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《梦想建筑师》: 揭秘最大游戏IP的创作内幕

《梦想建筑师》: 揭秘最大游戏IP的创作内幕

David Polfeldt 2020年10月04日
本文作者戴维·波菲尔特参与了一些当今最大电子游戏IP的开发工作,比如《刺客信条》和《汤姆克兰西:全境封锁》。

图片来源:COURTESY OF GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING

我总是喜欢和怪人混在一起。

当我还是个十几岁的孩子时,我的朋友要么是玩滑冰的,玩艺术摇滚的,要么是怀揣绘画或者写作梦想的人。我们经常花费大量时间在停车场抽烟,在昏暗的地下室排练暗黑音乐,或者在咖啡馆里装模作样地讨论哲学。那里的咖啡很便宜,而且即使你逗留过久,不停地喝免费续杯直至午夜,店员也不会抱怨。我笃信,我们这辈子注定要做局外人。对于这一点,我暗地里还挺自豪的。

万万没想到的是,这种叛逆态度最终会引领我亲历当今最强娱乐媒体的诞生过程。一开始,制作电子游戏只是另一个令人兴奋的实验、玩乐和自我表达的舞台。但当我做了一款小游戏(从本质上讲,它只不过是一位老牌调查记者遭遇的一场小巷战),一切都变了。耀眼的聚光灯无情地照射在我身上,我就站在舞台上,在别人眼中,我成了一个有远见、有话语权的人。

图片来源:COURTESY OF OSCAR NÄSSTRÖM

我立刻意识到互动娱乐蕴藏的巨大潜力和诱惑力,于是我决定抓住这个意想不到的机会,去从事一份与硬件、软件和不断增长的市场同步发展的事业。我每迈出一小步,整个行业就会迈出更大的一步。经过艰苦的学习,我最终赶上了竞争对手,然后,我学会了如何领先他们一步。当我到达那个位置时,通往电影产业的大门就神奇地打开了。我受邀到好莱坞中心,去见传奇作家兼导演詹姆斯·卡梅隆。

这是一个讲述电子游戏产业诞生和快速发展的故事。是的,电子游戏已经发展成为地球上最大、最重要的娱乐媒体。一位从不装腔作势的梦想家将为您讲述这一令人惊叹的演变历程。从两个人的地下室项目到耗资动辄上亿美元的灾难,我亲历了电子游戏产业发展的每一步。

以下内容节选自拙著《梦想建筑师》,这本书于9月1日出版发行。

我不太相信运气。当然,竞技体育也有这样的时刻。比如,足球有时会从门柱和后卫的脚上弹进球门,但运气并不会从天而降。在收获一粒从后卫脚上弹进球门的进球很多很多年以前,运气就开始了。运气始于这位球员在七八岁时走向球场,开始每周苦练球技那一刻。历经十多年的艰苦训练和不懈努力,他才有机会与最好的球员同场竞技。我的观点是,你需要用毕生的时间做准备,并做好一长串的个人选择,才有可能碰到那短短几秒的好运气。

遗憾的是,我郑重声明,我不相信坏运气也遵循同样的运作机理。坏运气似乎是不可理喻的,它会冷不丁地出现在任何地方。

在2012年的E3电子娱乐展会上,我们在索尼公司的新闻发布会上展示了《孤岛惊魂3》的合作模式。一切还算顺利,但我们都知道整个过程其实非常惊险。周二过去了,就在我开始接受会面不会发生的时候,我突然收到育碧娱乐首席执行官,该公司的创始兄弟之一伊夫·吉莱莫特的短信,他告诉我明天什么时候在哪里与他会面。

第二天,我们乘坐一辆光泽逼人、车窗漆黑的黑色轿车,驶向曼哈顿海滩。

“嗯,你知道我们和好莱坞合作过几款游戏,对吧?”伊夫说。

“当然知道啦。”我回答道,并想到了育碧几年前与彼得·杰克逊合作开发的那款优雅的《金刚》游戏。

“我们通常不喜欢投资不属于我们自己的IP,但如果机会非常好,我们有时会进行这样的合作。”他继续说道。

“有道理。看样子我们现在有这样一个机会?”

