Shawn Ashmore And Sam Lake Give Us Hope For Quantum Break's Live-Action Segments
For three years, we've been patiently waiting for Remedy's next big title. As an unabashed fan of Alan Wake (and Max Payne before it), I've been eagerly following the development of Quantum Break on this long journey.
Today, I sat down with Remedy creative director Sam Lake, actor Shawn Ashmore (Jack Joyce), and the mind behind Quantum Break's live-action segments, Jaime Burke. I uncovered that what we saw at Microsoft's Gamescom press briefing wasn't a change in direction, but a broader look at the fuller vision for the game.
The demo showed off the trio of big-name actors, including Ashmore, Dominic Monaghan as Jack Joyce's brother, Will (The Lord of the Rings, LOST), and Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones) as the villain, Paul Serene. We didn't see Beth Wilder today (despite her past prominence in demos), but she is still very much part of the story and will be played by Courtney Hope (Prowl).
The addition of Jack's brother to the story deepens the tension between Ashmore's character and Paul Serene, but it also puts familiar faces on characters that have existed as only templates for the past few years. Ashmore tells us that Lake gave him the opportunity to put his mark on Jack Joyce.
"When Shawn came along a year and a half ago when we did final casting, we sat down to talk through the story and the character and brainstorm how to make Jack Shawn's character," Lake says. And while introducing Ashmore to the project has deepened the character, it hasn't changed the narrative. "We iterated and worked on that," Lake says. "There are things that you discover that you decide to iterate or have stand out more along the way, but it's still the Quantum Break story."
As we chat, Lake mentions that this is an important month for his studio, and not just because Quantum Break now has a release date (April 5, 2016). "It's a special Gamescom for us, Remedy will turn 20 years old," he says. To celebrate, the studio invited fans to submit videos of people trying to do the "Max Payne face." There have been a number sent in, and Lake assures me that the studio will be doing something fun with them.
Unfortunately (and despite the careful instructions Lake offers in the video), Ashmore has problems pulling off the Max face. "I look constipated or something," he jokes. I was quick to console him, letting him know that everyone looks that way when attempting the face (yes, even Sam).
"It's an interesting thing. When we started the process to do the facial mapping, you sit in a bubble of cameras and have to do every facial movement you can possibly think of," Ashmore says. "You have to do all of these strange facial movements, muscles that are very specific. I realize there are muscles in my forehead that I can't really move."
Despite that, Ashmore brings to the table a history of playing a superhero and a more recent experience playing Mike Weston in one of television's most shocking shows, The Following. The show is about serial killers and is filled with twists and turns (and an almost gleeful approach to severely wounding or killing its complex characters).
Ashmore tells me that despite the differences between Iceman, Mike, and Jack, there isn't much difference in process adapting his craft to the digital medium. "When we started talking about it, first and foremost we were talking about the character and the story," Ashmore says. "That was a great sign for me that that was what they wanted to talk to me about. It wasn't the technicality of how we were going to shoot it. It was, 'Let's talk about what the story is, where this character goes, where we want to start with him and where we want to end up.'"
And while Jack Joyce ends up using fantastical time-bending powers, he starts out as an average man. "What I really love about playing this kind of character is that Jack Joyce is an everyman," Ashmore explains. "He is a normal guy who is put into an extraordinary situation. Even when we were working on Jack's physicality at the beginning, he's not a military-trained guy, but we had him progress. It was all about arcs: arcs for the story, arcs for the character, arcs for his physicality and how he changes."
Lake sees Jack as a neophyte superhero, with Quantum Break as his origin story. "Looking at the pop culture inspirations and going back to the classic Spider-Man origin story, he starts to discover these superpowers and tries to get a handle on them," Lake says. "Going into life-threatening situations, he needs to do this relatively fast, but it's still an element in there."
For every emerging superhero, there is a villain to overcome. In this case, Aiden Gillen's Paul Serene isn't simply a distant antagonist. He has his own character arc, but one that will be explored in a different medium.
Lifeboat Productions is handling the live-action segments, which focus on the villain's side of the story. As we learned last year at Gamescom, players steer the Quantum Break story, making choices about how Paul Serene reacts to the world around him.
Because the show isn't a separate entity, Lifeboat's Jaime Burke explained to me how the two pieces fit together and create a cohesive whole. "[Remedy] were the leaders with their hero story. They had a very clear vision with Jack as the superhero," Burke says. "Doing the show, we wanted to portray the villain's side of the story and give the players a very unique agency to cut into the story with the TV show. They have a unique user experience, which is very rare in television. It's an exciting opportunity, and in doing so, matching the aesthetic that video game established was incredibly challenging. We hired top-notch Hollywood professionals that not only rose to the challenge, but embraced it. Luckily, video game gestation takes a little bit longer than television shooting. On some rare occasions we weren't able to match something perfectly, [Remedy] made iterations."
Lake realizes that the bar is set high for television productions, and that this piece must be of high quality. "It's a lot of discovery along the way. A lot of trial and error," he says. "Luckily, we are in a position in which we can take those learnings and iterate on them. The whole thing about one story from multiple perspectives, looking at today's TV where the bar is really high and there is inspirational, awesome stuff, many of the best shows are, in many ways, of villains. Bad guys are in the main role. That was part of the inspiration for this as well."
When Quantum Break is released only on Xbox One on April 5, 2016, players will step into a world in which time is disintegrating. Whether the ambitious blend of live-action, adventure segments like we saw last year in Germany, and this year's explosive action demo come together as Remedy hopes is something only time will reveal.
We'll have more on Quantum Break later this week from Gamescom.