This week I’ve got a very special IGM Aus for you, an exclusive chat with Christopher Ferriter from Divisive Media who recently launched the very addictive social game Vigilante: Speak for the Dead (Vigilante) here in Australia on iPhone and iPad, and will soon release the game to the rest of the world via Apple’s platforms, Android and on Facebook:
IGM Aus: Vigilante acts as a tie in to the upcoming film John Doe, shot on location in Australia and starring Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica) and Lachy Hulme (Killer Elite). Whilst the movie tells the story of a controversial anti-hero’s trial by jury, Vigilante follows in its footsteps as the world reacts to his actions. You’ll play as one of many vigilante’s, surviving the world around you by delivering your own brand of justice whilst the S4D watches in the shadows. But how did this ambitious project come to be?
Chris: I’ve worked on adapting film and TV properties into games for quite a while, but I was frustrated by the timelines and limitations that you have to work within on a publisher/studio licensed property. Games based on movies are usually made to leverage the brand rather than grow it. I really wanted to work on something that was more synergistic.
A friend of mine was producing this film John Doe and he gave me the script to read and I just thought it had so much potential. I called him up and said “I think there’s a way to make this a game”. A few days later he put me in touch with Kel Dolen [the director] and we talked for hours about the story and what I was thinking, and he finally said, “Let’s do it.” It came together in a really organic way.
Chris: There are definitely limitations, but I really believe some of the best creative breakthroughs come when you are forced to work within constraints. For example, the subject matter and tone of the film is quite serious… it deals with violence and vigilante justice, but it’s not pro-violence, it’s pro-discussion. Because of this we had to be really careful about how we tackled the subject matter or we could easily water down the message of the license. Because of this limitation we decided to extrapolate it out to almost ridiculous proportions and use irony to accomplish the same goal. If you watch the film and play the game you’ll see that the message is the same, but they have very different ways of communicating. I guess that’s a long way of saying we kept them tied together by intentionally pushing them apart.
IGM Aus: In your words, Vigilante is a ‘bold re-envisioning’ of the online social game. How would you explain that to someone who is only reading or playing it for the first time?
Chris: Well, I think that most games out there that have been branded ‘social’ games aren’t social at all… they are just distributed via social networks or rely on viral gates to spread. We really wanted Vigilante to be a true social experience, so it was designed in such a way that as players progressed through the game, the single player experience where you spend your time interacting with NPCs gradually fades away and a highly social experience starts to emerge where your interactions with other players are driving the experience.
IGM Aus: Were there any other genres or ideas thrown around during early development besides the social role-player? If so, why were they not considered?
Chris: There was never any question in my mind that this was the way we should go. When I first read the script one of the things I found most compelling was the viral nature of this vigilante movement. I felt like we needed to embrace that aspect of the story and create something that was almost a social experiment and this was one of the few genres that could support it. I’m sure timing had something to do with it too. These new gaming platforms were emerging that had the ability to tap into markets that you couldn’t really capture with console games, and yet most of the games that were coming out had no gameplay depth. A lot has changed since then and I don’t think that’s the case anymore, but I think that played a role in the direction we went.
IGM Aus: Was it difficult developing Vigilante across so many platforms (Apple, Android and Facebook)?
Chris: We originally thought building an engine that allowed players to access the world from different platforms would be tough, but our partners at Millipede Creative are amazingly talented and were able to not only do it, but make it look easy. I really love this feature too. Being able to play my profile on my laptop and then pick up later where I left off on my phone, it really works well with the social dynamics in the game. You never know when someone in your crew is going to need you to back them up, and at least for me, I really feel like I’ve let my crew down if they’re attacked and I wasn’t around to help them.
IGM Aus: Could you explain the creation of the in-game character design system and the unique artwork?
Chris: Well, the character design system was inspired by the software that law enforcement agencies use to create composite images based on an eyewitness description of a suspect’s face. This idea really worked well with the tone of the game, and the faces you can create have a great look. They all have this hard-edged, mugshot quality about them that is really unique. We use this same system to generate all of our NPCs too. It allows us to have thousands of different NPCs using the same base set of assets. We’re also constantly adding facial features to that pool… which you know about first hand.
In regards to the other artwork, we really set out to create something that was unique. We didn’t want this game to look like anything else that’s out there, and we needed to reinforce the irony of the game by creating this juxtaposition of styles. That’s why you’ll go from an info graphic map set to elevator music into an encounter animation that’s done in an animatic style using highly stylized images and set to a dramatic score. I am really fortunate to have a team that challenges everything and won’t compromise. We went through so many iterations until we found something that we felt was uniquely ours, and more importantly was right for the franchise… I hope people like it.
We’ll have more from Chris next week as we delve deeper into the development of Vigilante so keep an eye out. While I’m here though, I’d like to thank all of you (readers and devs alike) for supporting IGM Aus these past few weeks. It’s been a humbling experience and hopefully there will be plenty more to come. Game on!