Treyarch Executive Producer Chris Archer (Spider-Man
series) and Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige were the subjects of a question and answer session at last week's Hollywood and Games Summit in Beverly Hills entitled 'Establishing the Buzz for Collaborative Franchises'.
The duo fielded questions mainly pertaining to the game-related success of Marvel's franchises, which have been impressive both in the film and video game worlds. This was a straight question and answer session, with inquiries coming from both the audience and the panel's moderator, The Hollywood Reporter's Editorial Director of Digital Media Chris Marlowe.
Does every Marvel character work for video games and movies?
"[Marvel] has something like five thousand characters - I doubt they would all work," said Marvel's Feige. "But there are hundreds that do, and you start with the ones that have been around the longest that people have the most fondness for." There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, as Feige was more than happy to point out, using Marvel Studios' first movie, 'Blade,' as an example. "Blade, most people didn't even know was a Marvel character. But it's the same idea [as established franchises such as the X-Men] - take a good character, successful or not, and that could create a successful franchise."
"I think it's relatively easy for us to develop on almost any of these characters at this point, just simply because of the test of time," said Treyarch's Archer. "They've lasted for so many years on so many different mediums and formats. There's just so much variety in this world... It's almost as if the creators back then were thinking in terms of games."
How early do you start the collaboration process?
Archer says the process starts very early on. "We have the script as soon as [Sony and Marvel] do," he said. "We go through the same trials and tribulations with rewrites. We have other situations where you have a year or less with the content, and the fact that we based these games on classic characters allows us to start earlier, we can work a year or two before if we have to." By way of example, Treyarch's Spider-Man 2
was in development for some time before the plotline of the movie was solidified, which gave the developer more than adequate time to develop the physics and web-slinging mechanics praised by the enthusiast press.
Movies are typically only a two hour experience, how do you expand a videogame adaptation into something easily five times as long?
"That's probably the hardest part of all, creating content worthy of putting side by side with movie. We have to create a lot of very compelling cinematic content, and people are expecting more and more," said Archer. By way of example, Treyarch's adaptation of the first Spider-Man
was a linear experience, whereas its successor introduced the concept of an open "sandbox" world, expanding the gameplay possibilities with its replay value and its ability to add subplots and side missions using characters from the comic book. "And we're looking to expand even that part going into the future," he added.
Feige expanded on the importance of collaborating as early as possible on a project, citing the major difference between development cycles for movies and for film. "I think what Chris touched on that's interesting is that the schedule to make a movie and a game are very different," he said. "We've done it now in ten months from start to finish. It's not ideal, but we've done it a number of times now and it's worked. Even fourteen to fifteen months is quick, and that's really
quick in games. So the timing has been difficult." The exception to this scenario is Spider-Man, which has thus far had three-year gaps in-between movie sequels, leaving adequate time for game development.
With the power of next-generation consoles, is there a possibility in the future of literally sharing assets?
"I think we do it now," said Archer. "We touched on it with Spider-Man 2
. We used face scans and things like that, the same assets they used at the effects houses. We do that more now than we've ever done. We can actually one for one use models that are created on visible effects side."
Archer has stated in the past that the key to success on cooperative projects is leaving the biggest stuff for last. What does that mean?
"It's really difficult to have everything the whole time while we're developing the game," explained Archer. "These guys basically come in during the last year and we basically get fed content. It's easier for us now that we've done it several times. I say save the best for last, because the way we make these movie games is to make those movie moments the biggest moments." Archer here suggested that the most important scenes in a video game adaptation should be shared with the movie, that the larger key scenes from the film should be presented interactively. "We built all the infrastructure for it, and when we get the content we plug it in. It's worked well for us."
As a filmmaker, how important is it that the game be good?
According to Feige, a game is as legitimate an extension of a franchise as comics, toys, or yes, film. "Anything that has the title of our movie is an extension, and we want it to be as good as it can be," he said. "Even as a gamer myself, and a Spider-Man fan, I want those scenes from the movie. I like the bonuses, and I like the added content, but the four or five key sequences I think are the most important part of the games."
Can an unsuccessful Marvel game adaptation adversely affect film revenue?
"I don't think so," said Feige, bluntly. "I think if the movie's good, the movie's good. I think they all impact the numbers of whatever product we're selling. In terms of brand management, I mean, the movie I hope sets the bar and everything else has to meet that."
How much involvement do the film writer and director have in the game?
According to Feige, it varies product by product. "Some film directors are incredibly interested in gaming," he said. "I'm working with a director on a 2008 movie who is a big gamer and wants to be involved from the start. Others, when they have time they like to know what's going on, but they're mostly focused on the film. It depends on whether or not they're a game fan, and we've experienced both."
Archer says that 'Spider-Man' film director Sam Raimi pays attention to the key points of the game. "I know Sam looks at the stuff," he said, "and I think if there's a common ground between the director and the people on the game side, it's that we care as much about the property and brand as he does, and treat it as such, and there's a trust that's built over a course of years that helps cater that relationship along."