Nikopol US Deal: Turn On The Bright Lights?

My move to London hasn't been kind.

Curious. Got Game Entertainment have announced they’re doing the US distribution of White Birds Productions‘ Nikopol: Secrets of the Immortals. Which – er – doesn’t appear to have a website yet. It’s an adventure game based on Enki Bilal‘s series of graphic novels which… okay, I’m going to spin off here. Basically, Bilal – along with people like Moebius – is one of the most striking influences on traditional (read: weird) French development. When a game like Fahrenheit (aka Indigo Prophecy) goes a bit odd, it’s them guys they’re aping. What strikes me about the initial set of shots is by how much they’ve missed the mark. Let’s do a quick compare and contrast…

For example, take this example page from the Nikopol collected edition…
I hate it when Rhinos get on the train. I FUCKING HATE IT.

Note the distinctive characters, the life and colour and general Bilal-ness. Now, two screenshots, which are the most imaginative and interesting ones which have been released…

JUSTICE playing live. Tickets still available!

Sexy grubs.

Which are just about okay, but they could be any videogame released in the last five years. When you’re paid money to licence one of European comics’ most distinctive visual stylists, getting a flash of his visual style would be – you’d think – the first port of call. At least for me, Bilal isn’t interesting in terms of his plots – my favourite Bilal works are those in which he was the illustrator, like The Hunting Party which I recommend highly – but the enormous panache with which he pulls them off. He’s a visual stylist. We need visual style. Look at the character in the opening screen and then any of Bilal’s characters – you just can’t imagine him existing in Bilal’s world.

Which is odd when they do something like this…
Sigh. So pretty.

And show Bilal’s pictures in the world, which just creates an odd disconnect between how good he is and how resolutely mediocre the frame of the game actually is.

So, yeah. Not optimistic, but I’ll keep one eye on it as it approaches its launch in August. Alien-Egyptian-Gods floating over cities has a certain appeal. Also: Ra in his underpants.

37 Comments

  1. Albides says:

    It might not fit his art, with which I’m not very familiar, but you can’t say that’s any worse than Immortal, Bilal’s mediocre attempt at a film…

  2. phil says:

    The film version of Immortal at least had some of the strangest and most entertaining hair cuts outside of a Final Fantasy CGI.

    Seriously, I can hardly remember the film (something Fifth Elementy with a cute protagonist, Charlotte Rampling looking confused, Ra wandering around and mutant sharks), but the hair cuts, man, the hair cuts were legend.

  3. Jochen Scheisse says:

    I actually liked Immortel. Ok, it was a B Movie, but a pretty good one.

    If I recall correctly, it was pretty much about how Maria felt after being raped by God.

  4. Pidesco says:

    I thought Immortal wasn’t that bad as well.

  5. Kieron Gillen says:

    I admit, I still haven’t watched it. Trailer was neat though.

    KG

  6. J says:

    People who don’t like Fahrenheit’s final acts have no sense of fun.

    I think in one of the eurogamer end of years Kieron, you described it as:
    SPOILER WARNING

    “A mayan god fights the internet!”

    If I was a scriptwriter, that’d be my next pitch.

    “A mayan god fights the internet!”

    Pity about the ‘genericy’ lookingness (two made up words in a row! on the internet!) of the game at the moment and pity I only know Bilal’s work by reputation. I’m a bit of out the loop on graphic novels and comic books and all that jazz. I am currently trying to get into the loop on jazz though which is fun even if I don’t understand how it works.

    This is what happens when all your friends start running away when you mention jazz. You’re forced to unburden yourself on internet comment threads.

    French people, eh?
    When is the Jean Luc Godard of games going to turn up?

  7. Jonathan says:

    I think the problem is how little control the artist, any game artist, has on framing. You could walk backwards through rooms, you could be looking the wrong way when something good happens or you could see a character from a dull angle so you don’t see his robotic eye or massive rack. So you either have to take control away every time something neat appears or you have to tighten linearity. The problem with the latter is that as Bioshock showed, linearity and well drawn cities means you feel much much more confined. This is because you want to go over there and see that fizzing pyramid but you can’t because it was never made. As such Bilal has essentialy been diluted and spread out so you see it every where you look rather than in just a few highly scripted points.

    Also I really don’t see whats so great about Bilal. Maybe thats just because I’m a big moron.

  8. Pidesco says:

    I’d be very happy if the Truffaut of games showed up.

  9. Alex says:

    I thought the first part of the Nikopol trilogy (“The carnival of immortals”) had an interesting, engaging story. He does go a bit off the deep end in the following parts and in the Hatzfeld tetralogy..

