MILIA: Towards Convergence?

Are animation and multimedia producers really learning to work together? Deborah Todd gives us the lowdown of what happened at the 1998 International Content Market for Interactive Media (MILIA) in MILIA 1998: Towards Convergence?

"Towards Convergence," the theme for this year's MILIA conference, held February 7-11 in Cannes, provided a great opportunity for the interactive and animation communities to come together to see if they could turn hot animation properties into equally hot interactive games. Professionals from the interactive community were on hand as panelists to provide their expertise, insight, and advice to animation producers who were eager to find out how they could take existing linear properties into the non-linear world. Since every property is unique, and every production company has their own strengths, no two scenarios were handled the same. The panelists, who included the likes of Veronique Chanlandar, Business Development Manger at Ubisoft, Michel Cassius, European Director for New Business with EA, Alan Gershenfeld, Sr. VP at Activision, interactive journalist guru Arnaud Chaudron, Matt Costello, Creative Director of Polar productions, and myself, Deborah Todd, a writer and designer of award winning interactive titles, gave the animation presenters their virtual money's worth of expert interactive advice.

Gaumont's series Space Goofs has plenty of elements to make it a multimedia game, but how should they do it? © Gaumont.Infogrames and Warner Bros.

The Projects

The animation projects were presented in two categories the "teen to adult" market, and the "children's market." However, in the interactive world, as in animation, these lines aren't so easy to draw in the proverbial sand. What looks, tastes, and feels like a children's animation series could come out on the flip side as an interactive property for teens or even adults.

The first session, held on Sunday, February 8, was for properties that could cross over into the teen-to-adult market. The Tuesday, February 10 session was aimed at the children's market. This, of course, was coordinated based on how these shows play in their current form in the television market. There were some properties that had the potential to cover multiple markets young children, older kids, and even adults. But there were others that didn't show any promise as interactive games. The primary question that needs to be answered before beginning any development on a game is, "Why does thishave to be interactive?" If the answer is something along the lines of, "Because everybody else is getting into it, and wouldn't it be great if our series could be a game too," it's a recipe for failure. In this business, failure is a very expensive proposition.

Interactive Entertainment signed an agreement this year to develop games based on Looney Tunes characters. Tasmanian Express is coming to the Nintendo 64 platform in spring 1999. © Warner Bros.

Major Players Attended

Having major companies like Saban and Gaumont show up to tout their very polished, very sophisticated series provided some great contrast for the sessions. Both of these companies brought along series that had strong potential in the interactive arena. Saban could pretty much pick the platform it wanted to develop Diabolik. It's strong enough to hold up as a PC RPG (roll-playing game), as an arcade twitch game, or as a PlayStation title with some story wrap. The characters were well-developed and solid graphics were very consistent and held up for the "10 year-old boy" standard. Furthermore, the overall story wrap provided a great environment in which to work and could be easily expanded.

Gaumont, best known for their foray into the feature film business with The Fifth element, brought along a series that's currently airing on Fox's afternoon ine-up. Space Goofs has plenty of elements to make it a multimedia game, but what should Gaumont do with it? The panelists felt Gaumont should: 1.) work ith Fox's interactive division to publish a game, or 2.) develop the game themselves in-house. Gamuont has a multimedia division, and taking a strong existing property like Space Goofs and having total creative input and business decision-making privileges seemed to make this the perfect opportunity for them to show their chops. Gaumont seemed reluctant though to get that far into the interactive business, but perhaps was receptive enough to at least consider it.

Passion is a Plus

The key element for smaller companies who want to turn their ideas into any kind of property is passion. Two French companies showed up with good animation projects backed by a healthy supply of passion. No doubt we will see their games on the market within the next few years in some form.

One such company based in Paris is Master's Copyright. Their project, Attila &Yunna, is an animated series based around an unlikely hero, Attila the Hun. Now, typically, this could be a problem he's not exactly well loved. However, on the positive side, not many kids, or adults for that matter, really know who Attila the Hun is, nor do I imagine they would care if they were playing a really cool video game where they could kick some major butt. Attila & Yunna has a wonderful graphic design, and a strong female character, Yunna, which is a nice bonus. The characters are appealing, the stories are compelling, and they have great weapons. Panelists felt this property has the potential for a PC Age-of-Empires-type game, a PC RPG, an edutainment title (remember the history), or an arcade game with or without story. How to proceed from here? They need to pick which platform they'd like to attack first, then hook up with a developer who thinks this game is as cool as they do. Two publishers told these folks to come and talk to them when they get the game figured out. Plenty of promise here.

