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Ninja Theory's Tameem Antoniades

Ninja Theory's creative director and co-founder talks about plans to move into movie and TV production

Ninja Theory made a huge splash in the games industry last year with Heavenly Sword, a bold title that borrowed many of the traditions and skillsets associated with Hollywood blockbusters.

Now, having used cinema and TV as the inspiration and basis for making a game, Ninja Theory now plans to use games as inspiration and basis for making movies.

In the build-up to the GameHorizon conference, Tameem Antoniades, Ninja Theory's creative director and co-founder, spoke with about moving into the movie-making world, using videogame techniques to compete with Hollywood and competing with other game developers and publishers in movie and TV production. Many would argue that games and films are two different media and should remain that way, why try to bring them together?
Tameem Antoniades

What if Lord of the Rings never got adapted to film? What if the comic for OldBoy never got made into a film? What if Star Wars never got adapted to Lego Star Wars? Adapting a piece of work from one medium to another can get it to a bigger audience and add a great new perspective when done right.

More practically, exploring new business opportunities is something that independent studios can and should do in order to survive. We can do things that big publishers can be reticent to explore on their own.

On a more personal level, I have an interest in how stories and themes can transcend a medium, where each medium becomes a looking glass into a common world. Granted, it's not for everyone but we've got particular experience, talent and skills from our work on Heavenly Sword that makes it a real possibility. Will you have to make any sacrifices to game design to accommodate a narrative that will lend itself toward other media?
Tameem Antoniades

No, the game comes first. A film, book, or comic can be used to elaborate upon plot lines and characters and tell the same overarching story in a different and unusual way. But for us, the game comes first, always. If the narrative of the game turns out not to be suitable for film, then we simply won't do the film on this one. Do you feel you can compete in the cinema and TV media with other games companies, like Ubisoft, planning to follow suit?
Tameem Antoniades

We have no interest in competing with the traditional CG industry - the games business is tough enough. I think a company like Ubisoft has every chance to make it work given their size, IP portfolio and the enormous grants they are receiving from Canada.

We see an entirely different area of progress: a form of independent production based on real-time game engine technology. We reckon you could do something like Beowulf for 15-20% of the cost. If you are already creating hi-res assets for a game, then sharing these can bring that cost down even further. At these levels, yes, I think we can compete. We have a lot of experience in performance capture, animation, rendering and so on. We can compete in the same way that indie films can live alongside blockbusters.

You often hear that a game and film are being created concurrently to share costs and assets. Anyone who truly knows about how games are made knows that this is idealistic - assets created for film can rarely be used in a game. We would only consider a production model where the game leads, and the film follows, and it all happens under one roof. You can only truly share assets and cut costs that way around. We're seeing media companies like Disney and Warner Bros making an impact in videogames now - do you see a trend for videogames companies to make an impact in the media space, as content providers rather than just licensees?
Tameem Antoniades

Yes, it would be nice to see things go the other way. As developers, why not look at TV and film as alternative platforms? It's the funding and distribution models that are alien to us but I don't see why that needs to be a real barrier if you are persistent enough. Simply finding the right people to talk to is a challenge in some of these enormous media companies. But the interest in collaboration is there for sure. What do you think of Ubisoft's plan to use 3D film technology in games and, eventually, in its own movie and TV productions?
Tameem Antoniades

Creating the CG movie in the first place is the hard bit but we think we have the grounding to make it work. Extending a CG movie to work in 3D is not such a big deal. For games, I do believe that you may need to render at higher refresh rates to avoid nausea and headaches. That can have an impact on your engine and game design.

For 3D to take off, it's mainly the interface that's a problem. But if a Guitar Hero-style game comes along and standardises and popularises the interface, then that's cool. That opens the door for other people to make 3D games. What do you think 3D can add to gaming?
Tameem Antoniades

The same kind of depth and immersion you get when you watch a 3D movie. Would you like to work on a 3D project?
Tameem Antoniades

Yes I personally would. I would love to see how it works first. Do you think that videogames audiences are more forgiving of in-game acting, given that it's so hard to convey real emotions using computer graphics?
Tameem Antoniades

I think gamers are used to poor cut-scenes. That's one of the reasons they are disliked so much. I do honestly believe that the best cutscenes in Heavenly Sword surpass the best scenes in Beowulf in conveying emotion. The reason I believe we achieved that, is because we and our partners at Weta Digital put a great emphasis on the human artistic side of things rather than relying on the hardware and software to do all the work for us. Do you think CG does a good job of conveying emotion?
Tameem Antoniades

Yes I do. I see CG as digital make-up. So as long as the performance is there to start with and the CG data reflects the original performance, then it should be easy enough for a skilled animator to reach the emotional resonance of the actor. If you aren't able to convey emotion, then somewhere along the line, something isn't working as it should be. We did a lot of research in this area and know where the "gotcha's" are. So our next project will hopefully improve on what we learnt. Do you think that new controller designs - things like the Wiimote - allow players to invest more emotion in games with the added level of interaction?
Tameem Antoniades

The Wii drops the barriers of interface which makes it more accessible to a wider group of people. A hardcore gamer playing a game like Splinter Cell can get so used to the more complex interface that, to him, it also becomes invisible. So I guess, the Wiimote allows a wider group of people to get involved with gaming a lot faster.

But we're talking different types of emotion here. I think of the Wii in the same toy-space as Simon Says, Buckaroo, Air Hockey etc. Parlour games, best enjoyed with friends and family.

There are so many genres of games, each following distinct paths. The one we are focused on is the cinematic experience. But other genres, be it strategy, simulation, RPGs, FPSs, MMORPGs, sports, have their own ways of conveying stories and emotions. You can't generalise or say that one is better than another. Do you think we'll see other hardware manufacturers following suit with ever more advancing motion tech for the consoles?
Tameem Antoniades

I'm still waiting for the promise of Virtual Reality! It can't be too far off now, can it?

Tameem Antoniades is the co-founder and creative director at Ninja Theory. Interview by James Lee.

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