Thursday, December 08, 2005

Old News About Spielberg and Electronic Arts

Back in October it was reported by EA games and the Hollywood Reporter that Steven Spielberg would be partnering with EA games for 3 next generation titles. Exciting new for the game industry indeed, even if it passed under Cinerati's radar at the time. What makes this news truly exciting is that Spielberg seems to understand that the future of digital entertainment is in Home use and not in the Theater. The financial burden of changing celluloid theaters into digital screeners is significant and, while it may be the long term future for the industry, seems unlikely to be the near future direction of the industry.

As the consoles, and PCs, which run games are becoming more powerful, the videogame industry has reacted by making videogames both more realistic and more interactive. New graphic capabilities have lead to beautifully rendered "animated" sequences filling the gaps between game levels on fight games, and nearly seemless narratives on roleplaying style console games. With each generation of game the Final Fantasy series becomes more an more like an interactive movie. A feature that audiences seem to enjoy. EA has taken the model of video game as interactive movie to heart and last year donated $8 million dollars to the USC School of Cinema-Television to set up a three-year Master's program in interactive entertainment as well as endow a faculty chair. It doesn't take more than ten minutes playing Fable or X-Men Legends to see how closely related the videogame industry is to film in narrative creations. Even the acting unions have entered into negotiation battles with the video game industry understanding that it is part of the entertainment future.

Spielberg has long been a visionary in the connection between videogames and film. Shortly after he founded Dreamworks SKG, the studio announced it was creating a video game division. Dreamworks Interactive released a monster game in 1999, Medal of Honor, which combined cinematic and narrative techniques with interactive play to good effect. In 2000, EA purchased Dream Works Interactive and has annually released sequels/expansions of the Medal of Honor franchise. Medal of Honor, the game, was a video game inspired by Spielberg's successful Saving Private Ryan and has left in its wake a large World War II first person shooter legacy. While Castle Falkenstein may have been the first successful WWII shooter, the Medal of Honor series took the action out of the "fantastic" and into the visceral.

According to the Hollywood Reporter (article linked above) Spieberg is an avid gamer who is quoted as saying, "I hve been playing EA games for years and have watched them master the interactive format...I am looking forward to working closely with the team in Los Angeles."

With an ever expanding DVD market, a changing theatrical market, and a burgeoning On Demand market, the video game industry is establishing itself in a strong place in the entertainment field. Those worried about the future of aspiring filmakers need only consider Neil Young (the VP of EA Los Angeles) comments, "The goal here is to have the first true collaboration between filmmakers and game makers. I'm personally excited by the opportunity to work with Steven to build games that don't just engage players with their interactivity but also try to move them emotionally."

Those who think that the future of the video game market will be dominated by programmers and math geniuses need look no further than the creative forces behind World of Warcraft and City of Villains to find games designed by "writers" and not "coders." Like film, video games are produced by multiple departments: Sound, Writing, Directing, Acting, Cinematography and Special Effects. The coders control the last two (and contribute to the technology available to the others), but it is the visionary creators who will rule the day.

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