At their joint 'Shades of Gray' session at the recent Hollywood & Game conference, Lucasarts president Jim Ward and EA LA vice president Neil Young detailed how management and production processes have, and can better, converge between the film and game industries.
Newsweek's N'Gai Croal moderated the session, which started with a question about what converged pipelines actually are and how important they are to the future of both games and Hollywood.
Young explained that there are actually two pipelines, one for the overall creative process and a tactical pipeline.
Starting with the tactical pipeline, Young explained: "Our industry and the CG animation industry, from a production standpoint, have been convergent for a very long time. There's a lot of free flow of talent between the two industries. Platforms become more powerful and the talent from the film industry actually become more relevant for games."
As for the creative process, Young said, "There's a high degree of similarity between how you create a film and a video game. The end process is very different, but the IP and how you create the universe is very much the same."
Added Ward, "I don't know when the term convergence will actually be fulfilled. It is happening in certain respects, and there is a technical level and creative level, and we've been trying to do it for 6 years, but it's very hard. We now do have a consistent pipeline between both entities. We've built an editor on top of that pipeline to use proprietary effects and put them into that pipeline. We've just now been able to do that."
As for the creative pipeline, Ward explained, "George [Lucas] has always come at this from a creative perspective. He looks at all of the different parts of the entertainment business that we are a part of as a whole. But that's not to go so far to say that games are like movies and movies are like games and that's just one process."
Total Integration, Second Class Developers?
Croal asked Ward specifically how the integration between film/tv/effects and games worked at LucasArts, who explained that the studio was "creating technology that we can actually use in the process."
"There's a new previews tool that's basically our game engine and Steven [Spielberg] and George are using it on [Indiana Jones 4]," said Ward. "There's a lot of places where technology can be shared, but there are a lot where it can't. There are a lot of techniques that go into both mediums."
Croal then asked what surprised both about the film development process, which Young responded to by saying that one aspect was "the high degree of similarity between the process that goes into imagining the world where a film takes place and where a game takes place."
Admitting that film processes haven't changed that dramatically, Young said what surprised him the most about the game process was that "game makers underrate themselves between their contemporaries in other mediums."
"I've met a lot of very talented and interesting people in both games and film business and I'm constantly surprised how game creative people feel their capability is lower than that of film or tv people," Young added. "People in our medium can actually make great works."
Croal then asked Young what Hollywood needed to understand the most about working with the games industry, to which he quickly responded, "The number one thing the amount of time that it takes to make a game."
"The perception is that it's still a very linear process," said Young. "On the creative side, there's two types of people that I see. Some people grew up with video games and understand and appreciate it... The fundamental thing that differentiates our medium from others is that interactivity is central and core to the experience. So there's the people who understand that and the people who don't understand that our medium is unique."
Croal then asked Ward about collaboration in movie and game development, specifically on both forthcoming Indiana Jones projects.
Said Ward, "When I took over the company, the Indy movie thing had been going on for 14 years. What I was concerned about was that I felt we were sitting on a franchise, an IP that is the ultimate action hero, yet we weren't capitalizing on that opportunity. We started developing a game from the get-go, I didn't care if there was going to be a movie or not. I felt it could be a Bond, a Goldeneye that could go on. The Indy game is not tied into the movie that we're making now."
Croal asked Young if working with both Spielberg and [Lord of the Rings director] Peter Jackson differed, which Young agreed they projects were "very different experiences."
"With Lord of the Rings we had a licensing agreement and we were lucky to get as close as possible to Peter and the producer of the film," said Young. "We felt it was really important to do something that was really true to the property and to do that we got a new level of access and support from new line to help and let us do that."
"With Steven it's very different. We're creating things from scratch, going through the process of building an IP from scratch and making changes to gameplay or to accommodate story in some places to incorporate into the game. Steven really appreciates and understands our medium and does not want to do a movie game in the traditional sense of the word."
"He wants to capture what makes movies great and move the understanding of the narrative structure in our medium forward," Young added. "He feels he has something to contribute. There is no greater practitioner in that medium than someone like Steven Spielberg, and it's a great opportunity to work with someone of his caliber to do that. It's a very different type of process than working with licensing."
Raising The Medium
Croal asked Ward if, because it's important for film games to hit the movie's day and date, if it doesn't make them a "second-class citizen to the movie", to which he disagreed.
"Our company looks at it from an integrated media perspective," he said, "We have revenue coming from the movie, from the game, from VFX, from sound - so all of that matters to us, and all of it's got to happen."
"What you're suggesting is the wrong way to look at it, because that's a very siloed approach. Going over budget and coming out later isn't going to help me, it'll diminish the return! We do shift games and push them back. But when you have a game tied to a media event across an entire company, that's really important. I think that's an old way of thinking about it. We live in a marketplace where you've only got one shot. We can't make money back on DVDs and paid TV like you can in the movie industry. We don't even make money on used game sales! We have one shot."
Finally, a question from the audience (by freelance game designer Dan Boutros) touched on Young's earlier point about game makers undervaluing themselves against TV and filmmakers, specifically pointing to Randy Smith and Doug Church's contributions to a Spielberg project. Could that undervaluing come from not promoting games makers as much as film talent?
Said Young, "I should clarify - I don't think that game talent undervalues themselves vis a vis their film counterparts within their own media. It's not like they say 'oh we're making games and we're rubbish because we're not making films,' it's more that I think people in games are on equal footage in terms of creating universes as Hollywood, and I think that secondary feeling comes from us previously being a licensed medium. Now we're a peer medium, and eventually we'll be the medium."
"I didn't know that we'd said [Randy Smith] was working on it," Young admitted, "but we don't need to hide it. And we do put people out there like Will Wright and whatnot, who was on the cover of Wired. Our business tends to be a team effort though. The stars are often animators or art directors, and it just takes a lot of people to make those games, so it'd be a busy looking game poster."