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A Hollywood Tale

Tigon's Ian Stevens on the original Riddick game, and why the relationship between games and films isn't always easy

While Hollywood actors are no stranger to the concept of making appearances in videogames, there's a strong feeling that such attention is little more than lipservice to an increasingly lucrative entertainment media - but Vin Diesel, as an avid gamer and Hollywood actor is a rare bridge between the two worlds.

Here, Ian Stevens, who heads up Diesel's Tigon Studios production company, talks about the way the film and games industries collide, as well as looking back to the firm's first project - a certain Riddick game called Escape From Butcher Bay... Part two of this interview will follow next week. For people that might not have heard of Tigon, tell us a bit about how it started.
Ian Stevens

Vin [Diesel] founded the company in 2002, and he did that as he was going into production on the Chronicles of Riddick film. He did it because we were already in production on Escape From Butcher Bay, and he's a huge nerd and a huge gamer, and he didn't want to just show up to do voice-overs and character likeness approvals, and limit his involvement to what's typically the scope of actors working in games.

So he started the company and managed to wrangle some control in Escape From Butcher Bay's story, he brought in some script-writers to try and give himself a more meaningful role in that process. That's when he and I first met.

Over time the company has grown in terms of the scope of what we're trying to do - I think The Wheelman is an example of the initiative we've taken to try and create new IP, and not just involve ourselves in the scope of films that he's in.

So it really is just about a guy who loves games wanting to find a way for Hollywood and the games industry to find more interesting ways to work together than they typically do. Butcher Bay was a good example of how to treat a film license well, from the game's point of view - so in other words, not just a 'game of the film'. The understanding that videogames are a different medium, and require a different approach, was an important milestone - so did you know at the time you were working on a special title?
Ian Stevens

I don't think so - to be honest, up until we started getting review scores, the feeling we had from most people was an incredible lack of interest. Seriously. It was a movie game, it was a developer that people hadn't really heard of, it was some actor that people weren't really sure they liked, and it was a publisher that didn't have a reputation for quality. Nobody really gave a sh*t.

I remember at E3 that year, when people actually got a chance to play it, you could see their eyebrows raising. But that was the first time really. We felt as if nobody was really going to pay it any attention. So it must have been a nice surprise when review scores started to come in?
Ian Stevens

It was a very nice surprise, and a mixed one as well - the game got a great reception, and great review scores... and the movie didn't. It was an interesting time because at the time Vivendi had two big licensed properties - one was Riddick and the other was Van Helsing.

I thought - Hugh Jackman, Universal monsters, this is going to be huge. And they put all of their resources behind Van Helsing, so even internally in the corporate business, we felt that nobody was thinking it was going to be anything special. And in the end Riddick didn't sell especially well, so we walked away feeling great that Riddick was this wonderful game, and yet so much else around that wasn't hitting the same plateau. What does that tell you about the business of videogames? Back in 2004 the power was clearly with the marketing, so is that still the case five years on?
Ian Stevens

I think marketing is hugely important no matter what. We have some really interesting trappings in this industry - the press was a bit late to the game in terms of their appreciation for it, and so what that did to us was that Wal-Mart, Target, GameStop, GAME - all these retailers around the world were looking at the coverage and not seeing much love. They have their own metrics for figuring out how well something's going to do, so their quantities were really conservative.

Then, in turn, the marketing people feel there's not such a good shot at selling a lot of units so why would they sink however many dollars into it if they don't think they'll see a return. There's a bit of a wag-the-dog or chicken-and-egg scenario that happens, and I think that's a frustration that a lot of people in the business deal with regularly.

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