Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Steve Niles talks F.E.A.R. 3

Horror reaches the perfect first-person peak in F.E.A.R. 3 as writer Steve Niles details

F.E.A.R. 3; a true horror gaming experience, a bloody thrill ride that’s perfect for the proper age group. A tale of twisted terror crafted by Steve Niles who took time to reveal his thoughts on working on F.E.A.R. 3, the franchise, working with John Carpenter, his view of 3D and more. Sit back and enjoy a trip inside the mind of Niles.

Q: Did you have a chance to go to E3?

Niles: I didn’t go this year but I went last year when they were doing the big F.E.A.R. 3 promotion. I actually went there with John Carpenter as well. It was nuts; I thought Comic-Con was crazy, nothing compares to these game shows. The thing they do at E3 that they’ve been doing for a while Comic-Con is playing music so every booth was thundering their own music so on top of the crowd you can’t hear anything. It was really fun and fun seeing fans react to John Carpenter because he does not do that many public appearances. Having him there to sign video game posters was pretty cool.

Q: How was it working with John Carpenter?

Niles: I have to admit I was really nervous. It’s one of those things where whenever you meet your heroes you want them to be cool because basically if they’re not, that’s my entire childhood destroyed. So I was really nervous meeting him and he turned out to be the nicest guy in the world and really generous. A lot of directors and filmmakers don’t like to talk about their old work very much but I was able to ask him questions about Dark Star, Halloween and The Thing and he was completely open talking about that. It was really great and just working with him was like sitting around with one of my friends who I’ve collaborated with for years and just jamming on story and having fun. It was definitely one of those situations, working with him; it was a sin to call it work because I was having a lot of fun.

Q: How were you approached to work on F.E.A.R. 3 given you’re having played the original F.E.A.R. and F.E.A.R. 2?

Niles: It was really boring. What ended up happening was John and I had been working on a movie that didn’t happen for either of us, me as a writer and him as director, we both ended up not participating in the movie but we got along really well. We talked about video games and I know we talked about F.E.A.R. as we both played every single game. Then my rep calls me and says do you have any interest in writing this video game called F.E.A.R. 3 and it was just this perfect timing and everything where I said yes on the spot and I said would it be ok if I invited a friend? They were like who is your friend and I said it’s John Carpenter. The whole thing fell together in about a week. I’ve never had a project fall together quite as easy as this and it helps so much as me and John had both played F.E.A.R. 2 which ended very strangely. Our first question was do we get to work with those characters and that storyline; it was just one of those things that was perfect timing.

Q: How did the established story help or hinder your creativity with F.E.A.R. 3?

Niles: For me it helped. It’s different from when I write my own comics or if I work on Batman. You’ve got a whole toolbox full of stuff to play with and what Warner Bros. and Day 1 Studios really wanted from us was, they wanted you know to not really wrap things up but kind of start bringing all the threads together which really you know as a fan playing the game was a sense that I had. There’s all these characters that have sprung out of these events from a long time ago now, how do we make them all come together and sort of form a semi-conclusion to what could be a trilogy. That’s what they wanted us to do so honestly it was a challenge like anything else but I already had the curiosity there especially. The F.E.A.R. games were one of the few that I did actually finish. What winds up happening towards the end is that one of the characters that we’ve been introduced to somehow manages to impregnate Alma so we’re talking about a ghost now possibly having a human child and that’s what John and I were given to work with so I was thrilled. We talked to everyone for a while on what we were going to do and everybody just agreed that the core characters that everyone cares about are Alma, Point Man from the very first game and then Becket from game 2. So what we did was end up just finding a really good theme and the theme is family. All these people whether they’re created in a lab or not, are related and as twisted as it is it’s still a family. That was very much the theme we pitched and like I said Warner Bros. and everybody was really great and open about the whole thing.

Q: Alma was one of those characters that felt pulled from a Japanese horror film like The Ring or Ringu with that creepy long haired girl. How do you take a character like that and make the gamer care enough to get that emotional involvement with the game?

Niles: With this one, using the example of J-Horror, the Japanese horrors, is perfect. Trying to get any sympathy for a monster or ghost it can be pretty tough especially when we have two games of massacres behind them but what we found was that Alma is a ghost because something horrible happened to her in life and it happened to her when she was a child so one of the things we did in F.E.A.R. 3 was underline what made her what she is, and like Frankenstein’s monster as much as you’re afraid of them you have a lot of sympathy for them. The same things works for The Creature from the Black Lagoon, he’s killing people but he wouldn’t have killed people if these scientists hadn’t messed with him, or King Kong, where he’s taken out of his element and turned into a monster. Alma is very much like that as she’s a horrifying ghost with really terrifying powers but at the very core she’s a little girl who suffered. I think that’s something we can all have sympathy for.

Q: Did you find it easy working with the game developers; were they receptive to your ideas?

Niles: The toughest thing is I took the first couple weeks to figure out; I was very confused about the technical stuff. I would have to learn how a video game was built from the ground up and what we finally decided to do was John and I just wrote a screenplay. We wrote a screenplay about F.E.A.R. 3 and the technical guys took what we did and figured out how to work it into the scope. I didn’t have to sit around worrying about stuff like that. The worst it got was I wrote in a character that I first came up with on the spot, I’m used to writing like that. In a comic book it doesn’t matter, you write a character and they just draw it up but with this they had to call me and tell me “well you can’t just create new characters because you have to build new assets.” So once we functionally understood each other then things went really smooth and if anything they kept pushing me for more and more.

