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How did you come to work with the screenwriter Alex Garland on this project?
TA: Yeah. So, he did 28 Days Later and The Beach and Sunshine. And he's a producer as well, on those movies. This is actually the first contract job he's ever taken. Everything else he's ever written he's done off his own back, and they're his own stories.
It turns out he's a massive gamer, and he's on Xbox Live all the time and he's got his own clan of friends -- they don't know who he is. And so he wanted to get involved, and we just gave him full access. He's been brilliant.
A lot of developers talk about how people who come from movie backgrounds sometimes have difficulty integrating. They're used to handing in drafts, and games actually change a great deal as they're developed. Have you found that it's been easier to integrate him into the team because he understands the medium?
TA: I think that had a big hand in it. I really do. The other thing that we were very clear from the beginning is that if you want to make a successful story in the game, then you should try and tell as much of the story as possible in gameplay.
So, you can't write in a vacuum. So we co-wrote it basically -- him and us. He'd come up every week for a full day, sit down with our level designers, with all of our designers, and then we'd map out the levels and how the story beats go on in the levels. So effectively, he's got a design credit in the game because he contributed so much to the actual design.
How do you organize that process of building the levels out and integrating the story in a game where you want to tightly integrate them?
TA: The approach we took is to write it as if it was an action movie and not get too concerned about which parts are cutscene versus gameplay. Basically, the story by itself should work, and then our job is to figure out how we integrate that either into the gameplay or into a cutscene. I think that's the simplest method that we came up with.
How did you make the determination? Was it based around pacing of the story, or was it based around pacing of the gameplay? What seemed appropriate?
TA: I guessed that if it feels right on the page, it will probably feel right in the game. So, my advice to Alex was, "Write it how you would write a movie. Don't worry too much about what the gameplay implications are. Just write it like you would a movie. If it feels right, if the drama, the beats, and the action feels right, and if it's paced correctly, we can find ways to kind of build around that."
So, that's how we actually integrate talent from outside. We tell them, "Don't worry about the game side. We're here for your skills. Don't try to change what you do for us. Let's just work together really collaboratively. Don't be afraid to voice your opinion. Don't be embarrassed. Just make everyone feel really safe and comfortable."
The complication is that movies are much shorter, and the actual balance in them tends to be quite different. We all think of action movies as being very high action, but if you analyze action movies, they actually have a low number of action sequences that punctuate the drama, so that's the reverse of games -- it's more drama punctuating action.
TA: No, that's true. That's very true. But again, like when you're playing a great story-driven game... One of my favorite games of recent times is Uncharted 2. When I'm playing through it... When I come out of it, I think of it like I would do a movie. It's got a very clear act one, act two, and act three. It doesn't feel overly convoluted, long...
It doesn't feel like a TV series where stuff's happening all the time. So, again, my advice to Alex was, you know... He's asking, "How long should the script be?" And they were kind of minute per page, and I said, "The length of a good, satisfying action movie." So, you know, whatever.
90 pages, 90 minutes.
TA: 90, 100. That kind of range. And that seemed to be okay. That seemed to work.