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Designing Filmic Games: Paul O'Connor And The Bourne Conspiracy
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Designing Filmic Games: Paul O'Connor And The Bourne Conspiracy

March 14, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 8 Next

So it's not really tied direction into one of the particular films in the property?

PO: It is, and it isn't. We deliberately chose the The Bourne Conspiracy, which wasn't hooked up to any of the movie titles. We do use events from the first movie -- The Bourne Identity -- as touchstones in our game, so signature moments from the film, like the chase through the embassy, are in the game, and you can experience them.

But when we chose to expand the process a little bit, we went out to New York and met with Tony Gilroy a couple of times. He was the screenwriter on the three pictures, and he's got Oscar love now, which is good.

Tony, after laying down the DNA for the character and the world and what made it special, working with him, we realized we'd obviously need more action in this game, because having a game about a guy with a tortured conscience staring out the window isn't going to be much fun.

So what do we do? What we hit on was the idea of using these flashback missions, episodes and points past to flesh out the action quotient of the game. So one of the levels that he's going to run you through here is based on the embassy escape, which is a signature moment from the film. It's going to be familiar.

But another level we're going to show you is an assassination mission from points past. It doesn't have any connection to film or literature at all. It's an original work. So we got a chance to have our cake and eat it too, to do both film-inspired stuff and original stuff.

Speaking of the character's conscience, during the demo it was mentioned that Bourne's conscience will cause the character to disarm an enemy but not kill them. How does that work in the context of the game?

PO: It's contextual in terms of takedowns. What happens -- as he will explain later on -- is that Bourne will disarm somebody, he'll use the weapon briefly if it's a hand-to-hand weapon, and he'll drop it. Or if it's a gun, in this case, he actually ejects the bullet cartridge and drops it on the ground.

So it's built into the gameplay automatically.

PO: Mm-hmm.

I guess what I'm curious about is taking these concepts from the character development and then translating them into practical, cinematic gameplay elements. How do you go into doing something like that?

PO: It was a delicate dance, let me tell you. One of the things that Tony laid down for us about the Bourne DNA was he said, "Don't violate the emotional truth of the film." So what do you mean by that? Well, for Tony, in the screenplay, Marie, played by Franka Potente, is the viewpoint character.

She's the audience surrogate in this scene. And he specifically told us not to do anything in gameplay that would change Marie's perspective on Bourne. Once we had that hook, it was a little easier to understand where we could and could not go with the character.

So for instance, in the film, when Bourne fights Castel in the Paris apartment, Marie sees him as a killer for the first time. She sees that he's extraordinary. Tony told us that when Marie sees Bourne fighting in that apartment for the first time against a guy, where he jams the pen in his hand and the guy goes out the window, Marie's sick.

She's going down the stairs, and she's throwing up, because she's so terrified of this violence that's come into her life. That's only emotionally valid if that's the first time that she's seen Bourne behave this way. Up until then, he's been this charming stranger who's kind of cute. He's got a lot of money, and maybe something's happening here. Now it's, "Who is this guy?" So that threw out one act in my game design.

He told me that when I went to New York. It was like, "I got all this stuff! There's a scene between Zurich and Paris, and they're in a car, they're being chased by the police, they're going to have thugs and helicopters and all this kind of crazy stuff."

But when Tony said, "No, you can't change Marie's perception of Bourne," that's when I understood what the task was in the design, because how on earth are we going to get this action in the game without violating the emotional beats of the story?

So I guess they're kind of guardrails, right? If I was building this as Darkwatch or something, I could wave a wand and say, "Well, I can change the character so that she thinks whatever she wants." It's a different kind of creativity. We took that kind of approach and tried to say, "All right, that's what we're hooking up to."

So what are we hooking up to with the character? Well, the character has some emotional truths about him in that he's not a killer. We see that in the second film. The climax of the second film is that he apologizes. That's the emotional climax of the film. He tracks down the daughter of somebody he assassinated in his prior life as a killer, and says, "I can't bring your parents back, but I'm sorry." That's what's going on inside the character's head.

So how do I do that, and have a game that's action-oriented, where I shoot people and beat the hell out of them? Which is what all the fans want. So understanding those guardrails is where we came to... we'll do action scenes from Bourne's past -- the flashback missions -- because we know from the movies that he has this firestorm in his head all the time with his memories.

"Who am I? What have I done?" We'll let you experience those directly, where he is a little more remorseless, and he's a $30 million functioning weapon at that point, as opposed to a malfunctioning one. And then that will allow the players to get their anger and angst out, and do all the action things that they wanted to do.

And then in the contemporary scenes, we'll do a follow-up to the film. And we'll nerf things a little bit to ensure that you can't shoot old ladies in the street, because that's not what the character would do.

This is going way off the rails, and I don't know if this is of interest or not, but we worked on the first Oddworld games five or six years ago. And one of the things that Lorne was always struggling with our character Abe was that he was this very passive character. He would run and jump and hide and be weak and all the rest of these things.

But players also had this desire for violence and to blow things up. We're not going to have this schlub everyman hero and also have this action. We were developing this game in parallel -- this idea where Abe would fall asleep and have these nightmares where he would tote a gun around and kill lots of people. It was a connect-the-dots to say, "Oh, well I can possess people, and I can go off and kill them." So we found a way to keep that character, but still pay off the action.

That's what we tried to do with Bourne. Keep the character, and keep his conscience in place, but still pay off the action by showing the man who was. And for the action in the contemporary sense, make sure it's contextualized and it always makes sense.

So another thing was in the second film I think. It's something that the Joan Allen character said. She says, "Bourne doesn't do random. There's always an objective." We tried to build that in different missions so that you don't have a character that's wandering around an open world and beating up shopkeepers and that kind of thing.

He's always going in a given direction. We kind of did a flip in the restrictions of the character, and tried to put the player in that space, and helped make certain decisions for the player that would help him get smart and be like Bourne, and also drive the action.

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