Ah, convergence. It's a term that's been bandied around a lot the past few years, but in terms of the relationship between movies and games, genuine convergence has remained elusive. Maybe it always will, as passively watching a movie is always going to be a very different experience to interactive playing a game. That's not to say, however, the relationship between movies and games isn't going to strengthen. And Assassin's Creed: Lineage, a series of short films made by UbiSoft and acting as a prequel to their game Assassin's Creed II, looks like an important example of that strengthening.
Games and movies have long had an interesting, if awkward relationship. While Atari was making a hash of its E.T. adaptation back in 1982, Don Bluth was bringing to bear his experience as a Disney animator on the innovative, laserdisc-based arcade title Dragon's Lair. And by 1994, the Wing Commander series began including live-action scenes in its games, then a few years later used the same actors in its spin-off TV series. In 2006, Henry Jenkins, the MIT professor who even coined the term "media convergence", even gave this phenomenon a name – "trans-media storytelling." That's basically what UbiSoft is doing now with its Assassin's Creed franchise.
To date, games movies seem to have come about something like this. A game publisher seemed to simply, recklessly sell off the rights to an IP, then a movie studio, lacking credible understanding its upstart rival medium, made a film that bore little relation to its namesake. These films did, however, serve as feature-length adverts for the games. In that respect what UbiSoft is doing is nothing new. Yannis Mallat, Ubi Montreal's chief executive, clearly states the aim of their convergence masterplan "is to expand our video game brands and to develop them on additional platforms to provide a global experience to an extended audience." So the films advertise the games, advertise the comics, advertise the games, advertise the films, in a nice neat, profitable circle.
The crucial difference Lineage and the 15 years of disappointing, disconnected videogame movies we've suffered, is that the shorts are being made by the makers of the game, who are bringing to bear their quality controls, their insider knowledge of what the game series is actually about, and their technology. Or more precisely, the technology of Hybride, a visual effects studio acquired by UbiSoft in 2008.
Pierre Raymond, president and head of operations at Hybride, has worked on Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Sin City and 300 – all landmark movies in "digital backlot" production, where the entire shoot takes place on a green-screened soundstage. At the presentation of AC: Lineage in London on 20 October, he joked that the biggest challenge making AC: Lineage was the floor – as in traditional green screen movies, the filmmakers do everything they can to avoid using a green floor due to difficulties with shadows etc. However, as AC: Lineage is related to games, and games are all about the dynamic movement of the player, they couldn't avoid greening up that pesky floor.
At the presentation, we were shown just one of the three
initial episodes (each around 12 minutes long), and while it may have been a tad lacking in dramatic terms if you're judging it as a movie, in technological terms, and in terms of it being part of the convergent, transmedia handling of an IP, it's fascinating. The digital filmmaking techniques enabled Raymond, director Yves Simoneau and the Hybride team to essentially create a virtual version of the Assassin's Creed II game-world, and pretty seamlessly populate it with live action actors. This partially involved them exporting the environments created in Anvil, the game engine, then souping them up using a process developed especially for Lineage.
AC II: Discovery
While the game has you playing a hero called Ezio, the film instead focuses on his dad, another assassin called Giovanni Auditore da Firenze (played in the film by the suitably lean and mean looking Romano Orzari, who also provided the voice and mo-capped Giovanni in the game). The first film showed fabulously rendered versions of Renaissance Florence (home of the notorious ruthless ruler Lorenzo de' Medici, who also appears in the game), Milan and Venice, where Giovanni plies his roof-top skipping, wrist-blade stabbing trade.
Jade Raymond is executive producing the whole affair, while Corey May, the writer on Assassin's Creed II, worked closely with William Raymond, the screenwriter on the films, ensuring the kind of consistency that has remained decidedly elusive in videogame movies from 1993's disastrous Super Mario Bros. to the whatever bizarrely glossy so-called Resident Evil that Paul WS Anderson is making. It's a long, loooong way from the barbarity perpetrated on game names by a certain pugilistic German and may just point the way not only to a future of more "transmedia storytelling", but also a future in which we might, just might, finally see more decent live action videogame movies.
The first Assassin's Creed: Lineage short film debuts on YouTube on 27 October 2009. Assassin's Creed II is available on 360, PS3 and PC on 20 November 2009.
This was so incredibly amazing!!! I never imagined someone could do an Assassin's Creed movie so well. This was like playing the game!! or watching the movie. I can't tell anymore. I can't wait to see the rest
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