GDC 2009: Ubisoft insiders talk film-game convergence

Ubi Montreal's Yannis Mallat, Far Cry 2 lead Clint Hocking, POP producer Ben Mattes, and EndWar director Michael De Plater discuss the French publisher's approach to film-game cross-pollination.

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SAN FRANCISCO--The first day of the 2009 Game Developers Conference Monday saw some of Ubisoft's leading lights gather for an informal panel. On Monday evening, Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallat, Far Cry 2 creative director Clint Hocking, Prince of Persia producer Ben Mattes, and EndWar creative director Michael De Plater perched on barstools in a chic restaurant atop the Moscone Center to face a small group of reporters.

Specifically, the quartet had gathered to discuss the growing convergence of games and films. The subject is particularly dear to Ubisoft's corporate heart, as it has been laying the groundwork to begin film efforts itself. Last year, the company purchased the license to make movies--and any other media properties--based on the Tom Clancy brand. Shortly thereafter, it bought Hybride, the Montreal-based effects house behind Sin City, 300, and Snakes on a Plane.

Though Hybride reps were not on hand, fellow Quebecois Mallat (top) kicked off the panel with thoughts on the film-game nexus. He sad Ubisoft is betting on developing film and movie properties at the same time, which would lead to an overall "bigger" media experience. He lamented the fact that most film studios think of games only after a film has already been developed and sometimes even after it has entered preproduction.

As an example of how films and games should be developed, Mallat held up Avatar. In 2007, Ubisoft announced it was developing the game adaptation for the forthcoming $200-million-plus 3D sci-fi epic from Titantic director James Cameron, due out later this year. Mallat said Cameron's LightStorm Entertainment is working closely with Ubisoft, even sharing assets with the digital effects arm at Weta Digital (Lord of the Rings), which is handling special effects.

"When we met, we understood we were on the same page with Avatar," said Mallat of his first encounter with the Aliens and Terminator director. "He wrote the script to Avatar around 12, 14 years ago, but he had to wait for the technology." Via taped comments at GDC 2005, Cameron revealed that he was developing the Avatar game and film simultaneously, telling BusinessWeek the following year that it would be a massively multiplayer game. Since then, little has been heard about the film's genre or story.

As for Hybride, Mallat said the VFX house was "working on several projects" and the public "wouldn't have to wait that long" to find out what they are. However, the executive said the "long-term goal is to have movie and game people [at Ubisoft] talk to each other in real time. That's happening already...and those filmmaking tools and processes will help us make better games." Mallat then mentioned Tom Clancy and Assassin's Creed as game IPs Ubisoft is looking at as potential first film projects.

Next on the mic was De Plater (center top), who talked about the voice commands used in the real-time strategy title Tom Clancy's EndWar. He said the goal of the system was to leave behind traditional RTS controls, which have players dispatch entire regiments with the cold, unfeeling touch of a button.

"We wanted to make people feel responsible if they make people live or die," he explained. "We wanted a game where you would talk to soldiers and they would talk back. ... The challenge was to make those soldiers be real people, not ants."

Was it successful? De Plater thinks so. "One of our first play-testers came back and told us that 'I am the general,'" he said, before adding "We're just at the infancy of what's possible [with voice commands]."

Clint Hocking (center bottom) is also a fan of emotion and cinematic influence on games. However, the outspoken Far Cry 2 creative director also issued a stern warning against game developers trying to emulate moviemaking.

"What's important is for us to make people care about games through the tools of games--interaction and gameplay," he declared. "We already know what the best movie of all time looks like, but we don't know what the best game of all time looks like. If we follow Hollywood, we could only get the best film made--a Citizen Kane or a Raiders of the Lost Ark. That's great, but what if the best game of all time is 10,000 times better? If we follow Hollywood blindly, we'll never know."

As an example of the type of emotional moment he'd like to see in games, Hocking held up the scene in director Steven Spielberg's World War II film Saving Private Ryan when Caparzo (Vin Diesel) is killed trying to save a little girl from a bombed-out building.

"But Spielberg learned from all the guys before him over some 100 years of filmmaking," asserted Hocking. "We only learned from 20, 30 years [of game development]. So who knows, somewhere down the line maybe we will have stuff with the emotional resonance of Spielberg."

