Enslaved Q&A: When movies, music and videogames collide

With Christmas rapidly approaching like a tinsel-covered meteor, the videogames market has started to flood with A-list titles, all eager to grab your shekels before the year is out. And, that sometimes means that certain titles get overlooked in favour of the bigger names and sequels that dominate the sales charts yearly.

FIFA 11, Medal of Honor, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Fable III, Fallout: New Vegas... The list of top titles expected over the next couple of months goes on. However, there's one original (non-sequel) game that's just been released that threatens to break the hold of its better known peers; Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. And it's British. Oh yes.

Developed by Ninja Theory, the team behind the gorgeous PS3 launch title Heavenly Sword, Enslaved is a true multimedia experience. Its story benefits greatly from being crafted by Internationally-renowned author and screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, Sunshine, 28 Days Later), who took the initial theme of the Chinese fable of Monkey and created a post-apocalyptic, post-modern version.

And with motion capture and voice acting duties having been co-directed and part-performed by Golum himself, Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong), the game offers a far more cinematic experience than most.

You could even be forgiven for thinking, therefore, that it was a product of Hollywood, rather than Cambridge, England. But you'd be wrong.

So, along with extensively reviewing the game, Pocket-lint chatted to the company's co-founder and chief creative ninja, Tameem Antoniades, in order to find out more about the process behind such a grand project, and Ninja Theory's thoughts on the videogame market itself...

PL: Enslaved is a real collaborative effort between games and film industry experts, do you think this of major benefit to the final product, and is this a way of making games that you can see becoming more popular?

TA: Is it a major benefit? Absolutely. Enslaved is a far better game for having people like Alex Garland and Andy Serkis involved than it would have been without them.

Andy is, in my opinion, one of the best character actors there is and he is an absolute master at getting the best out of himself and other actors in a performance capture environment. Alex was fantastic, not only as a writer but also as a story consultant within gameplay. He’d come into the office every week and play the game, giving us his opinion as a film producer and screen writer on how to build drama and tension in the game.

I hope that what we’re doing is embracing games as a powerful storytelling medium. Our aim is to be able to explore character depth in the same way that movies do. We strive to make a story that is as encapsulating, engaging and emotional as anything that you’ll see in the cinema. And none of that needs to compromise gameplay in any way. In fact, I firmly believe that a good story can enhance the gameplay.

What attracted the team to the story of Monkey, and therefore your modernisation?

About 4 years ago, I read the 400-year-old Chinese novel “Journey to the West” while I was researching the Wuxia genre for Heavenly Sword. It’s an epic on a par with Lord of the Rings, in my opinion.

I really like the character setup, with Tripitaka being completely vulnerable and yet having complete power over Monkey. We didn’t want to create another Wuxia game and I knew a lot of the team were interested in sci-fi, so we decided to create our own near-future version of the “Journey to the West” story.

Although it’s developed by a largely British team and cast, the game seems inspired by Japanese titles, such as the Final Fantasy series, is this intentional?

Not at all. It’s a mix of influences from all the world of games, comics, books, movies and documentaries. Being quite an International team, and myself having grown up all over the world, we consciously try not to do the same old tropes that are seen time and time again in games.

What were Andy Serkis and Alex Garland like to work with?

I love working with both Andy and Alex. I’ve worked with Andy on 2 titles now, so we’ve got a really good relationship. We understand each other really well which really helps on set. For Enslaved we split the directing between us, which worked really well because we both had the same understanding of the game’s ultimate vision.

I worked with Alex for the first time on Enslaved and it was a great experience. It was really fun, so inspiring and I learnt so much from him. But the feeling is mutual. Alex said to me that his work on Enslaved makes him think about film in fresh new perspectives.

How do you see the games market at present, and do you think that it has matured any in the last 10-20 years?

It has matured enormously in every way conceivable! Games are better now than they ever have been, and they continue their stratospheric rise in richness and diversity.

What we are now on the cusp of is the breakdown of the one-size-fits-all retail model where the likes of Halo come out at the same price and compete with the likes of Katamari Damacy which is clearly ludicrous. Both games deserve to live in the gaming sphere as excellent games, but not under that model. Getting out of that retail model will result in a burst of creative games coming onto the scene.

So, can you envisage a time when all games are delivered digitally over broadband, negating the need for solid state packaging?

Yes - it’s happened to music, it’s happening to movies, it’s happening to TV. The sooner we get rid of game packaging, the more diverse games will become, the cheaper they will become to end-users. It’s basically a win-win for everyone. There’ll still be special editions available to fans of hard copies though.

What impact do you think smartphones, such as the iPhone and Android handsets, and tablets, such as the iPad, will have on games developers?

It gives a whole new platform for developers to explore and earn a living. The gaming platforms are becoming more diverse and creating diverse new game genres. I hope that continues.

Not everyone has the resources to build huge blockbuster games and why should they want to? Games are good for the soul - the more ways we have to play them, the better the world will be.

Would you consider developing a version of Enslaved for iPad, for example?

No. The game is designed around the console experience. If it did end up on a platform like that, it would have to be a totally different game.

What difference will the Kinect and Move make to the industry and would you consider integrating them into your own development plans?

This is only my personal opinion. I think the Wii and Eye Toy were good fun. I haven’t personally tried Kinect or Move, but I see them really as toys. Like traditional board games. Great for when you have friends and family round. That isn’t to demean them at all, they just live in a different domain to the story driven games that we create.

And finally, there are a lot of big name titles coming out on the run up to Christmas this year, what would you say to gamers to make sure they pick up Enslaved?

We’ve combined first class talent from the worlds of movies, music and video games to tell the story of Enslaved in a truly cinematic and engaging way. We’ve also created a unique post-apocalyptic world where nature has reclaimed the earth, making it beautiful and deadly at the same time.

Enslaved offers something fresh and new that hasn’t been seen before and we’re coming out with a new IP in a market dominated by sequels and spin-offs of established franchises. People can be quite negative about our chances of success in that respect, but I believe that a good game with something special to offer always has a chance to break through. See for yourself.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is available now on Xbox 360 and PS3 for £49.99 ($59.99 in the US).

Do you think that a new intellectual property can succeed in the flood of sequels on the market? Let us know in the comments below...

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West review

Heavenly Sword - PS3 review