Beowulf First Look Q&A

The good king and his thanes will spill epic amounts of blood on game consoles this fall. We spoke with Ubisoft Tiwak game manager Adrian Lacey to get the details.

When you think of properties that are ripe for adaptation to the silver screen--and the video game one, for that matter--Anglo-Saxon epic poetry from the Middle Ages probably doesn't leap directly to mind. Regardless, director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) is steaming ahead on his late-2007, computer-animated feature film interpretation of Beowulf, and Ubisoft is likewise hard at work on a video game version of the movie slated for release on the Xbox 360, PlayStation3, and PC. When you think about it, cramming Beowulf into a game isn't such a stretch. You've got muscle-bound barbarians wielding massive weapons, a dragon, a couple of nasty monsters bent on destroying the king's good people...it's almost as if the poem's anonymous author wrote it with your average hack-and-slash fantasy game in mind.

So how do you get from a millennium-plus old epic poem to a modern-day video game, anyway? Ubisoft Tiwak game manager Adrian Lacey took time away from his busy development schedule to answer that very question.

GS: How did Ubisoft get involved with the Beowulf property? And how was Ubi's Tiwak team in France chosen to handle the project?

AL: Paramount came to Ubisoft headquarters and showed us some early artwork and said, "This is a film from Robert Zemeckis coming out. It's a different way of doing it. It's using motion-capture technology that's being developed by his team." This must be going back a year and a half, two years ago. We had just finished [the first] Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, so we were already looking at what other games we're going to do, what's going to be the next stage. But we also wanted to do something a little bit different. We heard about Beowulf, and we were like, "Oh, what's it about?" Our editorial team said, "You know, Beowulf, it's sort of Viking-esque, big burly men, the strength of 30 men and all that kind of stuff," and we were like, "All right. So it sounds interesting, Vikings, that kind of stuff could be cool."

And then we saw a couple pieces of concept art and then we started doing some of our own research, digging up things about the poem--we found out that it had been studied by Tolkien for a long time and that there had already been a few smaller films and animation and comic books, and that Lord of the Rings and things like that were inspired by the poem itself, which was an old poem that was discovered in the 11th century. It's actually quite a unique story in the sense like you've got this big Viking--it's all about death, hacking and slashing--but there's also a deeper side. It's sort of a man torn by his own selflessness and selfishness. It's this balance between the carnal side, the inside of him, and as he progresses through his life and suffers the consequences. It's also based on temptation, you know, all man's bad habits, basically. I think that's what gave us the first hook into it.

The game will trace Beowulf's journey from blood-crazed young warrior to king of his people.

Then from there we turned around and we had an opportunity to meet the filmmakers and said, "Have a think about what kind of game you want to come up with and how to think of the concept, the basic concept. But in parallel, come and meet the filmmakers so you can get an understanding of their vision," because there's been that many interpretations of Beowulf anyway. It's inspired so many things like The 13th Warrior and things like that, that we wanted to understand the visions of [Zemeckis] and Steve Starkey, who've made everything from Back to the Future to Forest Gump. So we thought, "All right, that's cool. Let's see what he's going to do. His vision obviously is going to be pretty cool." We went to sit with him and we just let them tell us the story, tell us what they could feel. And the script was written by Neil Gaiman, and so all these little things--when we started listening a bit more, we started realizing it sounded pretty sexy.

So we went to see them, they explained to us their vision. You know, the Vikings were sort of like the Marines of yesteryear. They were like Special Forces of the fifth, sixth century. So there were some tie-ins to a certain extent. We wanted to apply that to that time period and to the "hack-and-lead" element. There's something about this guy who's an arrogant young warrior who then becomes a king. There is something about that sort of journey that we really thought made a good story for a game, and we could also apply it in terms of the gameplay mechanics. The filmmakers spent a lot of time explaining [their] story, but they also gave us a lot of liberty in terms of how we were going to tell the story. They obviously insisted on key elements of the movie being interpreted. But they realized that if they make a two-and-a-half-hour movie, they also appreciate that we've got to give 10 or 12 hours of game play.

So we have to expand the universe, and that was one of the big things that we discussed with them in the first meetings: "Can we expand outside [of the movie] and what are the limits of where we can go? We don't want to just tell the exact story of the movie. We want to extend the universe a little bit more so the player understands what the torment of Beowulf is all about." So that's how we got to that.