Jersey Devil, an animated game currently available, features the character from Megatoon Studios. © 1997 Malofilm Interactive

The Little Guy The Fly

Another really fun property saved itself for the last session of the Tuesday program. Developed by the Parisian company Futurikon, La Mouche, aka The Fly, was a big hit with the panel. An exciting little character (yes, it's really a fly and it doesn't even talk!) could provide an almost unlimited number of hours of game play on various platforms. Arcade games, PC, PlayStation, this one could really fly as almost any kind of interactive game. Its challenge is the artwork.

In its current form, a comic book and a soon-to-be developed animation series, the art is simple and flat, but very cool with a great style. For this project, the question became how to transfer that style into the interactive medium, and still stay true to the look of the property. There was a lot of buzz about the potential for this game, and a possible solution developed as the panelists brainstormed. The result was a nice combination that allowed the cool 2D characters to keep their look, but also give the player the ability to navigate in a 3D environment. Things really started getting interesting when user interface discussions started: how does one let the user smash The Fly into walls or windows, or get him caught in spider webs, and have his personality and behavior change accordingly? For example, if the user flies him into windows repeatedly, could we work it so that he gets really irritated with them and refuses to do what they tell him?

True Convergence

Perhaps the most exciting presentation was given by a company from Belgium. Rudy Verbeeck, president of Imagination in Motion, truly understood the nature of "convergence" when he presented his property, The Raptoms, which is slated as a full length (90-minute) 3-D CG film. The company developed the project not as a feature, but as a property. In other words, during the development process, they didn't limit themselves to thinking only about the film. They also thought about interactive game play, and about licensing other products that could be derived from the movie or games. Each decision they made along the way in terms of story line and character was made with all of these elements in mind film, game, products. Rudy understands convergence.

The panelists' job was easy with this one. Here was a producer who understood the underlying principal of design. He designed a film, and at the same time designed an environment that would work for a game. He designed characters that would easily fit into both worlds, and a story line that could be expanded or modified for a game. He knew the genre, he understands the medium, and we all wanted to know when this was going to be available so we could watch, play and buy it.

Oh, the Difficulties

Some of the other animation projects that showed up for potential game play were a bit more of a challenge for the panelists. One series in particular, which has aired in the U.S., just didn't have the potential to cross-over into the interactive world. The story line, environment, characters, and graphic style were all working against it. It was hard to break the news to the producers, but there was no doubt in any of the panelists' minds that this one just didn't work.

Another title, which has apparently been in development for a number of years in Europe as an animated feature, suffered similar problems. The one thing it did have going for it was a lovely folk tale as the basis of its story. To their credit, the producers were passionate about it. However, figuring out what to do with it was quite problematic. It didn't fit into a category. It wasn't obvious who the market would be, or what type of platform could work. The graphics, which were somewhat stylistic, yet primitive, in look, wouldn't work in interactive either. So, what to do with it? It could be "updated" in graphic style. The story could be strengthened. But after all the time and effort put into it to accomplish these two "minor" tasks, it's still doubtful that it would feel like an interactive game.

As the animation and interactive giants converged upon MILIA, the audience got to take a rare look into the beginning stages of discussions about turning a linear property into an interactive title. It was a brilliant idea and something I've never seen addressed at a conference of this type. The contrast between the Sabans of the world and the little Futurikons helped keep in perspective how every single scenario in the interactive development process is different. No two games are alike, and no two approaches to developing the games are alike either. This was a great chance to look at the money-making aspects and the creative issues involved in interactive development, commencing with the pitch.

Deborah Todd is a freelance writer and game designer specializing in children's and teen interactive games. Her work has produced many award winning titles with credits for the likes of Disney, Fox, Humongous, Mindscape, The Learning Company, Houghton-Mifflin, Starbright, DreamWorks, Broderbund, and MGM Television Animation. She is a columnist, instructor, and international speaker, and has served as a judge for the prestigious New Media Invision awards.

Editor's Note: For background information about the planning of MILIA's "Toward Convergence" conference, please read " MIPCOM Meets MILIA " here MIPCOM consultant Frederique Doumic reveals her most frequently asked questions regarding the merging of the interactive and animation industries.

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