The Getaway: Black Monday

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The Getaway: Black Monday, released in January is the follow up to the three million-selling blockbuster The Getaway. Created by Sony's London-based Team Soho, Black Monday takes the integration of gaming with high-quality cinematic scenes to a new level, using motion capture on 20 plus actors, high end sound, set design, lighting and the streets of London to deliver an authentic feel for its gritty narrative.

Naresh Hirani Game Director Team Soho, London

What are you most excited about in terms of new elements in this game-whether they relate to narrative, visuals/graphics or player capability?

We're very excited about The Getaway: Black Monday, on many fronts. The tone of the sequel is much darker and is more in line with a gangland thriller than the first game. We've introduced a whole new cast of actors to bring a new story to life, including three new playable characters each with their own distinct abilities and personalities: Mitch is the cop with a dark past; Eddie is the gangland thug; and Sam is the streetwise thief. The storyline is told in a much more contemporary cinematic way with the multiple perspectives of each of the characters bringing an extra dimension to the story. And with the exciting addition of choices, the player can make moral choices in the narrative, having an affect on their final conclusion of the story.

Provide some basic facts about the development process-how many people contributed , how long the was the process in total?

We began work on The Getaway: Black Monday two years ago, almost immediately after the launch of the first Getaway. The size of the team varies and escalates as the project nears completion. At our peak, we numbered over 60; a healthy split of seven designers, 18 artists, 15 programmers, 10 animators/cinematic artists and around 20 other production staff including sound designers, musicians and composers and a performance director.

How does this game's development process differ, particularly given that the game has a more cinematic quality than some other kinds of games?

The creative process required to produce a cinematic game such as Black Monday is more organic than that of traditional game development process. It is a creative collaboration (some say argument) between the goals of the designers to create new, cutting edge and action-filled gameplay and the writer to keep this within the bounds of reality and a gripping narrative arc; the director makes the final call in light of the vision for the game. Whereas most games are concerned solely with what the player characters can "do" and bolt the "why" in after, we hold equal value in "who" the characters are and how this motivates what they do.

Further into the production of the game, of course, our most major differences come to light. Just like a movie we have a 90-page screenplay (120 if you count the different endings) ,which is broken into scenes and storyboarded for production. This it's then broken down into a shooting schedule. The Getaway: Black Monday also involves all the real-life elements of a film, such as casting actors from film, television and theater. Our cast of over 20 actors rehearses their scenes with a performance director for a month to prepare them for the shoot. Capturing such intense scenes is no mean feat; our ethos has always been to capture every facet of the acting performance. Therefore, we have developed a process we call Total Capture, enabling us to get the complete performance in one take. This is a unique technique whereby we motion- capture up to seven actors in the same place at the same time, acting closely together and interacting with props and sets that represent objects in Black Monday's virtual London. We record their movements, their voices and their facial expressions all in a single take. The motion (including their hands) is then mapped onto 3-D game models of the actor while the synchronized voice is laid to an audio mix. The facial expressions, which were recorded on a small camera strapped around the actors' heads pointing back at their face, is put through another cutting edge system called Game Face, which maps the facial performance directory onto the in-game head, making the joints and muscles of the face move according to the original performance.

With increased interest in games from the entertainment and advertising worlds, where do you forecast the videogame going in the next few years-as an art form and as a business?

As the film industry has developed, it became involved in high-profile collaborations with the music industry, brand placements and the use of external IPs (intellectual property) such as books, graphic novels and game licenses. I think this trend is mirrored in the games industry as we reach new levels of graphical fidelity and consumer acceptance. Traditionally, we've largely seen movies create IPs which games capitalize on. I think this trend is set to continue, but with games now seen as a very natural creative release, which can legitimately spin off into movies as well.

Actors are also now seeing games as a release for their creativity, beyond simple movie IP crossovers; we've seen some very high-profile actors involved in recent collaborations with the videogame industry. I hope to see this trend continuing and developing with high-profile directors and other movie industry talent being involved in games.