“是的,没错。”伊夫带着谨慎的微笑说,好像他要给我一件他特别引以为傲的礼物似的。“你知道有史以来最成功的电影导演是谁吗?”

“是的,我知道。”但一开口,我就意识到不对,应该不是乔治·卢卡斯和星战系列电影。我赶紧闭嘴。史上最成功的电影导演?等等,那一定是詹姆斯·卡梅隆,《泰坦尼克号》和《阿凡达》的编剧兼导演。

“现在应该想到了吧,我们即将会晤的是詹姆斯·卡梅隆。”伊夫漫不经心地说。就在这时候,他的手机上似乎来了一条重要信息。

这是我好久以来听到的最甜蜜的话语。我们还要在永无止境的洛杉矶高速公路上走一阵子。于是,我赶紧拿出手机,开始阅读卡梅隆的资料,并在YouTube上快速观看对他的采访。我需要尽快了解他的思维过程。

我们把车停在光影风暴娱乐公司办公室旁边一个三层楼高的车库里。一位长相彪悍的保安用警惕的目光对我们仔细审查了一番,然后才允许我们进入。随着一声清脆的电梯铃,我们抵达目的地,随即被带入一间会议室,沿途经过了卡梅隆收藏的一些私人纪念品。《异形》、《终结者》、《阿凡达》、《深渊》的原版道具……我还看到《野蛮人柯南》使用的那把剑,那是阿诺·施瓦辛格送给卡梅隆的礼物。面对这些物品,任何人都不可能不感到亢奋。我任由这一切沉浸在我的记忆中。我想,这可能是我离好莱坞最近的一次了。作为一位影迷,这是千金难买的经历。但我们当然不是来当影迷的。

在会议室迎候我们的,是《泰坦尼克号》和《阿凡达》的制片人乔恩·兰道。这是一间典型的美式会议室,空调调到了“极冷”,厚厚的蓝色地毯使我们的脚步声变得柔和起来。现场还有几位不知道姓名的人士。我后来才了解到,这是好莱坞的一大特色。美国的名人无论走到哪里,似乎都会引来一帮人围观。这是否因为他们希望享受众星捧月的待遇?抑或需要这样做?我不知道,我自己从未引来一群人围观,所以我无从判断。

兰道看上去非常和善,但我发现气氛出奇地紧张。那位著名的导演迟到了。在会议室,东拉西扯的闲聊不时地中断,就像一辆破旧的卡车行驶在颠簸的路上。

“你们的E3展会之旅顺利吗?”

“是的。”

[停顿]

“是的,挺顺利的。”

“好的。很好。好的。”

[停顿]

[停顿]

[停顿]

“《阿凡达2》拍得怎么样了?”

(尴尬的沉默)

[停顿]

“等詹姆斯来了再说,好吗?”

[停顿]

(尴尬的沉默)

(时钟滴答作响)

通常碰到这种场景,我会帮着活跃一下社交氛围,但我毕竟新来乍到。我确信,在我了解所有事情之前,我必须得保持沉默。作为一个瑞典人,我对礼节的兴趣着实有限,但即使对我来说,闭嘴似乎也是礼貌之举。

一个男中音打破了令人不安的沉默。

“大家好,对不起,我迟到了。给你们倒咖啡了吗?”

到达会议室后,卡梅隆立即掌管了会面的进程。

2009年,在电影《阿凡达》首映之际,育碧发布了一款基于这部太空史诗的游戏。通过翻阅一些事后调查,不难理解为什么第一款《阿凡达》游戏是一个复杂的项目,它留下了各种可能的解释。光影风暴和育碧得出了各自的结论。但无论人们如何看待《阿凡达:游戏》,两家公司签署的合同都包含一项条款,即育碧有权根据电影续集制作第二款游戏,假设电影续集即将推出的话。在伊夫看来,这是一个向光影风暴介绍育碧旗下新工作室Massive!的好时机,他希望两家公司的合作由此翻开新的一页,尽管这种合作产生过一些摩擦,但同时还有巨大的潜力可挖。

