Amid the debate about television stealing the film industry’s thunder, another entertainment form has crept up unnoticed, further threatening Hollywood’s creative hegemony: video games. With a new, much more powerful generation of games consoles poised to arrive – Microsoft’s Xbox One goes on sale on Friday, with Sony’s PlayStation 4 due a week later – the games companies reckon they finally have the ammunition to shake off the perception that their digital epics are inferior to movies.
I’m in a place that could not reinforce that impression more emphatically: the historic Ealing studios, where classics such as The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers were filmed. But I’m here to experience the process of making a video game called Ryse: Son of Rome, an epic tale charting the Roman conquest of Britain, which will be a launch title for the Xbox One. And the studio is nowadays home to The Imaginarium, an outfit co-founded by Andy Serkis, who – as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings – is perhaps the world’s leading exponent of performance-capture, in which every nuance of an actor’s performance (specifically movement, voice and facial expressions) is recorded and mapped on to a video game character.
Serkis says: “There was probably a time when people in the games industry wanted to emulate films, but now it’s very much the other way around: the technology is driven by video games. So, for instance, virtual production, pre-vis, many of the tools we use in the film industry have come out of the games industry.”