After years of almost uninterrupted disappointment, it's hardly surprising that we shudder almost every time someone mentions movie-to-videogame adaptations. The fact that people are still holding up GoldenEye on N64 as The Way To Do Things eight years on isn't great. Electronic Arts has had a few decent cracks with its The Lord of The Rings titles, but then it soils its own linen with unbelievably shoddy fodder such as Catwoman or the a succession of underwhelming Bond games. Activision almost nailed it with Spider-Man 2, VU Games flopped badly with Van Helsing, The Hulk and Dark Angel and yet got it right with The Chronicles Of Riddick, but for the most part publishers contents themselves with ultra-safe kid-friendly fodder that most of us could do without. So much potential, so little end product.
Ubisoft, though, generally steers clear of this sort of caper. In the main, the French publisher has had its best successes with its own properties. Think Rayman, Prince of Persia, Brothers In Arms or Far Cry. Even when it does pick up a licence, such as Tom Clancy or XIII, it's an entirely different strategy to its big bucks license-obsessed rivals.
But when the talented company releases something as beautifully designed as Beyond Good & Evil and has to watch as the public completely ignores it, you can understand why it might be a little envious of the sales figures of the movie licensed titles. With the critics literally jumping up and down about the merits of BG&E (one of Eurogamer's top games of 2003), Ubisoft evidently wondered how the talented team behind the game would fare if they were put to work on a movie-based title instead.
And so it has proved. Securing the massive King Kong licence from under the noses of their rivals, Michel Ancel and his team have been working on what could become the benchmark movie-to-videogame adaptation. Played from the perspective of Jack Driscoll and the mighty Kong himself, it's shaping up to be much more than your average lowest-common-denominator action fest. It could turn out to be the best game you'll play all year. Whether it's the HUD-free first-person action of Jack, or the third-person beat 'em up action of Kong, it's a game that has impressed everyone who has clapped eyes on it so far.
With that in mind, it's about time we spoke to the series creator Michel Ancel, a man who knows a thing or two about making great games. Read on for his thoughts on the creation of this exciting-looking game, or read our preview and first impressions.
Eurogamer: How does the game go beyond the film?
Michel Ancel: All the crucial scenes of the movie will be present in the game, as well as some we've created especially for the game. We have worked with Philippa Boyens, who [worked on] Lord of the Rings and King Kong scenarios, to create an unseen story.
Regarding the fact that the game is six to seven times longer than the movie, it was important to go beyond the experience of the movie and to propose exclusive content and situations, while preserving a constant rhythm and a direction of quality all along the journey.
Eurogamer: Considering that the film isn't finished yet, was it difficult to stay true to it?
Michel Ancel: At the beginning of the production, it happened that we presented versions of the game which were more advanced than the work of Weta Studios. In fact we were working with the same artwork as the artists of the movie, and the planning differences or the [movie] realisation's technical difficulties meant that we were sometimes further ahead in terms of visuals. It was funny.
Eurogamer: Some interesting design decisions seem to have been made. Firstly, there's no heads-up-display at all to give an indication of the player's health or ammo. While this enhances immersion, how do you think players will cope without this standard onscreen information available? And do you think future titles will follow in excluding the HUD?
Michel Ancel: It was a real design choice to have no HUD in this game. As you said, the objective was to offer the highest level of immersion and to be as close as possible to the type of feeling only a movie experience can provide. But this time you are not a spectator, you are directly in the middle of the action!
To make sure the player would understand all what happens to him, we went for a really concrete and realistic approach. Imagine I get hit by a raptor, my vision turns red and is blurred for a few seconds, my ears make some strange noises and my heart starts beating like crazy. Then if I decide to find a hideout and rest, logically I regain some health.
It is as simple for your weapon ammo. You will just have to press one button to take a look at your magazine and know how much ammo you have left.
We would be glad to see future titles, especially first-person shooters, removing the HUD. We think it is better if the player has to think a bit, use his observational skills and experience things by himself than if he is just told everything and given orders all the time. More freedom, more immersion, more realism... yes, we really hope this approach will become a standard in future games.
Eurogamer: In the game, you play as both Jack and Kong. What made you decide to give players this dual perspective on the action? Why is it important to play as both characters?
Michel Ancel: The whole idea of having a dual game-play Jack/Kong is to vary the emotions of the player. From stress and struggle to mighty power and freedom. You are placed at the two extremes of the food chain.
As Jack, the player will feel like a weakling and have to escape when facing colossal beasts such as the Rex. But then when as Kong, the player will feel the size and power of the giant ape at its full and will be able to take revenge and smash the big dinosaurs that were harassing him earlier.
This change of viewpoint is obviously one of the major strengths of the game and we are sure that the players will be quite surprised when experiencing the transition and switch between characters for the first time.
Eurogamer: Michel, thank you
Peter Jackson's King Kong is coming to the PS2, Xbox, PC, GameCube, PSP, DS, GBA and Xbox 360 via Ubisoft. For more on this hotly-tipped title, check out our preview and first impressions. With thanks to George Kotsiofides for the interview.