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Games Biz Borrowing More from Hollywood

Improvements in technology lets gamemakers create cinematic sequences that replicate film biz.

With Sony and Microsoft gearing up to release a new generation of videogame consoles that boast more realistic graphics, Hollywood’s influence on the gaming biz is getting tougher to ignore.

The enhanced capability of the devices has given game developers the ability to borrow more from filmmakers, blending cinematic excitement with the immersive elements of interactive entertainment.

When Electronic Arts debuted its holiday tentpole “Battlefield 4” at the Game Developers Conference this week, it gathered the press corps inside the Imax theater in San Francisco’s Metreon complex. Reporters sat in stadium seats, watching a clip from the military game that was meant to elicit gasps and elevate adrenaline levels.

On the big screen played car chases, gun fights and dramatic choices to make. And it was easy to temporarily forget you were watching a scene from a game and not a summer action movie.

“We use the best methods from (the film) industry to convey the story,” said Daniel Windfield Schmidt, lead level designer at Eidos Montreal, behind “Battlefield 4.” “Combining the two is something the games industry is still trying to embrace. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s taking the knowledge that [Hollywood has] and saying ‘how do we make a scene like this possible?’ The biggest task in game development in general is to merge those two into a new way of storytelling.”

French game publisher Ubisoft is taking a similar approach. When scoring began on last year’s “Assassin’s Creed III,” the team also turned to Hollywood for guidance. The result was an open world game that used film techniques to give the game its own identity.

Filmmaking has been “helpful in many aspects,” said Yannis Mallet, CEO of Ubisoft Montreal, also at the GDC. “[We’ve leaerned] how to create meaningful characters, how to use the camera as a character to say a lot more in a three-second shot — with the angle and showcasing something in a certain light — than we could in a longer scene with a lot of dialogue.”

New team members coming on board to work on Eidos’ upcoming title “Thief” are told to first watch a series of films – including Roman Polanski’s “Oliver Twist,” “Underworld” and “Sherlock Holmes” (the Robert Downey Jr. version).

“These are the DNA for our visuasl,” said Stephane Roy, the game’s producer.

There’s a balancing act that needs to take place, though. While Hollywood has certainly helped developers boost some stylistic notes of modern games, it’s still critical for game developers to keep the interactive elements at the forefront.

“It’s about figuring out where do you want the storytelling and where do you want the gameplay? And how do you prioritize?” Schmidt said. “If there’s a super awesome scene in a cinematic, you ask, ‘Why aren’t I playing that?’”

Movies, meanwhile, could learn a few things from games, they note. Mallat chuckled as he remembered a visit with James Cameron on the set of “Avatar” where the director excitedly showed off a real time virtual camera – letting him see the scene immediately much like it would appear in the film.

“He was acting like a kid and I was like ‘Oh God… This is a tool we’ve been using for years in games,’” Mallat said.

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