    The only thing left to do is wait for the Incal game. That would be something.

  10. phil says:

    Our Truffaut would probably be working in IF, for mainstream games I’d be happy if a Shane Black turned up.

  11. Alex says:

    Next you’ll be asking for Joe Eszterhas..

  12. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Ahaha, the Incal game, with Jodorowsky storytelling. But I guess he’d rather try to take EA’s Dune franchise in another direction. Heh.

    I have a favourite Jodorowsky quote though: “Most directors make their movies with their eyes. I make movies with my balls.”

  13. Kieron Gillen says:

    Jodo is quite the man. I’d play a Metabarons game in a second.

    KG

  14. Voidman says:

    Immortel despite its obvious flaws still is probably the best stylistic rendition of the French comic school. It definitely surpassed some of the Mobius’ ideas from The Fifth Element. The game however is a bit different cattle of fish, truly I don’t know what to expect from this title. I agree that visually is not very Bilal-esque (?) so far, which is a shame. I’m skeptical about the plot though, as far as I remember in that particular book the characters very little influence on how the events unfold. You have got to appreciate his concepts however, c’mon “chess-boxing” or “Christian-Muslims” (If my memory serves me right) just imagine ;)

  15. J says:

    I was joking about the Godard of games. Just for the record.

    On the subject though…
    I’m a bit tired of people mentioning Citizen Kane then someone else dissing it. I’m sure an awful lot of them haven’t actually seen it. That best film ever tag gets in the way of people seeing a really clever incredibly well made mystery film. Not your usual mystery film I admit but still.

    Orson Welles.
    A Touch of Evil
    The Trial
    The Third Man (I know he only acted in it but what a role and what a line!)

    I love that guy.

  16. Voidman says:

    Immortel despite its obvious flaws still is probably the best stylistic rendition of the French comic school. It definitely surpassed some of the Mobius’ ideas from The Fifth Element. The game however is a bit different cattle of fish, truly I don’t know what to expect from this title. I agree that visually is not very Bilal-esque (?) so far, which is a shame. I’m skeptical about the plot though, as far as I remember in that particular book the characters very little influence on how the events unfold. You have got to appreciate his concepts however, c’mon “chess-boxing” or “Christian-Muslims” (If my memory serves me right) just imagine ;)

    Metabarons game?! Ha, I wonder what genre we could have there; rpg (doubt that) adventure (too narrow), some sort of hybrid maybe, like adventure-strategy kinda like the first Dune. Tough nut to crack that one…

  17. Yargh says:

    The Incal game, oh boy, I can just see the boxout of one of the subgames: ‘this minigame enters you into a competition with a bunch of aliens, the winner gets to father the entire next generation of an alien race. Be careful you could meet up with your offspring later on…’

  18. Matt says:

    Actually I do think games need a “Cahiers du cinéma”. People who can break down gaming, discover the “language”, and begin to create a genuine critical response.

    Games are still very young in terms of their development and have the added problem of being a dramatically unstable format, constantly changing and developing, so that kind of thing will take time.

    They are far too reliant on film language, or a division of mechanics and art, in my opinion very few come close to a unified whole.

    Obviously some games don’t ever plan to do that and games as simply entertainment will always be around and probably be more popular, just as popular films are predominant.

    Adventure games are problematic many of them simply become a wander through a series of vignettes and do not really explore the interactivity of games and how that can be used instead of mise en scene, which is limited by game mechanics. The end result is all too often that of playing through a narrative in a very limited way, occasionally solving arbitrary puzzles.

  19. Dinger says:

    J: He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about him?

  20. PetitPiteux says:

    imho, a part of the problem may lie in realistic graphics: the fact that a drawing is not supposed to be realistic in any sense (but recognizable, at least for comics) is a fact since mid 19th. For games, the myth of realistic graphics is still around (especially in occident). A Bilal game may have gone toward a ‘A Scanner Darkly’ film kind of treatment, for exemple…

    From the screenshots, it seems like they mistook ‘a bit weird’ for ‘with a sense of style’. Not really optimistic on this one…

  21. PetitPiteux says:

    oh, and about Citizen Kane: I finally saw it last week (after seeing a local rock group called ‘it isn’t kane’), and it is actually a hell of a good film, which retain it’s novelty even decades after it was made. Cinema was bound to be haunted by such a work, and justly so…

  22. Taximan says:

    How to gain Bilal-ness:
    Stripes.
    Pockmarked and disfigured characters’ faces and concrete surfaces.

