Video Games Interview: Shawn Ashmore talks Quantum Break, Supanova and the future of video game narrative

During a whirlwind trip to Australia to promote Remedy Entertainment’s latest game Quantum Break, and an appearance at Gold Coast Supanova over the weekend, we got a chance to chat briefly with the extremely talented Shawn Ashmore.
Alright, look, I know you clicked on the link for the interview and we’re getting to that, but first I’m going to gush a little. Working as an entertainment journalist of any stripe, you find yourself interviewing a lot of famous people. Some of them have worked on things that mean more to you than others, and some of them make you more nervous than others.

I’ve been a fan of Quantum Break‘s Shawn Ashmore since I was in my teens and he played Jake Berenger in Nickelodeon’s 1998 adapation of Animorphs, a series of young adult sci-fi novels I had been well-and-truly obsessed with.

He then went on to play Iceman in Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000, becoming a part of another universe that meant an awful lot to me back then. I jumped at the chance to speak to Shawn via phone last week … but my nerves got the better of me — the phone and I are lifelong enemies — and I greeted him with a mortifyingly clunky and embarrassing opener in the pre-interview because I’m the worst. Incredibly warm, friendly and genuinely pumped to be in Australia, Shawn ended up putting me at ease and we got to chatting about his time-travelling new game.

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The Iris Games: What was it about Quantum Break as a project that appealed to you?

Shawn Ashmore: First and foremost, when I was pitched the concept, the story … I was into it. I love science fiction, I’m a gamer so I love games, and I was really open to experiencing and exploring doing a performance for a game. And also I knew that Remedy Entertainment was going to be the developer, and I was a big fan of their games growing up. So I just jumped in, it was something that sounded interesting to me. And lastly, the idea of having this AAA action-adventure game tied in with a live-action show, I thought that was fascinating. It was pushing boundaries, it was something I hadn’t really seen out there and I wanted to be a part of something like that.

TIG: Quantum Break had been in development for some time before the full cast was announced. When did you come on board? What was that process like?

SA: I came on board about, I think, two years ago so I actually spent a significant amount of time working on Quantum Break. Honestly, I just got a phone call from my agent one day saying “Y’know, there’s this game, would be interested in meeting with Microsoft and Xbox to talk about this new IP they’re creating, and it just went from there. I met with the teams and we discussed the sort of technologies they wanted to use to capture the performances, and then I talked a whole lot with Sam Lake and the team over at Remedy about the character, the story, what they wanted and the kind the performance they were looking to get. It sounded challenging! They wanted to really push the boundaries and develop some interesting characters so, yeah, that’s how I jumped in.

TIG: You mentioned the motion capture there — I mean, you’ve obviously worked with special effects plenty of times before, but given the amount of performance capture work involved here, did that change the way you thought about your performance at all?

SA: It didn’t change the way I thought about the character, or the type of performance I gave, but it was a completely different way of capturing the performance which presented some inherent … I mean, there were certain difficulties for me, just because I had never done it before. So there was a bit of a learning curve. For me, the performance felt very technical in the beginning, but after a few days of doing the motion capture, and then the facial capture that we did in Helsinki, I became much more comfortable when it became sort of more like a normal performance.

TIG: What are your thoughts on the way Quantum Break bounces from game to TV show and back? Do you see this kind of media cross-pollination happening more frequently in future?

SA: I think that was my first big question when I heard about the concept. “How is this gonna work?” And I think what really makes it work for me is having the game be from Jack Joyce’s perspective, that’s the character I play, and then the show from the perspective of Mark Serene and Monarch Solutions, so you sort have one story that’s being told from two different perspectives to create one well-rounded story, a much more in-depth story. The other thing I think makes it work is the capture, the character models, are so real that when you transition to the live-action, it doesn’t feel jarring. That was my big concern — if it, if the animation isn’t stellar then it’s gonna feel kind of like a … it’s going to feel very jarring jumping from one medium to the next. And because we spent so much time and so much detail bringing the in-game characters to life, it felt like the transition was easy, it was simple to switch over. And as far as if we’re going to see more of that, I hope we do! I think this is sort of a bold new way of telling a narrative and stories in games. I think it works amazingly well in Quantum Break and it could be something we see a lot more of. I’d be interested in seeing more of it.

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TIG: I feel like its certainly a good fit for Remedy in particular, games like Max Payne always felt very episodic in nature when I played those back in the day.

SA: Agreed! I totally agree, and I also think that Remedy were smart in that they understand that, the game and the show, there’s different strengths in those mediums. So it’s like, you can’t tell the same type of story in each medium, you have to use the strengths of a game, you have to use the strengths of a TV show, and I think they were well aware of that going in. They weren’t trying to do the same thing in each medium, they used the strengths of each medium to help tell the story.

TIG: We grabbed a couple of questions from Twitter, I hope you don’t mind. Scale of one to ten, how weird is it to play as a digital version of yourself in a video game?

SA: Like a solid 9.5. It’s weird seeing yourself on-screen is weird anyway, but to actually be able to control yourself like that? That was stranger. But I don’t say a full ten because it’s also incredibly cool. It’s like my inner ten-year-old is jumping up and down that I get to do that.

TIG: If you had time distortion powers of your own, what would be your move of choice?

SA: Oh, the time dodge would be my move of choice. It’s my favourite in the game. It can be used offensively and defensively and I think it would be the most useful in daily life. Just dash around, get to places quickly, if you’re ever in danger, like in the way of a car accident or something, you can just dash out of the way. So I think that’s the most useful time power.

TIG: You were at a livestream event at the Microsoft store in Sydney last night – how did that go?

SA: It was amazing! It’s always fun to be somewhere and interact with people that are excited about a project you’re involved with, and so all the fans that were there were pumped to be there, we had stations set up so people could play the game, so it’s just fun. It felt like a really big event, and the Microsoft and Xbox teams are amazing so getting to hang out with them is cool, and getting to interact with anyone who is interested in Quantum Break or had already played it and just wanted to talk about it, it’s always fun. It was very fulfilling to have spent all this time working on a project and get to share it with the people that are out there to play.

TIG: You’re heading to Supanova on the Gold Coast this weekend!

SA: Yeah, jumping on a plane outta Sydney in a little bit. It’s been a whirlwind here in Australia.

TIG: I don’t know if anyone’s told you, and I don’t want to add to the jet lag, but we don’t have Daylight Savings Time in Queensland so you’ll have to wind your internal clock back another hour.

SA: Oh my god, it’ll be nothing compared to what I’ve been doing the last couple days, an hour I can handle!

TIG: Alright, cool, I didn’t want that getting sprung on you at the airport! Will this be your first trip to an Australian convention?

SA: No, no, I don’t know if it was, maybe two years ago I went to one in Melbourne, did a convention there. So much fun, incredible fans in Australia. That’s what I love about doing cons, it’s such a place where people that are passionate about the things that they love — be that comic books or video game or films — they get to go there and be in their wheelhouse, so it’s always fun to go and talk to them. And I’ve done Comic-Con in San Diego for the last four years in a row, so that was an experience. That’s was crazy. It was hectic, but it’s always fun.

TIG: Shawn, thanks so much for your time, I’ve been a fan for so long, I really appreciate it.

SA: Hey, thank you, man. So great to talk to you.

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We’d like to thank Shawn once again for taking the time to speak with us and for being the super sweet and talented dude that he is. We’d also like to thank the team at Xbox Australia for giving me the opportunity to chat to Shawn.

Quantum Break is out now on Xbox One and Windows PC.