Neill Blomkamp, the director of District 9, Elysium, and Chappie, has joined new developer Gunzilla Games as Chief Visionary Officer, helping the studio to create its unrevealed debut multiplayer shooter.
Gunzilla was set up last year and began pre-production on its first game. The studio features development talent that previously worked for Crytek, Ubisoft, EA, and more – now, it’s added some Hollywood talent too. Speaking to IGN, Blomkamp explained that his unusual Chief Visionary Officer role will be to act as an “an egalitarian version of being a film director”, working with different parts of the team to decide the best routes forward for design, audio, storytelling, and more. “It comes from a place of bringing directorial skills that would be along the lines of the films that I’ve done before to the aesthetic of the game,” he explains.
While he does regularly play games, and has had brushes with the industry before (most notably working on a doomed Halo movie adaptation with Peter Jackson), Blomkamp acknowledges that he’s not experienced in game development, and will be working with other senior creatives to make sure his vision is workable:
“The difference [from directing a film] is not acting like a single point that guides the creative team. It’s making sure that you’re integrated into the team in a real way,” he tells me. “I can come in with a very definitive point of view, but it has to work on two levels. It has to be accepted by the greater team as the right creative direction to go in. And it also has to be, first and foremost, something that can integrate into the architecture of gameplay in a way that’s beneficial to the game.”Neill Blomkamp (Image source: Gunzilla Games)
While Blomkamp’s role at Gunzilla is a long-term one, his sole focus at the company right now is to work on its debut; an unrevealed, AAA multiplayer shooter that aims to weave in narrative elements. While there’s very little Blomkamp or Gunzilla are saying definitively about the project right now, I ask Blomkamp how (or even if) he’s also bringing his experience as a screenwriter to a multiplayer game:
“Well, the primary thing no matter how you cut it will be player agency and the ability for players to just interact with it in a shooter environment in a way that hopefully is a really, really cool game to them – which means, in the event of being dropped in and playing, narrative takes a back seat. But if you think of something like Elysium, the amount of forethought to build the world, you may be spending 95% of the time thinking through the worldbuilding in order to get to the 5%, which is the movie that you watch. And I think that you could apply the same sort of mentality where depending on how much backstory and world creation you’re building, you’re going to end up with a more convincing, awesome world to drop the player into. In terms of actual specific narrative, there are also other avenues that players can begin to learn more about things that we’re talking about.”
I ask if he might compare his narrative role to that of George R.R. Martin on Elden Ring, with the author providing the foundation of the game’s world, and the development team finding a story to tell within it. His response is simple: “You’re thinking in the right way.”
Blomkamp won’t be drawn into saying more about the game, and makes clear that it doesn’t have any overt connection to any of his movie work – although he does allude to a possible setting: “I think the idea of near future science fiction is something that is really interesting. Conceptually, as well as from a visual and design point of view, that’s my favorite zone to be inside of.”
In the absence of details about the game he’s making, I ask about Blomkamp about the games he plays. What does he like best? “I’m a little bit unusual in the sense that I love the idea of synthetic three-dimensional environments that you can drop an audience member into so much that it often overweighs the gameplay itself. So for straight-up gameplay, multiplayer shooters are the games that I am interested in, if you’re talking about just pure fun.
“In terms of actually witnessing something and moving around inside of it, a game like Control from Remedy would be something that I find highly fascinating, where you’re pushing ray tracing and environmental destruction, and you’re incorporating really interesting design language. It feels like you’re walking around inside of a place that an artist has brought to you. I have a lot of appreciation for games that do that kind of thing.”
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=A%20game%20like%20Control%20from%20Remedy%20would%20be%20something%20that%20I%20find%20highly%20fascinating.”]
After enjoying games for so long, then, what is it that made now the right time for Blomkamp to consider making them too?
“I’ve definitely spent a lot of time thinking about how people talk about narrative in film as though it applies to games – and thinking that they’re wrong a lot of the time. At least for the massively adopted large scale of games,” he begins. “I don’t have experience as a game designer, but I have other expertise that I think can potentially make the game interesting. And at least I can learn from it and then kind of begin to grow. The analogy that I use is, if you look at the second half of the 20th century, it became a case where books were up on a shelf and people would sometimes read books, but the dominant thing was TV and film in the way that culture was crafted and created.
“My analogy is that films and passive narrative formats will sort of be like books on a shelf in the sense that they’re always there, and people will always be absorbing them – but the dominant thing when you come home from work and you do something will be some form of highly interactive… a place that you’re dropped into, a three-dimensional world where something is unfolding over time. And I just find that idea very interesting. And I think it’s going to be it’s going to be pretty incredible where, where it goes. So I just want to be a part of it.”
What becomes totally clear through our chat is that Blomkamp sees making games not as a hobby, or a sidestep from his current job, but a next step. His history as a director encompasses visual effects, writing, and directing – elements he points out are used differently in games, but are still very much used. Gunzilla and its game appear to be a means of using those skills in a medium Blomkamp believes will take off even further in the years to come:
“Games will […] become what films were in the 20th century. They’ll just be the thing that is the dominant form of cultural entertainment and [I want] to be in that. Mixing my history in visual effects and interest in 3D graphics means I want to have a home base in the creation of games for a really long time. So if the game is a success and everything works out, hopefully I’m staying at Gunzilla for a long time.”