This article originally appeared in GamesMaster magazine.
Having shown us the secret lives of toys, bugs, and self-aware robot vacuum cleaners, it was inevitable that someone would make an animated movie about what videogames. That it would centre on a disgruntled bad guy who's grown tired of being the bad guy is, however, a wrinkle we didn't see coming. We quizzed Wreck-It Ralph director Rich Moore, Art Director Mike Gabriel and co-writer Jennifer Lee talk about their inspirations...
Where did the idea for this movie come from?
Rich Moore (Director): For years, there'd been thoughts of making a movie about the life of a videogame character. They tried it in the '90s, but it went nowhere, and again in 2000. So when I started working here, I took the idea and started to think about what kind of story we could tell. Now, after about a week, I was convinced it would be a horrible movie. What kind of story could you tell with characters who do the same thing over and over? But then I realised that it's actually a great conflict. What would it be like to be someone like that? In fact, the movie was originally going to be about Felix, but we realized his story wasn't that interesting. A good guy who becomes a better guy? So we made it about Ralph, about a bad guy who's tired of being the bad guy.
How much did the games influence the animation?
RM: Since we're dealing with specific genres, we went to the source and looked at sci-fi shooter games like Gears of War to see what it is that makes a shooting game feel different from a racing game.
Mike Gabriel (Art Director): But making it look like a game that's already out wasn't enough. When we met with real game designers, their whole thing was, 'What are we bringing to the next game that no one else has?' So we want them to look at the games in our movie and think, 'I wish we had thought of that'.
What game developers did you meet with?
MG: We went to Avalanche [a division of Disney Interactive] in Utah, and... I keep forgetting the name of the guys in Orange County. We also went to arcades all over LA.
A lot of kids don't know about arcades. Why set it there instead of inside something like an Xbox?
RM: That was a lot of debate about that. We wondered if anyone under the age of 35 would know what an arcade is. So I went to my son, who was 14 or 15 at the time, and asked him. 'Do you know about arcades and Pac-Man and these old games?' 'Yeah, I grew up with them.' He seemed to have a warmth and regard for this stuff. And visually, it also worked better to have these different games connected this way. Though it was still a nail-biter until the trailer came out and people really responded to it.
Given all you're doing in this movie, what was your first draft like?
Jennifer Lee (co-writer): What's really great about Disney is that they really let you just go and create and discover. So there was a lot of exploration, and we had a lot of crazy ideas. The biggest challenge was honing it down. It wasn't until about a year ago that we really got it close to be the solid story it wound up being.
RM: We also had Jack and John meet with the animators and talk about the characters. It's odd that this never really happens because it really helped the animators get into the characters' heads.
JL: Another thing that was nice was that we got them to work together a lot. Which is unusual in animation; usually, we get the voices separately. So we actually did a lot of improv with them, which really helped shape the movie. You not only have cameos from famous characters, but they're voiced by the people who do them in the games.
RM: Yeah, I really wanted this to be authentic. Being a fan of this stuff, I know that if it was a character I was a fan of, I'd want them to sound like they do in the games.
How did you decide which characters to include?
RM: The story team had free reign to put in jokes about any game character, and if it worked, then we would go to the game company and see if it we could get them. The tough one was finding someone who'd let us make their character homeless. We asked a lot of companies before the people who own Q*bert. They loved it. Which was great because he's the perfect character to play someone who's down on his luck.
So did you play a lot of games as a kid growing up?
RM: I did. I remember Pong when it came out, and spent a lot of time in arcades playing Dig Dug and Street Fighter. We've played a lot of Mario Kart in my house.
What's your all-time favourite?
RM: I love Pac-Man. There was a tabletop Pac-Man at the pizza place next to my high school that I loved. I didn't get to put a tabletop Pac-Man in the movie, but the man himself is. I also really loved Dragon's Lair, but, unfortunately, the legalities around the characters and the art made it impossible to get Dirk the Daring in the movie.
Which is funny because that game was made by...
RM: ...Don Bluth, who used to work at Disney. But for every Dirk we couldn't get, there are ten who made me say, 'I can't believe we got Bowser in the movie'. And we got some obscure ones in the film. There's a lot of freeze frame moments. As for recent stuff, the game I loved while working on this movie was Saints Row: The Third, which is just absolute mayhem. What's funny is that there was a whole other game world that Ralph was going to go to. It was called Extreme Easy Living 2, and it was a cross between The Sims and Grand Theft Auto, a sort of lawless, amoral, social gaming world. It was going to be where Ralph hit rock bottom, but we cut it out. But as I played Saints Row, I realised, 'This is Extreme Easy Living 2'. They beat us to the punch.