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  • Design in Film to Game Crossovers

    [04.24.07]
    - Bret Wardle
  •  As game designers we are constantly faced with constraints to work within. These can be brought about by the genre, the game, and also by the publisher. Some of these constraints are more forgiving than others, but in all cases finding a way to make ideas shine while working within them can be very rewarding.

    One constraint that I believe often falls victim to pitfall is movie to game conversions. As a development team you are forced to stay within the realm of the movie, yet make a marketable product. There are some special considerations to take into account when taking on one of these projects.

    The pipelines for these projects have become synchronous in the last few years. It used to be that after a movie was released there was a pause for public acceptance before a game was developed. Now the game is released along side the movie in a way to multiply the "Buzz" around the project. The list of recent movie/game combinations released within a month of each other includes: Meet the Robinsons, TMNT, and Spiderman 3. And that's just a start. Of the 7 major games released on the Nintendo Wii in March of 2007, 3 of them were movie based.


    Movie to game conversions have been around for almost as long as games themselves. E.T. - The Extraterrestrial for the Atari 2600 is an extreme example of a conversion gone wrong.

    With as high of a percentage of movie-based games there are in the market, your chance of working on one of these titles is continually increasing. Of the many design consideration to ponder with a project of this type I feel that three in particular are key points for design uniqueness. It is this sense of making fun out of seemingly recycled goods that make these constraints, in my opinion, the most entertaining to work with. The three considerations I would like to explore are: External producer considerations, Usage of film footage, and Character/Location development techniques.

    External Producer Considerations

    Appealing to an external Producer is one of the most consequential challenges of developing a movie to game conversion. The role of this external producer is to make sure that the vision of the development team is consistent with the film, and its creators. In most cases your team will be approached with these products, and creating an idea pitch is not as necessary as with other products. But developing and pitching a unique idea that the publishing company will like can be very challenging.

    For the most part a publishing company will be looking for a game that follows the story path of the same movie. But do the players just want to jump through hoops for which they already know the consequences? Getting a publisher to buy into the minor differences between your product and the film teams product can be somewhat difficult but there are a few tricks that can help.

    The advantage to a film to game conversion is that your characters are generally already developed. This will be discussed later, but in the context of dealing with your publisher it can play as a huge advantage for your team. The characters are familiar to the publishing team, and you can use this familiarity to push ideas that are maybe not as consistent with the film. When your development team creates an idea that would constitute unique gameplay it helps in the presentation of this idea to pair it with something the publisher has knowledge of. An example of this is a set of missions that are not included in the movie, but take place at a familiar location.

    Presenting a completely radical idea to a publisher involved in the movie is most likely not going to be green lit. If you bundle your idea with a location, or lead in/out that ties into the movie you are more likely to receive the approval. Just because you have an external publisher watching for consistency between the projects does not mean your team has no area for unique play ideas.

    As previously mentioned, the pipeline for these projects are often intertwined. This can be a major advantage for your team if you plan ahead for certain aspects. This is especially the case for games based on 3D animation movies (which are obviously gaining more and more mainstream popularity). Because the assets are similar for the two pipelines your team can save time in departments like modeling, rigging, and animation. And devote more time to creating expanded worlds or more developed character storylines.

    To make this extra time available requires work on the internal producer's part. Coordinating meetings between the two teams can get help to establish which assets can be recycled between the two projects. Although optimizing a model that was used in a film (High poly) to fit in a game engine (Low poly) can be an art into itself, it is generally much less time consuming that creating the model from scratch. If you align yourself with the film team, and work with the publishers, many adjustments can be made that may save both teams time, and make the producers more money.

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