这项条款中规定的截止日期正在慢慢临近,所以《阿凡达2》预计何时上映是一个至关重要的问题。如果《阿凡达》续集迟迟无法上映,那就意味着育碧的合同将不会包括互动娱乐版权。但他们并没有给出一个直截了当的答案,在我看来,光影风暴只是出于礼貌才和我们见面。他们似乎根本不知道下一部电影的上映日期。如果是这样的话,他们已经知道合同将到期,他们将不再有义务与育碧制作另一款游戏。或者,经过进一步思考,我意识到,一旦从现有合同的枷锁中解放出来,他们或许就会即刻寻找新的合作伙伴,探索与工作室、技术、发行商和现金相关的所有可能选项。如果这种猜测是对的,我们将不得不跟全球几乎所有的优秀开发商展开正面竞争。看上去大事不妙。

伊夫非常出色地向卡梅隆推介了一番Massive,重点强调我们的工程技术能够带来的诸多好处,这也是唯一让光影风暴有些兴奋的部分。但这位著名的导演和制片人满怀戒心,口风甚严。很难洞悉他们的真实想法。导演非常有力地掌控全局,把会议引向他想要的方向,几乎把我们当成演员来指挥。制片人显得开朗而热情,扮演着一位性情随和的合作伙伴的角色,但事实上,他完全掌控着每一个节拍。我几乎可以想象他们是如何一起拍出这么棒的电影的。

我在一旁目睹了这一切,感觉自己就像是一个无声的新娘,被献给一位满腹狐疑的王子。

就在我们准备起身离开的时候,卡梅隆突然直视我的眼睛,问了我第一个跟技术不搭边的问题。

“问你呢,你觉得《阿凡达》的主题是什么?”他问道。

太好了!我不由得一阵狂喜。为这次会面做准备期间,我一直在思考这个问题:詹姆斯·卡梅隆真正在意的是品质、道德和创作过程本身,而不是金钱或生意。他向我提出的问题就是让我上场的提示。此前,在豪华轿车的后座,我花了一些时间思考无数个关于《阿凡达》的问题,并且精心准备了一些聪明且出人意料的答案。尽管当时可能没有想到这个问题,我还是带着极大的自信心和自豪感给出了自己的回答。我等待着答案脱口而出,优雅地表达出一些既有哲学意味,又不乏深刻的东西。此刻只需要潜藏在我内心深处的那位撰稿人想出合适的词句,但他似乎有点分神……

“《阿凡达》……”我说,然后戏剧性地停顿了一下,以争取时间,同时也是为确保我吸引了所有人的注意力。“《阿凡达》的主题是和平。”

卡梅伦盯着我的目光看了一秒钟。然后,就在我开始恐慌的时候,他失望地耸了耸肩。他并没有被打动。

“不,不是这样的。《阿凡达》的主旨是每个人都需要为自己的信仰而战。”他说。

完了,完了,完了,我想。我真是个白痴。我顿时丧失了志气,感觉自己从想象中的好莱坞生涯之巅径直跌落到剪辑室的地板上,像一段糟糕的镜头那样被剪掉了。

不知不觉中,我们又回到了车库。在豪华轿车的后座上,我为自己未能通过这辈子最重要的一次试镜而自责。出乎我的意料,伊夫似乎一点也不担心或失望。他正忙着翻阅手机上的邮件,已经把他的注意力放在下一件事了,不管它是什么事。他几乎是心不在焉地说:“看来你得努力赢得那些人的信任,嗯?”

我再同意不过了。(财富中文网)

本文摘自戴维·波菲尔特的著作《梦想建筑师:电子游戏行业历险记》(The Dream Architects: Adventures in the Video Game Industry)。版权所有©2020李尔工厂公司。经Grand Central Publishing公司授权转载。出版方保留所有权利。

译者:任文科

我总是喜欢和怪人混在一起。

当我还是个十几岁的孩子时,我的朋友要么是玩滑冰的,玩艺术摇滚的,要么是怀揣绘画或者写作梦想的人。我们经常花费大量时间在停车场抽烟,在昏暗的地下室排练暗黑音乐,或者在咖啡馆里装模作样地讨论哲学。那里的咖啡很便宜,而且即使你逗留过久,不停地喝免费续杯直至午夜,店员也不会抱怨。我笃信,我们这辈子注定要做局外人。对于这一点,我暗地里还挺自豪的。

