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H&G: Mechner, Dille On Crossing The Digital Divide
H&G: Mechner, Dille On Crossing The Digital Divide
June 27, 2007 | By Brandon Sheffield, Staff

June 27, 2007 | By Brandon Sheffield, Staff
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At a Hollywood & Games panel session, speakers including Prince Of Persia creator Jordan Mechner and Chronicles Of Riddick and Transformers TV show/game writer Flint Dille discussed how voice, writing, and film talent can cross the digital divide into games.

First discussed was a simple enough question - why tap Hollywood talent, instead of game talent, for voice work in games? Dille explained: "Film talent brings you a number of things. It brings you marquee [power] and makes the game seem legitimate, especially if the actor’s associated with the work."

But he also noted: "It also brings whatever that actor can bring to the party... it’s also about attitude. If they think they’re slinking on the ground by doing a videogame, that’s no good. But some of the younger actors, like Vin Diesel, are natural gamers and love doing it."

Do Actors, Writers Need To Know Games?

So, for actors wanting to get into games or working on game projects – is it better if you play? Yuri Lowenthal, who has voiced a multitude of projects in both worlds, including the Prince in Prince Of Persia and Kamal in Ilovebees, as well as work on the Afro Samurai TV show, explained: "It’s funny, for a while I was doing this and assumed that the other people who were doing it were doing it because they loved it, because that’s where I’m coming from."

He continued: "I remember once, chatting with another actor who was working on a project with me, and I started going into this gamer-speak, relating games to other games, and he said “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” And I said “but you’re so good!” I forget that as an actor, you have to do lots of different things, and if you’re a good actor, you can transcend different things. I don’t think you need it, if you’re a good actor."

So can a film writer who doesn’t know about games contribute meaningfully to a game? Dille argued: "No, it’s its own thing. These are all specialized skills, and you really have to be on some level, a gamer, to write games. You have to care about this stuff. If you’ve been writing screenplays, a game will be a real shock to your system. They think they’re done with their 80 minutes of cinematics, but there are still 400 other things, like 17 ways to say ‘let’s get out of here.’"

So what do you look for in writing for games? Ubisoft Montreal's Ben Mattes chimed in: “If I had to choose someone, right away the first thing I’d tell them is there’s not a scriptwriter. There’s no room for writers in the game space. If you think of yourself as a writer, you’re going to have a hard time being in the space. I think there maybe was a time where people tried to hire writers, but now we look for story designers. You have to be a designer, and design that narrative and everything that goes around it.”

The conversation then moved on to games based on films, and Dille noted: "Movie games are a really intereting challenge, because nobody wants to play the movie straight through, but you want the game to remind you of the movie. It’s all about the world. The world is as important as the character. As long as you hit the grace notes of the movie, but let [players] go explore and do stuff they couldn’t do in the movie, that’s something in itself.”

Mechner Talks Game Story Crafting

Prince Of Persia creator Jordan Mechner, who has been working in Hollywood for the past few years on documentaries and larger projects with his famed protagonist, chimed in with his views:

"I felt that when I was writing, I was just a game designer who knew how to write. But writing the dialogue is just a luxury. Like being a game designer who can draw, or compose music, so you decide you’re going to do that as well. It’s not central. If you have a writer come on who’s not also a designer, that’s difficult."

He continued: "I think that’s something Hollywood people need to understand. A writer creates moments that have an impact and the meaning of the story. In games, though, those moments that deliver the meaning of the games aren’t in cut-scenes... They have to be designed by a team with all these tools – it’s only possible through the efforts of the whole team, not just one writer."

So, as freelance creative talent, can you make as much money in games as movies?

Voice actor Yuri Lowenthal commented: "There’s definitely, at least when you’re not a marquee name talent, there’s definitely a discrepancy of money there. You wouldn’t get paid what you’d get paid to be a small part in a movie, in a game. And yet, if you work on a project and then you don’t work for several months, that can be a detriment – whereas with video games you can go from project to project to project. As an actor in the voice field, you get to be all these sorts of crazy characters you’d never get to be in a movie. I’ve played a 70 year old Japanese gangster!"

Dille, as a writer, added: "To me it works out the same or better. What’s great about games is for a writer, games tend to be a long engagement and then everybody goes away, and then they come back - so you can do more than one game at a time, and as long as you make deadlines, it’s ok. You can’t blow deadlines. You have to hit your marks, the stuff has to go in at the correct level of quality. But I find it comes about the same. The number you get is a lot flashier in screenplays, but that doesn’t account for the glacial amounts of time you spend, and the three drafts you get duped into doing, yeah – just works out about the same."

Conclusion

The end of the panel asked a simple question - any warning for those from film getting into games? Mattes explained: "First of all, the hierarchy of a game development team will strike someone coming off of a film set as very different. Somebody gave me a wonderful analogy – can you imagine on a filmset if a director who was working on a shot all afternoon was approached by a grip, and they said ‘hey, I’ve been watching this, and I’m not really feeling it.’?"

He noted: "[In films] there’s a real hierarchy, and the info flows one way. In the game industry, it comes that way all the time. Testers, who are pretty low on the scale will come up to a creative director and say without problems, ‘look, I’ve been playing this level and it doesn’t work.’ And the creative director has to deal with that and decide if they’re going to do it or not – might cost thousands of dollars, but they have to consider it. So it’s very different."

Dille concluded: "That’s dead on. The movie industry grew up in the industrial age. Everyone had a position or a job. Games are an information age model. Everyone has an idea and an opinion, and you can die from too many of those. But when you walk in a room of game developers everyone has a skill, and they’re normally really smart."


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