Expect no shortage of blood.

GS: Are you expanding the universe based on your own creative ideas, or are you going back to the original epic poem to flesh out the story in the game?

AL: For us it's Beowulf versus his inner monster, the monsters within. The poem and the movie don't really deal with that situation. It's sort of like an ellipsis. It goes from when he's young and flashes forward to when he's old, and then has little flashbacks to when he was progressing. That's all you see.

So we wanted to give the player that journey, those 30 years where he's suffering for the decision that he made when he was young, and that's how we give the player the experience of being torn, because he's facing his own monsters within. We based it very much on Viking mythology, Norse legends, that kind of stuff. We were very much inspired by the Norse gods and that kind of stuff from that time. But it's completely independent from the movie or from the poem itself.

GS: How much can you tell us about the filmmakers' creative direction and their technical execution for the film? How much of that are you guys adapting for the game?

AL: The big advantage from the relationship that we had is that they gave us access to everything from the beginning, from their concept art right through their early renders. So we're basically linked into their production cycle because the way they're producing the film is very similar to how you would produce a game. We get to see everything that they are editing down and producing, so we see a lot of the work-in-progress stuff, how they're evolving the characters, et cetera. I've done a few licensed games, but on this one we do have a very open door to see what's being produced step-by-step, which is cool. That gives us a big advantage to focus on the gameplay and not worry about what's [Beowulf] going to look like.

You can descend into a reckless, blind fury to deal with large enemies like this one.

I think one of the important things, in terms of what they've done [with the movie], is how they've allowed the actor's expression, which normally if you look at cinematics in games, it's quite difficult to get life in the eyes, life in the mouth, life in the expressions and stuff. And there, they hit it straight on. You feel as though you're seeing something, you're seeing an actor come through his animated persona. It's mental. It's pretty cool, actually.

GS: You're using Ubi's YETI engine, which was used in GRAW. How have you evolved that technology for Beowulf?

AL: In terms of technology we had to really think about what we were trying to do with the player, in terms of the environments that he's going to be in, the visual treatment based on how we were going to make the game look as close to the movie as we possibly can. For example, the Vikings always wear fur. They wear furry underpants. So fur was a big part of what we tried to develop with the engine. Now we have complex fur shaders, which allow us to paint on fur in real time. This then allows the fur to move in accordance with the environment, whether it's windy, whether it gets wet, and in accordance to the character's movement. So when he runs, his fur outfit will move naturally towards his environment. It gets wet. It gets bloody.

In terms of other aspects to give it a bit more dynamic approach, we've also done motion blur, which adds a lot of fluidity to the animations and much more realism. That also adds a lot of dynamics to battles, especially when you're in close-quarter combat, hand-to-hand combat, or when you're swinging swords. We also use zoom blur, which gives you more sensation of speed. A lot of post-processing effects, really, depth of field. It's basically the same tricks that you would use as a cameraman making a movie.

Ubi's Tiwak team had access to every step of the filmmakers' production cycle while developing the game.

GS: Speaking of battles, what will the combat experience be like? What's the scope of the battles? What kind of interactions that you'll have with the enemies, and with your comrades?

AL: The basic principal is that your progression is, you start off with this arrogant monster slayer and then you progress either down the path of a carnal monster slayer or you go more towards becoming a heroic leader, a king. Now those paths are completely intertwined. It's not saying you're either good or bad. We're saying that you make decisions throughout the gameplay that will have consequences in terms of your environment and how your people react to you. The thing about being a king is not so much about you, it's about your people around you. So we've tried for a much more squad-based hack-and-lead approach to beat-'em-ups. You can fight on your own in a selfish sort of way, just hacking, slashing, grabbing, ripping, pretty much going crazy, going a little bit berserk now and again, or you can also use your thanes, which are your men, your gang that hangs out with you and helps you, defends you. You've got up to about 12 of them at any time that you'll collect along the way--either you'll save them or you'll go back to your castle and pick them up.

If you're a more heroic leader, you will use the thanes appropriately. If they're getting beaten up by some crazy troll and you go and help them, then they will obviously fight harder and longer for you. That's one of the big areas of gameplay that we've really tried to focus on, that sort of squad-based side. You also use them to open doors. So if there's a giant stone pillar blocking your way, you'll send them in and then you'll cheer them on in a minigame that's based on timing, where you'll have to convince them and cheer them to open the door as quickly as possible. You can also use them to attack, defend positions, hold positions, and attack certain enemies. That's the thanes-related gameplay.

