Disney Interactive Talks Pirates
Disney Interactive Studios had only a PSP and Nintendo DS game to commemorate the launch of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest last summer. As the film went on to break box office records, the studio had no console games to take advantage of the success. But this summer, things will be different. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End has several video games shipping in conjunction with the theatrical release, including the first next-gen games for the franchise.
Nick Bridger, senior producer for the game at Disney Interactive Studios, talks about the new game and discusses the advantages (and hindrances) of working with a huge Hollywood IP like Pirates of the Caribbean—even within the same company.
What are the biggest challenges when working on a Hollywood-based game?
Nick Bridger: There are really three main challenges for me. The first is meeting expectations from consumers: movie tie-ins have a notoriously bad reputation, so it's incredibly difficult to try and do something different with the game and get the more hardcore gamers and press interested as they always start on the back foot. It's a constant battle to excite the press and this core group of consumers as they've been used to so many poor movie tie-ins that were produced quickly simply to sell units off the back of the film's success—not because it's a good product. Trying to challenge people's expectations when doing a movie tie-in is always one of the hardest things to do.
The second is working to the timelines of the studios. Games typically take anywhere from 18 to 24 months for an average production period (though this can vary greatly) and so the need for assets comes much earlier than the studios are normally in a position to provide them. Even with the huge teams we have now, building and creating assets in games takes a lot longer than their film counterparts so the challenge is always trying to make everything as authentic as possible, but also you need to involve some creative license as there will be scenes in the films that are simply not ready in time for us to recreate them. A good example is the Maelstrom sequence we have in the game. We had to start working on this a year before the studios, based on some early animatics and visual shots. Whilst we've actually come out very close to the final version (which I believe they're still working on even now) there will always be discrepancies between games and movies.
The last one is actually working within the franchise and brand restrictions. Because protecting an IP is of unparalleled importance, it can hugely restrict the creative freedom and control we have over the game. What works on a theme park attraction, in the theatres or on TV doesn't necessarily mean it will translate well to games which are all about interaction and keeping the player interested. The great challenge is trying to convince the studios that what they feel suits the brand the best isn't always the best path rather than understanding that it's down to the user-experience. For example, just because you have a character that's not necessarily an aggressor in a film doesn't mean this works well in the game as they'd never really feel they have control over a situation. Gameplay is above all the most important thing.
How does Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End expand beyond the third film's plot and action?
It was really important at the start of the project to not be a slave to the movies, and use the rich gaming medium to really explore the characters in a lot more detail—something the films cannot do simply because they do not have the interaction, or the 10-12 hours of game time we have to do this. This is the beauty for video games: we can do something that other mediums simply cannot deliver as the consumer is actively participating and controlling the events themselves, creating their own experiences.
How did the team work with the filmmakers throughout the process of the game and film production?
It's important in games that whilst you are offering familiarity from the films and trying to bring all of the films' highlights to the consumer, that you have the creative freedom to explore the world in a lot more detail as games are a very different experience from films. Whilst certain things transgress well across both mediums, there are other things that just simply wouldn't be fun for a player to participate in because of the complexity. By checking in with [Director] Gore [Verbinski] and his team, by having complete and utter access to everything that the studio is working on and working closely with the filmmakers themselves, that makes the end experience for the player so much closer to the original vision for Pirates of the Caribbean.
What was it like working with actors from the film, as well as new actors like Cary Elwes, for the game's dialogue?
The actors are simply great fun to work with. When an actor gets in to their role it's actually rather inspiring and you really appreciate the art behind good acting. It's hugely important to us to have a performance as opposed to an actor reading lines as, line feature animations, we use the voice to really drive all the of the animation in the game—from facial to full range of bodily motions.
How much voice work or new dialogue was there in this game and how many sessions did you do?
Honestly? A huge amount. It took us around three months and we have over 150 different characters throughout the games across two separate studios. Whilst this is great for variety and makes the world feel that much more alive, it's a huge undertaking to record and track that amount of dialogue. For instance, we had to record one character in Germany, another in South Africa, another in Hungary...it's quite a feat. Luckily we worked with some exceptionally talented people from the actors to the scriptwriters, including Terry Rossio, one of the original screenplay writers who were lifesavers.
How have you seen Hollywood talent embrace video games based on films?
Slowly they have, but there still seems to be some stigma around games that they're nerdy, played by some teenagers in their attic and that they are not artistically as important. But as the generations move through, and more and more people have started playing games from an early age, it's slowly become more accepted as a medium. The beautiful thing about games, is how close the consumers can actually get to the characters and how many more possibilities this opens up to actors. More and more are beginning to get involved and see the opportunities games offer to the hundreds of millions of people out there who play them. The tide is certainly starting to turn.
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