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Keeping It Reel

Dave Perry talks Hollywood and games

With games based on movie blockbusters riding high in the charts during the summer months, decided to discuss the subject with Dave Perry, a man who's had plenty of experience working with the cream of Hollywood.

From The Terminator and Aladdin to The Matrix, he's worked with the top players over his 25 years in the industry. Here he discusses the future of games and movie making, and how a new attitude to games production could see movie studios leading the way where games publishers have failed. What were your impressions of the recent Hollywood and Games Summit?

Dave Perry: It was really interesting to see that with someone like Clive Barker (creator of the Hellraiser movies), you'd think that the videogame industry would be going to him asking to licence some of his stories or properties, but it's not the case at all. He reminds me much of the Wachowski brothers (directors of The Matrix series) in that he's one of these guys who just loves videogames and he's so passionate about games and how it's a special medium that should have content especially tailored for it. He believes that games shouldn't be just tossed onto the shelves as a cash in. What I'm taking away from this is that some of these high-level creative people are unbelievably into games and they are clearly a major thought process in their life. It's not a case of them thinking, 'How much money am I going to get from this?'

What's the key difference to working on a movie project and working on a game project?

In our industry the big difference between Hollywood and the games business is that everyone gets a say in the games business. But in Hollywood there's the director and the film is his vision. No one has the balls to say, 'page 3 of the script is dumb'. Nobody does that in Hollywood because that would be the end of your career. In our industry testers can throw their opinions out there and that can have a profound affect and greatly improve a game. People are generally much more likely to listen to feedback and take it into account.

Would videogame development be better off with one person controlling the vision of the game rather than a design by committee?

Well, the game business needs to find the people with that vision and support them whole-heartedly. In Hollywood a director comes up with an idea and he knows what he wants. So a team is assembled to make that vision come true. It does not matter how complicated it gets - if they have to make new hardware, new tools, new equipment, it doesn't matter - it gets done. And they bring in experts in those fields. And it doesn't just get done with the minimum of effort. They bring experts in to make one person's vision look stunning.

In the game business we don't really have that as much. There's a few examples where you get someone like Will Wright. But a lot of the time the vision is immediately compromised by what the programmers will be willing to do. They'll say, 'there's not enough memory of there's not enough of this or that'. It's this crippling blow that the game takes before production even starts. I'd love to see more of the Hollywood way where whatever it is we need to get to the point where we can say 'that vision rocks, let's make it happen', does actually happen. Let's assemble the programming team, let's get experts in and try to make that vision come to life. Listening to Clive Barker talk about Jericho, I imagine he would throw a pitch out there and the programmers would start tearing it apart.

The videogame is always limited by the technology, it's an obsession to focus on the tech and not the creative vision

That idea of what a director is, it's a little different in our industry - it's not revered. You know, when someone like Cliffy B decides whatever to do next, instead of it being based on what he can get the game engine to do I'd love to see it the other way around. I'd love to see someone like Cliffy B go 'here's my dream game, let's do it.' That's what the movie industry is, and we're not.

There's seems to be a different attitude to making games based on movie licenses coming from companies like Brash Entertainment. It's decided to tackle it head on and produce, market and sell them alongside each other. That's something games publishers have tried before but haven't often pulled off successfully, mainly due to one of the two finished products being poor quality...

Brash has invested in that so they've got USD 400 million to start with. It's these kind of players that make you believe that these things are possible. Because they clearly understand the business. It's a very interesting time. If they really do execute their ideas and put money behind all of this stuff they're going to be a big success. They are being really up front and basically stating, 'We are going to make this happen, we'll bring movie directors and game directors together and give them the money to do what they need to do.' And market the games just like they do with movies. They're not messing around here, they have the money.

Games based on movies are often singled out as what's wrong with the games industry - cynical cash-ins that sell off the back of a successful film. Now movie people are coming into games and picking that up as if to say 'publishers have had their chance, we'll take it from here and do it right'...

But there has been some examples of good quality licensing. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, where the game got great reviews and the movie wasn't that good. It gives a glimmer of hope that it's not all about the movie. There are far too many movies that just get turned into games because someone thinks they can make some extra money. And the opposite is true. People think that a game has a big audience so they may as well make a movie out of it regardless of whether it's a good idea or not. That's the stuff that companies have become allergic to.

So it's about getting away from that exploitation where a movie company takes what it needs but doesn't necessarily give anything back to the games industry?

It's about betting on the talent. It's about having people that show up with really, really great talent and vision and getting them together and giving them the money they need to work on their projects. It's not about buying logos and saying 'We want to put your movie logo on our game box although we don't care what the finished product is'. Hopefully that's not going to happen any more.

What are the traps that the videogame industry falls into when trying to make successful games based on movies?

In my experience there's a lot of people and production skills that the game industry needs to start to embrace. On The Matrix the sets cost USD 600,000 a day so in a situation like that there's no slipping. You can't think that you'll be okay to delay the release for a week, it's too expensive. So the level of production is much more detailed and planned because slippage is phenomenally expensive. To apply the best production co-ordinators and producers - that level of talent is expensive but worth it in the long run. But if it's funded well and you're as serious as a heart attack about this then those people will work at their best and you'll have the best product.

I'm excited to see that people are starting to think this way. It will raise the bar across the board in terms of game development. Another example is with visual effects companies. We're always looking at ways of outsourcing and methods to cut our costs. I see a lot of games companies saying to themselves if we send our animation to Europe we're going to save 50 per cent on the costs and the quality is going to drop, but it's worth it because it's cheaper. But that's the exact opposite to where the successful companies are heading and how they are thinking. They're thinking how to get Sony Imageworks to make their game and get that level of quality into it. It's interesting that companies are going in very opposite directions there.

You've had more experience than most working directly with Hollywood studios - what would be your advice to developers and publishers when dealing with the Hollywood set?

To learn to say no. When you're offered a relationship that seems half-baked, just say no. Because you're going to get no thanks for it at the end of the day. I've experienced it in multiple different ways. I did the Terminator game back in the day and with that we had no support at all. But then I did Aladdin with Disney and we had remarkable support. It depends on whether or not they are really going to be there for you. If the answer is 'maybe' then you should probably say no to that relationship. The future of good Hollywood games is getting really good support on both sides.

Dave Perry is an independent videogame consultant. Interview by Matt Martin.

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Matt Martin avatar
Matt Martin: Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.