Your men--called thanes--will be the backbone of your fighting effort, but you'll have to keep their morale up.

On the other side, you have the more visceral gameplay, which is that close-quarter combat. Now you obviously have all your series of combos and weapons that you'll use, whether it's a sword or an ax, a spear, hammers, and what have you. But one of the things that we really wanted to give the player is the sensation of the hands, because obviously Beowulf has the strength of 30 men. So we've done a lot of it based on the grab mechanic, which is an important feature in terms of how you will play against a lot of enemies. Your camera will zoom in and you'll be able to grab and do a series of combos based on grabbing hold of enemies, ripping their heads off, ripping their balls off, snapping their necks, grabbing and twisting their arms. That's very much in-your-face, close-quarter combat, hand-to-hand combat.

That part of it is to really show the sort of aggressiveness of Beowulf as well. So the thanes element is much more distant, more logical. You think a little bit, whereas the visceral is very much getting in there, getting stuck in, doing combos, button-bashing. The idea is that you balance the two as you're playing. The same applies in terms of the tactics. There's a very simple tactical layer. We're not trying to complicate it too much--the tactical layer is literally how you hold the thanes' positions, send them to attack or defend an area, giving you time to attack a troll, for example. You'll have a giant troll and you'll have to go into your carnal mode, which is like a berserker mode, like a blind rage.

In the old days, the Vikings used to take mushrooms and stuff before they went to battle, and then they went into this blind rage. Crazy but true. And so we wanted to give that that visceral side. So when you're in a bit of trouble or when you're feeling a bit under pressure or when you just want to lash out and rip people apart, you just press the trigger and you go into this blind fury. And this is where you grab. You have more power. You can lift heavier objects, whether they're giant pillars, giant rocks and so on. And you can completely destroy your enemies, just decimate them.

As often as not, the odds will be stacked against you.

The danger with that is that you can also decimate your own men because you're in this blind rage. So if you're swinging a sword around and one of your guys is next to you, you'll take him out quickly and he'll die. So you've killed one of your own, and that's one of the consequences of that action.

At the other side with your heroism, when you call your men, you can use the heroism to call them over so they regroup around you, so they defend you, so they help you when you're on the battlefield. And it's this sort of balance between the two sides that we're trying to give in terms of gameplay.

GS: Cutting down one of your guys probably isn't going to do much for the collective loyalty of your men, then.

AL: No, pretty much they'll be pissed. [Laughs] One of the impacts that has as well is that obviously if you're killing your own guys--the idea of these consequences is not that we say, "We blame you and you're being naughty." You can play it how you want. That's one of the advantages that we want to give: We want the player to sort of judge himself. Obviously there are areas where we'll push you and pull you in certain directions to show you what happens. But it's all about the feedback we give through your own men. They'll be more depressed. They won't fight as hard for you. But then also when you return to your kingdom of Herot, you'll also see a change in the way your people react to you. They'll be like, "Yeah, you're a bastard, we hate you," or, "Hail to the king. You're great! We love you!"

GS: Do any of those decisions that you make affect the key story moments that you experience? You're going to fight Grendel's mother regardless of what you do, right?

AL: Yeah, absolutely. You'll fight key areas within in the game. The key characters in the game are there. Grendel you'll fight and Grendel's mother, et cetera. At the end, we have what we call the legacy system, where you'll accumulate either heroic or carnal points as you progress, depending on how you fight. You'll have this system of points that will give you a gauge as to how you're playing.

At the end, by playing the way you did, you'll define your own legacy--are you a monster slayer or a heroic king--and that's where some differences will appear. But it also impacts your gameplay--it means you will have more or less thanes as well. It will depend on how you fight your enemies. It will change how you fight your enemies. And it will also depend on the upgrades that you buy. You know, you can either upgrade your thanes when you're more heroic, or you'll be able to upgrade your carnal side and buy bigger weapons, different shields, your carnal power will last longer and that kind of thing.

GS: Is there any sort of multiplayer or online component to the game?

