Usually, putting a Hollywood company together with a video game developer is like mixing oil and water, but that relationship could change with the development of Spyjinx — a collaborative project that is currently being put together by filmmaker J.J. Abram’s company Bad Robot Interactive and ChAIR Entertainment.
J.J. Abrams (who is currently working on Star Trek Beyond) and ChAIR co-Founder Donald Mustard surprised the world in a video that announced how they were working together to develop an action-strategy role-playing adventure game. As a director and producer, Abrams has had a hand in different projects including the latest Star Trek movies, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the TV show Lost. ChAIR has developed a number of high-profile games, the most recent being the Infinity Blade series, which is credited as being the first mobile game created using the Unreal Engine.
[a]listdaily talks to Donald Mustard, ChAIR co-Founder and Creative Director, about how the unexpected partnership with Bad Robot came about.
What led to the partnership between Chair Entertainment and Bad Robot
We’d always been huge fans of Bad Robot and J.J., and were so excited to hear they’d not only played our Shadow Complex and Infinity Blade games, but that they were also fans. So, we jumped at the chance to meet when a mutual partner offered to do an introduction in 2013. Our initial conversations were really about things we had in common, similar creative inspirations like games and movies, and core values that guide our companies. But we found that those early conversations quickly evolved into ideas for how we could work together, ideas for games we could make, etc. Co-developing a new IP was something very different for both of our companies, but the more comfortable we became in our conversations, the more we knew we had to work together.
What was your reaction when J.J. Abrams wanted ChAIR’s help in creating a game
J.J. and the team at Bad Robot are all gamers and it was evident to us from early meetings that their desire to move into more interactive entertainment was a very natural step for them. For ChAIR, one of the things that we enjoy, and we are particularly good at, is developing partnerships with other creators, whether they be writers, like Brandon Sanderson, or musicians like Imagine Dragons, and various other partners over the years, and then working with them to extend the game into a larger entertainment experience.
How are the two companies collaborating to develop this game What are some of the goals
This is a true collaboration where both companies have been involved in every phase of development — from ideas about the world in which the game is set, to determining art style, to game design and ideas for unique new game play. And thanks to the flexibility of Unreal Engine 4, we’ve got our team at ChAIR working on the game and checking in code, and then artists and musicians at Bad Robot seeing that same code and then checking their stuff into the game from their side.
J.J. has a very unique approach to character and story development and a real gift for making people care about characters and the situations he’s put them in and worlds he’s built around them. As game developers, we’ve always felt that if we could gain a better understanding of his process and his approach, that we could develop game systems that can attempt to duplicate that process and add something really unique for players. Systems that might not be obvious to the player, but that help the player have a more memorable, enjoyable experience. And to then give them tools to help them shape that experience.
We’re two very busy studios so it’s been exciting to work together these past two years — whether it be in face-to-face meetings at ChAIR, Bad Robot, or wherever we happen to be, via various video conferencing systems, and via phone and email.
Abrams has said, “typically, Hollywood and games have not gone together well.” What is the key to making this partnership work
Unlike other partnerships that attempt to make games or movies from existing IP, we feel strongly that the key is we’re working on something completely original, from the ground up, that utilizes the strengths of both our teams. And that it’s a true collaboration between creative partners that can be flexible in finding the right way to work together, rather than shoe-horning one team into another’s process or working on something that isn’t a good fit for one or both.
Given the success of the Infinity Blade series, what would you say is the most important part of promoting a new game on mobile
ChAIR is not traditionally a “mobile developer” and our previous games were on console (Spyjinx will be PC and mobile), so Infinity Blade was somewhat of an experiment for us, thanks to opportunity we were given to make the first Unreal Engine-powered mobile game. We are so grateful for the success we’ve had on mobile with Infinity Blade and for all that it taught us. Mostly, that there are very distinct differences between console and mobile gamers. But, that there is also great opportunity to create deeper, more core gamer experiences on mobile devices. Like all games, you need to be mindful of the platform your designing for and to make sure the game utilizes the unique qualities of that platform so that it can deliver something that’s new and unique.
Spyjinx is currently in development, and is expected to release on PC and mobile in 2016. Closed beta sign-ups are currently underway.