In Far Cry 2, he tried to re-create similar characters by making the main non-player characters vital--and expendable. "We wanted to make the buddies in Far Cry matter, to make risking their lives important," said Hocking.

The last to speak was Mattes (bottom), who began with a prolonged defense of Elika, the companion character in last year's Prince of Persia. One of the more consistent criticisms of the fantastical franchise's cel-shaded reboot was that Elika's help made the game too easy.

Mattes saw Elika's artificial intelligence as a virtue, however. "We succeeded in making the first AI character that people didn't hate," he said. "People said they hated the game but liked her, except the misogynists in the forums. Whatever. They can just go back to Gears [of War]."

Returning to the subject of Hollywood's influence on games, Mattes echoed Hocking's comments about taking the film industry's advice with a grain of salt.

"If you asked me a couple years ago how to make a game good, I'd say we should get a Hollywood director in here and ask how they crafted emotions, and get a Hollywood actress in here and ask how she'd create emotions," he explained. "But they'd just fly in, get a $1,000-an-hour consultant salary, and leave. ... We need them to respect us as much as we respect them. Only then we can sit down and have a dialogue."

Discussion

36 comments
burn6
burn6

games indeed have excellent story telling capabilities and sometimes can be better than the movies since the inter-action has a more profound impact to the audience. Games like prince of persia, starcraft, diablo, halo, KOTOR, GOW and GTA just to mention a few will make you wish there is more and hope there is follow up movie after playing the game. A movie based on the lore of the game like Mass Effect will also be great unless Mr. Boll snatch it first. XD

masry95
masry95

that is aperfect idea to make a movie with the story and inspiration of the game

xyboink
xyboink

making a movie with inspiration of games... There are some examples, King Kong, (i know there was a movie in 30' but the movie of 2004-2006 was based on the King Kong game) But it depends of the regissors, A movie, based on a good, game cannot always a blockbuster... So it is riskfull, but if ubi give better results then i have thought, i will eat the posters of Ubi games in my room as a punishment ...

BloodMist
BloodMist

From what i've experienced, the best games are already bridging the emotional gap in profound ways.Games like Bioshock or the Half-Life games, or The Witcher or the FF games, or the BG games or Fallout games, Oblivion, or Starcraft or C&C, countless more, have given me experiences that easily rival the best Hollywood films in so many ways.I dunno what Ubi is talkin about, we're already there, have been for a long time. And of course to make a great movie based on a video game, all you have to do is get a director and a writer that actually care about the source material.That's what they did with Lord of the Rings and countless comic book films in recent times, that was also done with a play in Sweeney Todd.That's all they gotta do with game based movies.It's not hard to figure out.

MrFinalFantasy
MrFinalFantasy

hmm. figures. it is Easier to develop Films then developing Games. and as Gsmith92 said. games have much more freedom in storytelling. while films are constrained by time. Games that developed in-tie with movies usually sucks cause there are basically not enough plot or time constraints. but! it'll be a difficult task for Filmmakers to ADAPT Grand Theft Auto IV on the movies. then again. i would love to see that.

Gsmith92
Gsmith92

I think if anything movies should be born from games and not the other way around. It's a fact that most games made from movies are failures, they either confine the game to only the scenes in the movie or change the game to the point where most of it is not even in the movie. They seem to just pump these games out knowing that they will make money off little kids, crazed fans or inexperienced buyers. Maybe if they really spent time on the games they would turn out better. I think it's also more exciting to make games into movies. Overall i just think they need to take a new approach to the movie-game ideas. I think Mattes had a good point to, actors and movie directors just come in wanting to get paid and don't really care about the game, it would also help if the people who worked on the movie would really put some effort into making a great game.

hamsterrecon
hamsterrecon

the best movie based game iv ever played was Transformers the game i hope the sequel this year is just as good

am_shaegar_nr1
am_shaegar_nr1

Ben Mattes is an idiot who should be fired from Ubisoft. He destroied the PoP franchise

KrueLLa
KrueLLa

Hi, I dont like this game. Poor single player, terrible.

Riprock
Riprock

People. The point is that most of the movie-based games we have now have just been spin-offs. We end up with a watered down version of a movie that doesn't capitalize on the unique capabilities of an interactive game. Ubisoft is trying to approach it differently. I say, give them kudos for trying, for envisioning something bigger and better, for realizing that games are still in their infancy and that there are enormous possibilities in integrating creativity, talent, and technology in ways that will hopefully lead to even better cinematic interactive gameplay, a truly immersive experience. We don't even know what this really looks like yet. And yes, I can appreciate that we don't want to move backwards to get ahead. We don't want to lose what we have now for merely a promise of something better. Hopefully Ubisoft is also listening to this as well.

