Video game fans were given the chance to celebrate interactive storytelling this past weekend with the inaugural Tribeca Games Festival, which took place at the tail end of the Tribeca Film Festival. The event kicked off on Friday evening with a crowd play event for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the newest adventure game to come from Telltale Games. Things went into full swing on Saturday, where prominent developers talked about making their games and how Lawnmower Man helped influence the public perception of what virtual reality should be.

Keynote speakers included Sam Lake, creator of the Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break games, which all have a cinematic feel to them. He was joined by Neil Berger, who directed Limitless and the Divergent movies. Similarly, Ken Levine, creator of BioShock (which was remastered last September), was joined onstage by Doug Liman, who directed the Bourne movies in addition to action hits such as Edge of Tomorrow. Liman confessed that parts of The Bourne Identity were heavily influenced by video games, to the point where he was almost tempted to include on-screen icons to help audiences keep track of Jason Bourne’s acquisitions, such as weapons, passports or money. Edge of Tomorrow also has a video game feel, as its main character (played by Tom Cruise) must relive the same day, learning a little more each time, until he can figure out a way to survive and defeat an alien threat.

But perhaps the biggest appearance of the evening was Hideo Kojima, whose self-description on Twitter reads, “70 percent of my body is made of movies.” He was the only keynote guest to appear by himself, flanked by a translator and moderator Geoff Keighley, creator of The Game Awards. The famed Metal Gear franchise creator, who is currently developing Death Stranding (featuring actor Norman Reedus), also happens to be a huge fan of actor and co-founder of Tribeca Enterprises Robert De Niro, stating that he went through a week of watching Taxi Driver every day.

Hideo Kojima, Tribeca Games Festival

The event is also marked by the second year the Tribeca Film Festival hosted a virtual reality showcase called Tribeca Immersive. Jane Rosenthal, producer and co-founder of Tribeca Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Institute, hosted a conversation with film and VR creator Chris Milk (who also founded the Within VR app) to discuss the storytelling potential of the technology. When Milk was asked by AListDaily whether he saw himself more as a filmmaker or game designer with interactive VR experiences such as Life of Us (which proclaims in large block letters that it is neither a movie nor a game at its start), he said that his approach was that of a human.

“I’m trying not to make a film or a video game, but I’ve learned a lot from both of them,” said Milk. “You’re trying to craft a moment for another human being to experience firsthand, so it’s more about what a human being would find exciting spending seven-and-a-half minutes doing.” Rosenthal added that Milk’s curiosity and creativity contributed greatly to his VR experiences and that it was a privilege to share them.

AListDaily sat down with Rosenthal at Tribeca Games to talk about the growing connection between film and video games and where technologies such as virtual reality fit in.

Jane Rosenthal, producer. Co-founder of Tribeca Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Institute.
Jane Rosenthal, producer. Co-founder of Tribeca Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Institute.

What is the Tribeca Games Festival about and what inspired it?

What inspired it has been my personal curiosity for years as a filmmaker and storyteller in non-linear storytelling. That goes back to early stuff such as the dataglove. In the mid-’90s, we ended up producing a CD-ROM (9: The Last Resort) that featured Aerosmith, Cher and Ellen DeGeneres. So, I’ve always had an interest in how you can keep pushing the boundaries of storytelling years.

In the early years, I liked any sort of gameplay with novelistic storytelling, and I kept looking at that. A lot of the films that I have been involved with have had a sort of novelistic feeling—in film terms, that meant they were too long—and for well over five years, we’ve been doing work that has been transmedia, which launched into our VR Arcade.

We were also the first festival to screen a game—LA Noire with Ellen Paige from Rockstar Games. We also brought League of Legends here two years ago and did a behind-the-scenes look at the creativity behind it. For me, it’s another form of expression, and there’s such amazing talent in story-based games.

What I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t just an overnight decision. There was a lot of thought that went into it.

Does the timing of the event, the end of the Tribeca Film Festival, signal a connection between film and video games?

It’s a good dissolve from one to the other. It’s (movies) the influence that so many game creators have had, and so many filmmakers have been influenced by game culture. So, we’re having conversations with Doug Liman and Neil Burger with Ken Levine and Sam Lake (respectively), and it’s a nice way to dissolve that. Also, this morning we kicked off with [a panel featuring] the 25th anniversary of Lawnmower Man. Brett [Leonard] talked a lot about the change in storytelling from just talking out to your audience to more of a story world, and Jaron [Lanier] Skyped in for that.

You also moderated the conversation with Chris Milk about VR. What are your thoughts about how VR fits into the entertainment space and how it relates to film and video games?

We’re still in such a nascent stage with that. Broken Night from Eko Studios is influenced a lot by Sam Barlow’s Her Story, and it’s not so much a film as it is an episode—part of something more that we should see. So, I think we’re still figuring that out. I think that until some of the technology is at a point where you have these massive goggles on your head, it’s going to take a while. I think the work that Chris is doing, where you can share an experience together (Life of Us) is interesting. But in terms of entertainment, I think we’re still seeing it as more of marketing and not yet as full VR movies. Narrative VR (as opposed to documentary) is still experimenting—I think some of them are amazing, and we have them here.

Attendees could purchase combined tickets for both Tribeca Games and Tribeca Immersive in the future?

I haven’t thought about that, per se. I think that gaming is immersive, so having both go on at the same time is something that we’re connecting here for this specific event. I think, as we look to the future of Tribeca Games, we will probably include Immersive, but it’s a work in progress. In the inaugural year of anything, you’re going to learn something about what your audience wants. The fact is, there’s a vibrant community in the gaming world, and as our audiences change with the generational and technological shift that’s happening, it becomes an exciting time to tell stories and meet creators of all types as they work on all different platforms. This is the first event that we’ve done this, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

[Left] Doug Liman, movie director (Edge of Tomorrow,. [Right] Ken Levine, game developer (BioShock)
[Left] Doug Liman, movie director (Edge of Tomorrow). [Right] Ken Levine, game developer (BioShock)

How did you decide to include Sam Lake, Hideo Kojima and Ken Levine as keynote speakers?

It was obvious. If you follow Kojima on social media, he says he’s 30 percent water 70 percent movies. Ken’s work on BioShock is beautiful, and it tells a story. Ken has also been interested in writing screenplays. So, those were obvious choices. There are other creators I want to come next year.

Have you taken inspiration from consumer events such as PAX when developing Tribeca Games?

No. I’ve taken inspiration from our own festival and what it means to be a creative center—focusing on the creator and the voice—allowing an audience behind the curtain of what a creator has tried to do. Whether that is doing something with Scorsese and Coppola [with The Godfather marathon]; doing something with Ken Burns, who is doing an 18-hour piece for PBS on Vietnam; or when talking about non-linear storytelling, we want it to be about the creator’s point of view.

What do you hope will be some of the big takeaways audiences will get from today’s event?

That there’s more interaction between both (movie and gaming) communities, there’s more experimentation, and that people who have never tried gameplay will like that, as with social impact gaming. We’ve worked with Games for Change for a number of years, hosting events here for the past four years.

Mostly, I hope that people will have a good time and enjoy it.