  23. Rook says:

    I think it’s harder to pull off the stylised visuals, compared to drab ones on the hardware that’s dominant in the adventure game demographic.

  24. Bidermaier says:

    Do they have two hundred couches where we can sleep tonight?

  25. spd from Russia says:

    Agreed, the shots looks like HL2 and nothing like comx

    Most games suffer from the lack of strong visual design. They either try to copy reality or copy other games producing totally generic results. Generic sci fi, common-place fantasy… and dont get me started on the ‘eralistic’ modern or ww2 farfare games :(

  26. phil says:

    Currently playing my way through Gregory Horror Show. In terms of visual design its astonishing cohensive, unique and for cartoon visuals, quite unnerving.

    The strength of character design is one of the things that takes you through the game.

  27. malkav11 says:

    What’s wrong with the last bits of Fahrenheit isn’t the content (though it does present something of a shift in tone from the initial parts of the game), but rather the fact that it’s all abruptly dumped on you. The pacing is unutterably fucked and it seems like there’s another, oh, 8 hours or so of game that got ripped out inbetween.

  28. Dinger says:

    sleep tonight. sleep tonight. Narrative visuals in games have to be different – they don’t all work. Just think how bad action shooters would be if the John Wooisms didn’t stop with bullet time.

    oh and we’ve had our Citizen Kane since the dawn of 3d: heck, only recently are we getting over the magic of deep focus!

  29. darkripper says:

    I sometime joked about the fact we need our own Cahiers du Cinema. Just one thing: games aren’t cinema, they follow different rules. I think we stll are in the Melies phase, just toying with the technology and doing awesome thing without really being able to bring very good storytelling to the medium.
    Just remember the fact developers come most of the time from a coding background. Characterization it’s mostly done by art directors and writers most of the time just fill in the blanks and write the dialogs.
    We are also told a Game Designer that can also write it’s more useful than a fulltime writer.
    I hope in the future we will have some kind of tool (like an advanced version of the dreadful RPG maker) that will allow to do decent games without prior knowledge of coding or scripting. This might be the breaktrought for better stories (and, more important, better character developement).
    There are still problems with storytelling in games: what works for a movie or a comics may not work for a game (another reason to experiment I think).

  30. Matt says:

    @darkripper

    Actually my argument would be that because games are not cinema is the reason they do need deconstruction from a critical perspective, rather than simply using film theory. The “Cahiers du cinema” is a metaphorical reference.

    As for it being in the early stages, well I agree there as I said before it is still a dramatically unstable format.

    I agree (generally speaking) with your point about writers though not entirely with all of it.

    Sorry for getting off the original topic a bit by the way I must confess I know virtually nothing about Enki Bilal.

  31. Dinger says:

    I would say “drop the pretension and notice that they’re already here,” but to notice that they’re already here requires the pretension. So let’s get to it:

    Citizen Kane: Yes, a fine flick. above all for reasons that have everything to do with how it’s shot, and very little to do with its epic narrative. But the narrative is good, and since (perversely) people seem to bring up the missing Citizen Kane of videogames to refer to the development of videogame narrative (or “storytelling”) with respect to the genre as a whole, let’s take a look. Citizen Kane tells the story of a mass medium coming to maturity, becoming aware of its power, then collapsing when it is supplanted by another. Charles Foster Kane is above all the newspaper man: torn from his idyllic childhood home and raised by a bank, he buys a newspaper and sees its true force in providing the truth, not reporting it. In pushing those limits, everything collapses, or so it seems.
    But just as Kane slowly drifts into meaninglessness at Xanadu, so do his newspapers.
    Film writes the obituary for newspapers. The film opens at the gate. Kane dies, uttering the famigerate “rosebud”. The next shot is his obituary, told by newsreel, viewed by high-paid journalism execs who don’t realize what they’re watching (“It’s a tough thing to do in a newsreel.”). The movies frame focuses on a print journalist seeking a hook — the to an article — to draw the viewer in and make sense of a life and a form now foreign, almost incomprehensible, but towering in cultural memory like Xanadu itself. But at the same time, he is searching for a word. At the end of the picture, the reporter states “I don’t think any word explains a man’s life.” The camera then pans (deep focus) across all the assorted junk of Kane’s life, including Rosebud, and we realize that no written narrative has the power to convey what we just saw.

    Many of the actors (and Welles himself) largely came from radio (the Mercury Theatre, and were being thrust into a new medium themselves.

