Microsoft Nabs ‘Lord of the Rings’ Director in Xbox Games Deal

Microsoft on Thursday got the gaming world’s attention with a blockbuster announcement: “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Fran Walsh and Microsoft Game Studios are partnering to develop two new interactive entertainment series exclusively for Xbox 360 and Xbox Live.

The first series will be a collaborative effort with Bungie Studios to co-create the next chapter in the “Halo” universe. The second series will be an entirely original property aimed at bringing new audiences into gaming. In addition, Microsoft Game Studios will partner with Jackson and Walsh to establish Wingnut Interactive, a studio focused on developing interactive entertainment.

“My vision, together with Microsoft Game Studios, is to push the boundaries of game development and the future of interactive entertainment,” said Jackson. “From a movie-maker’s point of view, it is clear to me that the Xbox 360 platform is the stage where storytellers can work their craft in the same way they do today with movies and books, but taking it further with interactivity.”

Complimentary Perspectives

The goal of the three-way partnership is to create new stories and redefine the way they are told. Microsoft’s motivation is straightforward, according to Yankee Group analyst Mike Goodman, but Jackson’s motivation is more complex. The partnership is based on a common ground: creativity.

“The bottom line is that Microsoft is looking for the best content for its console because ultimately it’s games that sell consoles, not the technology itself. Microsoft is partnering with somebody with whom it hopes will produce unique, high-profile, huge-selling games,” Goodman told TechNewsWorld.

Jackson’s interest in video game development proves that at least some players in Hollywood circles see gaming technology as robust enough to allow the production of creative story lines that compliment their work on the big screen. Jackson was involved in developing the “King Kong” video game and learned first-hand the medium’s potential.

Onward and Upward

“Video game technology is only going to get better. As much as it has progressed over the past 10 to 15 years, think of how much more advanced it’s going to be in five to seven years when the next generation of consoles come out,” Goodman noted. “You could argue that this deal marks a filmmaker getting in on the ground floor.”

The technological capabilities of gaming platforms is spurring greater expectation in gamers. The market is demanding more realism. Instead of a character merely crashing into a wall and moving on, gamers expect a realistic response. That requires more advanced artificial intelligence capabilities.

The Promise, the Challenge

Gamers are also demanding richer story lines. The emerging trend is toward nonlinear storytelling. This is where Microsoft’s deal with Jackson and Walsh could pay exponential dividends. Traditional titles force gamers down a path from point A to point B while games like “Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” allow gamers to stray from the main storyline for multiple playing sessions if they choose to.

Still, video games and movies are different mediums with different user experiences. Video games are more immersive, but how players connect with game characters is different from how viewers connect with characters on the silver screen. There is great promise in the Microsoft-Jackson partnership, but it should be tempered with some realism, Goodman noted.

“I am skeptical that the very first title they do together will become a blockbuster,” Goodman argued. “Game development is going to be a learning process for Peter Jackson, just like it’s a learning process for every other game developer out there. He’s no exception to that rule.”

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