Jack Epps Jr talks about Top Gun, his favourite quotes, Jim Cash and his new found love of gaming
On Monday, PS3 Attitude were invited to join various other journalists to field questions to Jack Epps Jr, the scriptwriter of Top Gun – the game and film.
Jack was faced with a whole kaleidoscope of questions but he answered them all like a pro: with lots of passion and more coolness than one of Iceman’s stares.
Please don’t ask us to name everyone at the Q&A, as we simply couldn’t. But in the interest in fairness, we’ll henceforth call them collectively the Wonder Journos [WJ], to distinguish their questions to Jack Epps Jr [JE] from ours at PS3 Attitude [PS3A]. Enjoy…
[Wonder Journos] The first question is kind of an obvious question, are you a gamer?
[Jack Epps Jr] That is the obvious question. You know I’ve dipped in and out of it at various stages of my life. I think what really hurt me was those early PC games when you had to go into batch files and rewrite your entire computer to play them. So I got a little burned on some of those things, especially games that were really punitive. But you know being involved with Top Gun has pulled me back into it and the visuals now are terrific. I’ve been leading my way through BioShock and I’m really looking forward to Red Dead Redemption. I’ve got to get my thumbs working faster, I’m not bludgeoning people fast enough.
One thing I’ve really been for a long time is a fan of the industry. I’m a very visual person and what I see in gaming right now… I just love the worlds. Films have a great influence in games and games are now having an influence on films.
[PS3 Attitude] Can you cite any specific examples of this happening?
[JE] You look at Inception and the whole concept of a world within a world. That movie doesn’t happen without the influence of gaming because it is a game within it and yet it is a film visual.
Now, I’d like to see more dreamlike. If Inception was done in a game it would be much more dreamlike; I think it’s my one critique of that movie. I was thinking of my dream last night, it made no sense whatsoever but the visuals were outrageous.
[WJ] Would you like to create a world yourself for a game, and if so what would this world look like?
[JE] That’s interesting, I think I would. As a creator that’s a real challenge because there are so many worlds being created already that trying to carve up something new and fresh is really hard. It’s hard in a movie, but in a movie you can rely on a narrative, so you can get a world where you’re familiar with the narrative. In gaming, how do you do worlds, or use existing worlds and take it somewhere else? I think that is what’s happening now. In the gaming I’m seeing, the narrative is really growing but not getting in the way of play.
[WJ] Were there any difficulties in transitioning the script from the film to the game? Any uphill challenges?
[JE] I think the biggest challenge – and I liked it the most – was actually this: in the movie we got a third act and Maverick goes and has a big battle and then we have the end scene then culmination. In the game we’re going to stay there for a while, it’s not going to be one scene in the Indian Ocean. That’s a major part of the play. So that means we had to really grow this part and understand why we’re staying there. I think for me as a writer, I think we did a good job creating an environment which you could sort of believe in the ‘80s.
One of the things which I thought was a smart decision early on: let’s not give it a date but let’s keep it within that period. We’re in the Soviet world where we have a good clear antagonist.
The other thing I really like – we didn’t do this in the movie – we created a soviet fighter for Maverick to go up against. In the movie, in a sense, that would have been a good thing, but in the game you have got that guy.
[PS3A] Was it an easy decision to bring back all the characters we loved from the film?
[JE] When you think of the movie, you want to be with these guys. So if you write it without them, you end up saying “ Well, what happened to them?” It’s the world; it’s the time; it’s who they are. Let’s bring them back and have fun with them. If I’m a player I really want to fly with them; fly with Iceman. For me the fun is to revisit them. We didn’t want to change anybody. If a player is Maverick, he’s obvious not speaking, but his presence is really there.
[WJ] How did you get back in the head of these characters? Did you go back through your old files?
[JE] That’s a good question. Yes I did go again and look at one of the early scripts, just to get a sense of rhythm and to get a feeling again for these characters. But the truth is, I wrote the script, I got to fly on some F-14s and F-16s. I had a blast! That never got out of my blood. The movie then took a life on its own so in many ways it’s never left me because it’s so much part of my life.
It was fun to go back and pull some of the lines out. I did use some dramatic license and shifted a line from one person to another because in the game I couldn’t have all these characters but I thought the line was more important.
[WJ] In films, the protagonist begins character development. He starts the story with a certain viewpoint and then after a series of events he or she changes. There’s an arc there. That kind of thing is still rare in video games. I’m curious to know how you dealt with that?
[JE] Well one of the limitations of games is of course that you have gameplay sections and cutscene sections. For me it’s a little jarring and a little clunky but there is still the story. This is Maverick, he comes in on the same situation, we have Iceman. They already know each other. We assume the player will have a sense of the movie, so they can jump right in. If they don’t, it doesn’t really matter. Through the series of events and different missions different things happen. The Maverick and Iceman relationship goes back and forth. And of course, this is a fun game to play. Here you get to play the movie. The player has a lot of fun in taking the role and just flying. It’s not a flight game but it has a lot of flying.
