it with larger overarching stories over the course of the season.

The Freedom Five season 3

  • An arc-based thing about this season of FF is that there is a main villain for the season in Biomancer (not as gross as they’ve described him in the comics, there’s a much stronger “robot” vibe to his creations with just a thin veneer of humanity over them) and there’s a theme of “who can you trust?” all season, even in stories that don’t necessarily involve him (only about 5 episodes are really about him - 1 early, 1 midway, and 3 late in the season). For reference: the Tempersonation reveal was during the Vengeance: Returned limited series in late 2008. They don’t envision Tempest being a clone this whole time for the shows, but they like the idea of one of the FF being replaced sometime early on in this season (known to the audience, so good tension there). They don’t think it should be Bunker or Absolute Zero, and of the remaining ones they think that Tachyon would be most interesting (plus a nice reference to the Lightspeed story) as she’s the Science! person on the team, so she can give bad info when asked.
  • Timing-wise, they settle on her being replaced a few episodes before the mid-season break, but have the reveal to the audience be a big reveal just before the break. That leaves the better part of half a season of that dramatic irony being in place and can serve as a good instigating event near the end of the season where the team learns of the replacement and then spends the last few episodes rescuing her.
  • Does the team know that Biomancer gets away at the end or just the audience? They like the idea of it being another thing the heroes are left in the dark about, but having the Biomancer fleshchild disintegrate while laughing at the heroes is too good to pass up.
  • Another important arc-based thing in FF is Grand Warlord Voss. Much like Omnitron had been teased for two seasons of the show before showing up for the big movie in Phase 2, Voss gets teased throughout this season and is the villain for the big movie in 2011. Things in space aren’t going well/have been conquered, and they do “Tempest’s story, but with Sky-Scraper” where she comes to Earth after fleeing from the Thorathian military who finally crushed the rebellion. She thinks she got away clean, but the audience sees the tracking device on the ship.
  • The movie is entirely self-contained. The FF are in Megalopolis doing their crime-fighting stuff and then Voss shows up. You don’t need to have seen any of the show to make sense of this one and it gives viewers enough grounding in who the heroes are and what they can do before dropping the alien invasion in their laps.
  • Notably absent from the FF story this season is Baron Blade. He was very important in season 1 and then was in jail with periodic conversations with Legacy throughout season 2 until he makes the swap with a robot double (or maybe now that they think about it, it could be a neat through-line for this season to have that “robot” be a Biomancer clone) and escapes. He just doesn’t have any plot of his own playing out this season.
  • What is Biomancer’s plot? Generic “take over the world in a way that won’t be noticed”. Baron Blade getting the duplicate could be specifically because Biomancer needs him to build something for him and that’s the price for getting him out of jail. That could even let him be our point-of-view character for Biomancer scenes as he’s at least a familiar character for viewers. Also, this could let the heroes’ strike to save Tachyon could also let Baron Blade escape in the confusion before the heroes learn of his presence (Adam toys briefly with the idea that the see him, but somebody, probably Wraith, has to leave him to die as the base collapses or something - it’s “too much” and they like it better if the heroes don’t even know he was there).
