"Being a Ranger means preparing for the rigors of protection of the citizens of Nova Prime" says Eric Marlow. "It’s the full experience of being a Ranger that we wanted to show the player, and we hope they can not only enjoy the game, but also develop a deeper understanding of After Earth."
148Apps speaks with Eric Marlow, Vice President of Global Studios at Reliance Games, about their latest title, After Earth - The Mobile Game. In the interview, we learn more about the game, how it's tied to the film, and what it is that makes the game unique. We also learn about the process Reliance Games went through in creating it and how they worked closely with the movie studio to capture a familiar After Earth experience that fans can appreciate.
148Apps: Tell us a little bit about After Earth – The Mobile Game?
Eric Marlow: After Earth – The Mobile Game is an action/adventure game released on mobile for iOS and Android devices. At its core it is a runner, but we’ve adopted a number of things from the film so that the player is presented with new challenges that will keep things interesting.
How does the game tie in with the film?
It was very exciting to work with Sony and Overbrook (Will Smith’s production company) on the game. They were both quite active in not just supplying us with background information about the movie, but also in helping to craft the look and feel of the experience. The goal was to create something that was part of the After Earth film universe, but also to dive into new territory. One of the first design parameters was that we didn’t want just a traditional script-based movie game. We wanted to explore the lore behind After Earth. And as we found out, the backstory was quite deep!
The film’s writers created a chronological timeline for events that happen in After Earth that span over 1000 years. All options were fair game in developing the environments and situations as long as it matched the direction set by the film’s reference materials. In fact, at one of our last design meetings, it was mentioned that we have to be very solid in what we want to show, as what we make will become canon to the After Earth story. It was really cool to realize that.
What's unique about the game? Is it just another endless runner?
This question is where we started our design discussions. Our team was eager to not only offer an experience that was tied to the upcoming film, but also create a bolder, fresher experience that goes beyond simply running.
One of the biggest additions to the game was allowing the player to use the cutlass – the weapon of choice for a Ranger.
You'll also battle The Ursa, a genetically engineered monster that was created to wipe out the human race that “infested” Nova Prime. Ursas are unique in their ability to smell fear, and the true measure of any Ranger is to control their fear so they can become a “ghost” – or invisible to the Ursa. This is something that we included in the game as well – a “fear meter." This fear meter acts as a shield as you move through the game. Your fear will increase as you perform poorly, but your fear will reduce when you do well.
As a Ranger you will be tasked with a number of missions that are taken from the backstory of After Earth. These missions allow you to explore new parts of the After Earth mythology, including unseen parts of Nova Prime. We even take you to a new world where secret R&D is conducted on the Ursas so we can learn how to defeat them. To get to this point you will have to use your wing suit when jumping off cliffs, zipline down treacherous mountains, use the Skipjack to navigate quickly through city streets, and even master wall-running techniques to leap over deep canyons.
Is it the chicken or the egg? Do you have game ideas that you make fit with a licensed property, or does the property inspire the way the game will work?
It’s a little of both. In the instance of After Earth – The Mobile Game, the concept just seemed to fit. We were even happy to see the film’s trailers featured running. It just drove home the fact that we made the right decision. We are also working on another game (soon to be announced) where the entire set of film characters and action fit perfectly into a typical game progression mechanic. In those instances it’s really easy. But not every game reveals itself so effortlessly. So in some instances, we need to work with the studios to explore areas of their universe not touched by the films. The good news is that most studios these days understand that the game is really an extension of the movie experience, so producing a script-based game is no longer what they want.
How much access do you have to the source material that you're basing the game on, like with After Earth? How much does it influence the direction of the game based on it?
This will vary depending on the studio, but in most instances we will have access to 3D assets such as character models, sound effects, and the film’s bible. The bible usually contains all the pertinent backstory, design elements, color palettes, character bios, set piece descriptions, etc. The film’s musical score is usually not part of the deal, as that is handled separately. But having said that, we’ve found that studios are willing to give us a listen to the film’s score and it allows us to be inspired by the soundtrack. That’s a big win for us as the entire game aesthetic just becomes an extension to the film.
Licensed games don't always have the best reputation for quality. Why do you think that is? How do you think that developers working on licensed titles can improve on that?
Games based on movies always had criteria that the game comes out commensurate with the movie. That means that there are immovable deadlines to hit if you are to release the game on time. With PC/Console games, this is complicated by the fact that their development timelines are much longer than say a mobile game might be. If you back up 18-24 months from a movie’s release date you might find that the script is not finished, principle photography may not be completed, the CG assets are not yet available, and the music isn’t finished. So leveraging these assets becomes a big problem. The situation does improve with mobile games, as the development timeline is shorter and the film’s assets are mostly completed in this timeframe.
The best way to improve is understand how long it takes to make the game you want, and give yourself enough time prior to the film’s launch. Having solid project plans that includes all the steps you need to include (making sure to include things like country testing, marketing, and approvals) is step in the right direction.
We'd like to thank Eric Marlow for providing us with his insight on the process he and his team went through in the creation of After Earth.