HaRdNiPs
HaRdNiPs

to me game based movies are a cool idea but most of them are a failure. if they have a great directer, producer, great actors that fit the game characters, great story and then it will be a success but not based out of the story of the game because they take it a bit to far going out of the story.

NAT3
NAT3

i think if they made an assasins creed movies or a ghost recon movie it would be really good when they made that hitman movie it was really good i like these ideas they are comin up with i like playing a campaign and have a real deep story and some kind of emotional connection to the characters companions.and if something tragic happens to one of them i like feeling sorry for them and if i have the choice to save them or let them die. like in mass effect 2 when u had to choice to save ashley or that one guy haha forgot his name

irelevent
irelevent

To nurse_tsunami: Multiplayer. Skipping cut-scenes.

nurse_tsunami
nurse_tsunami

My friends and I talked about emotion in games awhile ago. We said that you'd know they went to far when you played a FPS and then after shooting someone they flashed to the soldier's wife and young children receiving word of his death. Sometimes you play a game because there is little emotion in it. You just want to have fun :P

eagles_band
eagles_band

Mattes, I wouldn't dis gears, your games pale in comparison to EPIC games, not even on the same level

firehawk998
firehawk998

Bottomline they plan to release more crappy games based on movies. Nice decision you guys really nice. I am sure you guys are working hard on Greys Anatomy . A game which is kinda like the Trauma centre game on the Wii and DS ( sorry I forgot the name) but instead of fun surgical minigames, it is replaced with sex and no brainer relationships.

Adziboy
Adziboy

Did anyone else really get what they were talking about? All I read was a load of stuff about Hollywood films and games. And Emotion. And EndWar.

retrofraction12
retrofraction12

Hi ubisoft where is your wii support? lol lol lol lol

Vance_009
Vance_009

When Rainbow Six was with Red Storm their was talk about making that game a movie.

killer_rabbit20
killer_rabbit20

come on uwe boll sequal s00n plzzzzzzzzzzz teh first movee ownd so much !!! /sarcasm

VenomRitual
VenomRitual

ubisoft, how are we supposed to trust you after you let Uwe touch Far Cry?

sar1995
sar1995

what are they talking about????O_O

dynomitemasta
dynomitemasta

Until they find a common middle ground it just won't work. Game to movie-Movie to game always blow chunks. It's a medium onto itself and movie makers AND game makers need to embrace this for the genre to move forward. It has to be the perfect balance of seamless game-play to cut-scene ratio or it FAILS. They are however getting closer, and while on the right track I feel it will be years until games are this all inclusive movie/game super experience that we all know it can be.

Merl57
Merl57

I agree with the last part a lot Hollywood does not have a lot of respect for games and they will once they realize how much the Game industry is destroying them in terms of growth, there needs to be more mutual collaboration

lordrave
lordrave

"People said they hated the game but liked her, except the misogynists in the forums" Wow, they are so honest.. haha yeah the newest PoP gameplay pretty much sux, oh how I miss the rewinding times. Anyway, What?! I dont quite get it, emotions? real? Cut the BS!! Here, im hoping they got another team working on Game engine, after sending one team for emotion study. Partner AI that gives off a sweet emotions with sweet speech are awesome, like Elika, it makes every seconds of playing fun. I just hoped their efforts for this emotions and stuff wont become a piece-of-crap at the end. "We wanted to make people feel responsible if they make people live or die," he explained. "We wanted a game where you would talk to soldiers and they would talk back. … The challenge was to make those soldiers be real people, not ants." Dude!! we dont have time for Chit-Chat, it's war!! sacrifice is crucial.. go and die you lousy army. I assure you, if I start keep chatting with my soldier, the enemy would already be penetrating the defense

jrabbit99
jrabbit99

I like the games with emotion. If that's what it takes though, to get a Hollywood consultant then please do it!!! It will make the games amazing!

pakhair
pakhair

WHAT................. They are Talking Insane....................... It's BAD IDEA.......................

newb16
newb16

rickster34 said What????? I think this is a bad idea or bad ideas.