    This makes the “Where’s our Citizen Kane?” complaint tiresome: the complaint inevitably focuses on the quality of (cinematic) narrative, but the film’s narrative impact comes in its conscious supplanting of conventions from other media. The complainers become like the magazine executives in the screening room: they try to understand the new media in terms of the old, and they fail. The witnessing the obituary for print as the dominant mass medium, but they don’t get it.

    So, move beyond considering games in film terms, and you’ll see not only a Metropolis, but a whole slew of your Citizen Kanes.

    Cahiers du Cinema: What do you mean? People appreciating a medium for its artistic merit, and pointing out that what is commonly considered popular entertainment often has greater merits? Or arguing about the meaning of words?
    I’m sure somewhere on the internet people are doing that with videogames.

  32. Matt says:

    The Citizen Kane thing is much simpler than that. Citizen Kane is called the greatest film of all time by some people so people say where is the greatest game of all time?

    That is why I don’t agree with its use, it is just a lazy term that doesn’t actually mean anything. To analyse the statement in that way is to manufacture meaning into it that doesn’t exist.

    Cahiers du cinema:
    As I said I used the term metaphorically. What I am saying is not “Why doesn’t someone copy exactly what they did?” What I am saying is games could benefit from a critical reassessment to help them move forward as a genre. More than this is needed though, it needs to be an effective movement and taken up by people who go on to develop games. Maybe I’m not explaining exactly what I mean, so misunderstandings are inevitable, perhaps it isn’t the best term either, perhaps it was just a lazy throwaway term I wrote to generate some debate that doesn’t deserve an extensive explanation.

  33. J says:

    @ Dinger’s early post
    Just the usual fan defensiveness about the work of people they like. Silly, I know.

    @Dinger’s most recent post
    Great post.

    I think the basis of the Citizen Kane thing is people don’t think we have the equivalent level of maturity (in terms of cinematic devices in Kane which I guess Welles was partially establishing) for our medium yet. Something that does everything that you explained Kane does for cinema for games on a similar level.

    I’m not sure I explained that well and I get your argument is kind of saying we are already at the level. I don’t know if we are or not.

    And with you 100% about Kane’s editing, framing, shots, etc

    And are those guys watching the newsreel newspaper editors?
    If so, I missed that. Way out of my depth here.

    Also Orson Welles is such a great name.

    @Matt
    Isn’t the Cahiers du cinema thing why we visit sites like RPS, not for the news posts and that which anyone could write (though not as witty as you RPS) but for interviews like that one with Rod Humble, the Pathologic piece (even if I haven’t read it yet, the retro/game revisited articles, the big discussions on a game i.e. stuff like Jim’s stalker piece.

    Also people like Jon Blow and game discussions are in that kind of area I think.

    I want a ‘Cahiers du cinema’ of games to be doing a re-appreciation of the works of David Jaffe in a few years.

  34. Candid Manchurian says:

    Not much love for Bilal ’round these parts…

    Folks, he’s the guy behind that whole ‘primary-colored bob haircut’ mystery/love interest that keeps recurring in one form or another in many comics, games and animations since the mid-eighties. As with Moebius, a great many staples of game-oriented conceptual design are at least inspired by his visual antics.

    Anyway, like many already said, the ‘realistic’ approach doesn’t work with the subject matter in those screenshots. After Okami, I can see how they could have aimed for a more ‘hand-painted’ 3d look that stays reasonably close to the dynamic flourishes of Bilal’s drawing style.

  35. Tunips says:

    I’ve been a big fan of Benoit Sokal’s since Syberia (to the point of building a town’s worth of buildings and people from the games) It’s a shame everything since Syberia has been visually beautiful but narratively quite dull. But this looks visually dull. Perhaps the narrative and characters will be wonderful!

  36. Ozzie says:

    Hm, don’t know what to think of it.
    Don’t think it looks bad, but then, I don’t know the comic it’s based on.
    Yeah, the visual style between the screenshots and the comic page is a bit different, though.

    I have hope, but I’m also sceptical.

  37. Champagne O'Leary says:

    Citizen Kane was considered innovative and it is bandied around because it set an example of, and justified, modern cinema.

    I don’t think games will ever have this – for all the diversity of cinema, it can always be distilled to a universal – filmed images and sound telling a story or showing a progression.

    Games are such a wild beast, each one acting in a different context, using different mediums, that no one game will be able to push them forward or set the bar for everything as it will only represent what it’s own universe, and not how the others work. Try Tetris, try WoW, but you’ll likely never see anything that becomes a definative example of games that is recognised by all. (Tetris meets pretty much all my criteria for the perfect game, but that’s another story :))