Interview with Jack Epps, writer of Top Gun Game

poster-jack-epps

Jack Epps revives the Top Gun world

I’m Jack Epps, one of the original writers of the Top Gun movie.  I was brought into writing for the new Top Gun game years after the movie, which is close to my heart.  It’s exciting to  revist some characters and bring them into the video game world.  As a film guy I’m blown away by the visual world that has been created.  Writing for a game is a lot different than writing a script for a movie, but the challenges are fun.  It’s been quite a task to build a narrative for the game, but also keep true to the original characters.

Are you a gamer?
I have been during different stages through out my life…  I used to play PC games a lot back in the day, and had to edit a lot of DOS batch files just to get a particular game to work, so I guess I got burned out.  Being involved with Top Gun has brought me back into the gaming world, which is a lot different today.  I’m currently going through Bioshock and Red Dead Redemption.  I’m a visual person so I’m a big fan of the imagery, and I love the worlds in these recent video games.  Games have a huge impact on films and I think that’s really interesting.  One idea that gaming has brought to the screen is the “world within a world”, and I’d like to see a dreamlike world in a movie.

Do you like to create a world for a video game?
love to do it, but the challenge is creating something new.  In a movie you can rely upon the narrative.  How do we use existing worlds but take it somewhere else?

Were there any difficultites writing the Top Gun theme for the video game?
The biggest challenge was in writing the “why” to set up the situations realistically.  The battles are a major part of the gameplay, and we have to set up an situation that is believable.  We also have to put ourselves in the 80s, and the politics of the time were much different.  We’re in the Soviet world, so there is a clear antagonist against us.  We created the best Soviet fighter (Ace) for Maverick to go up against, so you really have to earn your stripes.

Was it easy to write for Maverick?
It was fun to stay with these characters, and Maverick was such a natural.  As a gamer, you are Maverick and you’re going to feel the pressure.

How did you get back into their heads after 25 years?
I did go back and look at the early scripts to get a sense of rhythm.  I got to fly some F14s and F16 and that never got out of my blood.  Top Gun has never really left pop culture so I am constantly reminded about it and it has never really left me.

The protagonist usually begins the film through a certain point and the arc changes.  This is rare in video games.  How have you dealt with that?
Top Gun has a playable game section and a cutscene section, and the cutscenes are where a lot of the story takes place.   Maverick and Iceman come into the story already knowing each other, and we make assumptions that the player knows this background.  Through the events and missions, different outcomes happen to change the relationship between the characters.  There is a clear antagonist that creates competition between the two.  You get to PLAY the movie to see how it goes.  This is an action flight game and not a sim game.

Do the character models look like the actors from the film?
You’re not actually going to see any character models.   All of the dialogue happens in cutscenes to give each mission better direction, but it takes place while characters are already flying.   For example; if Stinger is talking, then a camera is moving around an aircraft carrier.  There are no character likenesses.  Getting the actual actors would have been tricky, expensive, and downright impossible.

What was the single hardest challenge in writing for a game instead of a movie?
Many things.  One of my pet peves when writing for a game is when a writer comes in late to the process (but they should be brought in earlier).  There are things that are pre-existing so I had to cramp the story around that.  This situation happened when I wrote the screenplay for Anoconda… all of the CGI was already done before the story.  So we wrote the story around the CGI, and I had to write the Top Gun game script like that.  It was also challenging to write something that appears familar to the original movie.


Can you elaborate on the tension between Maverick and Iceman?
Iceman gets to be a bit more aggressive, but he never flips out like in the movie.  The new Soviet Ace, Ivan is the source of competition between Maverick and Iceman.  This was a major problem in the film but we address it in this game by tying in the existing narrative.

The moral tale is translated in the video game?
I try to keep the emotional narrative within the cutscenes.  It is about having fun.  I wanted to get back into this world and revisit everything.

Does Top Gun in a comtemprary world interest you?
Top Gun was set in a world that is very different than today.  Our air supremacy is so strong,  so you’d hasve to create a new type of situation.  In the Iraq War our air support was so good that Iraq never got their planes off the ground, and most people didn’t want to fight us because we are so elite.

How long are the cutscenes?
In movies… shorter is better.  So I try to keep trimming and cutting to make a better scene.   You have to keep the audience interested and keep the narrative moving. From a script point of view, they average about half a page to a page when written out.

Are you satified with how Paramount did the game?
I couldn’t do anything without Paramount.  Working with DoubleSix team was really terriffic.  It was a really good creative process.  Focusing on the vision we were all on the same page, so I was pretty pleased with the process.

I think Jim Cash (my longtime writing partner) would really love it.  TG was our seventh unproduced script and we handed it to Bruckheimer and it was turned down because there were so many “plane” movies at the time.  New adiministration came in and pulled the script out so the movie got made.  This project had a life of its own.  So I think Jim would be thrilled with it.  Jim Cash actually had a fear of flying.

There are a lot of popular quotes in the movie.  Will these appear in the game?
Of course… if I had a dollar for every time someone said one…  We try to put them in where they’re appropriate.

What are your new favorite quotes?
New favorites only become good if people quote them.  I can’t say them right now, so you’ll have to play the game.  There’s a nice emotional story between Maverick and Iceman, and the link between the two creates some new one-liners.

All of the game take place during the movie?
All of the game is based on new material, but is set in the same world as teh movie.  I like the world and I like being involved in it.  I’m a person that’s inspired by visuals and that’s something the video game world does well.

When does the Anoconda game come out?
Ha ha.  That’s something I’d like to do.

There don’t seem to be as many flight combat games any more.  What’s your opinion on that?
You have your leaders in this area.  You have Ace Combat and HAWX… but one of my friends  at Paramount has worked on 10 air combat games similar to Top Gun.  There are so few of them on consoles because you have these big giants in the industry to compete against.

Thanks for speaking with us Jack.  I’d also like to thanks Erica at Bender/Helper Impact for setting up this interview.

Alan is a web architect, stand-up comedian, and your friendly neighborhood Grammar Nazi. You can stalk him on the Interwebs via Google+, Facebook and follow his ass on Twitter @ocmodshop.