By Quentin H. / June 28th, 2022
At the yearly Games Developer Conference held in San Francisco, you can meet a wide variety of people and companies who are in the video game industry. These people range from AAA publishers and hardware manufacturers to college students who are just entering the industry and indie veterans. One such person I met was David Banner, who is one of the people in charge of an indie award-winning developer/publisher called Wales Interactive. During GDC, Mr. Banner agreed to do an interview with me post-show about Wales Interactive, what goes into creating and publishing FMV/interactive movies, and about the company’s upcoming titles.
In Part Two, we discuss how players can be happy no matter what ending they achieve in a game from Wales Interactive, how it was filming interactive movies/FMVs while in COVID pandemic lockdown, what it is like attending film festivals as game developers, and more!
If you missed Part One of my Wales Interactive interview with David Banner, then you can check it out here.
You can also try out a demo of the latest game by Wales Interactive, Sker Ritual, on Steam through June 30, 2022. In Part Three of our interview, David Banner and I talk all about Sker Ritual, so please be sure to come back for that!
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Operation Rainfall: With how FMVs and interactive movies are, not everyone will see all of the available endings or even more than maybe one or two endings. How do you make sure that people come away feeling ‘satisfied’ with their gaming experience, no matter what ending they may achieve?
David Banner: What we’ve found – and again, when we first started doing this, we didn’t plan them to be social things; we were making solo entertainment experiences – what we observed over the first one released in 2015-16, over the years, these games were communal. What happens, especially when there is more than one ending or more than one path – say people play the [game] and get an unsatisfying ending, you find they are using other people to watch the film again and telling the story in a different way. Sometimes, you want them to fail on their first try because you want them to go again. And of course, [due to] the mechanics of the game and achievements, people do go again anyways. What we’ve found is that people enjoy watching them on stream.
When we did the [Carmarthen Bay Films Festival] the other week – we had never done it before, Twitch streaming and stuff, but that was interesting because we didn’t know that it would work. But it’s still the same thing, just a pile of people in the audience and there are discussions because we put in a screener mode that is a ‘push pause’ mode. That is so we can discuss what’s happening. The interesting thing about the ‘Netflix generation’ is how they binge watch. It’s interesting, though – say there are weaker shows that people watch on different platforms, you got your phone on and you’re looking at Facebook or whatever, and I might have my Switch on. We have so many screens open that we are not reading it all. With Stranger Things, I wouldn’t watch on a [different] screen as I am totally invested. So the interesting thing is that we would pause our entertainment and chat with other people, and so it’s designed around the idea of experiencing a story and not watching it all in one [go] and enjoying it, but chatting with other people about it. And that’s part of the entertainment as well.
So it just allows you to experience it in a different way than sitting in a dark cinema for three hours, hollering at parts you really enjoy, and then getting up at the end. You can watch [these games] at your natural pace with people or on your own, and enjoy having discussions while you’re watching them. That’s a multiscreen. When I was a kid, there were four TV channels and if you wanted to watch a show, you had to watch it the only time it was on, and now we are in a world where you can watch what you want when you want it. And equally, there is so much content that we are all distracted – if something doesn’t have our attention, then we are doing all of the things and are on our own devices at the same time multitasking.
“So, what you’re trying to do is make the thing you’re trying to make, make the best to your ability, and try to find people who like what you do and are willing to part with money for it.”
OR: To shift gears – Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? was filmed simultaneously in lockdown in London and Los Angeles. How was it coordinating filming in wildly different time zones?
DB: It’s actually two different people [writer and director] for Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus?, right? Essentially, they were new to it. So it’s the same as anything to them – it was strange, really: the fact that some of the talent wasn’t even on the same timeline, so they basically had to just slide the schedule based upon who was acting. It was done really well – when it was all connected together, with all of the tight Zoom films we do, you get the feeling that they are actually talking to each other, which shows you how good the writing and direction is, because they are not physically in the room with the person they are talking to. They are [instead] talking to the director who is directing them.
Even for Night Book, another game with a different writer and director – [the lead actor] was based in Paris. So again, it’s the same sort of thing. They are afraid initially of trying it, but they experiment with stuff – even posting them stuff that the actor [uses] in their role, props and such. Things like that take more time, because they have to be packaged up and sent before the director’s time with them. But again, that’s technology helping us. And then there’s the language of technology – of Zoom or Facetiming. Those ones were because COVID didn’t allow us to not do that, but equally – you picked stories that accepted that sort of setup. Actually, Ten Dates is back in real life for the sequel just because we could. So you’re not locked on a screen now. You’re seeing people in real life environments and having dates. Again, that’s the idea for us. We could have played it safe and done the same thing again, but we moved on because we could.