AL: No, we've very much made the conscious decision that it's about the story of Beowulf. To make it multiplayer--we did actually look at it because we thought Viking, barbarian-type characters fighting each other would be cool. But we decided to focus on the thanes and you being responsible, becoming a king, and the story lent itself to that psycho-mechanic rather than trying to make something like a massive, multiplayer online game.

Expect plenty of content not seen in the upcoming film, or the original epic poem.

GS: When are we going to see the game? Is it going to be right alongside the movie?

AL: Yeah, we're destined for mid-November, and the same for the film. So hopefully we'll have a [hands-on] look at it around the start of August. You've got the gameplay trailer now. That gives you a first look at where we're at. Obviously, the effects aren't implemented yet. One of the things that I try and explain to people in terms of technology is that it's done like a cake, it's like a layer cake. So a lot of the weather effects and all the kind of lighting effects and special effects always happens right at the end. So bear with us. It's on its way.

GS: We'll look forward to it. Thanks, Adrian.

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Discussion

131 comments
vass86
vass86

"The uncultured masses have absolutely no clue about how fantastic this poem is or how much it has influenced all of modern day fantasy" wow. what a condescending tw*t

DeanCorleone
DeanCorleone

Looks interesting I hope it has some kind of co-op mode to it.

KamalR
KamalR

i tied between this & conan

Fatslick911
Fatslick911

I has to read the poem for school. It's actually pretty good considering the epic poem was gruesome, very violent, and a huge monster that ate ppl while they slept. So expect this to be very gory and could translate into a great game actually. And no this isn't a cheap ripoff the poem was made in the B.C. the story started by word of mouth. You don't get any older than that.

triniprince1420
triniprince1420

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Chaad_Losan
Chaad_Losan

The uncultured masses have absolutely no clue about how fantastic this poem is or how much it has influenced all of modern day fantasy. With out Beowulf, there would be no LOTR or D&D or any other fantasy thing out there. Fans of the fantasy genre owe the genre's very existence to Beowulf.

the_new_neo
the_new_neo

it doesnt look terrible is all i can say

DyL-the-PiL
DyL-the-PiL

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Poshkidney
Poshkidney

i know the poem aswell his sword melts when the blood of the monster touches it

Mertado
Mertado

I played this game some years ago. It was called Rune. Rune kicked a$$. Beowulf looks to be a cheap ripoff and, if you pronounce it just right, saying the word Beowulf actually sounds like you're vomiting.

denaz
denaz

i hope this makes it too aus! Can't go wrong with lots of blood:P

FraserAlexander
FraserAlexander

there is already a garbage early 90s movie called beowulf based on the same poem...and guess what? ...It was a piece of rubbish on a hot day. The new movie will most likely suck too, and so will this POS game. sorry but it's true.

RollingZeppelin
RollingZeppelin

The games concept is stupid. Am I gonna upgrade myself and do wicked ass combos and tear everything to threads, or am I gonna upgrade my thanes so i can rely on crappy AI and always worry about one of them getting thier asses handed to em? The choice is obvious, so the decision system that they're completely baseing this game on is completely useless. Unless you like constantly defending AI that always get killed.

ebookerd1
ebookerd1

Beowulf was the meanest MOFO UP Round this Town. It was a great poem. But man he was a crazy SOB. Dude the name is that of a beastly Man that tore peoples arms off and beat them with it. He is what you would call a legendary Hero. This is a consept of Gold!!

Darqness
Darqness

Idont know a LOT about Beowulf, but his mama needs her ass whipped for that jacked up name.

ebookerd1
ebookerd1

A game after my own heart!! to Snap a Neck or rip a mans Balls off. That is the most vicious thing I have ever conceived.... I LOVE IT!!!

Bloodhawk_DX
Bloodhawk_DX

Ah, gotta love all the needless violence this game seems to promise. I miss the slaughter fests, lately games are going all kiddy and full of little more than comic mischief.

jacob-goodlich
jacob-goodlich

back to the future and forrest gump were good movies so i have got pretty high expectations for this game

vonkronz
vonkronz

...wait lemme get this straight-"Your camera will zoom in and you'll be able to grab and do a series of combos based on grabbing hold of enemies, ripping their heads off, ripping their balls off, snapping their necks, grabbing and twisting their arms."...lemme shorten it a bit"-ripping their balls off-"...i'll at least rent this game if thats implemented...just so I can do that over and over and over...

