Thomas Wilson is the creative director on the video game that accompanies the release of Dreamworks’ forthcoming animated movie Monsters vs. Aliens. Develop caught up with Wilson as he visited the UK to promote the game.
Develop: Did the Monsters vs. Aliens IP provide a good starting point for creating game?
Absolutely. We got really excited about it the first time we heard just the title ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’. It was a really great opportunity to work with and as soon as we saw the first concept art and the first direction the movie was going forward with, we got really excited about it. With what all of the monsters and aliens backgrounds offered, it was great for us to be working on that property.
Develop: How much creative control has the Dreamworks’ team executed in terms of the game’s development?
Wilson: It was a great relationship working with Dreamworks. First of all we had already worked on the Bee Movie game, and so that was our first contact with Dreamworks. We got the chance, on that project, to establish trust and a good relationship by sharing information with the film’s director, with the film’s team, and also with the game team.
So on Monsters vs. Aliens we had a great chance to travel multiple times to Dreamworks’ studio and had a chance to talk about our ideas, and get an update from the film, and it worked from there. The relationship with Dreamworks and Activision has been a great one on this title.
Develop: How was it working under the pressure of time constraints of the movie’s deadlines?
Actually, the deadlines are really separate things. The only thing that’s really important for us is to always pay tribute to the source material, so any additional information we can get about the film we try to take into account to put into the game. So the idea is to get the information about the film, but in case we wouldn’t have it, we could still design our own original content for the game.
The pressure of the deadlines for the film in comparison to the game was pretty much a separate thing. The only thing that mattered was that we could deliver the game on time for the film release.
Develop: Did developing the game give you the chance to try out any new tech or implement any new tools?
Everything that’s done in the game with our studio is all done with internal tools, including the in-game engine. The biggest challenge on this title was to be able to do all versions of the game on all consoles. We were responsible for the PS3, the 360, the Nintendo Wii, the PS2, and the PC game. What that meant was that from the get-go we had to get our technology running on all platforms. Although it seems like it’s the same game, running it on each separate console is totally different from one console to the other. Even if you’re making a game both on the PS3 and the 360 you still need to have your tech guys developing the technology to work on both. That meant a lot more manpower on the technology side.
In terms of anything new in terms of tech in the game, we pretty much used what we had put together for Bee Movie with things in there specific for the game. There was nothing that you’ve never seen used in a video game before – it’s simply well executed.
On Bee Movie game we had done a 360 version, a PS2 version and a PC version. We didn’t have a PS3 release, nor Wii release, so we had to build those technologies on top of the other consoles. It was just a matter of being able to support all that all the way to the end.
Develop: Dreamworks obviously has a reputation for incredibly high quality tech. How did in feel working alongside a company capable of creating such incredible looking visuals?
The thing is we know where we stand. Obviously what that they have is something where they get to really pre-render any type of scene. And it’s really a different type of technology. When it comes to special effects and rendering it’s a different story when you’re talking about video games – it’s happening in real time and you’re dealing with performance issues, depending on the number of polygons running on screen and the number of characters you see on screen. All of that has an effect on what you can really do.
One thing we’ve done from the beginning since we’ve worked on Bee Movie is we’ve really wanted to have a game that’s as close as possible to the source material, and we’ve already achieved that on Bee Movie. Critics were saying that playing the game made you feel like you were almost inside the movie. So we’ve tried to do the same with Monsters vs. Aliens, although we know there’s things we can’t really achieve technically, we think we’ve done a really great job of making a player feel like he’s inside in the movie.
The look and feel for all the characters, through all our facial animation tools, are based on expressions from the characters from the film. We worked really closely with all the Dreamworks animators to make sure the characters felt right and looked right for the game.
Develop: How did you go about generating game mechanics from the film IP?
I guess I’d say that the game needs to move really fast because sometimes the approval process needs to happen before the movie gets done, so a lot of the time we had to take initiative as to what we think could be a good gameplay experience in the game.
What we tried to do very early on was to get our hands on the script, and to get our hands on a descriptive narrative of what’s going to get in the film.
Once we had that and got a bit of a description from the film team, we know where we can have action take place. The more we get updates from the film team, the more we know we can play with. The key moments from the film we’ll try to capture, but specifically for Monsters vs. Aliens there’s a lot of original content put in our game.
Develop: So it’s been quite a privilege to expand on the film?
Actually, that’s the part I like the most. We get in touch with some of the most creative people in the industry.
At Beenox, what we always wanted to do is to really push the quality of kids’ licensed games. Part of that is because you have all this creative effort put into the film that you can use for the game. After all, you have really good concept artists and creators that will come up with a story already established and all we want to do is play tribute to that source material. It’s really a privilege to be walking down the Dreamworks campus and looking at all this stuff that they’ve done – and you get a chance of putting that in your game.
Develop: And did you focus your efforts on any particular platform?
Well, it’s probably on the Wii that we’ll sell the most copies of the game, so we had to make that the best version we could. I think we’ve made one of the best-looking Wii games ever.