I predict an unfortunate failure...
As noted in today's New York Times, Studio Ghibli is planning to get into the games business, releasing their first epic storyline video game late this year.
This makes me sad.
I love Studio Ghibli, and not just because I'm a nerd. It's a company that has stuck to its roots and its guns despite overwhelming pressure to change, and has profited by it. They built a small museum in a public park (in Mitaka, Japan) that is every bit as quirky and lovable as their films, and they limit access to it despite enormous profit potential, because fewer people make the experience better for their guests. (I visited in 2008 and got a guided tour from a staffer I was working with - it was teh awesome!!) They still painstakingly draw and paint every cel in their movies by hand, while the rest of the industry has gone full-on CG, even for 2D animation.
And that last point is why I am sad. No studio since Disney/Pixar has ever made the hop from hand animation to CG, and had a success from the start. Even Pixar has scrapped or completely re-written a couple of films well into the production process, and they're arguably the best in the business. Making that hop would be a painful enough process for Ghibli.
But then you add interactivity, which is another hard nut to crack, and one at which most linear-storytelling firms fail badly on their first time. I see Ghibli making unfortunate sacrifices in their storytelling, and Level-5 making unfortunate sacrifices in their interactivity, in order to keep peace in the partnership.
In short, I see this game being an incredible (objective) failure. And worse, a giant, public, highly-publicized failure, since both firms involved have so much prestige, street-cred, and geek cult following. There will be those that love it despite its flaws, no doubt. But unless lightning strikes and the fairies grace this game with superhuman luck, it is highly probable that this will be the project that is heralded as Ghibli's first major failure. Game versions of films are generally thin and dissatisfying. Film versions of games are generally formulaic and stunted. There is no truly successful partnership between a production house and a game house right now, because their pipelines and their creative processes are just fantastically different. It's changing, but it's not there yet -- the intuitive design technology that will merge those processes seamlessly is still a few years away, and the experienced visionary who will invent the pipeline to make it happen has yet to emerge. There is no model, and no rational buzz about potential models. Ghibli is walking into a sand pit.
And I don't want them to fail. They're far too awesome.
So go out and surprise me, Ghibli! Tell me that you're not succumbing to the pressures of the digital world, and making the hop just because you feel that you have to. Tell me that you have a plan, and that you're doing something radically different that no studio has ever done before. (Because those things that have already been done like this have been, well, awful.) Tell me that this isn't how you follow up Ponyo, which is, to be honest, your "Empire Strikes Back"...
It's going to take a lot of Spirited Away screenings to wash the taste of this one out of my mouth, I fear.