万万没想到的是,这种叛逆态度最终会引领我亲历当今最强娱乐媒体的诞生过程。一开始,制作电子游戏只是另一个令人兴奋的实验、玩乐和自我表达的舞台。但当我做了一款小游戏(从本质上讲,它只不过是一位老牌调查记者遭遇的一场小巷战),一切都变了。耀眼的聚光灯无情地照射在我身上,我就站在舞台上,在别人眼中,我成了一个有远见、有话语权的人。

我立刻意识到互动娱乐蕴藏的巨大潜力和诱惑力,于是我决定抓住这个意想不到的机会,去从事一份与硬件、软件和不断增长的市场同步发展的事业。我每迈出一小步,整个行业就会迈出更大的一步。经过艰苦的学习,我最终赶上了竞争对手,然后,我学会了如何领先他们一步。当我到达那个位置时,通往电影产业的大门就神奇地打开了。我受邀到好莱坞中心,去见传奇作家兼导演詹姆斯·卡梅隆。

这是一个讲述电子游戏产业诞生和快速发展的故事。是的,电子游戏已经发展成为地球上最大、最重要的娱乐媒体。一位从不装腔作势的梦想家将为您讲述这一令人惊叹的演变历程。从两个人的地下室项目到耗资动辄上亿美元的灾难,我亲历了电子游戏产业发展的每一步。

以下内容节选自拙著《梦想建筑师》,这本书于9月1日出版发行。

我不太相信运气。当然,竞技体育也有这样的时刻。比如,足球有时会从门柱和后卫的脚上弹进球门,但运气并不会从天而降。在收获一粒从后卫脚上弹进球门的进球很多很多年以前,运气就开始了。运气始于这位球员在七八岁时走向球场,开始每周苦练球技那一刻。历经十多年的艰苦训练和不懈努力,他才有机会与最好的球员同场竞技。我的观点是,你需要用毕生的时间做准备,并做好一长串的个人选择,才有可能碰到那短短几秒的好运气。

遗憾的是,我郑重声明,我不相信坏运气也遵循同样的运作机理。坏运气似乎是不可理喻的,它会冷不丁地出现在任何地方。

在2012年的E3电子娱乐展会上,我们在索尼公司的新闻发布会上展示了《孤岛惊魂3》的合作模式。一切还算顺利,但我们都知道整个过程其实非常惊险。周二过去了,就在我开始接受会面不会发生的时候,我突然收到育碧娱乐首席执行官,该公司的创始兄弟之一伊夫·吉莱莫特的短信,他告诉我明天什么时候在哪里与他会面。

第二天,我们乘坐一辆光泽逼人、车窗漆黑的黑色轿车,驶向曼哈顿海滩。

“嗯,你知道我们和好莱坞合作过几款游戏,对吧?”伊夫说。

“当然知道啦。”我回答道,并想到了育碧几年前与彼得·杰克逊合作开发的那款优雅的《金刚》游戏。

“我们通常不喜欢投资不属于我们自己的IP,但如果机会非常好,我们有时会进行这样的合作。”他继续说道。

“有道理。看样子我们现在有这样一个机会?”

“是的,没错。”伊夫带着谨慎的微笑说,好像他要给我一件他特别引以为傲的礼物似的。“你知道有史以来最成功的电影导演是谁吗?”

“是的,我知道。”但一开口,我就意识到不对,应该不是乔治·卢卡斯和星战系列电影。我赶紧闭嘴。史上最成功的电影导演?等等,那一定是詹姆斯·卡梅隆,《泰坦尼克号》和《阿凡达》的编剧兼导演。

“现在应该想到了吧,我们即将会晤的是詹姆斯·卡梅隆。”伊夫漫不经心地说。就在这时候,他的手机上似乎来了一条重要信息。

这是我好久以来听到的最甜蜜的话语。我们还要在永无止境的洛杉矶高速公路上走一阵子。于是,我赶紧拿出手机,开始阅读卡梅隆的资料,并在YouTube上快速观看对他的采访。我需要尽快了解他的思维过程。