  • So, what is Baron Blade actually doing for Biomancer? Probably something along the lines of control mechanisms/brain interface that will allow him to operate many more active fleshchildren at a time than he’d normally be able to do on his own (for the purposes of the show, comics Biomancer doesn’t seem to really be restricted there). He probably finishes it in the last portion of the season (so the audience actually gets to see it work), but he still needs to work on it “for maintenance” so that he can finish whatever back-door exploit or something that he’s been putting into it that would let him escape. So, Biomancer wants to replace everybody at a major U.N. meeting at once, there’s some kind of “gas attack” that obscures security’s vision and everything, but when the smoke clears it looks like everyone’s fine (of course, that sets up a fun scene where the Freedom Five have to fight a room full of “world leaders”).
  • One last thing, they need to set up the spin-off show. Probably one thing early on and then another just before the mid-season break as the new show starts just after it. The “teens” in this setting that have been established are Unity and Young Legacy. During the Omnitron movie we saw that Unity had a strong rapport with Omnitron-X. So the show will be featuring those two young heroes and the thing with Omnitron-X could inform how we go. Maybe the first bit could involve Unity trying to rebuild Omni-X (just in passing while other stuff is going on in that episode) - this would predate her doing so in the comics (and that’s a much more emotionally charged event than this is). This is much more lighthearted as she builds a robot friend out of the robot that helped them fight that other robot - she calls it “Ronnie” (referring to the last syllable in Omnitron). By the mid-season break we have Unity, Young Legacy (and Ronnie) are at Megalopolis High and discover that their teacher is the villain Highbrow. Ronnie is more of a toy or “sidekick” than Omnitron-X/U is in the comics who’s its own character.
  • Anyway, we’ve got the overarching story involving Biomancer and Baron Blade for the season, but even the more episodic entries in the show still carry through the theme of paranoia and mistrust that Biomancer stories tend to use. Then there’s the few that touch on the Voss stuff (including the introduction of the concept of Gene-bound).
  • We do get one unrelated episode, though. The previous season had the stuff with Chrono-Ranger coming to kill Baron Blade and the whole Iron Legacy thing, and Chrono-Ranger going back to the future, but now it’s a world run by Baron Blade. This season has a one-off episode, “Disparation”, that is about that reality and Chrono-Ranger trying to fix things. He can’t do so with time travel and eventually he just accepts escaping as a “win” - it’s a good ending in that he does escape, but we don’t know where he’s escaped to. More plot seeds for later.
  • The main arc of the season:
    • Biomancer replaces Tachyon.
    • Biomancer and Baron Blade are working together.
    • Sky-Scraper returns to Earth and warns of Voss.
    • Unity rebuilds “Ronnie”.
    • Blade is working on the Neural Matrix.
    • The Freedom Five and Sky-Scraper team up to defeat some Thorathians and Gene-Bound (the idea being that if they beat these guys who were chasing Portja that Voss won’t know where she wound up).
    • Devra, Felicia, and Ronnie in Megalopolis High think their teacher is up to something, can’t get grown-ups to take them seriously, discover that the teacher is Highbrow and defeat her.
    • Mid-season break.
    • Biomancer replaces world leaders.
    • The Disparation episode.
    • Freedom Five finding/rescuing Tachyon in Biomancer’s base.
    • Freedom Five fighting the U.N. world leaders.
    • Baron Blade escaping Biomancer’s lair, unknown to the heroes.
    • “Biomancer” defeated, but the real Biomancer escapes.

