Q&A: Gadi Pollack on Lost: Via Domus

The producer of the game based on the popular ABC TV series tells GameSpot about the game, the secrets that will be revealed, and what it's like to work with JJ Abrams.

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Lost fans have been waiting a long time for the new series of the show to air--but the wait is almost over, with season four starting on January 31 in North America. They're also in for another treat, as the video game of the show Lost: Via Domus is still on the way. (In Europe, the game has been given a February 1 release date.)

Lost: Via Domus will take gamers right back to the start of season one, when Oceanic flight 815 crash-lands on a mysterious island and the survivors struggle to make sense of their new surroundings. Gamers will play Elliot Maslow, a new character created for the game, an investigative journalist in possession of a scoop when the plane goes down. Maslow is struggling with amnesia brought on by the shock of the crash, and throughout the game, experiences his own flashbacks as he attempts to remember his past.

The producer of the game, Ubisoft Montreal's Gadi Pollack, came over to the UK to show it off. GameSpot took the opportunity to ask him all about the game, and how the Ubisoft team worked with JJ Abrams and the other members of the Lost crew.

GameSpot UK: Why did you decide to make the game start from the beginning of the series as opposed to telling the story between series three and four?

Gadi Pollack: Two things. The technical problem we would have had is that it would have been too late to get the game done between seasons three and four. The game was being developed when season two was on air. The script of season three was still being written. So, we decided to do that from a logistics and a timeline and a technical perspective, because making a TV show you can change things. You cannot change things at the last minute when you're making games. It's very difficult. Also, it was important, especially for people who are not fans of the show, to relive the beginning so that they could really understand why you're on the Island.

If we were to start from seasons three and four, it would have been difficult for nonfans to understand, they wouldn't have known what was going on. Can you imagine just putting yourself right in the middle of season three and four and you're like, "The others are here, but--?"

GS UK: Was it difficult making a game from a show that has such an open-ended storyline?

GP: Yes, it was very difficult. So, there are certain things we did, as you know, in Lost, you never know who your enemy is. But in the game, we clearly identify who your enemy is. And we do that for a couple of reasons to push you forward in the game. But the hardest part making a game for a TV show is that the show is always evolving, and we have to adapt with the evolution of the show.

But the most challenging part is that there's already a fan base. When there's a movie license, you know that the big marketing is going to come a month before the movie. You don't know what the fans will like, or want. So, it's good and bad that there's already a good fan base, so we can drive off of what they want.

But, yeah, in conclusion, it is challenging.

GS UK: You did focus group testing. Can you tell me a bit about that?

GP: Of course. So, basically, we did a quite a few different sessions. We did one where we wanted to find out what they wanted out of the game, and who their favorite characters were, what type of sequences they'd like in the game, what were the cool parts of the show.

We got the information and then we came up with our idea. And then we went back to present them the game concepts. And then when we presented the game concepts, we spent six months making the prototype, which is a vertical slice of the game. It's about one episode.

And then we went back again, and we got those same people who we did the first focus test on, got them to play the actual prototype, and to see if we were in the right direction. Did the game feel like you were in the show? Did you like interaction of the characters? And based on that, we continued development of the game.

So, basically, we used the fans as our listening board. Making games is a very iterative process. You put [an idea] on paper, you design, you implement, you try, and then that happens over and over again until you run out of time, or until you feel it's right--it's usually running out of time.

GS UK: So, what did you find?

GP: What they found was that [players] wanted to have flashbacks that were playable. That's 100 percent. And it was tricky because at first we had flashbacks that you could interact with, but there was no challenge. So, we had to find a way to create a challenge, and in game design--what's very important is that there are rules, and there are challenges, because otherwise it becomes boring for the player to just roam around and just not do anything.

So, getting information about the flashbacks was very useful. We also got back that they really wanted to interact with the characters. And they gave us the names of which ones they really liked.

GS UK: Who were they?

GP: The usual, Locke, Kate, Sayid. And then as well they really wanted to feel like they were in the show, in this game. So, we felt that the only way we could really do that is because of music. And, to me, Lost is not about the storytelling, not always about the characters, but it's about the music, because you remember those key moments where the key music comes, you're like, "Whoa." You know what's happening. You know there's danger coming by the music coming.

So, that's why I really wanted to make a big effort to secure Michael Giacchino to develop original music for us, because he's also the guy that developed the music for the series as well. He also does it for a lot of the Pixar movies--he just did Ratatouille.

GS UK: Do you think there's now going to be a trend for TV shows to become games like movies do--for example, we've had Alias and 24: The Game and now Lost?