Released in March 2022, Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus in a whodunit? FMV murder-mystery published by Wales Interactive.
OR: With Five Dates and Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? filming in lockdown in people’s homes, what was it like directing and shipping equipment? How were the logistics done for that versus filming on location in Wales?
DB: Well, for us, we don’t do any of that. For Uncle Marcus, Five Dates, and Night Book, our production partner, John Giwa-Amu – a Welsh indie filmmaker – his team really handled that. Together, we identified the writer and director we were going to use. If they are new, we have to educate them in what interactive thing we are making and how we are going to make it. But we have several good line producers. I talked to the directors [about] what we need, and then we make a gift box of goodies to be sent. Sometimes it can be camera equipment, posters, props. But equally, in Five Dates, we sent them iPhones. We went up a level. But again, most actors have never done their own makeup. Because it was so unknown and during lockdown and they couldn’t work anyway, it was something they embraced. Something creative and unusual came out of it anyways. And that’s the thing – you never quite know what will happen.
In Five Dates, everyone we show it to is expecting it to be rubbish and for them to take the piss after it. And even in the cinema, everyone expected it to be awful. And it was so funny to see them getting sucked into it. And that’s the nice thing – it comes down to the writing, direction, acting, production, the tech that drives it – it is a real collaborative effort. It was always meant to be like that, even the edits that come after the fact. So the sort of innovation of working with actors that are not physically there is something that has physically evolved over the last two-and-a-half years, and the crew had never done it before so it was trial and error, really. And the by the third one, the boxes had become standard. Making sure of what they had already and what they didn’t have already.
Costume-wise, for something like The Complex, we had a costume designer designing some of the clothes. Some of them were bought, some of them needed to be made because they didn’t exist yet. And that’s something that’s obvious for a production team. But for Zoom, you’ve got to work with what they’ve got, but there will be some bespoke stuff that they need for the production, especially for 3D drawings and such that need to be generated and sent.
OR: The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker is different from Five Dates or Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus? because it was developed by another studio, D’Avekki Studios, who Wales Interactive later co-developed The Shapeshifting Detective alongside. When Wales Interactive is not developing the game themselves, what role do y’all play with helping other studios in developing their own titles?
DB: The funny thing is that Tim and Lynda Cowles, the creators of [The Infectious Madness of] Doctor Dekker and the writers of [The] Shapeshifting [Detective], they went on to do Murderous Muses as their next thing. But I suppose the role we paved with them, creatively, because we pay them royalty checks – we’ve made them self-sufficient. It’s the indie dream, isn’t it? The collaboration happened – we get on really well, actually – but the reality is that they don’t really need us anymore. The games that we represent still sell well because of the body of work we’ve got.
What we have done creatively is help them create a sustainable business by creating a revenue stream that is more constant than if they were on their own. Outside of that, it’s just trying to do what we’ve done for ourselves: make them self-sustaining, so we’re not going around to all the publishers to make our thing. We literally can do what we want where we want it, which is a nice thing to do after years of fighting to make that happen. So we try to pass on that knowledge, because the games industry is so competitive. If you think you can compete in with any indie, you’re a fool, because the likes of Epic, Rockstar, EA, whatever – the reality is that our games are in stores and they just got featured on the front of Steam, and [when] you see the games around it, that’s who we are competing with. So that means that as indies, cross-collaboration is great, especially when sharing skills and knowledge. And of course, we’ve advised them on a lot of business-related stuff: how to set up things, tax advice, even the boring stuff that you don’t see. It’s not necessarily about the creative stuff, it’s about the other side that you don’t see when you’re just buying the games and [going] ‘Oh, I like this, I don’t like this.’ They are just human beings using their skills to make entertainment, and hopefully find an audience.
The indie community is great. I love going to the shows because I like going to parties and meeting other developers, some of whom I’ve known for years and some I’ve just met – swapping stories, pats on the back, and whatever. That camaraderie in the gaming industry is unusual from my experience in animation because you’re competing against everyone else for work [in animation], but when you’re releasing a game, you’re competing with every other game being released on that day and have been released years and years ago.