Prime Wardens season 2

  • Stuff they have notes on: Naturalist, Citizen Dawn on Insula Primalis, Nexus of the Void stuff, and Akash'Thriya stuff.
  • Who should this season’s “main villain” be? Given that they have Akash’Thriya and Naturalist in there and we haven’t seen Akash'Bhuta since the initial kick-off multi-episode arc that brought the team together, she seems like a pretty decent villain. Rather than having her be the standard “living mountain that makes trees attack people” thing, maybe do more of an insidious force that’s trying to reclaim the Earth for nature and one way she attempts this is by changing this industrialist guy into an animal (she does stuff to other people too, we just know who this guy is). They could drop Professor Pollution in here somewhere. Man-Grove is a good character to bring back for this story. Bugbear is perfect for this thing. Akash’Bhuta isn’t just doing a “don’t pollute” thing, but is really aggressive in this “cleanse the world” campaign.
  • This also gives us a reason to go to Insula Primalis, which lets us see what Dawn’s up to now. Playing up the “Akash messes with the dinosaurs, Dawn is irate that somebody’s doing something to her island” thing is a good chance for the heroes to discover that Akash is behind things - like, there’s some kind of upheaval on the island to draw them there, and they find the two of them at odds, making Dawn a reluctant ally for a time, probably leaving at the end to who knows where (it’s not like the heroes would just leave her behind to do whatever she’s going to do - so she eventually just takes off to be mysterious somewhere else).
  • Adam posits that AB is growing in power over time as the heroes fight, eventually leading to Naturalist showing up and saying that they’re going about it wrong. Instead of fighting they should work in harmony with it. Christopher disagrees with the end, but loves the rest of it - instead of Naturalist showing up, they find they need to go to the Nexus of the Void. AB is trying to take over, but the Nexus fights her control, threatening to tear the world apart in their struggle. The Nexus eventually triumphs, but Akash is saved by Naturalist - giving the nice bookend that he was cursed by her but he changed in a way that was necessary. Now he shows her how she needs to change, resulting in Akash’Thriya.
  • This last bit also gives us a good opportunity for a theme for the season - we can have stuff over the course of the season that each member of the Prime Wardens needs to change in some way and resists it. It’s also a good chance to have them as a team that sticks and works together while the world around them is fractured and broken (and so is farther from the comics than season one Prime Wardens since the comics team generally always had problems being a team).
  • So, Akash’Thriya is the end-point of the story and, given the point about Nature and the Void working together is probably a little “Spirit of the Void”-like already. The big climactic battle can have a bunch of void creatures pouring out and maybe some ghostly Virtuosos helping out. There could even be some Voidsoul stuff going on here (the Nexus under attack from both the Natural side and the Void side).

