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Director to shoot in a new direction

Times Staff Writer

Having found gold with his “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy of films, Gore Verbinski is now sailing into the world of video games.

The 43-year-old director had enjoyed video games since the days of “Pong,” but he stopped playing during a directorial frenzy of five movies in seven years.

After wrapping up “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” which has raked in an estimated $961 million in global box-office receipts, Verbinski emerged to find that his old pastime had changed dramatically.

Crude graphics had given way to opulent scenes rivaling the special effects in his films. Bleeps and simple theme music had turned into fully orchestrated scores.

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His Rip Van Winkle moment led him to run out and buy the three latest game consoles and dive into as many games as he could.

Those include shoot ‘em ups such as “Halo 3" and “Gears of War” as well as “Beautiful Katamari,” a loopy puzzle game in which players roll magic spheres that gather up strewed junk until they snowball into the size of planets.

Now he’s developing a secret project that would let him apply his creative vision to the games business. Verbinski won’t reveal any details, saying he’s still in the early stages of fleshing out his ideas.

Video games have long lured Hollywood auteurs with their siren song of interactive storytelling.

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George Lucas in 1982 built his own game studio, LucasArts, which continues to make games.

The Wachowski brothers, who directed “The Matrix” movies, also released games under that franchise.

And Steven Spielberg, working with Electronic Arts Inc., is scheduled to release a puzzle game, “Boom Blox,” this year.

Verbinski, who for more than a year has harbored ambitions to make his own game, recently spoke with The Times at the D.I.C.E. Summit, where he delivered the keynote speech and toasted the industry’s top developers. What brings you here?

I’ve got something in mind that I’ve had for about a year. I didn’t want to jump into gaming from the executive level. I really want to sort of engage on a creative level.

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What can you tell us about your project?

It’s a little bit out there. Although I really enjoy “Halo” and “BioShock,” I’m not interested in jumping in to compete with those guys. I want to come in from a completely different direction. I’ve had a tremendous experience in the film industry, taking knocks and figuring out how to navigate that world. Before I assume I know how to navigate this one, I want to observe.

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When did you realize you had to do a game?

After working seven years straight on five movies back to back, I picked up my game controller and started playing. I just was blown away by the potential. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I feel that we are on the brink of something phenomenal. It’s a completely different form of narrative than being told a story in the traditional sense. So all the narrative rules, although I enjoy them, you have to start throwing them away and say, “Wow, look at what you can do here in this world!”

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Where do you see games going?

I’m interested in creating completely new genres. I’m interested in exploring an emotional response to a game, which I haven’t really seen. I’ve seen the visceral adrenaline response, but I haven’t really played a game where I feel . . . tremendous loss.

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What else?

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I’m also interested in anti-narrative. The initial response is that gaming needs good writing. I’ve heard that. They need screenwriters. Well, hold on a second. Before you jump to that conclusion, I don’t want to impose cinema’s narrative onto a completely different medium. I think that’s naive. The fact that the player is also the audience means you shouldn’t be imposing a scenario where the audience is passive. Don’t put those rules onto gaming. So out of that came in my mind new forms of narrative. I said, “Well, wait a minute, what if there is zero narrative?”

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Is that heresy from someone who graduated from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television?

Gaming is breaking all these rules, so let’s break them. Storytelling needs to evolve. And this is the perfect medium for it to take a quantum leap.

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Speaking of games that break the mold, what do you think of “Beautiful Katamari”?

I liked the fact that you weren’t a character. You were an object that became a character in a way. I think that’s really healthy. This rule that we have to be a human in the game -- we just have to throw that one away, right? You can be a speck of dust. Once you dispose of aspects of conventional logic and you start to explore dream logic, the field is wide open.

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Has playing games influenced the way you make films? And how do you see games being influenced by other media?

There are aspects of [horror film] “The Ring” where you’re haunted by imagery that occurred in one space, and that imagery, in this case, is the fragments of a videotape. I think that kind of haunting is certainly something that we’re seeing in video games. Do you know this writer [Haruki] Murakami? There’s a kind of dream logic in his writing that is very much suitable to games. Why does the red scarf keep appearing on the chair? You’re sort of haunted by this imagery. Is someone messing with me? Is this happening in a conventional narrative? Or are things in multiple worlds actually colliding together?

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What do you think of the game that Disney released alongside the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie?

I was not happy with the game. They know that. I do think that model for producing games is broken. I think it’s kind of a merchandising model rather than an art-form model. So I don’t blame the people internally at Disney. I just think things have to change because it’s diminishing the brand of gaming overall when you’re producing stuff just to make a shelf date.

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What game would you have liked to see?

A MMOG [massively multiplayer online game] where you can dress up as a pirate. You can have a social network where you meet other pirates, and maybe three days in, you meet Jack Sparrow. Maybe you have to sell your soul to the devil to get to this level or that. Let the players write and create it. Let them evolve it. There’s something very trekkies about the core “Pirates of the Caribbean” fan base, and I respect that core fan base. I think it’s a shame we couldn’t produce a game that respected them as well.

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alex.pham@latimes.com


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