There were four projects that had not been on my radar before gamescom began, but ended up being among my personal highlights. One of them was Late Shift, an interactive live-action thriller created by Swiss studio CtrlMovie. As co-writer and director Tobias Weber presented me with a trailer, Late Shift’s top-notch film production highly impressed me, making me eager to find out more about the project. Unfortunately, there was only time to see just a few scenes in action on an iPad, but I was particularly fond of the seamless transitions between interactive and non-interactive content in this cinematic crime drama. Since Late Shift uses a continuous element of time pressure, these transitions were particulary important so the feeling of “being in the movie” was never interrupted. In case a decision isn’t made in time, an automatic choice is selected. This makes a lot of sense, as maintaining the flow of the story is a crucial element of the experience.
One scene Tobias showed me required swiping through a live-action location, trying to find a code for a door. If you find the code and enter it in time, what happens next differs from a scenario in which you don’t find the code in time. Everything else I saw related to the aspect of choice and consequence, as Late Shift allows you to lead the main character into different directions that result in seven different endings. Co-written by Michael Robert Johnson, best known for writing the screenplay of Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie, Late Shift is currently available on the App Store for iPad and Apple TV, with ports for other platforms planned for 2017.
For a better idea of what to expect from Late Shift, and a deeper understanding of how the creators are tackling the subject of interactive storytelling, Tobias shared plenty of insights with me in the following interview.
Ingmar Böke: Knowing how difficult it is to secure funding for live-action video games, I’m extremely surprised to see such top-notch film material. How did you get funding for this – seemingly quite expensive – production?
Tobias Weber: Indeed, funding has not been an easy subject for us. We tried film subsidy, but they declined and reasoned their decision with Late Shift being a game.
Ingmar: You fell between the cracks.
Tobias: Yeah, we totally fell between the cracks. Fortunately, Pro Helvetia – which is a fund for cultural projects in Switzerland – saw the potential of what we were trying to do and supported us. Swiss TV SRG SSR has also been very generous, so we received further funding from their transmedia fund. Nevertheless, that was only a small part of the overall budget as we put a lot of private money into the project.
Ingmar: What can you tell me about the story?
Tobias: The story is about a math student from London named Matt. He’s trying to financially keep his head above water by working as a night guard in a parking garage. Even though he is a smart guy, he has problems with making decisions. Matt kind of struggles his way through life, dealing with algorithms and game theory…
Ingmar: (grins) Anything autobiographical in there?
Tobias: (laughs) Well, uhm… no comment! (laughs again) Anyways, Matt stumbles into a crime story that begins with a car theft during his late shift. It turns out, though, that the car theft is related to a much bigger crime. Our protagonist is forced into a brutal heist at a famous auction house in London. He is left proving his innocence, and figuring out who really is behind all of this.
Ingmar: I was impressed with the way the movie keeps on running seamlessly while the viewer/player makes decisions. Please elaborate on that aspect and the element of time pressure.
Tobias: While in earlier attempts of interactive cinema the film has always stopped at decision points, we were convinced that it would be important for the audience to stay immersed in the film. We wanted them to be under the same amount of time pressure as is the main protagonist. Life too does not wait. No decision is also a decision. This was a creative decision and a technical challenge, but it was worth it. People are very impressed with the fact they don’t see where the film branches, and yet they realise it’s going in the direction they chose.
Ingmar: What other gameplay mechanics does Late Shift use?
Tobias: In the cinema it’s the decisions the audience takes as a collective. When you’re watching Late Shift on a touch device, however, there are other ways of interaction. At times you can swipe the image to look around, you can tap objects in the film to decide what to do with them. And you get to operate devices like a door lock, phones or a computer. Depending on your input the story progresses differently.
Ingmar: Are action elements important in Late Shift?
Tobias: Late Shift does contain some action scenes, but I have to say that the gameplay isn’t really focusing on that element. You don’t have to fight other people, and we’re not using Quick Time Events either. We’re rather interested in players dealing with ethical and moral questions. Who can be trusted? Which side are you choosing for what reasons? Things like that, you know.
Ingmar: Can you elaborate on this aspect of ethical and moral choices and consequences in Late Shift?
Tobias: In games you get full agency, but often enough you simply steer your characters down a street or have them open doors. In films, such transitional moments are usually cut. That’s part of cinematic language. Cinema likes to concentrate on the story – on conflicts between characters, on difficult decisions, personal agony, emotions, love – the stuff that matters in life, the stuff that defines us as human beings. “Your decisions are you” is the film’s tagline. We wanted to let the users explore the relationship of their choices and the resulting consequences.
Ingmar: The CtrlMovie technology seems like an important element behind your approach. Please tell me a little more about it, and what it allows you to do.
Tobias: CtrlMovie allows for very seamless interactive movies on all sizes of screens, from cinema to home entertainment to touch devices. It’s a professional tool for cinematic content creation, which is intuitive to use and yet very powerful. It allows the use of scripts for complex branching and features a proprietary audio tool for dynamic soundtracks. We developed the tool as we went along, adding features as we saw their necessity.
Ingmar: What movies (and perhaps TV shows) inspired you as a director and co-writer when it comes to the look, atmosphere, and story premise of Late Shift?
Tobias: There’s a variety of films I like, ranging from Drive to Oceans 11. Hard to pinpoint where exactly the inspiration has come from.Continued on the next page...