Interview: Ninja Theory’s Tameem Antoniades

The Enslaved developer on Alex Garland’s involvement and working with the film industry.

How did Alex Garland’s film skill-set fit with videogame development, and how did his involvement impact Ninja’ Theory’s development process?

Films are all about visual and aural storytelling. We use the exact same interface as films. For example, TV and speakers, so there is a lot of common ground. Applying the rules to cutscenes is one thing but the real challenge is to figuring out how to apply storytelling to gameplay. How to use cameras, lighting, dialogue, animation and so on during gameplay to convey a particular story point.

What did Ninja Theory learn from working with a novelist/Hollywood writer?

Mainly that the rules of drama apply directly to games if you are willing to keep an open mind. I should point out that Alex is an exceptional talent with extraordinary intelligence and he has a deep love of games. Most people in Hollywood don’t meet that criteria so will just as likely mess things up as they will make things better. Proceed with caution.

In turn, what lessons can the film industry learn from gaming and can you see both media formats converging as both sectors continue to work closer together? What, theoretically, would be the result of such a convergence?

The facial performance capture technology we developed with Weta for Heavenly Sword was the first time performance capture had been attempted by Weta and the first time it was used in a game. They built a studio for us in New Zealand for that. Back then in 2006, when we were doing the shoot, Peter Jackson used King Bohan’s facial rig to show James Cameron what was possible for his then rumoured movie, Avatar.

Just recently, when shooting Enslaved at House of Moves in LA, Andy invited me across the road to watch Spielberg shooting Tin Tin using performance capture. Later, Spielberg’s producer came to visit us on set to see how we do things. The technology surrounding performance capture seems to be a tangible point of convergence. For all other areas such as writing, directing, sound, music, it’s more a case of transferable skills being used from other industries.

How has Enslaved benefitted from Garland’s involvement?

Alex is a guru of storytelling and he worked with us for two years on the project. We basically had one of the best teachers you could hope for working on our project. It’s changed our perceptions of what consitutes storytelling in games.

Who do you see as the true masters of the game industry in terms of creating cinematic experiences and applying the rules of cinema to games effectively, perhaps to enhance user immersion or to provoke an emotional response in the player?

Fumito Ueda and his team, Valve and Naughty Dog come to mind. I’m sure there are many more – I just haven’t been playing too many games lately.

Ninja Theory is building a rep for working with Hollywood talent – do you see that continuing in future, and do you think it’ll become widespread in the industry?

Can I just comment that Ninja Theory has never actually worked with “Hollywood”. Alex is from London, Andy Serkis is from London, and so is our composer Nitin Sawhney. We’re from Cambridge. We are as British as you can get. We have all the talent we need right here.

I don’t know how widespread working with non-games talent will be as there is a certain snobbery and prejudice that games people have about working with people from other media. We assume, incorrectly, that we are a different medium and so have nothing to learn from them. It may stem from publishers trying to force big shot Hollywood-types onto developers with less than pleasing results.

Everyone we approached, we did because we believed they had something to offer, and often approached them before we had a publisher. Mutual respect and chemistry is an essential part of any collaboration.

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