Q: You mention screenplay. Do you see the F.E.A.R. franchise and video games in general going in that direction as a movie or direct to TV movie like on SyFy?

Niles: It is an entertainment medium in that it’s very interactive but the line between interactive and a movie are blurring every day. I honestly believe video games, as the writing improves, as the story, as they learn more ways to tell story, I think that video games themselves are a vital way to tell stories in the future especially as we move forward. I can see us having basically movies that we interact with like video games. As for F.E.A.R. 3, yeah I do, I think that especially, I hope now, that we clarify what the F.E.A.R. 3 universe is and who are the active characters and then there’s some stuff we came up with, I think it’s a really viable story for any medium. I could definitely see a F.E.A.R. movie and I did a mini comic for this.

Q: What about technology such as 3D and motion controls? Did these technologies come into play with your writing?

Niles: We didn’t work on that with this. My own personal opinion on 3D is I think it’s something people want people to want. We’ve been here before, we were here in the 50’s and I think at the end of the day, for video games 3D makes a lot more sense than for movies. When I’m in a movie theater the only thing I want flying in my face is a good story, that’s it. If things are popping out of the screen it just seems like a separate experience. 3D is something for an amusement park not a movie, but for video games, yeah. I didn’t have to deal with that on this and as far as the technical issues I did, it was really great because I would just call Day 1 and describe what I wanted in very pedestrian terms and they would tell me what the technological solution was. We did have a few situations where I came at them with ideas. There’s a couple inherent problems with horror video games, one in particular that really bothered me which was one of the first things I brought up with them and they solved it immediately. It had been something they were really worried about and all that is, horror works when you’re really surprised so if you play a level through and the monsters always in the same place, how’s it going to scare and surprise you? That’s what I knew from playing Resident Evil and old games like that is once you memorized it the fears were gone because you know they were coming. Day 1 came up with some really, really  interesting solutions for that by randomizing certain events within the game so that nobody knows when stuff is going to pop up. I love, it’s a great simple solution to the problem. When I played that game (Resident Evil) I would sit and wait and edge up trying to trigger it (dogs through hallway window) because I knew it was going to be there as opposed to the first time I played it and threw the controller into the air. NOTE: This randomization system is called the Degenerative System.

Q: What is it about horror and the supernatural that inspires you? How did you get into this genre of writing be it personal interest or an event from your past?

Niles: It’s just a personal thing that I love. I love watching horror, I love being scared so very early on when I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to scare other people the way I’d been scared. The thing I constantly love about horror is horror I get to do …you can play with any themes you want to and you really do have a captive audience. Everyone is sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to see what you’ll do. There’s no particular reason. I’ve always tried to figure out but for me it’s just the genre that I’ve been able to do the most in. I’ve tried comedy, super heroes, all that kind of stuff and have fun with it but the horror stuff I do is just from decades of enjoyment of it, how much fun I have watching, reading other peoples work and it’s just really fun to participate in.

Q: Did the video game medium allow you to do something scary, gruesome, just twisted that you would not be able to do in comics or movies, anything just way out there?

Niles: There are things that are added elements. With comics I kind of can do what I want. Movies, not so much. I can write you a grocery list of things you can’t do in movies that I was able to do in the video game, it’s just much more wide open. The other thing about video games is because there’s a good rating system that people actually pay attention to, parents are savvy to it and people know where to look, we don’t have that hesitation about putting stuff out there. When you do a movie, even an R movie, they judge it as if children are going to watch it, it’s very strange, which is why now you can’t even have smoking in a movie. Smoking makes it an R, automatically. We just don’t have those censorship rules for video games right now and I hope that’s something that stays because I do stuff for adults. The stuff in F.E.A.R. 3, the whole thing, it’s a bloody scary ride and there’s a lot of stuff in there that might be questionable for little, little kids but for older teens and adults it’s perfect.

Q: How would you sum up F.E.A.R. 3 for someone unfamiliar with the franchise and the horror it entails?

Niles: One of the things I love about F.E.A.R. the most is that it does this great job of combining something that we’re very used to in video games and, the first-person shooter dealing with a bunch of military conspiracies then it gets really weird. What I really like about it is it plays with a very standard comfortable situation in games, which again is a great thing to do with horror, and this it slowly just starts to get stranger and stranger. I just think that F.E.A.R. 3 is one of the most honest, up front, straight forward horror experiences you can get in a video game right now. There’s always that safety with games like Resident Evil because you’re standing away from the character. With F.E.A.R. 3 you are in the nightmare; you just can’t beat that
On this one I’m noticing as I play it that the soundtrack is exceptionally fear inducing. They’ve changed up the soundtrack a little bit and there’s a couple things they do that just get your blood pressure up so much, the way it would watching a horror movie, I’m really impressed with it. There is one of the simplest things I don’t have in comics that I wish I did; the ability to have sound and music to set the mood and bring tension up to the surface. It’s amazing and in this game I meant to ask about that as its noticeable better in this game. NOTE: Composer is Jason Gravesfrom score to sound effects and he also worked on Dead Space.

Q: How do you like final product?

Niles: I got my copy and I’ve been playing it through. If I didn’t like the game I wouldn’t be here talking, I love it. I’m really enjoying it and I’m so glad I was a fan of the first two games so I have something to compare it to and I just think this is the next logical progression for this game. If I had nothing to do with this game then I’d be buying it tomorrow.

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