Kit Harrington in performance capture gear, including a head-mounted camera and light. Photo courtesy of Ian Gavin / Getty Images for Activision.
A fierce battle erupts just outside of earth’s atmosphere, with guns blazing, people zipping around in fighter jets, and soldiers floating out into deep space. This is but one of the opening stages of the upcoming Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare—a chaotic ballet, and it’s all put together by Taylor Kurosaki, the game’s narrative director. Starring Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington as the game’s central villain, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare takes place in the near-ish future and takes warfare beyond the ozone. In anticipation of the hotly-awaited game, The Creators Project spoke to Kurosaki about directing big-budget video games, the challenges of the medium, and working with Jon Snow himself.
Kurosaki describes the role of Narrative Director in video games as, “the person who’s ultimately responsible for the narrative presentation of the game. So that means the story, the characters, the directing, the performance capture, casting.” And though there are plenty of technical considerations that go into directing games, in the end Kurosaki says they’re all just “people trying to tell stories. And instead of painting on cave walls now we’re telling some of those same fables in a more interactive way.”
The heart of Infinite Warfare is all about capturing the romantic notion of a war story. “It just so happens that the setting for this particular story takes place, for the most part, outside our planet,” says Kurosaki. “And that’s exciting from a fiction standpoint, but first and foremost we’re telling a human war story about the burden of leadership.”
One of the main differences between directing for games and directing for other mediums is the idea that the player is the main character. “A big challenge for us is creating a character with what we call ‘PPP’ which stands for player-protagonist-parity. We’ve got to bring our players along with our protagonists. We have to put them in emotional ‘sync’ so that when the protagonist says a thing I’m not shocked or scared or surprised, it emotionally comports with what I’m feeling in that moment.” The other big challenge? “Dealing with agency. Because of the nature of video games we’re giving players a certain amount of freedom, and so we have to tell stories that allow for that agency.”
Storytelling aside, working with actors doing performance capture is another major aspect of the job. “We’re capturing the actor’s motions, their voice, and their facial expressions simultaneously. So for the actors, if an actor is relying on their wardrobe, they don’t get that in our world. You don’t get the ‘gimme’ of a set that’s like a dimly lit, smoky bar. You’re working in a brightly lit stage, it’s sort of gray and nondescript.” But unlike most video games, Infinite Warfare benefitted from putting multiple actors together while filming a scene, “looking each other in the eye, asking and responding to each other in a very human way.”
And how did Kit Harington adjust to working with a camera rig strapped to his face? “Kit has done a bunch of theater,” says Kurosaki, “so even though he’s best known for playing Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, as soon as he understood that this process is a lot more like theater than film, he was up and running. When you fit them into the helmet and you turn that light on in their face, at first they’re like ‘Whoa, what’s this?’” Kurosaki says most actors, once they get comfortable with the process, equate this type of acting with black box theater. “So once he got that this was much more like him doing a play than him getting ready for a tight shot on his show he was right there and game for it.”Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare hits shelves this November. For more from Taylor Kurosaki, check out his Tumblr.Related:Modder 'girlplaysgame' Talks Reshaping Video GamesThe Future Of Storytelling Reimagines Cinema and Video Games as ArtWhat's It Like to Art Direct a Major Video Game?