"300: March To Glory" -- Frank Miller's World in a Video Game

Every year, Hollywood makes an attempt to bring some of our favorite comics to the big screen. Sometimes they succeed brilliantly, and other times…well, it can be pretty painful. This year, however, we have a few "comic book" films that show great promise. I mean, if Sam Raimi can't get Venom right (in "Spider-Man 3"), I don't think anyone can. The one movie I am most excited about though �" both as a comic fan and a Greek �" is Frank Miller's "300."

For those unfamiliar with this graphic novel, the story depicts the Battle of Thermopylae and its preceding events, mostly involving Leonidas I, king of Sparta. The book was initially released as a five-issue miniseries from Dark Horse Comics, and won three Eisner Awards in 1999. Warner Bros. Studios is releasing the "300" film on March 9 th , under the direction of Zack Snyder ("Dawn of the Dead" �" the 2004 remake). Snyder worked closely with Miller (who also served as the film's executive producer) on the look of the film, and if you've seen the "300" trailer, the results are staggering, to say the least.

In conjunction with the movie's release, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is bringing fans "300: March to Glory," a PlayStation Portable game based on the film. Jeff Nachbaur, a producer in this division of Warner Bros., took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with CBR News and

give fans an inside glimpse of what they can expect from a video game based on a film of a Frank Miller comic. To begin with, he filled us in on the creative team that's putting the game together.

"The developer is Collision Studios. This is their first game as a team, although all the team members are industry veterans," Nachbaur told CBR News. "For years, many of them have worked for various other developers and publishers; '300: March to Glory' is a chance for them to make the game the way they wanted to. They have been an absolutely great team and bring an enthusiasm and dedication that is very rare. They really want their first game out the door as a team to be a good one and I think they've done it.

"We also brought on a few other people for the ride as well. Despite the fact that we have both an artistically amazing film and a beautiful graphic novel, we found we needed something extra to really do the trick and brought comic artist Tomm Coker ('Blood & Water,' 'Nightfall') on board.

"When '300' came around, we really wanted to pay homage to its comic roots. Tomm seemed the perfect fit. He has that nice mix of grittiness and realism, but with a very stylized edge. He did some original character designs for us, including two new villains, Hydarnes and Mardonius, two Persian generals taken straight from history…but done up in the Snyder/Miller-style that the film has. He also did all of our cinema art which is phenomenal. Not only is he an amazing artist, but he also brings a filmmaker's sensibility to the project, since he's a filmmaker himself.

"We also got Tyler Bates, the composer from the film, to adapt and remix the music from the film for the game; so our music is performed by a full orchestra and sounds fantastic. Really, we are a great mix of the film and the comic, with little bits of history peppered through."

In addition to all of these talented individuals working on the game, Nachbaur added that the director of the movie himself was involved in the creative process. "Zack was working on the film the same time we were working on the game, but he still made time to have regular meetings with us and he would actually play the game and give us feedback! I know that doesn't sound like much, but it's so unusual for a film director to be that intimately involved. He wanted to see how well it played. And every time we met, he pushed us to try to do something more.

"The PSP is a handheld and because of it, doesn't have the processing power of a PS3 or Xbox 360, and he wanted us to have these fantastic capes on all the Spartans, since they are so iconic. He wanted them flying around, floating, moving with them, all sort of things. We thought he was insane and argued that it just wasn't possible, but he was persistent; all that pushing really worked and Collision found a way �" the game is better for it. I think we have the best capes ever seen on the PSP now. But overall, he gave us tremendous freedom and support to allow Collision to make a game and not a 'movie game' and really that's the best thing you can really do for a project. Allow it to be a game and really embrace that."

And even though most comic fans who have met Frank Miller might not imagine him as a "gamer," Warner Bros. Interactive worked hard to make this a game he would like �" if he did indeed play games.

"Frank had veto power �" not legally, but because we really wanted to make a game he would like. We brought on a creative advisor to help us make sure we never got far away from what makes '300' what it is. Standing in for him was a good friend of his who was intimately familiar with the source material, Flint Dille. Flint actually went to Greece with Frank when he researched the book and the character Dilios is named after him. Flint is also a great writer in his own right �" just research his credits and you'll see that he's done a wealth of work, including writing the 'Chronicles of Riddick' game. He helped us hone in on what was important to the property, pointed us toward the books we should read, and helped us get the tone right. There's a certain voice to Frank's stuff that we really wanted to get across. Flint really did a great job of helping us get there."

In speaking with Nachbaur, we at CBR News were curious about the kind of gameplay utilized in "300: March To Glory." Considering the game's setting is a war, could it be a strategy-adventure game? Or will it be more of a 1 st person shooter �" or in this case, a 1 st person spear-thrower?

"We're a third-person action game," explained the producer. "I guess you could call us a tactical beat 'em up. Everything in the game is designed to be direct. You never bother with telling your allies what to do �" they just follow your lead. This is also true when you are in a phalanx. We felt it was important for the player to have direct control and just let the action happen. Let him focus on just taking out the Persians and enjoying that experience. We like to use the word 'visceral' to describe the gameplay's feel.

"A 1 st person spear-thrower would be fantastic though �" perhaps on the Wii? Swinging around your sword and shield, looking side-to-side to see your buddies in the phalanx. Maybe next time!

The Immortals -- CBR Exclusive!

