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Warner Bros games are coming out of the shadow of its movies

Warner Bros. is known for its movies, but its games are also a big business. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is No. 12 on the list of the world’s largest public video game companies by game revenue, according to market researcher Newzoo.

With new games like the upcoming Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the game company has shown that it can create new lore around Middle-earth that is as good as anything that novelist J.R.R. Tolkien wrote or that Peter Jackson created in his movies The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Warner started on this path a decade ago, and it has collected a number of studios — from Monolith to TT Games — that have been making flagship titles for years. This year, the company has launched Injustice 2, and it will release Middle-earth: Shadow of War on October 10. Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 debuts on November 17.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with David Haddad, the president of WBIE.

Above: David Haddad of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: It looks like you have a good E3 in the making.

David Haddad: We’re feeling very good about our lineup, yeah. In the booth, which we’re also using as a platform to stream and do developer conversations and cosplay–this year we’re trying to take our E3 booth investment and get it out to everyone that can’t make it into the show. There are consumers here, but there are still a lot more fans we think want to see and hear everything.

We’ll be talking about Injustice 2. We’re very excited. It’s the highest rated game in NetherRealm’s history. One of the highest rated games of the year. People recognize the addition of the gear system. Of course they get the combat, but the great story they put on top of that, the gear system they’ve added with a new way to play, the improved multiverse on top of what they did for MKX—we couldn’t be happier with it.

We also used this E3 to announce esports as a way to keep engagement in that game, to keep the fans not just playing, but watching. We have an emphasis around that, even though it’s already released. And we have Shadow of War coming up.

GamesBeat: Superheroes seem to be pretty hot following the success of Wonder Woman.

Haddad: Congratulations to our studio. I had nothing to do with it, but we couldn’t be happier for our partners in theatrical. The response to it, critically and from the fans, the strength going into week two—also, we had three live DC games, two on mobile and one on console. We were able to activate around that. We were able to give Wonder Woman content and DLC for our two mobile games as well as the console game. That stuff works across the whole studio. We’re very proud of that. And we’re doing more superheroes with Lego Marvel 2, a sequel to our best-selling Lego game ever.

Above: The Guardians of the Galaxy 2 characters are among the many superheroes of Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2.

Image Credit: Warner Bros./TT Games

GamesBeat: As far as the lineup for the year, do you view this as a more loaded year than last year?

Haddad: Last year was a little uneven for us and our slate. Our approach is, we have no annualized franchises. We try to build and launch games when they have the right amount of time. Our independent studio structure doesn’t give us that annualized approach, which means that some years are less even. 2015 was a record year for us, but we believe 2017 will get very close to it. We’re excited about the strength of it so far.

GamesBeat: Shadow of War got pushed back a couple of months, but it seemed like a good thing. Red Dead Redemption 2 was delayed, too.

Haddad: It’s found its window. Frankly, we did it from a point of confidence, a point of strength. What’s coming from Monolith, all of the things they’ve put into that game, the additional innovation, the growth of the nemesis system to include your map and your territory and everything you do, the powerful story element, additional tribes, additional systems going in—really, something they innovated on several years ago with Shadow of Mordor, which we still think is unique in the industry, is this idea that every way you play and every time you play, it will be remembered. It’ll influence the way that game unfolds for you in the future. The way they’ve added that to the forts and the sieges, we just think it’s remarkable.

The game is so much bigger. It has so many more complex systems. We’re taking the time to make sure it’s fully polished for the reviewers and for the gamers. We found a nice window in October for it.

GamesBeat: The story trailer stoked a lot of questions about the mystery behind it.

Haddad: Yeah, there’s some intrigue around it. No spoilers here, but we’re glad there’s a lot of curiosity around it. We’re showing and streaming a lot here. We’re thrilled that the critics will be able to get their hands on the game and play it through. But there’s a lot more to be revealed yet as we move closer to launch.

Above: Shadow of War is about taking over enemy fortresses.

Image Credit: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

GamesBeat: Are you fully informing the film guys, like Peter Jackson, that you have some interesting things to add to the lore here?

Haddad: I can’t comment on greenlighting movies. [Laughs] But as a medium, as what we do here starts to become even more epic—it’s going to look amazing in 4K. It’s going to look amazing on the latest consoles. It’s going to have a very theatrical element to it, a very powerful story. But no comment on the movies.

GamesBeat: It’s clever what they’re doing with — it’s a fun game, but it also means a lot to people who enjoy the lore of the series.

Haddad: There’s so much rich lore to mine and bring to an interactive, in-depth story. The studio had a lot to leverage there.

GamesBeat: Are you finding that there are two different audiences there? Do you have older Tolkien fans, people like me who are more into the novels, and then people who mostly like the fighting?

