The legendary horror director and 30 Days of Night screenwriter talk about bringing fear to games.
John Carpenter says "dude" a lot. The director of the horror benchmarks Halloween, The Thing, and Prince of Darkness has defined some of the most famous moments of modern fear. He also speaks in a direct and terse way without any self-aggrandizement or pompous bloviating. To prove the point he habitually begins or ends sentences by saying "dude." It's a refreshing change of pace at a show where bullet points and PR-controlled interviews are the norm.
Carpenter and Steve Niles, screenwriter of 30 Days of Night, have been busy at work collaborating on the story of F.E.A.R. 3, the upcoming horror shooter that continues the story of Alma, the Point Man, and Paxton Fettle. The duo spoke about their experience collaborating on the game script at this year's E3 in a press roundtable with WB Games' producer Frank Rooke.
"I'm a game player and a game lover," Carpenter admitted. "I got hooked into this by [Steve Niles]. We consult mainly on the story and dialogue." Helping to build the story for a game offers an opportunity that movies don't, Carpenter said. In movies the audience watches passively, sympathizing with whatever experiences the main character is going through. In games, the player feels the emotions of the character directly, especially in first person.
"It's all about gameplay. That's the secret," Carpenter said. Even still, Niles and Carpenter approached their writing in much the same way they would with a screenplay.
"We were told from the beginning to just focus on the story," Niles said. "We actually use Final Draft [a popular screenwriting program], so it was a very similar process for us."
Seeing the welding points of game design and screenwriting was an impactful experience both Carpenter and Niles. "That was one of the strongest things for me, seeing the levels change but the story stay the same," Niles told us.
Carpenter recognized the need of games to stay functionally entertaining. "I keep going back to shooters," he said when asked about whether he had played Heavy Rain. "Tell me who I am, what to shoot, how much ammo I have, and where to get health."
Yet, Carpenter didn't differentiate between creating characters for film and videogames. "They're all people," he said. "They're all characters." One of the inherent challenges, especially in first person shooter design, is the often silent protagonists that have become a genre standard. "A big challenge was that Point Man doesn't speak," Rook admitted.
The addition of the cooperative mode was a big help to the writing process however. Writing a consistent, linear story through the eyes of one character is a huge challenge in any medium. Being able to build the story around the interactions between the Point Man and Fettel, the first game's possessed villain, was a big help.
The changes to Alma also helped Niles and Carpenter get creative with the game's story. "Alma's changed a lot," Niles said. "She's a lot more aggressive. She's a mother, she's got a lot more to protect and defend this time."
When asked about 3D, Carpenter's enthusiasm dropped away. While F.E.A.R. 3 won't be a 3D game, Carpenter is skeptical of the 3D sensation that's caused so much buzz at this year's E3. "I was around for the first wave of 3D in the Fifties," Carpenter said. "I think it's bull****. It's a way to take more of your money." Niles agreed, calling the idea a "gimmick."
Carpenter was hesitant to talk about the connection between F.E.A.R. 3 and his own films. "Blood, violence, it's dark," he said when I asked what it was that connected the game to his past work. He was likewise noncommittal about the themes of sex and horror, something that seems to hang over all the F.E.A.R. games (e.g. a violated child, now pregnant, and the quest of men to stop her from exacting supernatural revenge).
"The only sex I've seen in a game is [in God of War 3] with the scene where you have sex off-screen and punch the button," Carpenter said. "Man, I punched the button."
Carpenter was open to the idea of adapting games into movies, but lamented the fact that most adaptations change something essential in the gameplay that ruins the movie. He mentioned the DOOM movie and it's use of a virus as the main story hook, rather than the hell gates. "Why change it?" Carpenter asked.
When someone asked if there were any of Carpenter's own movies he'd ant to see turned into games he was magnanimous. "If you have a check for me, you can have them all."
For up-to-date impressions of F.E.A.R. 3 direct from the show floor make sure to read Patrick Kolan's thoughts here.