Why J.J. Abrams Is Entering the Video Game Business

November 11, 2015, 8:12 PM UTC
Producer and director J.J. Abrams poses on the red carpet for a screening of the film "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" in New York
Producer and director J.J. Abrams poses on the red carpet for a screening of the film "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" in New York July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid - RTX1M1TL
Photograph by Brendan McDermid — Reuters

Hollywood director and producer J.J. Abrams has officially entered the video game business through a new collaboration with game developer Chair Entertainment. While Abrams and his interactive studio have been peripherally involved in developing games for Star Trek, Star Trek: D.A.C., Lost, and Alias, this marks the first time the prolific television and feature film creator will take a hands-on role.

“I’ve been a fan of video games for years, envious of the artists and storytellers who have gotten to play in that world,” Abrams said in a video posted Wednesday on Chair Entertainment’s website. “I feel like it’s a natural progression from what we’ve been doing. We wanted to expand into this area of entertainment.”

Over the past two years, Abrams and his Los Angeles team have been working with Chair Entertainment on creating Spyjinx, which is supposed to debut in 2016 in a beta test. Details about the actual game remain a mystery with Chair Entertainment co-founder Donald Mustard vaguely describing it in the video as “an action strategy game mixed with dynamic world building with role-playing game character development.” His comment hinted that gamers will be able to craft their own adventures.

Abrams was equally cryptic about Spyjinx, which he will help develop through his Bad Robot Interactive studio. All he said was that it must be experienced by gamers before it can be put in a category because the game will be unlike anything else in the market.

“Bad Robot is uniquely talented at making you deeply care about characters and the trials they experience,” Mustard said.

After in-person meetings, video conferencing, the sharing of code, and an integrated work flow, the new game has been designed from the ground up as something new. Even after the trial version is released, the development team will be able to tweak it based on user feedback.

“This didn’t begin with an IP being forced into a game, or as a game someone wanted to make into a TV show,” Abrams said. “This was about what would be really cool to work on together that would take the strengths of what Bad Robot and Chair Entertainment have done and make something better.”

Mustard said one of the primary goals of this game was to make a really complicated system simple for players to use.

“Players have tools we give to them, and then we can shape the world and future story around how people are playing the games,” Mustard said.

Collaborations between Hollywood and the gaming world haven’t always gone well. Abrams experienced that first-hand when a Hollywood licensed game project, 2013 Star Trek game from Digital Extremes, didn’t turn out the way it was intended.

It was supposed to serve as a bridge between the two Star Trek movies Abrams produced and directed by featuring the cast from the films. But he said the game failed to help the movie—and arguably hurt it—because it lacked fun, excitement, and great gameplay.

“[It] was obviously a big disappointment to me,” Abrams told me in 2013. “We were actually involved from the very beginning and then we sort of realized that it was not going in a place where we were going to get what we wanted, so we dropped out and they continued to do it…”

For Spyjinx, Abrams has been involved from the start. In teaming with Chair Entertainment, he worked with the studio that made Infinity Blade, one of the bestselling Apple iOS mobile games of all time with over 50 million downloads. The first two games of the trilogy generated over $60 million in sales in a market oversaturated with free-to-play titles.

“The first time I played Infinity Blade it blew my mind with what Chair was able to do with Unreal Engine,” Abrams said.

Abrams, who has worked on this game while creating Disney’s Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, said he is happy with the collaboration.

“The result has been something beyond any of our expectations,” Abrams said. “If it ends up being what we think it will be, I’ll be spending way too much time playing this game.”

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