Dark Watch season 2

  • Ok, so while this is still a short, 13-episode season again, it’s still the same “amount” of content as the other shows as they fill an hour timeslot instead of half an hour. We ended last season with the Operative killing the Chairman and taking over the Organization. We start off here with the Organization becoming more subtle - the blatant “we run everything” vibe it had under the Chairman is less present. There’s also now about a quarter of the city that’s now “officially” Zhu Long’s turf.
  • Do we want the Operative to be in a bit over her head here? Like, Chairman had been running things for a long time and was aware of things like Zhu Long. While Operative had been planning her move for a while, she may not have had the whole picture and nobody was really prepared for Zhu Long taking stuff over like that.
  • They’d said that they wanted Wraith to be around occasionally, because they wanted to do Spite at some point. Maybe the sequence of events that resulted in Spite being Spite could be caused by Operative not having a full handle on that project. Maybe she did it intentionally in an attempt to create an Operative for herself - she gave this murderer Jack Donovan some small amount of powers, but he gets addicted to the cycle and starts going around to get more and more until he’s Spite.
  • They don’t want another “Dark Watch vs. the Organization” story and maybe having the Operative “aim” them at Spite (she’s worked with them before, but maybe not as overt as asking for their help this time - they need to show off the fact that she’s at least decent as string-pulling) to have her two problems take care of one another. So maybe not so much “out of her depth” as simply that she makes bold/brash decisions that have unintended effects, but she’s still clever enough to fix things. She still needs to be in control at the end of the season, but they want to show that she’s more reckless with the power she now wields as opposed to the Chairman’s methodical approach. She uses the power that she thought he was just sitting on. She thinks that things need to change in this era of smartphones and the internet - Rook City isn’t as cut off from the world now. They could possibly even set up something like her getting involved in politics next season (or running for mayor at the end of this season).
  • So where does Zhu Long fit in? We saw last season that he was working on Oni masks. Maybe he starts setting up a “school” or something to start to train followers. They could even have Setback fall in with them as he was kind of a mess in the first season and doesn’t really have an “expertise” on the team. He can punch, but Mr. Fixer was better at fighting (although he’s dead now - and they think that his return is more of a season 3 thing), so maybe he goes to Zhu Long to get some training (without telling the team) to be a better front-line fighter.
  • They like the idea of Zhu Long being more passive this season. He made his big bid for power last season and now he has it and is just running his part of town.
  • What about Plague Rat who’s magically bound in his nest. Maybe a good long-term project for NightMist to go down there and try to communicate with Randy Burke. Great idea: this could culminate in her setting a slightly humanized Plague Rat free to fight Spite. That’s a cool fight. Like, maybe she knows she can’t turn him back and that his mind will eventually revert back to the rat monster, so he asks her to at least give him something worthwhile to do in the meantime.
  • The more they talk about it, the more they think that Wraith isn’t necessary for the Spite story. Maybe we know that Jack Donovan was somebody she helped put away originally, but there’s enough here to not need her involvement.
  • So, for the season they’re setting up Spite to be the big fight at the end, subtly setting up Plague Rat to be in the big fight at the end as a kind of ersatz ally, then there’s Zhu Long and the Operative just kind of running their respective turf. Maybe dealing with Organization stuff can be a few minor threats the heroes deal with over the course of the season, but we don’t see anything about Mr. Fixer after the tease about something happening at his grave at the end of last season.
  • Character moments:
    • Pinion is going to become more of an accepted member of the team by showing her earning that (and the only one really opposed to her in the first place was Fixer) but also seeing some moments of her having the control problems we’d associate with the character and she’s not using the mask at this point - or she’s not at first but she winds up putting it on to help them survive an early encounter with Spite, but then they have to deal with the fact that she’s using the mask. Nah, that sounds more like a later season thing as once she puts it on it’s a major problem. Maybe it’s that she’s not getting as much hands-on instruction from NightMist and she starts hearing whispers from it over on her shelf. Leading her to take shortcuts in her training or whatnot (they mention that they’re pushing a villain to a later season and this is tied to that).
    • NightMist is having the breakthrough with Randy Burke.
    • They’d nodded to the end of Setback’s alcoholism at the end of last season and he’s still struggling with that. The training with Zhu Long helps, but his dishonesty about it drives a wedge between him and Expatriette.
    • Expat is over her injuries by now. She seems so stalwart that it’s hard to find a flaw to work on - they’re not dealing with her parentage or her past as an assassin which are the usual go-to character beats for this sort of thing. Maybe they could bring up something from her past - like somebody she used to work with calls in a favor she owes. Oh, one of those was the Operative, so maybe there’s a recurring thing where she goes to talk to the Operative over this season? No, they decide against that - they don’t want to compromise her/turn her into a villain and that’s a bit too close. Maybe just lean into her existing harsh character (it’s not like she has Tachyon’s special ammunition in this version), so maybe she should have some “wake up” moment that makes her realize that she needs to be better. Maybe have Heartbreaker show up again as that old contact. She’s had two people that she fought alongside in her life, Setback and Heartbreaker. It’s a TV show so the thing you do is turn it into a love triangle. So, Pete’s off getting centered and more controlled with his training with Zhu Long, but then this free-wheeling Heartbreaker comes back into her life and she’s more of a wild child herself and he brings out the worst in her in this regard. Eventually, of course, we find out that he’s been on Operative’s payroll the whole time (not that their relationship is a lie, just that he’s been presenting himself as “his own guy” but in reality he’s bought and paid for by the Operative).

