Tameem Antoniades (‘Enslaved: OTTW’)
Why choose Journey To The West, a Chinese fable that has been retold in other media several times, as the basis for the story?
“I think I just like the story. I liked the original story, and I liked Monkey the TV series, and I thought it would be really cool to do something around it. We asked our art team what they would like to work on next, and they said sci-fi, so I said fine, let’s do a sci-fi version of Monkey. A part of it is also western influences in games boil down to Lord of the Rings, Aliens, Mad Max – there’s a small handful of tropes that are repeated over and over again. This was just a different starting point.”
The environments in Enslaved are unusually bright for a post-apocalyptic setting. Was this a response to how it’s usually portrayed in other games?
“It was mainly down to our art director… he’s always looked in colour in everything he does, and movement and lighting – he’s really into Rembrandt and Caravaggio and stuff. The reason why the game is so ‘paintily’, is because when we build the levels and start mocking them up, we take screenshots then he paints over them, often with brushes, sometimes with a computer, mixing both. And then we give that back to all of our artists and they try and match that, and he does that several times over. I think you get a very good personal vision coming through. And I like it, because it kind of makes you think as you’re playing it, it makes you think if the world is so beautiful without us, maybe we’re not as important as we thought we were after all, in a weird way.”
You’re working with Andy Serkis again for this project. Why choose him, and what kind of skills and qualities does he bring?
“We just enjoyed working together a lot, so a lot of it is because I enjoyed working with him, and because I think he’s one of the greatest character actors we’ve got. There’s no-one that knows performance capture like he does. He’s a great team captain, he knows how to bring all the other actors into this kind of sterile environment. He makes them do read throughs, he makes them do stage plays, almost in the room, playing through the scenes of the game, really preps them. He’s got a wicked wit and all these nuances and things in the scenes are his own, he makes them. I just think he brings a lot of that character to the game.”
Like in Heavenly Sword, you’re using performance capture for the cutscenes in Enslaved. Do you think it will become more common in games in future?
“I think it will. I think it’s totally inevitable that they have to, because we get to the level of Avatar, anything less is not going to be good enough, and we will get to that level of performance. You can’t replicate that on realistic characters with animators, you just can’t. Well, you can, but it would be grossly inefficient, it would take just too long. There are still games out there that voice separately in a recording studio, capture movements with different actors, and then they put it all together, and I just think that’s just insane. Why would you do that? It’s just ridiculous!”
Do you think it’s affordable today for most studios?
“Yeah, I think so. If you’re doing a fairly big budget game then it should be the way you do it, I think. I don’t see any benefit or reason to do it any other way. Hiring a massive team of animators to do it is not going to be cheaper than hiring some actors, a crew and a set to do it. So I don’t know why it’s not done more often. I think it’s early tech, we’re just at the cusp of it, the tech we developed at Weta was ahead of its time. Now, other games are catching up, and I think it will be used more.”
Escort sections have a mixed reception in games previously. What pitfalls have you avoided?
“So, escort sections usually fail because the game isn’t built around it. There are actually examples of games that work extremely well, such as Ico and Another World on the Amiga, and those are games that are built around the idea of a buddy. So that buddy mustn’t do anything stupid, it must behave like you would expect a human would, and if you get that wrong, the game falls apart. So that was a big focus. Another thing a buddy has to do is be useful. You can’t get through the game as Monkey without Trip, without her gadgetry and her help, so it feels like a team. When you actually play the game I don’t think you’ll actually think about that problem, at least that’s the goal, it just won’t occur to you that this is an escort mission. If we do our job right, then while you’ll playing it you don’t want to be without her, because she’s useful.”
Ninja Theory has previously worked on games for singular platforms. Was there any challenges in developing on 360 and PS3?
“Not a lot, actually. We’re using Unreal [Engine 3], and we’re using Unreal because the tech that we developed exclusively for Heavenly Sword remains exclusive with Sony, and that platform, so we couldn’t use any of it at all, so we had to start again. So we chose Unreal, and we developed the facial system again, the combat, the stuff on top of it – the animation – stuff that makes our game special, and it hasn’t been on our minds since. The game has been much more of a creative endeavour than a technical one actually, which is good, which is where you want to be.”