Neill Blomkamp, director of District 9, Chappie and Elysium, is currently working as a “visionary chief” at Gunzilla Games, working on the studio’s upcoming narrative battle royale Off The Grid. When I had the chance to sit down with Blomkamp to discuss the game, there was one thing I needed to know first – what is a visionary chief officer anyway?
“It’s quite unique,” he laughs. “I think the CEO of the company, Vlad Korolev, is pretty colorful, and I’m pretty sure he made it up. The best way to describe him, I guess, would be a director, someone who’s in charge of aesthetics and design, and just about every creative choice that overlays the design and structure of the game. Much more seasoned veterans who know how to make games build the structure, and all the artists who are working at the company flavoring the game on top of that structure. I’m the person guiding these people. It’s actually a relatively accurate title. It just sounds a little over the top.
Fans of Blomkamp’s work will know that he often mixes searing political commentary with blockbuster action. District 9 is an allegory of segregation and apartheid, while Elysium takes the injustice and inequality of immigration and transplants them into a tale of outer space exploration. However, when I ask Blomkamp if we would see that reflected in Off The Grid, he backs away from the idea. “Richard Morgan, the famous sci-fi author who wrote Altered Carbon, was actually in Gunzilla longer than I was there, so he built this base narrative that everything I did just leaned on,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of themes in there that are – and that’s probably why they contacted me – evident in my work as well. So I would say it’s definitely not a political attempt to this one that’s about class structure and corporatism. How all of that can be remixed into some sort of cyberpunk metaphor or analogy for the world we live in now. It’s certainly obvious, but I would say this project is something where entertainment and fun is paramount. I don’t go out of my way to say anything important.
This will likely be disappointing for some to read, especially those whose interest in the game has been piqued thanks to Blomkamp’s involvement. He explains that the genre of the game is the reason why politics takes a back seat. “People play games like battle royales for pure entertainment, they’re not really looking for something that’s too preachy or has a point of view. Gameplay is the main focus. In order to create lore, the story and the world you need to know how all these came to be. Initially the story was written around 2090, and now the game is set in 2060. But we need to know what happened from 2022 to 2060 And then we always know what’s happening all the way to 2090. There’s obviously huge socio-economic and political upheaval that we’re aware of, but you just want to make that experience as user-friendly and awesome as possible for gamers. movie.”
He adds that progress through the years 2060-2090 may well be possible if Off The Grid is successful, so we may see more narratives of the game post-launch. While not deliberately political, some form of social questioning is largely unavoidable when the game is set in a cyberpunk dystopia. Blomkamp agrees and shares his thoughts on why the game seems so enamored with cyberpunk stories right now. “One of the tropes of cyberpunk is that it’s a very interesting way to look at a corporate world. That’s what appeals to me. What happens from there is that it starts to morph in transhumanism and altering the human form and altering evolution and evolution into your own hands. When you combine that with the kind of class struggle stuff that’s baked into cyberpunk as a trope, it’s just incredibly fertile. In the story with creative stuff, you always notice these patterns where there’s a whole bunch of things that are similar and then a whole bunch of the next wave of things that are similar. So I don’t know really what is the reason at the moment.
It’s clear that Blomkamp has some interesting ideas about what the cyberpunk backdrop offers, so I remind him that he told me that Off The Grid is approached differently than how he would make a movie. I push him on how he might make a movie in this world, hoping to get a sense of the underlying setting of the game. “It’s the tropes of how corporate power dehumanizes people and how the power of capital, the power of money enslaves people, and how humanity is lost through that process There’s a very interesting singular purpose for me in cyberpunk that I find super appealing where you’re not really trying to come to a full-scale resolution to everything. It’s more on a personal level that you’re just trying to figure out ways to live in this overly corporate environment. And then when you start bringing in elements of transhumanism and a incredibly destabilized environment, chaotic world it’s like the real world we live in now is starting to feel cyberpunk because it’s so chaotic and unstable I think cyberpunk has always co nsisted in trying to operate in an ever-changing environment that seems chaotic. All of these topics are just incredibly interesting.”
Blomkamp seems so eager to discuss the political machinations of the genre itself, but somehow even more eager to insist that politics doesn’t influence the game. That seems like a weird way to create a game built on the foundations of Blomkamp and Morgan, and hopefully while you can play without recognizing them, those deeper themes will be present and actively shape the game.
Off The Grid is coming soon to PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC. You can watch the trailer here.
Next: The Witcher 3 Is The Perfect Allegory Of Otherness
Activision Blizzard’s diversity tool accuses Mario of being “likely straight”