Interview: Stay Dead’s Fabrizio Digiovinazzo

Fabrizio Digiovinazzo

Fabrizio Digiovinazzo is CEO and founder of BRUCEfilm, the company behind Stay Dead, one of the most bizarre interactive movies of the past few years. After playing Stay Dead for review purposes (you can find the review right here on the site,) I was left with a couple of questions regarding the game and its creation process. Thankfully, Fabrizio was kind enough to answer all of my questions.


Eric Sandroni: Could you introduce yourself and tell us something about your latest project, Stay Dead?

Fabrizio Digiovinazzo: I’m Italian and I’m 36. I started programming when I was 8. It was in BASIC on my commodore 64. Then [I moved on to] assembler and C on x86 machines. After a couple of years of being at university I quit to study as a director of photography, because the future for a programmer in Italy was everywhere except in the videogame industry (at least at that time). Of course, I wanted to make videogames. In fact, I wanted to do more than that; I wanted to create real time interaction in a movie. So, after more than 10 years of development and after founding BRUCEfilm, I released my attempt to merge the world of games with the [world of] movies: Stay Dead.

Eric: How would you describe Stay Dead to someone who has never seen it or played it?

Fabrizio: Stay Dead is our first idea for a videogame. We call that idea: motion picture games. Playing this kind of games is like watching the movie ‘Indiana Jones’ and being able to command Indiana IN REAL TIME, as if he was a videogame character. It’s not about graphic adventures or Laser Games; we are talking about a REAL ARCADE-ACTION GAME. At its core, Stay Dead is a round beat ’em up like Street Fighter with elements taken from rhythm games. The odd idea is that the game has to be fun to play and fun to watch. I mean, what I want to achieve is the feeling that you are really watching a movie, and not just a jigsaw of shots put together without montage.

Eric: Why actors instead of regular video game characters? What was working with actors like?

Fabrizio: Generally speaking I’ve never liked 3D graphics in videogames. Today’s 3D graphics are still too poor to be compared to pre-rendered graphics. If you compare the movie avatar with the game avatar, the gap is still huge [and for me, it’s difficult to] identify with the videogame character. Of course there are plenty of great games out there in 3D, but I’ve always thought that the real life footage can work in the interactive field as well. And personally, I find much more satisfaction in defeating a real character than a puppet with textures. To produce Stay dead we chose actors from a martial artist environment, so for them the experience was brand new, but for the crew that was a different story. We are a bunch of seasoned video makers, so for us working with actors is quite usual.

Stay Dead screenshot

Eric: You probably get this question a lot, but what was the reasoning behind the censorship of the Swastika in the game’s second confrontation?

Fabrizio: Because we are naive, but German law isn’t. In Germany, the PC market is very big, so we wanted to include that country in our selling territory, but there you can’t show Nazi symbols anywhere. Anywhere except in movies. Here’s the naive part: we are shooting video, hence, we can use Nazi symbols. The German law states that you can use Nazi symbols in a movie because movies are considered art, but games, however are not art in Germany (and in any country of the world). Actually we could have made a special localized version for Germany only (as some war games do,) but in the end we decided to use the censored version worldwide and have a funny story to tell.

Eric: Did any particular films or video games inspire you to create Stay Dead?

Fabrizio: From the video games side my mind is always set on ‘The Way of the Exploding Fist’, that for me is THE round beat’ em up. Of course, other rhythm games were a source of inspiration (Elite Beat Agents and Rock Band,) but even if [it isn’t apparent] the most inspirational games were ‘Made in Wario’ [Editor’s Note: Made in Wario is the Japanese name of the WarioWare series] and ‘Space Invaders Extreme’. From the film perspective, any unwatchable martial arts B movie was a source [of inspiration.] After all, within the game you have to face a scar faced Nazi with a stick (not mention that the scar face was made with toilet paper…)! The tone of the game is more ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ than ‘The Avengers’

Eric: What’s the current state of the interactive movie genre and where is it going?

Fabrizio: When the 3D graphics become photorealistic, the use of the real footage in a game will end up like “the dinosaurs after the ice age.” But my idea was not to make an interactive movie; [my idea] was to let the player interact in real time in an action scene. So my focus is not on the story or the puzzles, but on the interaction and how to give the player the feeling that he is controlling the main character of a movie.

If we see Stay Dead in this way, I hope that my concept can develop further and became a genre by itself. After all, the very new thing here, and the thing I’m more proud of, is not the use of real footage inside a game. The real new concept is that I took away the main character from the center of the screen, and you can still play the game in real time. I can literally put the camera everywhere I want in order to obtain the most beautiful shot, without caring about the main character, and you can still play the game. I think that this concept can survive the ice age and can contribute to create some very cool games.

Stay Dead Swastika

Eric: Was the high difficulty a design choice right from the start?

Fabrizio: Yes and no. Yes, my initial idea was a game that could be a challenging for the hard core gamers. And no, because I’d like that the game could also be accessible to casual gamers. My idea was that a casual gamer could enjoy the game until a certain point; from that point forward it becomes “a work for the pros.” The mistake of the early version of Stay Dead [Editor’s note: the one I reviewed] was that this [breaking] point can be reached too early in the game. I hope that the new release (the 1.1) will fix this problem.

Eric: How did the fans of FMV games and interactive movies respond to Stay Dead?

Fabrizio: It’s hard to know because there are not so many fans of FMV games out there, so the statistics are not so accurate right now. But I received a lot of good comments from nostalgic gamers from the ’90s. The best comment is one from Rob Fulop (the game designer of Night Trap and practically the man who started the genre in the ’90s). After playing Stay Dead for a weekend he said: “It’s very well done, and the best example of a live action fighting game that I’ve seen. Very seamless, it’s like one doesn’t even notice, it just becomes fully immersive, like you are really controlling a video character”. Thanks Mr. Fulop.

Eric: Finally, what’s your favorite video game and why?

Fabrizio: Every year there is at least one great game, so it’s hard to tell… If i may, I’d like to give you three titles:

The one I would have liked to create myself: Tetris because it’s everything I search as a game designer: easy to understand, easy to play, all the fun comes from the skeleton and not from the skin and most of all, if you try to change something, the result is worse than the original. It’s perfect as is.

The one I’ve played the most during the [past few] years: The Beatles Rock Band. Generally speaking I like rhythm games but just when I thought I played them all, [The Beatles Rock Band] arrives and delivers something magical. Of course the songs are [superb,] but i think that in this game the coders have gone beyond the call of duty, they have put their true love for the genre…

The one that is an all-time classic: Bubble Bobble. This game is so different, so polished, so well balanced, so full of ideas that I still think that it came from another planet.