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Siege Mentality

Part 2 - Lanning on Citizen Siege and the relationship between the film and game industries.

Yesterday we published part one of our interview with Oddworld Inhabitants president Lorne Lanning.

In part two, he reveals more about new project Citizen Siege, and discusses how the company's relationship with publishers has changed in recent years.

Lanning also gives us his views on the way in which the games and film industries can work together - and the problems they must overcome - plus what it will take for games to evolve.

The movie of Citizen Siege is being produced by John H. Williams with his company Vanguard and you intend to retain creative control. Are you working with an outside development team for the videogame version of Citizen Siege?

We wanted to secure the film development deal first. Some publishers have seen the game and the response has been fabulous. But we want to see more of what the potential synergy between the two properties are before we take specific directions in how it's going to be done. So we're still looking for the right partner on the game.

What are you thoughts on publishing partners? Has you time away influenced a rethink in what you'd like from a games publisher?

First of all there have been no film directors that are proven games designers. But it would be much nicer than instead of having a publisher pay to birth your property, you birth it as a film first which will get a marketing commitment. Then publishers will then want to ride on it and not feel like they are baring the whole load to release a new property.

That's a shift that we're excited about. We know enough about working with publishers and we know enough about working in development that we feel we can navigate this better than the film community can and really bring to life the synergy of the two products, because we know how publishers work and we'll be bringing something else to the table rather than just skillsets and a means of productions.

We're willing to work with the best teams out there, but we want to stay on top of it creatively. And we feel better insured to do that if we have the film happening at the same time, because then the publisher knows they won't be spreading the new brand visibility on its own. In that respect, it was part of our plan.

What did you make of Microsoft and Peter Jackson's recent announcement of a game collaboration?

I'd love to see it succeed for Peter Jackson's sake and for the industry's sake. I think Peter Jackson will have a very interesting experience working with a technology company and not a film company, and also getting hard lessons from the medium.

The videogame medium is very challenging. Special effects are one thing, but interactive entertainment that people can break a thousand different ways are another. When everything in your experience is dictated by specific pieces of code it's not quite the same as making a film and retouching frames if you need to.

We're touching on a really interesting point here. We have fabulous games designers in the industry, but who is Microsoft trying to make a deal with? Peter Jackson. And who is EA trying to deal with? Steven Spielberg.

Film directors are looked at differently, and as the games community realises it needs stronger characters and better story-telling, it goes to the film industry to get what its needs and is looking less within its own community.

That's clearly a shame. We have all this talent but we have to prove ourselves to the outside world by getting validation from another industry to highlight our skills.

Tell me about it. How do we even tell the inside world? I'll tell you a story. We had a meeting with an executive from one of the big publishers and we were talking about our long-term plans, and we modestly said we're a Pixar-yet-to-be.

And the exec who claims to know Oddworld's work and the games industry says, âWell the difference between Pixar and you is that they have the stories.â He's looking at me right in the face and inside I'm just stunned. Because film directors are coming to us and telling us they love our stories, whereas the mindset of the publishing community is that even when stories are in a game, they don't actually see them.

If you have to wear a suit to be taken serious at a job interview, you wear a suit. If we have to be a film director to be taken seriously as a story-teller, then we'll make the transition. Because if we can then we'll make better games. Except we won't be sweating about the games the same way as we used to be as a third-party developer under a third-party agreement.

Everybody who works in film, watches films. Music executives listen to music. But how many top executives at games publishing companies sit down and play a game?

That touches on another point, which is that games can be seen as closer to mass-market goods and things like processed foods. People work at a breakfast cereal factory but they don't eat the product because they don't need to - it's just a product they're shipping.

Games are a packaged good and less of an art form. The talent has been marginalised. The games industry is a multi-billion dollar business and yet the outside world doesn't look at is as an art form.

No matter what the statistics say, I go by my gut and look in the stores and there's few of the adult population picking up games. We can't get games executives to play games, let alone the average adult.

Games are one of the most powerful mediums to ever arrive and we need to evolve them. At the moment it's stuck in a trench because of the cost, because of the lack of innovation and because we cater to a core market with titles that have no appeal to a mass market.

Lorne Lanning is the president of Oddworld Inhabitants. Interview by Matt Martin. To read part one, click here.

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Matt Martin

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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.

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