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Frank Marshall has spent decades as one of Hollywood’s leading producers bringing movies like War Horse, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Sixth Sense to theaters. Now he’s stepped into the virtual realm as executive producer of the new THQ Facebook game Margaritaville Online with long-time friend Jimmy Buffett. The free-to-play online game introduces 30 tropical zones and 150 quests for players to explore and engage in, bringing Buffett’s music, books and mythology to life in vibrant 3D environments. Marshall talks about his first Facebook game and his own love of videogames in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter: How did you partner with Jimmy Buffett on Margaritaville Online?
Frank Marshall: Jimmy and I met over 30 years ago and we’ve been good friends ever since. We have a similar background and share a lot of the same interests. We’ve talked about movies, books, songs and just about anything you can think of.
I have always loved the world he’s created and the fact that he really lives in it. Jimmy and I have been trying to do something together for years and when the idea of a Facebook game came along, it seemed like a natural. What people love about Jimmy Buffett is his lifestyle and the world he’s created. Whenever the real world gets to be too much, you can escape to his world through this game, no matter where you are.
THR: Where did the idea for a Facebook game come from?
Marshall:I was actually meeting with Danny Bilson, EVP Core Games from THQ, about The Last Airbender game. We started talking about other things we could do. I wanted to do something fun, so I thought, instead of creating one of these violent worlds, why not go to paradise? Why not somewhere you could go to play games and have a party? Initially when we started talking about it, it was actually going to be made into a Wii game. But as social games increased in popularity, things shifted and we saw great potential of creating a social experience based on Jimmy’s lifestyle.
THR: Do you play video games?
Marshall: I am a gamer, yeah. I remember playing Pong with my Dad back in the early days and then moved onto Raiders, and then really got hooked playing Asteroids with Steven (Spielberg). We even had Missile Command and Asteroids in our office. They were the pioneers of the game industry. It’s incredible what’s happened since then. You’re still playing, but now you’re also sharing. I thought we could do so much with Jimmy’s fans, the tailgate parties, his music, concerts, restaurants, and all the other stuff he loves. We’re crossing the virtual world with the real world, so it’s really exciting.
THR: Speaking of virtual worlds, how do you see movies and videogames converging?
Marshall:I hope they remain in different formats, but still compliment each other. I believe people will always want to be told stories, but games help to extend that experience. I think it’s like saying, “Will DVDs kill the movies?” They didn’t, they just became another audience. I’m looking for ways, without being corny, that movies can interact with the games, and vice versa. That’s what you can do with Margaritaville Online. Fans can be in the audience at one of his shows in real time, and then take home and extend that experience through playing Margaritaville Online on Facebook, iPad or iPhone.
THR: What kind of input did you have on the gameplay itself?
Marshall: While working with THQ, we found these great guys based in Vancouver, Exploding Barrel Games, who are huge Jimmy fans. This was key because they already knew his world. They came up with a template for the game and then Jimmy took it and “Buffettized” it. I’ve been steering and facilitating, putting everybody together, helping with the storytelling from a movie point of view, picking the camera angles and what the characters can do. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s like a mini-movie for me, combining all the same elements, story, characters, music, visuals and so on.
THR: What’s the main premise of Margaritaville Online?
Marshall: You come to this island paradise to have a Margaritaville adventure. Margaritaville Online is a social adventure game inspired by the lifestyle of Jimmy and his fellow Parrot Heads. Exploration is a huge part of the game. You have your little avatars. You can go outside and play a bunch of mini-games and gather points. You build a bar. Your design your own band. You can build a boat. You can go fishing. It’s fun, and you can interact with other players and friends, sending them virtual and real goods that are part of the Margaritaville lifestyle.
THR: Is this the most hands-on you’ve been with a game?
Marshall: This is the first Facebook game we’ve produced. I’ve been involved in our movie video games before, but not really from as much of a design standpoint as this one, and never one that had the social network component.
THR: What does the future hold in store for you and games?
Marshall: I don’t know. There are lots of ideas floating around. Maybe something in outer space? Who knows?
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