'Quantum Break' Blurs Line Between Videogame, TV Series

‘Quantum Break’ Blurs Line Between Videogame, TV Series

Ever since full-motion video made its way into 32-bit games, the marriage of live-action content and video games has felt hokey and forced. However, Finnish game developer Remedy Entertainment stepped up to this age-old challenge when creating its latest game, “Quantum Break,” by telling a time-travel story through motion-captured in-game storytelling intercut with four half-hour TV episodes.

The story works like this: The player controls Jack Joyce, played in both the game and TV show by Shawn Ashmore (“The X-Men”), who gains time-manipulation powers after a time-travel experiment goes wrong. Following each of the in-game story chapters are moments called “junctions,” which puts the player in control of antagonist Paul Serene (“Game of Thrones’” Aidan Gillen).

During these junctions, players choose one of two options that will change both the way the TV show plays out going forward and how characters and enemies react to you in the game. For example, after the inciting incident at the local college campus, the first junction has the player choose whether to run a smear campaign that makes Joyce look like a terrorist or to slaughter all the student witnesses and make the public fear Serene’s company, Monarch. The first episode of the show details how the villains implement the plan.

“It was important that all the different components in the experience had their own role,” said Sam Lake, the creative director of “Quantum Break.” “When we came up with the idea that you would be playing the bad guy during the junction moments, it fed into the idea of the show being about the villains while the game is about the heroes.”

Lake said when the developers pitched the idea to Microsoft Studios, they were told to be even more ambitious. More high-profile actors were brought on for the game and show, including “Lost” and “Lord of the Rings” star Dominic Monaghan as Jack’s brother and “Fringe” and “The Wire” actor Lance Reddick as Serene’s right hand man.

They pulled no punches when it came to production on the show, either. Lake said they shot enough footage for around 40 variations on how the show can pan out. The show doesn’t just take place in one small area, either. There are both indoor and outdoor sets, car chases, shootouts, shaky-cam close-quarters fighting, and of course, time manipulation.

“We wanted to stand next to actual existing TV shows and feel that we were on that level,” Lake said.

This set-building and costume-making based on concepts for the game also helped the actors get a better idea of the world.

“We shot the show after we had been shooting the game, so I saw the design of what the Monarch uniforms looked like, I saw what the laboratories looked like, and then to walk on set and see them built was amazing,” Ashmore said.

This decision was not without some trepidation, however. One of the beauties of video games is the control a player feels, that they’re the ones guiding the story. Taking control away from the player for 22-30 minute stretches for the live-action show was something Remedy was a bit concerned by. It was eventually decided that the episodes could be skipped should the player choose to do so.

“It’s not quite the same thing, but in games you can skip the cutscenes as well if you want to just want to go into the experience for the action gameplay despite it being a story-driven game,” Lake said. “That’s the thing with interactive storytelling in games, quite a bit of it can be optional.”

This isn’t the first time a game and TV show has been integrated for storytelling purposes. In 2013, Trion Worlds developed “Defiance,” an MMO that had a tie-in show airing on Syfy. Last year TellTale Games partnered with Lionsgate to begin work on what they called a Super Show, which was described by Telltale CEO Kevin Bruner as “one part of interactive playable content with one part of scripted television style content. Both pieces, when combined together, are what make an actual Super Show ‘episode.’”

Lake believes that what they have done in “Quantum Break” helps to show that live action could have a place in upcoming videogame storytelling. “I feel we have proven, to ourselves at the foremost, that this works and there is something here that feels unique and cool and fresh worth exploring further.”