Alex Garland “intimidating” – Ninja Theory
Celebrated screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, Sunshine, 28 Weeks Later) can be “quite intimidating” to work with, according to Ninja Theory co-founder Tameem Antoniades.
Garland has co-written Ninja Theory’s new game Enslaved, but apparently his uncompromising nature meant his influence soon went far deeper than that.
“Alex Garland was up for meeting me and just having a coffee,” recalled Antoniades during his Develop speech in Brighton on Thursday. “The first thing I asked was, ‘So, have you seen any materials for the game?’ And he said, ‘No; I don’t know why I’m here to be honest.’ It’s a bit unnerving because you’re in the presence of someone who doesn’t need to work on your project – he’s actually never worked on anyone else’s project, ever.”
“It’s easy to get overwhelmed with people like Alex. It’s very important to establish before that we’re the games guys; that’s our responsibility, and you’re the story guy; that’s your responsibility. But at any point we can tell each other if stuff doesn’t work: you can say that my stuff’s rubbish and I can say that your stuff’s rubbish but we have a kind of boundary.”
“And he really took advantage of that,” Antoniades added. ” He really took advantage of that, and told us all kinds of stuff that was going wrong with the game, and it was quite eye opening.”
Antoniades’ bravado doesn’t seem to have lasted very long. After conceding that gameplay and story were inseparable, Garland – “a massive gamer” in his own right – became more involved.
“When we got Alex on board I did think it was mainly for dialogue writing, and he ended up doing a hell of a lot more,” said Antoniades. “He worked with the designers for weeks on all aspects of the game. He’s credited as a designer on the game.”
Garland’s input was made on all areas. His reductive script meant scenes focused on one meaning rather than multiple in an effort to protect “clarity”. He looked at camera angles and animation – questioning why heroine Trip stood “like that”. “If she was an actress and this was a movie, I’d tell her to stand differently, to look more intimidated, less confident,” he said. And so it was.
He even apparently crossed the “boundary” into gameplay. Garland said: “You’ve got all this stuff leading up to the fight and the fight should be the exciting bit. But currently it’s a bit damp: you don’t feel like you’re in the action.”
But the biggest impact came when Enslaved was roughly complete.
“This is what I didn’t expect Alex to do,” recalled Antoniades, “basically go through the entire game when we had everything in place and talk about the gameplay logic: Why’s that there? Why’s that door there? Why’s it got power? And he would do that all the time and we were tripping over everywhere.
“It was really tough, actually, for us,” winced Antoniades. “Really tough.”
That set the producers off into a “panic”, because these changes weren’t helping “get the game done on time”. But all the time Garland was asking “why?”, and if there wasn’t an answer then one would need to be found – the world needed justification or the fantasy was ruined.
“It was mind-blowing to me,” said Antoniades.
Videogames essentially ship their first cuts, the Ninja Theory boss realised. His new philosophy is that “game-complete is basically when you start story development”. Eventually, a film editor came in and spent a few weeks – seconds in the movie world – editing the game’s two hours of video down to 80 minutes.
“The best thing about working with film people, if there’s mutual respect, is that you learn so much from them. I learnt more from Alex in the last two years than probably I have in the last eight,” concluded Antoniades.
“Alex is quite intimidating as well.”
Enslaved is due out in October on PS3 and Xbox 360.
Full interview soon