Opinion: When video games date the movies

Former Sony London Studios VR developer Dave Ranyard discusses how virtual reality could see the worlds of film and video games unite.

For years now we have seen games and movies do a merry dance together but never really meet up.

Sure there have been games made of movies and movies made of games (I hear that the Tetris trilogy has funding… really?), but it’s always felt like an uneasy relationship. This year, things will be different. Not because games have grown up, nor because their revenue is now double that of movies, but they will secure their uneasy union in VR.

For the last few years I’ve been evangelising VR as a new medium across the world, initially to niche fanatics, but increasingly to a mainstream audience of creative and commercial practitioners. Notably, the audience is roughly split 50/50 between game-makers and film-makers. I’ve encountered some amazing film people who see VR as a new medium for telling stories in. The immersion is amazing, delivering an audience attention of 100 per cent, and just as a new design paradigm is required for games, there are a number of challenges to consider for VR movies.

This leads to a number of questions for creatives in both industries. Who is the viewer? A ghost watching from the inside? An actor in the story? Are they role playing a character or playing themselves, caught up in some tangential story to their normal lives? (Think of Cary Grant in the Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest). Is it a linear story that’s the same every time? Or, as with interactive drama, does the story bend with the viewer’s choices? Something we gamers have been comfortable with for a number of years. I have heard dissent from the traditional linear narrative writers… it’s hard enough to get one story to work, let alone multiple choice stories.” Perhaps a naive comment.

This brings me to another interesting point. Excluding Her Story, most video content used in games has not really worked. But 360, 3D film in VR is very compelling. It also brings another interesting production idea. In the early days of VR, when the install base is small, the costs of full CG characters, mo-cap and facial animation – basically, our bread and butter for big games – could be significant and make it hard for studios to break even. But the costs of shooting real actors might be less. Another sign of convergence?

Initially, it felt like games took heavily from films in terms of narrative tropes, lighting models, audio cues and so on. But in recent years our production pipelines and expertise have converged, with CG taking an increasingly important role in film production along with a number of shared middle-ware tools, plus the artists and coders that use them. Again, increasing the likelihood of a more solid union between the two industries. Also as we strive for realism and lose high scores and on screen displays (overlays do not really work in VR anyway), I think the difference between a VR film and game could become more blurred over time.

Not all film-makers believe in VR. There seems to be a similar number of sceptics across both industries. My example from the past is the introduction of sound into movies and the fact that in the 1920s there were many establishment figures who did not want the movie industry to change. They were players in the silent movie world and the disruption caused by ‘the talkies’ would risk their dominance.

So, going back to the first real date between games and movies… this time it’s true, this time it’s ‘the one’, the romance is equal on both sides and there will be more movie folks at E3 this year, scoping out their own future.

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