[WJ] What’s the single hardest challenge of writing for a game rather than a movie?
[JE] One of my pet peeves: many times the writer comes a little late to the process. That’s just how this happens. I think writers should come in a little earlier. By the time you come to it many things already exist, so you find yourself working within the confines of what’s already there.
I also wrote the movie Anaconda. It’s hard to say Anaconda and Top Gun in the same breath, but in that film all the CGI was already done – much like with video games – and we just came in and threw all the story out, literally all the characters, to fit around the CGI. So it’s not too dissimilar to film but it is a challenge.
The second challenge is trying to make all these characters so they feel familiar. We did several drafts to get the rhythm – some days were better than others – but it’s always a challenge.
[WJ] I heard the new game will delve deeper into the relationship between Iceman and Maverick, can you elaborate on that?
[JE] Yeah. As there are more missions they get to extend their story a bit and their competition. Iceman gets to be a bit more aggressive. That’s also one of my criticisms of the movie. Iceman kind of flips out a bit at the end. He goes “Maverick help me, help me.” Well guys, Iceman never flips out even in that situation. I think we got a really good competition between them, with Ivan the Soviet ace being their targets.
And Maverick is still getting over some problems. If you remember, there was a major problem in the film. We address it; we don’t just put it to one side. There’s all that emotional stuff still happening which I think really ties into the existing narrative but we’ve got more missions to examine it.
[WJ] When you say his problems. In the film he’s becoming more aware of the effects he’s having on other people. He’s a cocky rule breaker. Are you saying this moral tale was translated into the game?
JE] I try to keep it there in the cutscenes, absolutely. Without getting cluttered. I think the player doesn’t want to sit down and watch a bunch of cutscenes, they want to have fun, but I still want to play around with the narrative… It’s about having fun. I wanted to get back into this world and have some fun with it. If you’re a Top Gun fan, let’s revisit some of these themes and have some fun.
[WJ] Did the idea of Top Gun in a more contemporary setting interest you at all? Missions over Iraq and Afghanistan?
[JE] That’s always a challenge because if you’re really talking about real world today, predator drones are basically the flight missions. Those guys are sitting in a dome in Nevada. Our air supremacy is so strong. When I was researching Top Gun, the great fighter powers of the world were Soviets, Israel and that’s it. When we went to Iraq those guys wouldn’t get off the ground because they were so frightened to fly because we were so well trained. You’d have to create a different situation. I’m not sure it works in the contemporary.
[WJ] Going back to cutscenes. Did you have a certain length in mind?
[JE] Well, what I found – like with everything in movies – shorter is better. As much as writers like every word they’ve ever written, shorter is better. We have a total of 11 missions, so we had a lot of opportunities for scenes. Just like with movies, you want to keep the audience interested and keep the narrative moving.
[PS3A] Top Gun was obviously a collaboration between yourself and Jim Cash, if he was still around today, what do you think he’d think of the game?
[JE] I think Jim would really love it. It’s funny because Top Gun was our seventh unproduced script. When we originally handed it to Paramount they said there were too many planes in the sky, we’re not going to make the movie. We were all just devastated. We couldn’t understand. This was a visual which you’d never seen before. There was a change of administration and they needed to get a movie, they pulled the script out and the movie (Top Gun) got made. So it’s one of those projects that’s had a life of its own. I think Jim would be thrilled with it.
The fun thing with it was that Jim Cash had a real fear of flying. So the only pace you’d get him in a plane is with him sitting in his house playing the video game.
[PS3A] Were there any direct quotes from the film used in the game?
[JE] Oh sure! You kidding? I can’t NOT do that. “I feel the need… need for speed”. If I had a dollar for every time that’s been quoted…
[PS3A] What quotes will we see returning?
[JE] Well you know. “I want somebody’s butt, I want it now; I’ve had it.” and “Son, your ego is writing cheques your body can’t cash”. That’s my favourite line. There’s: “if you screw up just this much, you’ll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong!” Those are fun. It’s fun just throwing them in, many times just throwing them away. The fun of lines. But you know, trying to put them in, [I asked] were they appropriate?
[PS3A] Is this the first of many game scripts?
[JE] Yeah, I think this is fun. I like it. I like the world, I like being involved in it. I want to do more. I’m a person inspired by visuals and I love being able to do big stories and this is something video games do well.
[WJ] So when can we expect Anaconda the game?
[JE] You know that would be fun. I’d like to do that. It was actually quite fun killing people off. You know, “how can we think of another way to squeeze someone really tightly?”