Neo-fighters season 1

  • This is the shortest of the shows as it comes in mid-season and runs for a half-hour time slot. They also did a fair amount of off-the-air work as a lot of things, like the naming of it, isn’t particularly good radio.
  • We’ve got Devra Caspit, Pauline Parsons, and Devra’s friend Ronnie the robot. Ronnie’s intelligence goes up over the course of the season and is very interested in people [like an even more lighthearted version of what Commander Data is like when trying to understand people - there’s a bit of a running gag in their descriptions that Ronnie is totally going to kill a bunch of people to figure out how they work, but they stress that this is just them goofing, not canonical detail of the show; it’s a fun bit, though]. We also get an entirely new character for the show. They have the name and gimmick already picked out, but the bulk of what they’re like is going to be done on-air here for us. The first episode of the series is on-boarding this newcomer.
  • They started with a name this time - trying to channel their inner cartoon programming executive to come up with something. They don’t want another Freedom Five-adjacent character and they don’t want to connect their kid-friendly show with Dark Watch, so they go with “Kid Cosmic”. They don’t think he’s British, gonna be your everyday Megalopolis kid acting as audience-surrogate as he’s just got these crazy powers and is new to all of this.
  • We wind up with Young Legacy in kind of an older-sibling role and Unity in the sibling-rivalry one. Ronnie is just Ronnie - a very friendly and helpful robot who sometimes says very profound things while asking about human emotions.
  • Kid Cosmic’s name is Ben Burton and he was just a normal kid who was hit by some beam of cosmic energy out of the sky and with great cosmic power comes great cosmic responsibility. They toyed with having him be a big fan of Captain Cosmic, but they decided that as an audience-surrogate he shouldn’t be that into this whole superhero thing up front. Maybe it’s a relic that fell from the sky near him, like a bracelet or something, because you want something for him that could be sold as a toy - the Cosmic Cuff™ - so he’s got this thing that he can turn into armor or other forms. They don’t want it to be too much like Captain Cosmic’s power, though (he’s less likely to turn it into a sword and he can’t do stuff like a bus or whatever). He might be tempted to use it to cheat at things, though - like turning it into a tennis racquet to help him win a match during gym class or something, so we’ve got a nice morality angle.
  • This thing has a voice that speaks to him - calling him “Champion” but also by some weird alien name so he knows that he’s not the person it thinks he is. He can’t get it off of himself, though, so he’s stuck with this thing telling him that he’s supposed to be protecting the innocent or whatever. Maybe it sometimes activates automatically while he’s in class or something. They also like the idea that things build to a point where they’re fighting some aliens or something and eventually one asks his name, rejecting “Kid Cosmic” as an answer he responds with “Ben Burton” at which point the alien replies that in their language that would be pronounced [the alien name that the artifact has been calling him this whole time].
  • So, at some point early on he’s got this thing and needs to save the school bus from falling off a bridge or something. Unity and Young Legacy see him and decide they should form a team (which he’s not interested in - he doesn’t want to do this whole “Champion” thing). The first episode ends with the two of them transferring to his school. They try to come up with a team name (with him still rejecting the idea of being a team). The name that’s settled on is the Neo-fighters.
  • Most of this show is dealing with new villains. It’s very episodic (the standard “return to the status quo” thing in full effect - maybe some minor continuity like early on a meteor hits the school’s sign, so it’s busted for a few episodes until it’s replaced - that sort of thing) with the main arc being his coming to terms with his new role. The villains they come up with are very “teenage struggles as written by 30-somethings”. One is the Innocensor - somebody who wants to protect everyone’s innocence by censoring everything (projecting things into people’s eyes to prevent them from seeing bad stuff). Teachers and bullies (bullies that you can’t just beat up, but you need to help them deal with something else in their life) they have to deal with, monsters under the school, etc.
  • This show is also a lot more stylish than the others. While things like Dark Watch is particularly stylized to get the vibe they’re shooting for, they’re still all very traditional American animation. For example over the last 10 years or so you’ll see a lot of cartoons that have a bit of an anime edge to them and there’s something at that level going on here. There’s just a little more flash going on here. It’s also silly and fun. It takes place in the Sentinel Comics setting, but it’s largely disconnected from events in that overall.

