John Milius. Director. Screenwriter. Academy Award nominee. Computer game consultant.
Computer game consultant?
In charting the many ways computer and video games have changed over the past 10 years (roughly, since the introduction of the PlayStation), one can easily point to the graphics, the computing power, the role of the Web, the rise of the casual gamer, or the prevalence of adult or mature themes as areas where all sorts of milestones have been reached.
But beyond growth, there is acceptance. That too has gone through changes. The industry is no pariah, nor is it solely child's play. Significant contributors from finance, music, film, and journalism are fast allying with the game industry.
One noteworthy addition to the world of games is John Milius. A recognized talent in Tinseltown (though he makes his home on the opposite coast), Milius coscripted Apocalypse Now with Francis Ford Coppola and directed numerous high-profile movies (including Red Dawn and Conan the Barbarian).
Earlier this year, more than a few jaws dropped when Electronic Arts said the iconoclastic writer/director would be consulting on the backstory, script, and overall development of that publisher's upcoming game in its Medal of Honor series, MOH European Assault.
We spoke to Milius shortly before he traveled west to E3 (where he will participate in the E3 Conference Program).
GameSpot: The Medal of Honor franchise is known as one that has many Hollywood elements…the folks at EA call them "moments." When you were first exposed to the Medal of Honor games, did you see any evidence of Hollywood DNA in them? Specifically with European Assault, where did you first go to work on polishing the game?
John Milius: The most interesting aspect about writing for Medal of Honor European Assault is being able to capture WWII within the game medium. WWII is such a rich backdrop for a game--so many stories to tell. I'm not much of a gamer, but I think I would be really into the WWII military games, since that's one of my favorite periods in history. I also thought it was interesting the level of importance this team placed on incorporating authenticity, WWII accuracy, and cinematic visuals. Those were all things that stuck out to me since the beginning.
GS: In one interview, you talked about the process at EA--you sit in a room, offer up ideas, you then see those ideas come back later in storyboard form, etc. Can you take us inside those meetings and describe how the conversation flowed? And what have been some of the specific suggestions you've offered the EA staffers?
JM: My process for writing for this game differed from my approach toward films. My involvement as a writer was more of a plot and direction style, but I wrote a little dialogue now and then, when they asked me to. They do a lot of the dialogue themselves. I was more of the story guy. I like to think of myself as the story consultant really, and I must say, I think they did a great job capturing that into the game.
GS: You once said, in the context of your involvement with European Assault and EA, "They told me what I could do and what I couldn't do." Interesting comment. What was off-limits, per Electronic Arts?
JM: What I meant by my comment is that it is interesting because there are still things that we can do in movies that we can't do in games. But at the same time there are effects and experiences that games offer you that are impossible for us to capture in films. I think video games are going somewhere--somewhere that no one can say exactly--but as a medium they will be bigger than anyone thought movies could ever be. GS: You've said many times you are not a gamer. Before sitting down with the production team at EA, did you go through a self-guided or EA-guided "education" of the game beat?
JM: No, I'm not much of a gamer. I'm no good at that stuff. I get killed right away! My son plays games and I watch. That seems to be my role. In fact, the very first time I saw a video game was at Steven Spielberg's house. Steven was playing a military game and he pulled me over to show it to me. He told me that he had people who would come and get him if he played too long, because he would get so absorbed in the game that he could spend six hours or more playing and it wasn't helping him get things done.
GS: If so, which games formed the curriculum? In any of those games (including the Medal of Honor games, if they were included), did you find any sense of drama, story, believability?
JM: My role as a writer on this team was as a storyline consultant. I was good at that for them because it's not the storytelling that differs between video games and films, it's what you do with that experience. In a film you watch it once and you have an emotional reaction or connection to it; in a video game you experience it over and over again, as many times as you want to play through it, so you can have a million different reactions to one sequence of events. Medal of Honor is the most dramatic and believable storyline I have seen in a game, but like I said, I have not spent a whole lot of time around them. GS: What is it about World War II that you find so fascinating?
JM: WWII is such a rich backdrop for a game--so many stories to tell. I'm not much of a gamer, but I think I would be really into the WWII military games since that's one of my favorite periods in history. The most interesting aspect about writing for Medal of Honor: European Assault is being able to capture WWII within the game medium.
GS: Do you see the same dynamic in play in the game industry--with its focus groups, consumer research divisions, etc.--wherein the product is calculated rather than creative and intuitive? Does it mean the game industry is heading in the wrong direction?
JM: In my experience working with the team at EA, I encountered no Hollywood ego, just a bunch of nice guys who were all devoted to making a great game. When I would visit the studio, we would usually discuss WWII, the battles, the people, the weapons, the events, and then the next time I would come back they would have made that into a visual world. It was great! It's very dynamic, and unlike working in the film industry, the entire team is dedicated to a common goal: making a good game. It's not all about the egos and whose name goes where. It's just a bunch of bright young guys who are really passionate and creative and well-versed in the subject matter of WWII.
GS: Do you feel as if games can ever fulfill your needs as a medium that could carry the weight of your ideas?
JM: Absolutely! You should remember there was a time, not very long ago, when movies were not taken all that seriously. Video games will absolutely lead to something in the "right" direction--who knows if they'll even be like video games are today, or whether they'll lead to something else entirely. But we'll be able to say, yeah, this began with video games. And it won't be movies that it ends up with; it'll be something of its own.
GS: Do you see the day when you choose a game over a book to entertain yourself?
JM: For me no, but for others, I can certainly see that happening.
GS: If you were in charge of the creative process behind the Medal of Honor series, is there anything about the direction of the games you would change?
JM: No. I will leave the creative process of these games to the guys who are already really good at it. I trust that they will be more than capable of making great creative decisions in terms of the future of Medal of Honor. And hopefully continue to base importance on rich storyline.
GS: King Conan is on hold. That we know. The plot seems a perfect fit for the video game format. Have you ever thought about turning it into a game using a virtual Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vin Diesel? JM: I think that Red Dawn would be a great game. It's got a lot of those classic action moments, and the storyline of the youth rising up to save the world is a great one. I think there are a lot of games I could write. In fact, I was just telling the development team at EA that I think they should make a whole game dedicated to Stalingrad, which is probably the battle of all time, from a storytelling perspective. You have clear-cut heroes who are fighting to save the world and then you have these horrible, evil villains. You have great military maneuvers and cool weapons. And, it's a story for a modern time: the new world coming to the rescue of the old world.
GS: Will you be back for a second helping of the game industry after European Assault wraps?
JM: I would love to come back if they will have me, and hopefully I can continue working with some great people like the Medal of Honor European Assault team!