我们把车停在光影风暴娱乐公司办公室旁边一个三层楼高的车库里。一位长相彪悍的保安用警惕的目光对我们仔细审查了一番,然后才允许我们进入。随着一声清脆的电梯铃,我们抵达目的地,随即被带入一间会议室,沿途经过了卡梅隆收藏的一些私人纪念品。《异形》、《终结者》、《阿凡达》、《深渊》的原版道具……我还看到《野蛮人柯南》使用的那把剑,那是阿诺·施瓦辛格送给卡梅隆的礼物。面对这些物品,任何人都不可能不感到亢奋。我任由这一切沉浸在我的记忆中。我想,这可能是我离好莱坞最近的一次了。作为一位影迷,这是千金难买的经历。但我们当然不是来当影迷的。

在会议室迎候我们的,是《泰坦尼克号》和《阿凡达》的制片人乔恩·兰道。这是一间典型的美式会议室,空调调到了“极冷”,厚厚的蓝色地毯使我们的脚步声变得柔和起来。现场还有几位不知道姓名的人士。我后来才了解到,这是好莱坞的一大特色。美国的名人无论走到哪里,似乎都会引来一帮人围观。这是否因为他们希望享受众星捧月的待遇?抑或需要这样做?我不知道,我自己从未引来一群人围观,所以我无从判断。

兰道看上去非常和善,但我发现气氛出奇地紧张。那位著名的导演迟到了。在会议室,东拉西扯的闲聊不时地中断,就像一辆破旧的卡车行驶在颠簸的路上。

“你们的E3展会之旅顺利吗?”

“是的。”

[停顿]

“是的,挺顺利的。”

“好的。很好。好的。”

[停顿]

[停顿]

[停顿]

“《阿凡达2》拍得怎么样了?”

(尴尬的沉默)

[停顿]

“等詹姆斯来了再说,好吗?”

[停顿]

(尴尬的沉默)

(时钟滴答作响)

通常碰到这种场景,我会帮着活跃一下社交氛围,但我毕竟新来乍到。我确信,在我了解所有事情之前,我必须得保持沉默。作为一个瑞典人,我对礼节的兴趣着实有限,但即使对我来说,闭嘴似乎也是礼貌之举。

一个男中音打破了令人不安的沉默。

“大家好,对不起,我迟到了。给你们倒咖啡了吗?”

到达会议室后,卡梅隆立即掌管了会面的进程。

2009年,在电影《阿凡达》首映之际,育碧发布了一款基于这部太空史诗的游戏。通过翻阅一些事后调查,不难理解为什么第一款《阿凡达》游戏是一个复杂的项目,它留下了各种可能的解释。光影风暴和育碧得出了各自的结论。但无论人们如何看待《阿凡达:游戏》,两家公司签署的合同都包含一项条款,即育碧有权根据电影续集制作第二款游戏,假设电影续集即将推出的话。在伊夫看来,这是一个向光影风暴介绍育碧旗下新工作室Massive!的好时机,他希望两家公司的合作由此翻开新的一页,尽管这种合作产生过一些摩擦,但同时还有巨大的潜力可挖。

这项条款中规定的截止日期正在慢慢临近,所以《阿凡达2》预计何时上映是一个至关重要的问题。如果《阿凡达》续集迟迟无法上映,那就意味着育碧的合同将不会包括互动娱乐版权。但他们并没有给出一个直截了当的答案,在我看来,光影风暴只是出于礼貌才和我们见面。他们似乎根本不知道下一部电影的上映日期。如果是这样的话,他们已经知道合同将到期,他们将不再有义务与育碧制作另一款游戏。或者,经过进一步思考,我意识到,一旦从现有合同的枷锁中解放出来,他们或许就会即刻寻找新的合作伙伴,探索与工作室、技术、发行商和现金相关的所有可能选项。如果这种猜测是对的,我们将不得不跟全球几乎所有的优秀开发商展开正面竞争。看上去大事不妙。

