Neill Blomkamp is putting us all to shame. While the rest of us spent the pandemic watching all of Netflix and growing terrible beards, the director of District 9 and Chappie made a movie and got a new job with a game studio. He's now the chief visionary officer at Gunzilla and working on its first project, a currently unnamed multiplayer shooter for PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC. This isn't just a PR move either, a director sprinkling some Hollywood stardust on a game in development, Blomkamp is looking to work with Gunzilla on this project and beyond.
"I've wanted to have a home base at a company so that for many years going forward, I can really just learn and change and grow and figure it out. I guess it's similar to me joining film in the early 2000s," says Blomkamp of his new job.
"Obviously, the game is super important, because it's everything that we focus on now for the next few years. And there's a whole bunch of concepts inside of it that are very, very fascinating to me."
The game is so top secret that when he spoke to us Blomkamp wouldn't even talk about the shooters he was playing at the moment, because a lot of it is research for the Gunzilla project. (He did mention an indie point and click, Norco, that he was playing just for fun, and which I immediately added to my Steam Wishlist.) Looking at the themes Blomkamp has played with in the past though – through District 9, Elysium, Chappie, and even projects that didn't make it like his Alien concept and Halo adaptation – you could probably bet a few dollars on a science fiction element to the game. The Gunzilla team also includes Richard K. Morgan, who wrote Altered Carbon, as a scriptwriter.
"There's a whole bunch of really experienced veterans that are obviously far more knowledgeable than me, whose responsibility it is to build the game architecture in a way so that sort of player agency, and the way that the player interacts with the game, is thought through very thoroughly," he explains.
"I feel like I can be really creative and bring the team ideas or concepts and things that I the way that I would approach them in a filmic sense. And sort of paint a paintbrush stroke over the game, you know, as long as the other team members think it's the right way to go."
Blomkamp tells us that he has some catching up to do too. Gunzilla was founded in March 2020 and went into pre-production on the game soon after. Luckily, Blomkamp started out working in visual effects and animation before he went on to direct and has stayed tied to the world of CGI through his own movies. When he talks about it, it's clear what a passion he has for creating worlds in virtual spaces, and why Gunzilla would want him on its team.
"One of my favorite things that that computer graphics allowed me to do went back when I was doing VFX – and what I'm still interested in – is the idea of building a three-dimensional environment that you can drop the user into," he says.
"And I'm not speaking about games right now, I'm speaking about artistic appreciation. I love the idea of building, as real-time engines become better and as computation becomes better, these larger and larger three-dimensional environments that look more and more real. And when you combine it with sound, and you combine it with the ability for the user to walk around and go wherever they want, it's a unique thing that I'm just uniquely very interested in."
A new direction
Of course the role of the director – at least as we've been sold it by movies and biographies – is of one person ruling over their cinematic empire and being responsible for bringing their vision to the screen. Game development is a different beast, with highly specialized teams that all have to come together to create the games we get to play. Blomkamp doesn't seem phased by the adjustment.
"I think you have to go into it with the right mentality. If you go into it thinking that you're directing the film, and, and it's your vision, only, it's probably not going to work," he says.
"So you have to go into it, where, I want to be collaborative, I want the best idea to win out, which is what should happen. So there's a bunch of stuff that I can bring, and then all of us, Gunzilla, can make the decision 'okay, this is this the right thing to do, is that the wrong thing to do' and discuss it. And, you know, I'm sure some of my ideas will win out. But the idea is definitely for the team to make a game."
We'll have to wait to see just what Blomkamp and Gunzilla are building, but you can go and see Blomkamp's latest movie Demonic – filmed during the pandemic – in theaters from August 20. Meanwhile, like the rest of, Blomkamp is settling into the Gunzilla Slack and getting distracted by GIFs.
"I have to say that Gunzilla meme game is insane on Slack, I've never seen anything like it. It's kind of awesome. You can just hang out there for a bit and look at stuff and it should, it cracks me up every single day," he laughs.
"I don't know if I can compete, it's next-level shit that's going on. Like crazy."
While we wait to find out more about Gunzilla's game, here are some more new games of 2021 (and beyond) to get excited about.