Haddad: Our ambitions for this game are very high. We’ll have multiple rings of ownership. We certainly think the first game, Shadow of Mordor, found an audience, many of which were very attached to the lore. But the uniqueness of the game systems brought in a whole new level of ownership among gamers. Our ambition is to keep that ownership ring going even wider. If you love this style of game, the third-person combat and the replayability, we expect to go even deeper.

GamesBeat: Do you notice a trend toward Hollywood approaching the game industry again? Annapurna and Skydance are both making moves. Lionsgate is greenlighting a lot of VR stuff.

Haddad: Warner Bros has been at it well over a decade. We have a collection of assets, first being our great content studios in our owned studio network, many of which also have great gaming IP. Not movie IP. As you and I have talked about in the past, whether it’s Arkham and what Rocksteady has done with that, or the Shadow series and what Monolith has done there, they’re bringing that to life in its own entertainment format.

We do believe it’s a great time to be in games, though. Platforms, the connected console, the digital engagement, the ability to see more and more hours played in our games, the ability to keep providing content to fans who want to keep playing and engaging—for us, as an entertainment studio, it’s very attractive. It has high growth, high engagement. We can reach gamers in a more direct way than ever on mobile and on console.

Above: Shadow of War is the sequel to Shadow of Mordor.

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

GamesBeat: Do you feel like VR is getting sorted out? Microsoft didn’t talk about it much. It’s become a bit of a puzzle.

Haddad: We didn’t see anything from them, yeah. But we saw a lot from Sony. They’ve told us the number of games in development for the PSVR. There’s going to be a lot of content to fuel the various platforms. We’ve created great game content in VR with Arkham VR. Our home entertainment division is putting VR cinematic experiences into the marketplace.

I still believe we’re in the early stages of this for consumers, but we’re watching the installed bases grow. Most important, creators continue to be mesmerized by creating for the platform. That’s ultimately what will drive this.

GamesBeat: Any reactions to the platform announcements?

Haddad: I love that, in the last year, all the consoles have invested in new hardware across the board. They’re all interesting in their own way. But the most important thing is, it gives our game creators new tools to delight the gamer. Whether it’s a new form of interactive play, or 4K and high fidelity and streaming, lots of consoles are going to be sold. Lots of capabilities are going to be added, lots of new services. It’s a rich environment for us as a publisher to build for.

Above: The Balrog in Shadow of War

Image Credit: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

GamesBeat: What about the show itself? You mentioned you have cosplayers at the booth. There are more shareable activities going on.

Haddad: We have 16 hours of programming we’re doing from our floor. We’ve teamed up with Machinima, our sister division. They have six cameras and an entire production staff. Our goal is to give people access. If they didn’t have a ticket, but they want to know more about our content, our games, our game-makers, our fans, our esports teams that are playing Injustice, we’ll be programming that from our floor this year.

We’re talking in the early hours of this, but you can already feel the extra consumers that have been brought to the show. They’ll be tweeting and sharing. As I was walking through the crowd to get here, every other person had their phone in the air trying to video something. It’s a bit of an experiment for this year’s E3, but I think the industry is committed to making E3 interesting, both for the people attending and all those fans we have worldwide.

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What we’re watching: ‘Raw’ and ‘Feast of Fiction’

Welcome back to Video IRL, where several of our editors talk about what they've been watching in their spare time. This month we're kicking things off with some seasonally-appropriate horror fare, that you can catch right away on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Then it's time for a Gundam throwback before Kris Naudus points out a couple of YouTube food channels perfect for binge eating or binge watching.

Them / Raw

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Timothy J. Seppala
Associate Editor

To get into the Halloween spirit, I've been watching at least one horror movie a day since the end of September -- the lower the budget, the better. Problem is, so many of the American low-budget or indie horror offerings on Amazon and Netflix are crappy Paranormal Activity clones, cheap-thrill gore-fests or uninspired found-footage "documentaries." Whether it's by design or coincidence, I've found that French horror movies have held my attention the most lately. Specifically, 2016's Raw, as well as Them, from ten years prior. They're more psychological thrillers than straight-up horror, but that didn't stop me from being more on edge while watching them one afternoon than I was during A Haunting in Saginaw, Michigan, late at night. Both start with a car crash, but they couldn't finish any more differently.

Raw, recently added to Netflix, tells the tale of a vegetarian girl in her first week at a prestigious veterinary school. During a hazing ritual, she's forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney. She immediately gets sick, throws up and wakes herself up that night scratching a full-body rash to near bleeding. This bout with food poisoning is just the beginning, though, and soon protagonist Justine finds out she has a taste for forbidden fruit. As the remaining 70-ish minutes unfolded, I lost track of how many times I clasped my hands over my mouth, agape in shock, to stifle my shouts of "OHMYGODWHATTHEFUCKISEVENHAPPENING?!"

