games reporter

'Beowulf' game playing piggyback with movie

With "Beowulf" the video game and "Beowulf" the movie premiere just three days apart next month — on Nov. 13 and 16, respectively — their creators will have performed one of those feats of technological black magic that most of us just take for granted.

But producing a tentpole film and a triple-A game concurrently over a two-year period and then completing them simultaneously on deadline requires precise planning, careful communications and a willingness to take on a task not recommended for the faint of heart.

The advantage of releasing a video game day-and-date with a movie is of course that the gamemakers are able to piggyback onto a costly marketing campaign made possible by the filmmakers' heftier budget. Likewise, the filmmakers are able to more easily attract the gaming demographic — 18- to 35-year-old males — who might otherwise have overlooked the film. Call it a win-win for both companies.

But the reputation of day-and-date video games is a tarnished one, mainly because of their often having been rushed to market to coincide with the movies' debuts. After all, triple-A games — especially of the "next-gen" variety — frequently take 18-24 months or more to produce, considerably longer than the typical movie. As a result, gamemakers occasionally have to make the Solomon-like choice of sacrificing either quality or marketing advantage.

Back in summer 2005, the "Beowulf" team at Paramount understood the hurdles of a day-and-date release with a game but was intent on extending the appeal of the movie to the core gaming audience.

"We knew we had to not only leave plenty of time for the gamemakers, but more importantly, we needed to select a triple-A partner studio that was best suited for building on the visions of ('Beowulf' director) Bob Zemeckis and (screenwriters) Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary," says Sandi Isaacs, senior vp at Paramount Digital Entertainment's interactive and mobile group.

Having worked with video game publisher Ubisoft on the Tom Clancy-inspired "The Sum of All Fears" in 2002, Isaacs approached Ubisoft's Tiwak studio. By October 2005, the deal was signed and preproduction on the movie began. Then, in February 2006, production on the movie and game began simultaneously.

Isaacs' role was to serve as a facilitator between the two teams to ensure that both were on schedule and progressing smoothly toward the release dates that had been set in stone from Day 1.

"We have a fairly defined process here on my team with how we work with the film people and not take up too much of their time," Isaacs says.

The ability to share assets was simplified by the fact that "Beowulf" is shot entirely in a special technique of digitally enhanced live action called EOG that utilizes an advanced form of motion capture.

That CGI style of filming simplified the sharing of digital assets with the gamemakers, notes Isaacs, "in the same way that when you're creating an animated movie, assets can be more easily shared with the video game company than with a live-action film."

"My best advice to a film company is think hard before you decide to commission a video game to be released day-and-date with your movie," Isaacs says. "No one sets out to build a bad game. But believe me, unless there's enough time to get it right, the game will suffer."