Rakuho
Rakuho

i read the poem. i even have that book from college a few semester back. He was some Scandanavian warrior, or something, who killed this Grendel, a bear-like monster, in the castles dinning hall by cutting off it's arm (if i remeber correctly), and then it's mother the snake, and so on. that grendel was a real whine job. also, thought i'd share that. there were movies and stuff about him but they were pretty off from the original story. anyway, this dude is bad ass

piinshot
piinshot

It looks crappy. The fighting looks tacky,along with the graphics and it seems there are just a few key visual moves to capture eyes in the trailer. This disappoints, but most medevil games do.

Bradley7777
Bradley7777

How can you say did'nt look good, that was amazing! The medieval plot does'nt disappoint and the amount of blood shown promises a bloody, gruesome expierience.

NemaLive
NemaLive

where can you find the poem ???

LordLeckie
LordLeckie

i cam here with an open mind looking for a prospective game and upon seeing this i can say that the gamespot ranking system sucks, crap games and old games constantly vie for top spot while good ones are lest in the background...sigh

danciu
danciu

It doesn't look that good.

UneasyMeat
UneasyMeat

Awesome, I can't wait to play it.

Daelock
Daelock

If that's the one he's talking about...then he needs to read the damn source like...I dunno, nowish. I don't know how they're gonna do this, Beowulf only fights three monsters in the poem (not counting the seven beasts he talks about killing years ago)

SturmFuhrer14
SturmFuhrer14

"There was ALREADY a movie about this poem... wasn't it about beowulf and that wierd troll dude? So wtf? They remaking it or making a new one about the same guy ?" You mean the sci-fi channel movie "Grendel"? Thats the one about Beowulf they made not too long ago.

polishprince214
polishprince214

I don't know why everyone is ripping on the game. I bet everyone here will love it when they try it

bdalton06
bdalton06

actually beowulf is some great warrior that straight effs people up.. if i remeber correctly i don't believe he was a troll...

Hatefish2
Hatefish2

There was ALREADY a movie about this poem... wasn't it about beowulf and that wierd troll dude? So wtf? They remaking it or making a new one about the same guy ?

lv46
lv46

It looks like Spartan Total Warrior with Gears of War graphics. Should be pretty good then.

Expane
Expane

That trailer looks frikin AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!! FOr a N64 game! RAWFULCOPTER

mckaine
mckaine

i just watched the trailer. wow does that look generic. i gotta say, i am not looking forward to it.

mckaine
mckaine

wtf. i'm not going to see the movie. at least until i finish reading the poem. and the game might just suck. i dunno. maybe the demo will help me along.

higheclipse
higheclipse

This sounds good, besides the name "Beowulf" has something special....

sgallagher1969
sgallagher1969

The Good: Epic, literary classic storyline., lots of blood, great action. ...................The Bad: Movie tie-in game. These are almost always end up lame half-hearted efforts, or rushed-out games trying to meet a movie release date (x-mas season also.) If they would only get a clue and use the closing credits of the movie to hype the game, thus giving the developer extra time to put the final polish on the game. Just show a "finished" 90-120 sec trailer of in-game video, while letting the credits scoll by below. Of course this could be the rare movie tie in game that gets it right...................... ????: GRAW engine dated?, expanded storyline?, admittedly unfinished graphics in this trailer???

SturmFuhrer14
SturmFuhrer14

"another god of war copy cat" No, this is actually original. But hey, if you want a god of war clone, just wait for heavenly sword.

Yochab
Yochab

This looks pretty cool. It's like a nice fusion between God of War stuff and 300. It'll be, umm, satisfing.

AL13NK1LL3R
AL13NK1LL3R

this game is goin soo freakin SICK!!!!!! i gotta get it and i dont care what y'all say

djHaQ
djHaQ

Wow this looks like an incredibly epic game. I can't wait to own it for PS3!

cadahnic1
cadahnic1

This game is to be released with the movie or slightly before the movie. I dont know about the young bucks here, but anyone over 22 will remember reading this damn poem in Lit class in High School. It is a good story and has been the influence for alot of fantasy titles, but I just dont trust a movie game. They usually are terrible, but there are always guys who buy them. Seems like it is going to be a block, X,X,X kind of game that will be ferociously repetitive. Hope not, but it seems that way. Will definately be a rental or in store play before I consider buying it...