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June 04, 2005

Discussion: Robert Mitchum

The Big Sleep Astro City: The Tarnished Angel

Robert Mitchum carried with him to every picture he ever made his own iconography; Mitchum was practically short-hand for every noir character you ever saw. He had one of those perfect voices which carry with it all the expectations you might have of its subject matter, the sort of voice you hear when you read Chandler or Hammett. He had the haunted look, with his hooded heavy eyelids, and his slightly unruly hair. His face could bespeak nonchalance, or explode suddenly in rage.

Looking over his filmography, I'm amazed; no wonder this guy was an icon, he had a film career spanning more than 50 years leading right up to the year he died. Admittedly, I've only seen a few of them, and I know a lot of them aren't particularly good, and The Big Sleep falls into both categories. But you can see in the list, year after year, those pictures which kept up the image, usually two or three pictures to a year.

Which brings us to Astro City, which has been going about enlarging the context of superheroes for years. I started reading the Astro City graphic novel compilations a few years ago when a friend at LucasArts pointed them out to me, and I own a few of them. Originally, I was attracted due to the great covers by Alex Ross, whose Marvels I had read years before.

That's all just a preamble though to telling you that Robert Mitchum's iconic role is brought once more to live by Busiek & co. in The Tarnished Angel, which presents the evolution of the character in the end-notes. Looking at the cover, I thought, "Hey, that guy looks like Robert Mitchum, but in chrome" and sure enough, that's more or less what he is. The character of Mitchum¹ is reimagined as Steeljack, a recently released convict who just wants to get out of sight for his remaining years, but can't. It's worth reading.

One of the interesting things about games these days is just how much they cost and, of course, the next generation is going to make that even worse. One of the things Hollywood has going for it is that casting agents take direction from producers and directors to fill a particular role -- in the 40s, 50s and 60s, if you were looking for someone to fill a film noir lead, you'd probably get someone like Mitchum².

With the next generation costing so much, and the visual differences in console generations probably slimming in the coming years, I wonder if there isn't going to start to be room for independent contractors who build digital actors to be our main characters, our heroes, our villains, whatever. The most cost-efficient way to do this would be to build characters who could be leveraged across several titles, and maybe even customized a bit to fill particular roles. It doesn't seem like a huge stretch to me to have "Far Cry guy" also be "Bond villain henchman #1" or "True Crime" guy or maybe even dress him up in clothes with no apparent gravitational constraints to fit into a Final Fantasy. It wouldn't take many titles to have enough animation for the digital actor to fill a number of roles, with custom animations added by the house who know him best, and can keep the characterization stable.

I could see this sort of service covering even a little more ground. Obviously, in the digital realm we can apply "make-up" a little faster and easier -- the digital equivalent of Mickey Rourke wouldn't be sitting for an hour in a make-up artist's chair every morning for Sin City. And an independent contractor could even consider establishing long-term contracts with voice actors to keep the character consistent as well. It could become one-stop shopping for your character needs, and help keep costs down.

Granted, there'll still be lots of games, I hope, that come up with wacky characters that can't really see frequent use. There aren't too many characters from Psychonauts who would look right in anything but the game-equivalent of a David Lynch film. That said, I could imagine characters from Tim's earlier games getting another day in the sun, even if not in a sequel. Ben Throttle as the wheelman in a heist game? I could buy that.

¹If you don't feel like you have a handle on the sort of guy Mitchum was, I can thoroughly recommend Ebert's interviews with him. They're terrific, and the sort of interview you just can't find anymore in Hollywood, which has gone and packaged up all of its stars into neat little packages. Also, I enjoyed Mitchum in Out of the Past a few years back, which was a noir film I got to see on the big screen courtesy of the now-vanished Lark Theater in Larkspur, CA.
²With the rare exception of getting Fred MacMurray. If you've never seen Double Indemnity, you should.

Posted by Brett Douville at June 4, 2005 07:50 AM


That's a really good idea.

Posted by: Jamie at June 5, 2005 02:56 PM

Yeah, well, if I had a nickel for every good idea, I might actually have enough money to implement one or two of them. :)

Lately I'm really interested in how costs can be lowered so that the bar to entry gets low enough for there to be single auteurs, or at the very least, a smaller set of auteurs. I'm starting to wonder if that's not the way to get more interesting games.

Sure, there are means by which single auteur games can get made, but they are unlikely to see distribution beyond a very small group. Interactive fiction continues to be alive, but it's a small audience and there's not really a way to make money from it.

Posted by: Brett Douville at June 7, 2005 08:17 AM

I don't really know how blog etiquette works. Or if it's more rude to link back to my blog as a reply, or paste it all here... So I'll just say "Now that I've finally got off my rear and started to really blog, I mentioned this and you."


Posted by: Jeffool at July 4, 2005 08:09 AM

Go ahead, no worries, we're all friends here. I can't promise even a little bit of traffic for you, though :)

Posted by: Brett Douville at July 4, 2005 03:10 PM

hah! Don't worry, I'm sure the flood of hits you'll get off of my mentioning you won't quite kill your site. ;D

Posted by: Jeffool at July 4, 2005 05:40 PM