MI6 caught up with Alexander L. Fernández, and the team at Streamline Studios, creators of the superb cinematic sequences in NightFire for the PC...

Streamline Studios Interview (1)
26th December 2003

How were you approached to create the cinematics for the game? How eager were you to be involved in a project that was related to such a famous and world recognised series?
Landon Montgomery from Gearbox software emailed us out of the blue and asked if we were interested in possibly creating the cinematics for the game. The chance of working on a high profile brand as James Bond is something you don’t pass up. At that time our studio was relatively unknown and this project gave us a chance to show the industry our abilities. Now that I got that out of the way I’ll give you the straight dope, we screamed for a bit and then drank beers. ;)

Were the storyboards or pre-visualization aspects already produced by Electronic Arts? How much creative license you were given to create the scenes?
The boards were created by EA and passed down to Gearbox who then in turn passed them to us. Creative license was at first monitored by Dave Carson to make sure our team was up to par for the project. What’s interesting to note about this is that Dave was giving us critiques on a frequent basis, which we enjoyed as Dave worked in the film industry before arriving at EA. Anyone who can say they did design work on "Empire Strikes Back" is someone worth listening to.

Towards the end of the project we were given free range to interpret the storyboards and come up with our version of them.

What software do you use to create the scenes, how much used is 'commercial' products that can be bought off the shelf? What type of hardware is needed to render and model such complicated scenes?
This is going to become a Discreet ad! All the software we used is commercial. We used Max 4 along with Combustion for compositing as well as a few plugins such as Afterburn. To help facilitate the production process we created some custom scripts to help with morph targets and other necessary tools that aren’t pre-packaged with max.

Rendering of the Bond cinematics was completed on dual 2.0Ghz Athlon computers. They had about a gigabyte of RAM each and handled the project like a champ. The only complex part was having to remote terminal into some of the farm due to logistical issues that weren’t favorable to the schedule. That’s another story in itself.

Above: Streamline Studios, based in Hilversum, Netherlands

Do you think the originality and depth of the storyline in NightFire is a way forward in making future games increasingly like movies?
Definitely. NightFire had depth to it that is only going to increase with each subsequent iteration of the video game series. There’s already a blending of film and game methods as well as business practices that are only conducive to the inevitable end result.

The core audience of gamers have grown up and demand more sophisticated story lines and game play. This only forces the developers and publishers to create compelling content that satisfies this demand. What you’re going to see in the next few years is more cinematic story telling that is more then just using the phrase to sell units. They will actually be cinematic in feel and depth. Of course this won’t push away the fact that it’s still a video game. Instead, it will create a new experience for the end user. We’re excited for it.

Is there anything you would have liked to have done with the cinematics but couldn’t because of restrictions from MGM or EA? Did you find it hard to satisfy their needs to create a convincing scene, which resembled the Bond world from the movies?
MGM and EA had realistic expectations of what could be achieved. Neil Haldar over at MGM was especially in tune with the overall production process and his feedback of the project helped stimulate the overall production.

How challenging is staging a scene which involves character dialog compared to an action or driving scene?
Dialogue can be tricky, especially when you’re working with rough temp tracks. Gearbox helped with the production of the cinematics by having their developers read parts of the dialogue that was to be synched with the cinematic. It was hilarious to hear their performances, but without them we would have been in production hell.

As for action sequences they can be more difficult especially when you’re working from motion capture data that was taken a year before the project started. There was a lot of hand animation that went into the project in order to make up for the missing movements, but over all the action sequences were far more time consuming then they should have been.

Many thanks to Alexander and the team at Streamline Studios

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview, where we look deeper inside the production.

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Interview - Streamline Studios (Part 2)