But French director Julia Ducournau balances every body-horror scene either with something pedestrian twisted into being unsettling (like a horse on a treadmill) or with something that makes you ask how far Justine can go before someone confronts her about her new diet. And those questions keep coming right until the credits roll. I can't say I enjoyed watching Raw, but it was a hell of a ride.

The same goes for Them, currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Its focus is narrow, centering on a young couple living in a cavernous farmhouse, terrorized over the course of a night by unseen horrors. The camera never quite gives away who (or what) the perpetrators are, and revealing the twist would be a sin. As with Raw, its atmosphere and overall creepiness won me over straightaway. The scariest part? Realizing that I've probably driven past a shot like the final scene countless times and not thought twice about it. If you're willing to read subtitles, both of these should make you shiver and scream more than The Conjuring 2 on HBO Go could ever hope to.

Mobile Suit Gundam The 08th MS Team

David Lumb

David Lumb
Contributing Editor

I'd heard that a lot of anime had left Hulu, but I scanned their selection anyway looking for classic shows I'd missed, like the original Mobile Suit Gundam. They don't have that -- but they did have a series I didn't finish the first time it aired on Toonami, the 1996 classic Gundam side story The 08th MS Team. Unlike the franchise's other show released the year before, the massively successful Gundam Wing, 08th ditches the brand's typical pretty-boys-in-unbeatable-robots for a grounded and sobering story about the people who get caught up in wars -- desperate soldiers, civilians and guerrillas alike. It's dirty, honest, utterly humane and gorgeously animated.

It's also a little preachy and melodramatic, and it shows its age with odd sexist moments. While it's still the Thin Red Line of the Gundam universe, I remember it far more fondly from when my 14-year-old self grazed the series on its first American airing. There's something sad in seeing an old favorite for the flawed media it always was. Much like Waypoint's Rob Zacny, I've grown up and seen a lot since I first caught the show as a starry-eyed teen. I still think The 08th MS Team is a wonderful little 12-episode miniseries with a big heart, but I won't revere it so highly -- and will think a little harder about who I recommend it to.

Feast of Fiction / Binging with Babish

Kris Naudus

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Senior Editor, Database

Back in March, I came home from a trip only to discover that my oven didn't work. The cooking gas in my building had been shut off due to a leak. My building management seemed to be on it, so I made do with a combination of microwavables, toaster oven and Seamless. Unfortunately, weeks and months went by, calls to the city were made and permits were issued, but, even as I write this in October, gas still has not been restored to my building. My landlords eventually threw their collective hands in the air and began installing electric ranges in every apartment, so a few weeks ago I was finally able to cook for myself again.

I am so jazzed to be able to make food. Hot food! Scrambled eggs! Steak! Cookies! I started reading food blogs and cookbooks, and shopping to refill my pantry. I'm halfway through Kenji Alt-Lopez's The Food Lab, a huge 900-page hardcover that talks about the science of how food cooks. On the lighter side, I've also been reading food-themed comics like Delicious in Dungeon and Food Wars. And the latter title (which is also an anime) ended up sucking me into a YouTube hole of food videos that I've been obsessed with ever since.

You see, the very first chapter of Food Wars features the "Gotcha" Pork Roast, a bacon-wrapped potato loaf that hero Soma Yukihira makes to save his family restaurant. It looks pretty tasty, so I searched for recipes and pics online and stumbled onto Jimmy Wong and Ashley Adams' Feast of Fiction, a series that demonstrates how to make various foods seen in cartoons, video games and comics. If you ever wanted to taste Steven Universe's beloved Cookie Cat ice cream sandwiches or Kirby's super-spicy curry, there's an episode for you. One thing I really enjoy is how they also incorporate crafts into it, showing how to make paper wrappers for your Reptar chocolate bars or genuine-looking Ecto Cooler Hi-C boxes.

I've been marathoning through the episodes, which the YouTube algorithms have definitely picked up on at this point, throwing food show after food show into my suggestions. One that caught my eye was Binging with Babish. Where Feast of Fiction mostly sticks to the realm of kids' cartoons, anime and video games, Binging with Babish is a little more mainstream, covering foods from popular media like Mad Men, Seinfeld and House of Cards. Still, there's a bit of overlap -- both Babish and Feast have done their own takes on the Ultimeatum from Regular Show and Krabby Patties from SpongeBob SquarePants. But the recipes are different, and I watch the shows for the personalities. Feast of Fiction is pretty silly (and there's a cute dog), while Binging with Babish is a little more subdued. Not that Babish can't be ridiculous as well -- the Moist Maker is one of the most ridiculously complicated sandwiches I have ever seen, basically asking you to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner.

Sadly, I still haven't done a lot of actual cooking since getting my stove back. I'm having too much fun watching other people do it instead, with the added bonus that I don't have to clean up the mess.

"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.