伊夫非常出色地向卡梅隆推介了一番Massive,重点强调我们的工程技术能够带来的诸多好处,这也是唯一让光影风暴有些兴奋的部分。但这位著名的导演和制片人满怀戒心,口风甚严。很难洞悉他们的真实想法。导演非常有力地掌控全局,把会议引向他想要的方向,几乎把我们当成演员来指挥。制片人显得开朗而热情,扮演着一位性情随和的合作伙伴的角色,但事实上,他完全掌控着每一个节拍。我几乎可以想象他们是如何一起拍出这么棒的电影的。

我在一旁目睹了这一切,感觉自己就像是一个无声的新娘,被献给一位满腹狐疑的王子。

就在我们准备起身离开的时候,卡梅隆突然直视我的眼睛,问了我第一个跟技术不搭边的问题。

“问你呢,你觉得《阿凡达》的主题是什么?”他问道。

太好了!我不由得一阵狂喜。为这次会面做准备期间,我一直在思考这个问题:詹姆斯·卡梅隆真正在意的是品质、道德和创作过程本身,而不是金钱或生意。他向我提出的问题就是让我上场的提示。此前,在豪华轿车的后座,我花了一些时间思考无数个关于《阿凡达》的问题,并且精心准备了一些聪明且出人意料的答案。尽管当时可能没有想到这个问题,我还是带着极大的自信心和自豪感给出了自己的回答。我等待着答案脱口而出,优雅地表达出一些既有哲学意味,又不乏深刻的东西。此刻只需要潜藏在我内心深处的那位撰稿人想出合适的词句,但他似乎有点分神……

“《阿凡达》……”我说,然后戏剧性地停顿了一下,以争取时间,同时也是为确保我吸引了所有人的注意力。“《阿凡达》的主题是和平。”

卡梅伦盯着我的目光看了一秒钟。然后,就在我开始恐慌的时候,他失望地耸了耸肩。他并没有被打动。

“不,不是这样的。《阿凡达》的主旨是每个人都需要为自己的信仰而战。”他说。

完了,完了,完了,我想。我真是个白痴。我顿时丧失了志气,感觉自己从想象中的好莱坞生涯之巅径直跌落到剪辑室的地板上,像一段糟糕的镜头那样被剪掉了。

不知不觉中,我们又回到了车库。在豪华轿车的后座上,我为自己未能通过这辈子最重要的一次试镜而自责。出乎我的意料,伊夫似乎一点也不担心或失望。他正忙着翻阅手机上的邮件,已经把他的注意力放在下一件事了,不管它是什么事。他几乎是心不在焉地说:“看来你得努力赢得那些人的信任,嗯?”

我再同意不过了。(财富中文网)

本文摘自戴维·波菲尔特的著作《梦想建筑师:电子游戏行业历险记》(The Dream Architects: Adventures in the Video Game Industry)。版权所有©2020李尔工厂公司。经Grand Central Publishing公司授权转载。出版方保留所有权利。

译者:任文科

I always liked hanging out with weirdos.

When I was a teenager, my friends were either skaters, art-rockers, painters or wannabe writers, and together we spent way too much time smoking in parking garages, rehearsing dark music in dingy basements or pretentiously discussing philosophy in cafés where the coffee was cheap and no one complained when you overstayed your welcome drinking free re-fills until midnight. I was fully convinced that we were all doomed to be outsiders for our entire lives, and secretly, I was kind of proud of that.

Little did I know that my rebellious attitude would eventually lead to a position right at the heart of the birth of the most powerful entertainment medium of today: video games. In the beginning, making games was just another exciting arena for experimentation, play and self-expression, but when I made a small game that was essentially no more than a blow in a petty street-fight with an established investigative journalist, everything changed. The bright spotlight switched on mercilessly, and there I was, on stage, seen by others as someone with a vision and a voice.

I became instantly aware of the immense potential and seductive powers that comes with interactive entertainment, and I decided to grab the unexpected opportunity and embark on a career that turned out to evolve in parallel with advancements in hardware, software and an ever-growing market. For every small step I made, the industry took a bigger one. Learning the hard way, I eventually caught up with the competition, and then, I learnt how to get a step ahead of them. Once I had arrived at that point, the doors to movie industry magically opened, and I was invited right to the epicenter of Hollywood to meet the legendary writer/director James Cameron.