"We also contemplated the possibility [of multi-player or online components to the game], but our combat system is really made for a single-player experience. If we get a chance to make one for the next-gen consoles, we'll definitely want something next time around."

When asked about the game's premise, Nachbaur was more than happy to break things down for us. "Plain and simple, you play a Spartan. In this case, that Spartan is Leonidas. Everything in the game was designed around the premise of conveying the feel of being a Spartan. Our health system doesn't have random potions or glowing pick-ups, it's all about pulling on your character's own internal fortitude. We have special abilities called Battle Skills that allow you to get certain effects, whether it be healing yourself or going blood drunk or hyper-focusing to slow down time. It's all about getting in the Spartan's headspace and trying to turn that into a game.

"Also, because '300' is just as much about the legend and mythology of the Battle of Thermopylae as it is the history, we provide a system called Kleos. Kleos is a Greek word meaning honor or legend. So, as you kill enemies, you earn Kleos and you can use this Kleos to slowly evolve your character to be more and more legendary and less and less realistic. Your armor will change, your sword, your spear �" you can upgrade your Battle Skills to stun enemies on the field with a scream and buy new combo attacks. It all evolves as your legend grows so that at some point, you are really towing the line between fantasy and reality �" and the whole time, you feel like a Spartan."

Feeling like a Spartan, in both the movie and the book, seems to involve shedding lots of your enemies' blood. Considering how tie-in products can sometimes "water down" its source material, Nachbaur wanted to assure all prospective players that the game stays true to the film and graphic novel.

"I don't think we could really represent '300' correctly if it weren't M-rated. The film is unapologetically R. It's about telling the story and staying true to the comic. We're the same way. We pull no punches," said Nachbaur.

"The film played a huge role in the game. It's the same bit of history and we used many of the key visuals and locations from the film to create our levels. We follow the same basic storyline, but we don't stick to it like glue. We made sure that everything was focused on gameplay first, so sometimes things don't happen the same way, but many of the key beats are there. Our idea was if you were to remove '300' from the game, it would still be a good game. When adapting a property to be a game, it's important to think of it as an original property, using the source material as the inspiration and not just some dressing. So, when you play, you will definitely feel and see the movie's influence, but you won't necessarily be treading the same waters. You'll be playing a good game and just having a good time."

For the history buffs out there, "300" (both the film and the book) takes true people and events and then paints them in such a way that they grow to mythic proportions. Nachbaur indicated that while they stayed true to the source material, they also had to "hit the books" when it came to fleshing out some of the historical details in the game.

"We definitely did our share of research," Nachbaur replied. "I spent weeks and weeks just familiarizing myself with the history and reading up on Greek tactics, the phalanx �" all the things that are so integral to the comic and influenced Frank to write it. Whenever we found we needed a name or idea for a new villain, we went to history to see what we could find. For instance, we have bosses in our game that you fight, but really, the comic only provides one big boss, Xerxes. The film allowed us a few more, but there was still something we needed.

"We discovered that the Immortals had a general named Hydarnes. That seemed perfect. And there was the general that led the troops at both Thermopylae and Platea �" Mardonius. How much more perfect could you get? But, really, just sticking in these historical figures didn't seem to work, so we had Tomm give them a makeover. They are both pretty fantastic now. Hydarnes' design is very influenced by the look of the Immortals in the film. When unmasked, they are hideous beneath, twisted and deformed. Our Hydarnes feeds right into this, even to the point where Tomm removed his hands and replaced them with bladed gauntlets. Really, it's about taking the history and sifting it through a filter…that filter being the visions of the film and the comic. It's really hard to distinguish between the two and really, that's what makes '300' so special."

As the actors in the movie are made up to look like the characters in the book, one might wonder who the characters in the game are modeled after �" the actors from the film or Frank Miller's drawings? "They're somewhere in-between," said Nachbaur. "None of our characters look like the actors from the film, but we do indeed take inspiration from them. But they do not have the dreadlocks from the comic. We wanted to bridge the gap between the two and really do what felt best for the game. Tomm's art really helped our art-style as well. It's designed in such a way that if you only read the comic and never seen the movie, you could pretty much identify the characters. And if you had only seen the movie, but not read the comic, you could still identify the characters."

There are many challenges in turning a film into a video game. Nachbaur, however, feels the creative team behind the game met these trials head-on, with an enthusiasm and determination that would make the Spartan warriors of old proud.

"There's a real stigma that often comes with adapting a film into a game," admitted Nachbaur. "Right off the bat, people assume you aren't going to be very good. So, we really needed to combat this and that meant really delving into making a unique game that didn't fall victim to the 'movie game disease.' It meant that we couldn't rest on the laurels of the property and just ride the marketing wave. We set out to impress. Did we do it? I guess we'll find out for sure when people pick it up and play.

"We are very much saddled in the beat 'em up genre, but we offer something a bit different. It doesn't feel repetitive like so many other beat 'em ups. We have such a wide variety of enemies and methods to dispatch them that it really keeps you engaged. We have upgrades to all our weapons and armor. We have a unique health and wrath system. We have Battle Skills. You can fight in a phalanx. We even have a little stealth thrown in there. There are all these simple-to-understand elements that just build on each other to make a deep, fun game experience. It was a huge challenge, but at the end of the day, I'm most proud of making a fun game that I personally enjoy playing."

Now discuss this story in CBR's Games Forum.

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