At a Hollywood & Games panel session, speakers including Prince Of Persia
creator Jordan Mechner and Chronicles Of Riddick
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 actorâs associated with the work."
But he also noted: "It also brings whatever that actor can bring to the party... itâs also about attitude. If they think theyâre slinking on the ground by doing a videogame, thatâs 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 â" 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: "Itâs 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 thatâs where Iâm 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 âI have no idea what youâre talking about.â And I said âbut youâre so good!â I forget that as an actor, you have to do lots of different things, and if youâre a good actor, you can transcend different things. I donât think you need it, if youâre a good actor."
So can a film writer who doesnât know about games contribute meaningfully to a game? Dille argued: "No, itâs 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 youâve been writing screenplays, a game will be a real shock to your system. They think theyâre done with their 80 minutes of cinematics, but there are still 400 other things, like 17 ways to say âletâs get out of here.â"
So what do you look for in writing for games? Ubisoft Montreal's Ben Mattes chimed in: âIf I had to choose someone, right away the first thing Iâd tell them is thereâs not a scriptwriter. Thereâs no room for writers in the game space. If you think of yourself as a writer, youâre 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.â
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. Itâs 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 couldnât do in the movie, thatâs something in itself.â
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 youâre going to do that as well. Itâs not central. If you have a writer come on whoâs not also a designer, thatâs difficult."
He continued: "I think thatâs 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 arenât in cut-scenes... They have to be designed by a team with all these tools â" itâs 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: "Thereâs definitely, at least when youâre not a marquee name talent, thereâs definitely a discrepancy of money there. You wouldnât get paid what youâd get paid to be a small part in a movie, in a game. And yet, if you work on a project and then you donât work for several months, that can be a detriment â" 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 youâd never get to be in a movie. Iâve played a 70 year old Japanese gangster!"
Dille, as a writer, added: "To me it works out the same or better. Whatâs 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, itâs ok. You canât 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 doesnât account for the glacial amounts of time you spend, and the three drafts you get duped into doing, yeah â" just works out about the same."
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 â" 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 âhey, Iâve been watching this, and Iâm not really feeling it.â?"
He noted: "[In films] thereâs 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, âlook, Iâve been playing this level and it doesnât work.â And the creative director has to deal with that and decide if theyâre going to do it or not â" might cost thousands of dollars, but they have to consider it. So itâs very different."
Dille concluded: "Thatâs 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 theyâre normally really smart."