This is the story of the birth and rapid growth of the video game business—an industry that has become the largest and most significant entertainment medium on the planet. The amazing evolution is described through the lens of an un-assuming dreamer who has seen it all, from two-man basement projects to 100-million-dollar disasters.

Below is an excerpt from my book The Dream Architects, available September 1.

*****

I don’t believe much in luck. Sure, there are those moments in elite sports when the ball bounces off the post and off a defender’s foot into the goal, but still, luck is not supernatural. Luck starts many, many years before scoring a goal that ricochet’s off a defender’s foot. Luck started when that player was seven or eight years old and began playing football several times a week, and it accumulated over a decade of practice and intense dedication before the person had a chance to play with the best. My opinion is that it takes a large part of your lifetime and a fantastically long string of personal choices to even be in a position where you can experience a few seconds of good luck.

Sadly, and for the record, I don’t believe that bad luck works in the same way. Bad luck seems terrifyingly unreasonable, arbitrarily striking anywhere, out of the blue.

At E3 in 2012, we showed the Far Cry 3 co-op mode at the Sony press conference. It went reasonably well, but it was a close call, and we knew it. Tuesday passed, and just as I was beginning to accept that the meeting wouldn’t happen, I got a text from Yves Guillemot, Ubisoft’s CEO and one of the founding brothers of the company, telling me when and where to meet him tomorrow.

The next day, we traveled in a shiny black car with darkened windows toward Manhattan Beach.

“Well,” said Yves, “you know we made a couple of games with Hollywood, right?”

“Yes, of course,” I replied, and thought of the elegant King Kong game Ubisoft had developed with Peter Jackson a few years earlier.

“We don’t normally like to invest in IP that we don’t own, but if the opportunity is very good, we sometimes engage in collaborations like this,” he continued.

“Makes sense. And this is one of those opportunities?”

“Yes, correct,” Yves said with a discreet smile, as if he was about to give me a gift that he was particularly proud of picking out for me. “Do you know who the most successful movie director of all time is?”

“Yes, I do,” I said, but as the words came out of my mouth, I realized I’d mistakenly thought of George Lucas and the Star Wars movies. I stopped myself before I said anything else. The most successful movie director of all time? Hang on, it’d have to be James Cameron, writer/director of both Titanic and Avatar.

“So, then you can figure it out: We’ll be meeting James Cameron soon,” Yves said casually as he turned to something important happening on his cell phone.

Those words were the sweetest ones I’d heard in quite some time. We still had a bit of a drive through the never-ending highways of Los Angeles, so I quickly began reading up on Cameron and speed-watching YouTube interviews with him. Cameron talked about processes and work ethics. I needed to understand his thought process—fast.

We parked the car in a three-story garage right next to the Lightstorm office. A tough-looking guard let us in after some scrutiny and suspicious eyeballing. Once the elevator bell announced our arrival, we were led to a conference room, passing some of Cameron’s private memorabilia along the way. Original props from Aliens, Terminator, Avatar, The Abyss…I saw the original sword from Conan the Barbarian that Arnold Schwarzenegger had once given Cameron as a gift. It was impossible not to feel excited, and I allowed it all to sink into my memory. This might be the closest I’ll ever be to Hollywood, I thought. As a fan, it was priceless, but of course we weren’t there to be fans.

Jon Landau, the producer of both Titanic and Avatar, greeted us as we entered the typical American conference room, with the air-conditioning turned to “Arctic” and thick blue carpet that muted our footsteps. As I’ve since learned is typical in Hollywood, there were a few unnamed hang-arounds present too. It seems that famous people in the US attract a posse wherever they go. Is it because they want to? Or is it needed? I don’t know, and I haven’t attracted a posse myself, so I’m not able to tell.

Landau seemed incredibly nice, but I found the mood strangely tense. The famous director was late, and the small talk stuttered and spat like an old truck on a bumpy road.

“You guys having a good E3?”

“Yes.”

[PAUSE]

“Yes, it’s good.”

“Okay. Fine. Okay.”

[PAUSE]

[PAUSE]

[PAUSE]

“How’s Avatar 2 going?”

[AWKWARD SILENCE]

[PAUSE]

“Let’s wait until Jim is here, okay?”

