Game On: enhancing a screen production over multiple platforms
It is no secret the screen industry is rapidly evolving to embrace more and more platforms. The ultimate film experience is no longer confined just to the big screen; but has extended into numerous apps, games, webisodes, e-books, social media platforms and even real-life missions.
It’s a process we have seen grow rapidly and successfully in the Australian industry the last few years; so much so, last November Arts Minister Simon Crean announced $20 million in funding to create an Australian Interactive Games Fund.
The ever-evolving nature of the industry has meant these additional elements, once seen as separate entities, can now be used to direct traffic to the film’s website, attract new markets or drum up interest in a movie before its release. However, the traditional method thus far has seen these platforms treated as “extras” that support the main star – the film itself.
Feature film producer Keith Sweitzer and Christopher Ferriter, Managing Director of Divisive Media, claim to have turned this way of thinking on its head.
The duo, in conjunction with the producing and creative teams respectively, have launched what they describe as “the first transmedia/game combination of its kind” in Australia and New Zealand.
The browser- based game, named Vigilante: Speak for the Dead, precedes the accompanying Australian film, John Doe (written by Stephen M Coates and directed by Kelly Dolen), which is currently in post-production in Los Angeles and is expected to be released later this year.
What makes this package different, Sweitzer and Ferriter argue, is that both game and film were developed in conjunction with each other. In other words, the game is not the ‘additional extra’ to the film, or vice versa.
“This is unique in that (the film and the game) were developed at the same time,” says Ferriter. “In the past, we would build games on TV shows or films that already had fan bases.
“For example, I worked on CSI for years and a number of other properties, and I thought they were great games and great properties. However, in that position you can’t influence what that TV show does and you have to work very hard not to step on the toes of that property.
“It’s the same old model in that one medium leads and another complements. This is very unique in that they kind of go out together and work together as a team. “
The pair stumbled across the idea almost by accident.
Sweitzer, who refers to Ferriter as an “old associate of mine” was discussing his latest work on the project John Doe.
“He was immediately interested in the world and the character, and the possibility of what could be done with them,” Sweitzer remembers.
“I have not an ounce of experience in the game world, but I knew Chris, and I was developing the script at the time with Stephen and Kel, and (when Chris expressed interest) I was like, ‘I can’t wait to hear what this is.’”
Ferriter adds, “The first thing that popped into my mind was, ‘we could do something really unique here.’”
The result is a visually impressive and artistic game which allows the player to create their own vigilante identity. The task is then to act as “judge, jury and executioner” in a city teeming with crime.
Players can exact battles, punish wrong-doers in the community, chat to friends and unlock various cars and weapons as the game progresses.
“The game lays the ground work of the world we see in John Doe,” Ferriter says. “It’s a world that can live from two to three to four months… so by the time the film comes out, people are already invested in the world and the characters.
“It’s opened up very different, very new distribution possibilities. It will be a new model.”
However, Ferriter is quick to maintain the big appeal about this project was not the potential marketing value.
“We didn’t care about just driving traffic to a website or building a rough brand awareness,” he says. “We wanted to build something that people cared about and invested in.”
To achieve this, Ferriter concentrated on two aspects they considered to be crucial.
Firstly – that the game had legs of its own.
“I think if you make a game that simply mirrors the storyline of the film you are not providing incentive… you won’t get people to look to the other medium to get additional information,” Ferriter says.
“There’s things left out in the game right now,” adds Sweitzer. “And the beautiful part is that, in a game, anything can happen at any moment. For instance I can tell you that at some point in the game the audience will be excited about the mysteriousness of this John Doe character.”
The second important aspect was to achieve a visual integrity in the game comparable to that of the film.
“Visually we went to great lengths… the goal that we set was if you look at the game there can be no mistake you’re in the world (of John Doe). The art style is so different and unique, and that is so necessary (once you see) the film. We would not have done it justice to go out there and make a game with cartoony characters, so we spent a lot of time trying to create a game with a look that complemented the film,” Ferriter says.
It was a process aided rather than abetted by John Doe director Kelly Dolen, who Ferriter describes as someone who was “open to telling stories in different ways.”
“It took a lot of faith on Kel’s part, to hear me say, ‘I want to make a game like this, you have to trust me.’ It took a lot of faith to give me that level of trust. I didn’t want a game to ruin the artistic integrity of the movie. Instead, I like to think I have enhanced it.”
Ferriter and Sweitzer have no plans to stem the platform flow after John Doe’s release – in fact, they plan to keep expanding.
“The creative team and great minds at Divisive have a very large universe mapped out and it encompasses books and comics and web series… something unique,” says Sweitzner.
“I think this is a new model, I think it’s innovative – really I’m just excited about what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Vigilante: Speak for the Dead is available to download over iTunes, wifi or 3G in Australia and New Zealand and will be available to download in the US mid-February.
John Doe is currently in post-production and will be released at a later date.
This article first appeared in IF magazine #151.
Vigilante: Speak for the Dead is now available to download in the US.