GP: I think there is a trend because I think that now Hollywood's realizing the impact and the market-share that video games have. But it's up to us as developers to decide which ones, what kind of games we want to make out of them, and how much of an effort we want to make. So, yes, I think it's coming up, because I think TV shows are leaning more towards the younger audience. TV shows are becoming more like games. You know, I could never understand why they never made a game out of The Bourne Identity. Only now they're making a game. To me, that doesn't make logical sense because that's a movie that has really great elements for a game.

But, yeah, I definitely think it's a trend, and I think that Hollywood's realizing that every movie needs to have a game, and every TV show needs to have a game now, because we demand it, too, huh? Look at the success of Spider-Man.

That's the beauty about video games. It's a medium that you could pick up anything. Let's say today I want to be a fighter pilot. I'll go pick up Ace Combat 4. And tomorrow I want to be a survivor on a desert island and play Lost. It's that escape that I really love.

GS UK: Can you tell me a bit about the consultation that you had with the writers of the show? How much input did they actually have?

GP: They had input 100 percent. They would direct us on the story aspects, and then we would tell them [if] for a technical reason, we couldn't do something. They were really the true, true owners of the story. If we didn't have them, I would tell you that we would not be able to achieve this type of product.

So, what we did was it was like this. We would write the story, and then have a conference call to discuss it, because I don't like to send e-mails [saying], "Here's a story. Give me your feedback." We always would discuss it over conference calls. And then it was always ending up three- or four-hour conference calls. But these are important.

And then we discussed the script. And then we would send iterations back and forth. So, yes, it was a big back and forth. That's why it took three months. That's a long time to do a story.

GS UK: So, how many people did you have working on the storyline do you think?

GP: We have three scriptwriters, two guys from ABC. I'd say about six or seven people. But not just the storyline, but when you deal with the storyline, you have to also look at how it affects the mechanics of the game. In this story, they'd write [something] but can we actually execute [that] in the game? And there was a quite a lot of things that they don't know how to make games--some of these licensors don't know much about games.

GS UK: You say the storyline was the most important element of the game?

GP: This is, for me, a story-driven game, 100 percent. Lost is a story-driven show. So, this game needed to be a story-driven game for sure.

GS UK: Is the game going to be essential to play by Lost fans to unravel the mystery?

GP: No. But if they want to explore what's behind the magnetic wall in the Swan interior? Yes. But the idea was not to create a side product to understand what the numbers are to--not to get answers on mythology, because that would really upset the fans, and also we wanted people who are not fans of the show to be able to play this game.

GS UK: You told me earlier that Myst has influenced the series. Can you tell me any more about that?

GP: That was something that JJ Abrams said to me, yeah. He just said Myst was somewhat of an influence on the show. I assume he meant with the mystery elements, with the sort of puzzle-solving, things like that. He's also a fan of Beyond Good & Evil, and Prince of Persia.

GS UK: What was it like working with JJ Abrams?

GP: In a word, "Wow." I'll give you a little anecdote. When we came to meet them, he was 20 minutes late. And he said, "I'm sorry. I just got back into town. I was working on a project." He's a very fun guy. And him--and all the writers--are so bright and creative. He was throwing out so many ideas. His mind was going, going, all the time. You know some of these guys that you meet like they're so, so active, and they're like--they're just bubbling with energy that their mind was just whirring all the time, and so he had to stop for two minutes, pause, get his thoughts together, and then give me his idea.

Also I've never met a guy that uses the word f*** every second. Every time you would say something, like, "How about you f****** do this, like you f****** like that, like--eh?" That’s his favourite word. It’s crazy. And when you read the actual--so we got the scripts for season three--so when you read the scripts, it’s the dialogue. And then underneath it, it’s the set-up for the--what I would say, on top is the set-up for the dialogues, to set up the scenery, he’d say, "And the f****** tree f****** blows up, and f****** explodes, and f****** kills all these people." Man, it’s crazy. It’s crazy.

GS UK: Do you know what the ratings will be?

GP: In United States, it's [T for Teen]. And in Europe, it's 16.

GS UK: Any plans for any other formats?

GP: I'm trying to get it on Mac. We'll see how it goes. It would be nice.

GS UK: Tell me something you haven't told anyone else about the game.

GP: You'll explore the Black Rock. I don't think I've told anyone that. And I could tell you the ending, but that would spoil it for everyone. So I'll just say, I love the ending. You'll have to play the game to see the ending.

GS UK: Thanks for your time!

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