[PAUSE]

[AWKWARD SILENCE]

[CLOCK TICKING]

Normally, I’d have helped to warm the social climate in the room, but I was the new kid on this particular block, and I was convinced that it was my role to remain quiet until I’d tuned in to everything. As a Swede, I have very limited interest in etiquette, but shutting up seemed like the polite thing to do even to me.

A baritone broke the uneasy silence.

“Hey, I’m sorry I’m late. You guys got coffee?”

Cameron had arrived and immediately took charge of the proceedings.

In 2009, when the Avatar movie premiered, Ubisoft had released a game based on Cameron’s space saga. With the luxury of hindsight and reading a few postmortems, it’s easy to understand why the first Avatar game was a complicated project that left a mixed bag of possible interpretations on the table. Lightstorm had drawn their own conclusions, while Ubisoft had come to others. But no matter how anyone viewed Avatar: The Game, the contract between the companies contained a clause that gave Ubisoft the rights to make a second game based on a movie sequel, assuming one was forthcoming. In Yves’s mind, it was a good moment to introduce a new Ubisoft studio (Massive!) to Lightstorm, hoping that this would lead to a fresh start on a collaboration that had a slightly frayed history but simultaneously a lot of untapped potential.

The contract clause had an end date that was slowly approaching, so the question of when Avatar 2 was expected to release was critical. If the Avatar sequel was very, very delayed, it would mean that Ubisoft’s contract would not cover the interactive rights. But a straight answer was not offered, and it seemed to me that Lightstorm was just meeting with us to be polite. It felt as if they were nowhere near knowing any dates for the next movie, and if so, they already knew that the contract would expire and release them of any obligations to make another game with Ubisoft. Or, I realized after some further thought, they might be planning to shop around for new partners as soon as they were liberated from the existing contract, exploring all the available options regarding studio, technology, publisher, and cash. If I was right about this guess, it would put us in direct competition with basically every good developer in the world. This might not be looking too good.

Yves did a great job of pitching Massive to Cameron, highlighting the many benefits of our engineering skills, which was the only part that made Lightstorm a little excited. But the famous director and the producer were guarded and opaque. Very difficult to read. The director powerfully in charge, driving the meeting to where he wanted it to be, almost directing us all as if we were actors. The producer jovial and warm, taking the role of the easygoing partner, but fully in control of every single beat. I could see how they made such great movies together.

I watched it all, feeling like a voiceless bride being offered to a skeptical prince.

Just as we were about to leave, Cameron suddenly looked me straight in the eye and asked me the first question that wasn’t related to technology.

“You. What do you think Avatar is about?” he asked.

Hooray, I thought. I’d been thinking a lot about this during my preparations for the meeting: James Cameron is a person who really cares about quality, ethics, and the creative process itself—not money or business. The question he directed at me was my cue, and in the back of the limousine I’d spent some time thinking about clever and unexpected answers to a million different questions about Avatar, although perhaps not this particular one. Nevertheless, with great self-confidence and pride, I answered him. I was waiting for the words to come out of my mouth, elegantly framing something philosophical and profound. All that was needed was for the internal copywriter to come up with the right words, but he seemed to be on a break…

“Avatar…,” I said and paused dramatically to gain time, and also to make sure I had everyone’s attention. “Avatar is about peace.”

Cameron held my gaze for a second and then (as I began to panic) shrugged disappointedly. He was not impressed.

“No,” he said. “No, it’s not. Avatar is about fighting for what you believe in.”

Shit, shit, shit, I thought. I’m such an idiot. And immediately I started the long emotional descent from the stratosphere of my imagined Hollywood career to the floor in the editing room, cut away like a piece of bad footage.

Before I knew it, we were back in the garage in the rear seat of the limo. I beat myself up for failing the most important audition I had ever been to. To my surprise, Yves didn’t seem worried or disappointed at all. He was busy looking at his emails on his phone, already moving on to the next thing, whatever it was. Almost absentmindedly he said, “Looks like you will have to win the confidence of those people, huh?”

I couldn’t possibly have agreed more.

Excerpted from the book The Dream Architects: Adventures in the Video Game Industry by David Polfeldt. Copyright © 2020 by Li’l Factory AB. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

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