So, what you’re trying to do is make the thing you’re trying to make, [to] the best to your ability, and try to find people who like what you do and are willing to part with money for it. And that’s what success we’ve had for the last 10 years.
OR: Before we close out this interview talking about Maid of Sker and Sker Ritual, let’s talk about film festivals. What has it been like going to film festivals, and where did you get the idea of submitting to them?
DB: The film festival thing was – we got an email in early 2019 from the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea. They basically said ‘we like what you do, will you come to our festival?’ We were like ‘Is this a scam?’ So after a few emails back and forth through Google translate, it turns out that one of the organizers was a fan of some of the things that we’ve been doing, and they asked us to go over there. So we never thought we would go to the Busan International Film Festival, to be honest – we didn’t know what it really was [but] apparently it is the Cannes Film Festival of Asia. I’ve been to the Tokyo Game Show, I’ve been to E3, GDC, Cologne [OR Notes: Cologne is where Gamescom is held], I’ve been around the world to game shows. I’ve been to PAX. I’m pretty well traveled to game events, and I love them. But the film ones, because we didn’t really think of ourselves as filmmakers, we’re making video games … that was the first time someone really sort of recognized us for making film.
So we went over there, [and] it was brilliant. We went to Seoul for a few days and then traveled down the bullet train to Busan. We did a talk there with the international language of pointing. It was just great to see that, even though we were a tiny part of the Busan International Film Festival, the fact that they recognized our body of work was really nice. That was one of the first indicators to us of ‘Hold on for a minute, maybe we should look into putting our work out into different film festivals.’ Unfortunately, the pandemic hit in 2020. The Complex was going to be in the Belgian and the Dutch film festivals – it was going to be in a lot of film festivals. And of course, COVID hit and there was no film festival. That sort of killed the momentum. The Complex ended up getting nominated for seven British film festival awards, and it won three of them. But we didn’t get to go, we got [told] in an email. So it was winning an award and not getting to go on stage and chatting with people. It wasn’t the same as in an email. But what we found out was that [our] work was starting to get recognized, and it was still an uphill cause – the film industry really doesn’t know what interactive movies are and definitely don’t know what an FMV is. Hence, why you have the shift in terminology.
At the Carmarthen [Bay Films] Festival, we had four films nominated there. I think it was one of the first film festivals ever to have interactive movies. Our work, when it qualifies, will be entered. Carmarthen [Bay Films] Festival, which is Welsh, has filmmakers from all over the world. There’s a guy is from LA but he is from New York originally, and he had a documentary about cycling. He came to talk to us, because it blew his mind what we were doing, because as a filmmaker – they don’t have the indie business model in film. They are there, hoping to get discovered by showing their film. It isn’t monetized. His day job was that he works for a successful show as an editor, and he is telling me that this is his passion. It’s his idea that if he gets discovered, someone might give him the reins to make a thing. But obviously in the games industry, we can, if we want, take it all the way to market and find an audience without having loads of money. Yes, there is YouTube for films, but they are there to get selected because the festival gives them a seal of approval, and if they get enough seals of approval, it validates their [film], I suppose?
For us, I suppose, we’re trying to validate our films, but they are not linear films. They are films you can enjoy multiple times and change out [the experience]. When we sell [these films] as games – they are games as well – the medium is film rather than cutscenes or what Telltale Games did [for their games]. We’re using film because Wales has a lot of film industry production companies because lots of Netflix shows, Doctor Who, [Amazon] Prime, Disney+ – they just finished filming literally down the road from us. So, it’s ‘hold on a minute, Wales is one of the places to go to film anything in the world. Surely, we should tap into that because if we’re having all the best people making these things with our low budget, it’s going to make our stuff better.’ It’s not a surprise, because we are collaborating with better [film] people that have experience.
What do you think of the role of interactive movies/FMVs in film festivals, and how these games operate outside of the traditional film festival funding structure? Let us know in the comments!
Please return tomorrow for Part Three of my interview with David Banner of Wales Interactive. We will be talking about Maid of Sker and all things Sker Ritual!
David BannerfilmFMVGDCinteractive moviesPCPlaystationSwitchThe BunkerThe ComplexThe Shapeshifting Detectivevideo gameVideo GamesWalesWelshWho Pressed Mute on Uncle MarcusXbox