Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Guest Blogger Framestore Digital/Design EP Simon Whalley was always game. Now he's Gamer!

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Now, I can be fairly sure that Dylan wasn't singing about the convergence of the Games and the Film & TV industry (unless he was even more of a visionary than he let on....), but this was the song that was bubbling through my conscious thought as I attended a lecture at BAFTA last Wednesday, gven by Peter Molyneux, Creative Director of Microsoft Games Europe.
Peter's lecture was very much focused on the exciting times we are now in, and the innovation that is happening in the Games industry. He challenged people to throw away their old foundations and pre-conceptions for gaming and embrace a wider audience.
In 1989, Peter created a game called 'Populous'. This was a hugely successful game, and sold 4 million copies. In 2008, Peter was part of the team that created 'Fable II'. This was a hugely successful game, and sold 4 million copies. Now this was interesting - given the huge advancement of technology and connectivity, the gaming market appears to have remained the same! So, here we have a huge opportunity. Think of all those other people who could be connected, playing games. We just need to tap into the thing that makes them want to play. And that includes things like a physical controller, if you're Microsoft. Using Natal, what Microsoft dub a "controller-free gaming and entertainment experience" they appear to be actively taking those important steps into attracting a wider audience. And Sony have been exploring this to an extent with Eye Toy and the recently released Eye Pet.
The key to all of this is emotion. An emotional connection is the thing that will draw people in. And we in the linear narrative business of Film and Television have been doing this for many decades, but the gaming industry by comparison is still a child. That's not to say that games don't have emotion, but it's a different way of crafting and generating emotion with storytelling that I'm talking about here. And conversely we need to understand the needs of a gamer so we can construct an exciting, interesting but relevant story and emotive reaction to the medium.
Peter took a show of hands in the auditorium to ask how many people were from the Games industry and how many were from Film & TV. Over a third were from Film & TV, with the rest being Games people. Now I'm aware than an event at BAFTA would probably attract more Film & TV people by it's very nature, but this was still a remarkable statistic. This really does show how our industries are mutually interested in collaborating and crossing over. So how can we get involved? Well, initially one of the ways to get involved is to be part of making the linear storytelling devices, such as the cinematic intros of the cut scenes of the game. This is certainly not anything new, and Film / TV people have been doing this for Games companies for a while, but the difference here is that the games themselves have changed. We recently completed work on the Cinematic Intro Film for DJ Hero (the dance music version of Guitar Hero - comes out worldwide on Tuesday 28th October). This is a social, interactive game where the music is key, essentially that IS the story. Our film would be the first thing people would see when they put the game into their console. So when tasked with generating the intro movie, our brief was to tap into an emotion. Freestyle Games wanted us to create something that was exciting, dynamic, and got the player so darn frothed up from the get go, that they would explode with pure adrenalin at the thought of playing the game! So, we used all of our years and experience to tell a story and make it look fantastic - to make a film and elicit an emotive response. I genuinely believe that by collaborating with us in this manner, Activision and Freestyle got a different product form if they had done it themselves. In fact, they said so themselves. And ultimately, the combination of our storytelling, animation and VFX talent combined with their amazing game development skills and ideas, has created a unique product.
This is just the beginning. And as the demarcation lines become ever more blurred, and the collaboration of like minded companies cross-industries becomes more common place, then innovation will be ever more abundant. And that makes me want to explode with pure adrenalin at the thought! The times they are a-changin' indeed.....

Simon Whalley (EP Framestore Digital/Design)