Katie Ellwood, script writer, narrative producer, Team Soho

How has the craft of writing for a videogame changed in the past several years?

For me, the craft of writing for a videogame has changed massively. I think it's just a case of gathering experience. When I started working for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, I came without any technical understanding of videogames. My knowledge of games was limited to early mornings before school when I was a kid and late nights with Tekken when I was a student. So I wrote without limits, which is fun, but not very helpful to the rest of a team.

Console writing, just like film and theater writing, has (or should have) its own set of rules and limitations. In videogames, the script has to negotiate and reinforce the "goals and rewards" of good game design. Notoriously, game scripts value the transfer of information and stock characters to realism, depth of character and a revealing, emotionally structured plot. I think game writing is still in its infancy. We're still developing the techniques. Game writers have to work within the boundaries of what can be done successfully in a game.

What were your inspirations for the story in Black Monday?

As always our inspirations draw from classic gangland books and movies, with some "true crime" this time around. I find that lots of gangster biographies are more dramatic than the fictional dramatizations. We paid a lot of attention to current affairs for Black Monday too, including jobs that were in the news, stories sourced from the Internet and, my personal favorite, getting out there and talking to some of the people involved with the police or the London underworld.

What are the biggest challenges of writing for an interactive format?

One of the greatest challenges is being a silent yet entertaining voice. By that, I mean guiding a player without being overt. It's feeding enough information to the players without them ever realizing how they received it. At the same time, you have to move, entertain and motivate players to take on the role of that character and push them to the next level.

Tara Saunders, lead artist, cutscene director, Team Soho

What is your background?

My background is very much founded in design, with my education covering a mixture of industrial/product design, graphic design and animation. I completed an MA in computer animation at Bournemouth University in the U.K. in 2000 before joining Team Soho at the SCEE London Studio to work on The Getaway.

Describe your role in Black Monday.

On The Getaway: Black Monday, I am responsible for working with a team of animators and artists to create all the noninteractive "cinematic" sections of the game-elements we call cutscenes. This is quite a varied and exciting role that requires the use of both creative and technical skills. If you were to compare my role to that of someone working in the film industry, I would be a cinematographer, editor and technical director all rolled into one!

I have to work closely with the environment artists, programmers and designers throughout the project to get the result of cutscenes that fit seamlessly into the rest of the game design.

There is over an hour of narrative content in the game-how does this compare to other games in terms of the quantity and quality of the cutscenes. How is the approach used on GBM and how is the look of the final product different from other games (e.g., using extensive motion capture, etc.).

There can be a wide-ranging amount of story that differs in length and depth from game to game. Where The Getaway: Black Monday shines is in the quality of that story. The Getaway: Black Monday follows on from the roots of The Getaway in its use of a storyline plot that has a solid narrative structure. We don't just pass over mission objectives in a standard fashion; instead we wrap that information in an interesting cinematic manner within a narrative to make that information as entertaining as possible. It gives the game a unique style.

Another thing to point out is how The Getaway: Black Monday cutscenes fit into the rest of the game. Visually, the cutscenes are of the same style as the gameplay. We render them on-screen the same way that the game is rendered, meaning that we don't render in advance using any fancy shaders or lighting effects. Although this means we limit the high-shine CGI-rendered look of cutscenes and the visual effects at our disposal, it also allows the game and cutscenes to fit seamlessly together. Using this method, the player is able to build up more associations to the characters, as in a visual representation; you are that character in the game when you've just been in an emotional cutscene.

What are the biggest challenges of making this kind of film (e.g., lighting)? What were the hardest scenes to pull off?

In terms of the cinematics, one of the most restrictive areas is lighting. Unlike film, we do not control the lighting of the set and characters at once in the cinematic sections. We are using game graphic resources where the lighting is predetermined and baked into the texture information for that location. What this means is that you have the ability to change the lighting direction on the characters shot-to-shot within the cinematics, but you cannot control the environment lighting. It means that the game environment often sets the mood/lighting level of the cutscene and we have to light the characters to fit within that set.

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