The original John Wick movie, starring Keanu Reeves, is about an elite hitman who comes out of retirement to take revenge against the mob for killing his beloved dog. It developed quite a following, with Starbreeze Studios (makers of the heist game, Payday 2) counting itself among one of its biggest fans. The video game developer has already included the John Wick into Payday 2 by offering him as a playable character, and now it is working in partnership with Lionsgate to create an original virtual reality game called John Wick Chronicles for the HTC Vive and immerse players in the movie’s action-packed underworld while promoting the next film, John Wick: Chapter 2.
Almir Listo, global brand manager at Starbreeze Studios, spoke to [a]listdaily from the New York Comic-Con show floor where it was demonstrating the first chapter of John Wick Chronicles, called An Eye For An Eye.
Listo describes John Wick Chronicles as a virtual reality game for the HTC Vive, and it’s a Starbreeze Studios production made in partnership with Lionsgate Entertainment. “You play as John Wick, the legendary assassin, in the John Wick universe, known from the movies,” said Listo. Players get to visit iconic locations, including the Continental Hotel, known from the first movie. They’ll also get to meet recognizable characters, try out weapons and start doing missions. In the 7-minute show floor demo, players were challenged to defend a rooftop location as waves of attackers come from all around or try to snipe from neighboring buildings.
“The cool thing is,” Listo continued “[is that] we’re releasing the game at roughly the same time as the movie, on February 17.” Players can already pre-order the VR game on SteamVR for $20, and buying early gets them a free copy of Payday 2 along with the John Wick Weapon Pack content. There’s also a deluxe edition for US residents, where players will get all of the previously mentioned content and the original John Wick movie for $30.
When asked about how many John Wick Chronicles chapters there would be, Listo said that it still to be determined. “We will create as few or as many [chapters] depending on what the community wants.” As for whether or not the John Wick Chronicles would be released as an episodic VR game, Listo stated: “I think it depends. We’re still so early on in virtual reality game development—the industry as a whole—so the best practice for releasing new content is yet to be decided. We will listen very closely to what the VR community has to say when they try the experience and we’ll definitely take their voices into consideration when moving forward with additional content.”
Listo also talked about the reactions he’s seen to the John Wick Chronicles demo at convention show floors like New York Comic-Con. “I think they’ve been fantastic so far,” he said “and we haven’t showed it at that many places thus far. So the reactions we get here at Comic-Con mean a lot to us.”
In discussing how the partnership with Lionsgate came together, Listo said “We’ve always had a great relationship with Lionsgate. We’ve worked on Payday 2 together, introducing John Wick as a playable character. Since then, we’ve always stayed in touch and tried to collaborate wherever possible. I think John Wick Chronicles is the peak of that collaboration. It’s best we’ve put together so far, and we’re very excited to see it go live in February.”
Although the VR experience promotes the upcoming film and debuted a new in-game trailer for John Wick: Chapter 2 played on a giant virtual screen, Listo explains that “The VR experience has a separate plot line, so it’s not necessarily tied to the movie. However, it’s played out in the same universe, so you will meet with characters from the movies.”
Lionsgate has also been helping to develop the game, and practically everyone that is involved with the movie has had an opportunity to provide feedback. “We had one session where the director (Chad Stahelski) and Keanu Reeves played the game and gave us their feedback, which was very meaningful. It’s important for us, because not only do we make video games at Starbreeze, we also love movies. We would never have done this collaboration if we didn’t like the original movie. It’s important for us that the movie and video game stay true to each other. We don’t want to shy away from the message of the movie, and want to make sure John Wick Chronicles builds on it and empowers the movie.”
Listo further explained what he thought about VR gaming and using it as a movie promotion. “I think VR has the possibility to become the biggest thing in gaming history,” he said. “The reason being: just look at what you get to experience. The action, the thrill of it.
“It’s a great way to unite different kinds of IPs. The John Wick IP is a very cool one because the original movie was an original script and idea. It’s great to see that it was so successful, because it shows that there’s still room for original IPs to be created. We’re very excited and proud to be partner with Lionsgate on creating a John Wick VR game.”
Listo further explained that “this is a unique collaboration between a video game developer and publisher, Starbreeze Studios, and Lionsgate—an established film studio—where we’re building up the hype for the upcoming movie together with a VR game. And not only with the VR game, but with Payday 2, where John Wick is also a playable character. It all ties together in a beautiful way for anyone who is interested in the John Wick universe.”
When asked if he believed that VR entertainment would remain limited to 7-10-minute experiences for the foreseeable future, or if there was any hope for full-length VR games, Listo said “I think everything is possible. At Starbreeze Studios, not only are we working with HTC and Valve on the Vive to create content, we also have our own platform called StarVR. We have a joint venture with IMAX to create VR centers. So I think there’s definitely a place for shorter experiences, and I there’s room for experiences that are much longer.
“It all depends on what the market wants and what people are willing to do. Seven minutes [of playing] was kind of tough. Imagine doing that for two hours. You’d die. I know I would. So I think it depends on what kind of experience it is. The great thing is that it doesn’t have to do with motion sickness anymore. It only has to do with the quality of content and how long you are physically able to be in it.”
When asked about what he imagined these VR theaters would be like, Listo said “I think there are many things that we could do. It remains to be seen exactly what we put together, because we’re still working on all of that, but I think the future is super bright when it comes to VR, especially VR in public places.”
As far as content, Listo explained that we’re still at the early phase of VR gaming, and how there were vast opportunities for video game developers to create unique content that can’t be experienced the same way without a headset. John Wick Chronicles is unlike any traditional first-person shooter. “That’s an unbelievable thing,” said Listo “and we’re just at the beginning of it. Give us another ten or twenty shots at making a game like this, and it’s going to be unbelievable—not saying that this game isn’t great already, but we’re just beginning, and that’s the cool thing about VR.”
We asked Listo about what challenges VR faced right now, after being on the market for almost a year. He said: “I think the challenge right now isn’t necessarily a technical one, but more of a marketing one—making sure to get the word out there [and] making sure that people get excited about VR. The only way to really enjoy VR and get the hang of it is to experience it yourself. That’s when you truly realize how good it is. You have to see it to believe it.”