Backdrop - 2/03
Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 2 (Feb 2003)

Backdrop - 2/03

By Phil LoPiccolo

Jon Knoles is director of LucasArts, whose latest game, Star Wars Bounty Hunter, was created in collaboration with ILM (see "Combining Forces," pg. 16).

Is the new Star Wars Bounty Hunter game a breakthrough in terms of collaboration between film and game studios?

Definitely, in terms of the relationship between LucasArts and Industrial Light & Magic. We learned a lot from each other on this project, technically and creatively. And most of all, we discovered how easily and how well we could work together.

What did LucasArts learn from ILM?

We learned valuable lessons on how to streamline our production process for creating rendered cinematics, including all the sequences involving the starships, as well as some 56 in-game cinematics. ILM also helped us trim the fat from our storyboarded script to tell our story more dynamically, and showed us how to organize shots and scenes and make the iterative process more efficient.

How big a role do the cinematics play?

Of the 20 or so hours it takes to play the game, about one hour is made up of story sequences, about half of which were created by each studio. The visuals in these sequences help move the story along briskly, compelling players to see it through to the end.

Did LucasArts and ILM share the same tools and assets?

We used the same animation software and the same models and textures. The tools, the animation fidelity, and creative processes are incredibly similar for film and games, as are the skills required by artists and animators.

How did ILM benefit from the collaboration?

Most of ILM's work involves blending digital imagery with live action, but Bounty Hunter was its first all-digital enterprise. ILM learned how to make the most of the in-game models and textures from LucasArts, which are considerably lower in resolution and detail than what they were accustomed to working with.

Will games look more like movies?

Art and animation in video games are going to look more and more like digital art and animation in films. In a few years, gaming hardware will become powerful enough that it may be impossible to tell the difference.

Will games and films converge?

Games and films are both forms of visual entertainment involving moving images. But there are fundamental differences that will keep them separate. Movies work on the strength of their visual storytelling, not on the amount of audience participation. In fact, they require that the audience sit still and not participate. Games are the opposite. If you stop playing, the game will not go on, not for you, anyway. There will always be times when people will want to have a story told to them, and times when they will want to act out a story or play a role.

Can gaming be a form of storytelling?

There are many games that tell a story. Some allow the player to run right past a story moment, or freely look around and observe a story moment from a desired perspective, or, as with Star Wars Bounty Hunter, reward the player with short movie-like moments between bouts of action.

What's the next challenge for game developers?

Besides striving to make games look more and more like films, either realistic or fantastic, the challenge for game developers is to try to capture the emotional power of films when the game is constantly changing, and the audience is not meant to passively observe. Games can already evoke the feeling of suspense, terror, or dread, and can make people laugh out loud. But when will a game make players choke up and reach for a tissue to dry their eyes? ..