Movies

  • They already discussed the Freedom Five movie about the Voss invasion and that it’s self-contained.
  • There’s also a Prime Wardens movie. While the FF one gets into big space stuff, the PW one is very much grounded in humanity. Visionary has been established as a side-character for the Prime Wardens and her worries about herself wound up with her cocooned at some point and this is acknowledged at several points this season. The movie is about Dark Visionary and the team dealing with that. They don’t need to do the Enclave of the Endlings thing [Cosmic Contest wasn’t for another few years anyway], but this could involve the Nexus of the Void somehow - like all of those goings on cracked the cocoon or something.
  • They don’t do the thing where she pretends to be good - they know that their friend is trapped in there somewhere. They established that Visionary came from another reality to kill the version of her here, but they haven’t really addressed what this “dark force” within her is. A chunk of the movie is about exploring that.
  • Animated Visionary has been going around from reality to reality killing evil versions of herself. When she gets here, she figures that Dreamer qualifies and gets stopped by the Freedom Five who help work through the problems here. What we find out is that one of those evil versions of her has hitched a ride and has now taken control. Dark Visionary wants to turn this reality into something like what she’d done in her own before Visionary came to stop her. That lends itself to a decent title for the movie: Prime Wardens: World of Darkness.
  • They think that Visionary sacrifices herself at the end, wresting control just long enough to end things. Dreamer should also factor in somewhere. Visionary is already compromised given what she’s been doing in various realities, but Dreamer has a chance to be better.

Questions

  • You’ve mentioned before that the AU goes at least to Phase 3, does this mark the end of the project or that it scales back after this point? If so, why? Not enough Guise appearances? No, not the end. It doesn’t scale down, but it goes at least through the next phase without having any additional shows (whether they would cancel an existing one before adding another is unclear, they don’t want to commit either way). It wouldn’t scale up much if at all - it’s only an outside chance that there would ever be as many as 6 concurrent shows. The FF and PW shows are the “main continuity” for the animated universe with others being more focused on specific things. There could always be one-off movies about other unrelated things as well, though. While they didn’t specifically mention any, Christopher figures there were at least a few Guise appearances in there somewhere in Freedom Five and Neo-fighters (although in the latter he’d be more of an Easter egg as they don’t want him to steal the scene from Kid Cosmic).
  • Do we see the Deadline and Progeny plots in this phase? Do we get to OblivAeon in the animated show? It’s too early for all of those [the Deadline event isn’t until December 2012, so at least two more TV seasons before he’s even a story that could be adapted, and the other two are even further off]. There are some things that happen in the animated stuff before being adapted back into the comics, but this isn’t one of those cases.
  • Do they ever visit Rook City in non-Dark Watch shows? No, it’s just kept in that one show due to how dark it is and they didn’t want to tone it down or mess with that (or the headaches of continuity given that DW is shaking things up there so much). If/when they get to the OblivAeon event it’ll likely show up in more of them as everybody’s involved.
  • The RPG uses a 6-issue arc as a collected trade, will there be a similar mechanic for games set in the animated continuity (like a season or half-season)? That’s an interesting question. Adam’s running a game that’s coming up on 24 sessions and he’s noticing some power creep - the easy way to deal with that is to just limit the number of Trades that can be used in a given session. Another dial you can use to limit player power is to just increase the number of sessions necessary to form a collection, and a tv “season” or similar length of time is an option. Or you could say that your game is on Netflix or something and only has 6-episode seasons.
  • Let’s suppose that Wager Master showed up in your office with a briefcase, a game had been won on your behalf and that he was here to pay up; the briefcase holds enough funds to start up any project of your choice without your needing to consider profits or how to pay for the best talent, etc. - would you produce actual Sentinel Comics, the associated animated projects, or continue being a games company (choosing one forever restricts your ability to ever do the others because of Wager Master shenanigans)? They’re of the opinion that they’d turn down the offer - right now they’re already making games and, while neither is really something that’s even on the horizon, they still could someday do the others. If they had to choose, they’re of the opinion that since comics have the worst track record of being successful enterprises historically, being able to have guaranteed success with them makes that a hard option to turn down. Additionally, at this point they’ve already done the games thing, so it’s less of an issue to give that up going forward. The animated stuff seems like it’d be more short-lived in general. If they could do the comics primarily as the editors who get to make the decisions, but then bring in top-tier talent, the comics option is just hard to pass up. They’d miss doing other things, though, and there’s something to be said for knowing that if you succeed at something it’s because it’s good and not a foregone conclusion. Maybe they’d try to negotiate as part of the deal that they don’t remember the deal. Maybe this has already happened and they actually chose to make games.