Actor Elijah Wood is at E3 2018 this week in Los Angeles to talk about the psychological thriller Transference that he and his film company SpectreVision are working on with Ubisoft. The game is immensely creepy, featuring some of the most unsettling and haunting scenes you will see all year in games. The structure is also very unique. A game meant to be played in VR but also coming to traditional systems, Transference puts you into an experiment gone wrong from a troubled scientist. In short, he tries to upload his consciousness and that of his wife and son to the cloud. But it all goes wrong, and the data gets corrupted. You play as each of the three family members, experiencing the horror of the experiment from the different perspectives. You might think you understand the motivation of one of the family members, but when you switch to another, everything changes and you see the world through a new light.
Needless to say, Transference is unique. In a video game industry so focused on sequels and extensions of existing ideas as highlighted at E3 2018 this week, its novelty is refreshing. We caught up with Wood at E3 and asked him about a number of things, one of which was the importance in gaming–and film–of taking risks. Wood, a veteran in Hollywood, is well aware of the business reasons that explain why sequels are so ubiquitous. But he’s still wary of sequel-itis because “expectations ultimately breed safety,” and that kind of thinking won’t push the industry forward.
For Transference, Wood said he and his team were intentionally looking at other games in an attempt to avoid repeating common tropes. Transference is the first game that SpectreVision has worked on, with its output instead taking the form of film and TV projects, mostly in the horror space. Wood said he doesn’t blame studio executives or AAA gaming bosses for releasing sequel after sequel after sequel, but noted that it’s more exciting to work on new things.
“Part of the problem with [movie studios] and games too is not that the people who create them are not interested in innovation, it’s that they have to feed an audience that has expectations,” Wood said. “Expectations ultimately breed safety and playing it safe, so as not to disappoint. Which one can totally understand in a business. But there is a lot of innovation happening now in games.”
There is a good amount of innovation happening in the VR space, in part by necessity. It is so new compared to traditional platforms, so developers are trying new things to see what works best. It is this environment that yields exciting results, Wood said.
“VR is a really exciting place for that,” Wood said, referring to innovation in games. “The rules really don’t feel like they’re written. It feels a little bit like the Wild West. Especially because it’s not ubiquitous. Not everyone has a VR headset.”
Generally speaking, Wood said he is more drawn to the indie space in games today because their creators are often not beholden to publishers who finance them and thus expect a return on investment. Indie creators are generally free of those considerations. While there are a lot of rubbish indie games out there, these developers are oftentimes trying to break established rules and try something new. Do you think a big publisher would have ever funded Goat Simulator? Probably not, but the developers believed in the project and it became a bonafide hit. Wood said he is energised by the indie space, and his new game is certainly shaping up to be something new and interesting.
“This is true of film, too, on a big studio level there aren’t making risks being taken. Plenty of great films and a lot of great entertainment, and they tend to be giant franchises,” Wood said. “And that’s very true of the AAA game industry as well. And I think that’s also why the indie world is really emerging is really exciting. You’re getting games being made by single individuals who have worked for five years to create something and they’re making it all on their own and doing something really different.”
Transference launches this fall for PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive, while non-VR versions will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.