Connect with us

Gaming

Dread Pirate Roberts escaped development hell: Making Silk Road work as a film

Published

on

Trailer for Silk Road.

In the last decade or so of Ars, two pre-COVID news stories stand out to me as the “biggest”—the kind of stuff that captivates a general audience in the moment and will attract the eyes of Hollywood eventually. The first one happened back in 2013, when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified documents that showed the US had a secret surveillance program up and running that even monitored US citizens. To make the saga even juicier, Snowden ultimately had to flee the country for fear of legal retribution.

The second story largely unfolded in that same year. A young libertarian named Ross Ulbricht pondered why in the United States you couldn’t purchase drugs freely and openly on the Internet through some kind of one-stop repository like Amazon. Eventually, his Silk Road website sprung up and captivated the world… until federal authorities finally closed in on Ulbricht in a San Francisco library in October 2013. The arrest led to an eye-opening trial and a life sentence for the pseudonymous Dread Pirate Roberts.

Snowden’s story ultimately got the Hollywood treatment, via the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour in 2014 and a fictionalized account starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt two years later. And though it took a bit longer (unless we’re counting a made-for-TV documentary), the Silk Road odyssey has finally made its feature film debut, too.

After years of rumors and vetted projects, Silk Road had a February VOD run and arrived on Hulu this month. Previous attempts to get a film in the can included industry royalty as big as the Coen brothers (that one would have been based on coverage by our Condé brethren Wired.). But time and again, these initiatives sputtered out during some stage of “development hell”—scripts that weren’t quite right, issues with casting and budget, etc. What actually got the job done was paring down rather than expanding the scope of this complex crypto crime thriller.

“There’s a long history of attempts to get this movie made—there were many competing projects at one time, I think there were four or five,” says Duncan Montgomery of High Frequency Entertainment, the production company that helped get Silk Road (based on this Rolling Stone piece) done. “[When we were finally brought on], we started giving our opinion directly to everyone: it needs to be a smaller film.

“[Screenwriter/director] Tiller Russell had interesting elements—the cat-and-mouse detective stuff that gets out of the box and has some entertaining aspects. But this was never going to be a $30 to $40 million-budget film,” he told Ars this spring. “So when Imagine Entertainment’s deal with the other producer expired, we stepped in and got the rights. And I think Imagine was OK with that, because by then they understood it wasn’t going to be a fit for the kind and size of films they like to make.”

How to make a Silk Road film, step one: narrow it

Anyone who followed even a tiny amount of the Silk Road news coverage can probably close their eyes and imagine how a studio might see this as a globetrotting blockbuster. It’s the Stefon of source material: the Silk Road had everything. Worldwide reach with major happenings in San Francisco, Austin, and DC. Bleeding-edge technology leveraged for lucrative crime. Drugs galore. An alleged murder-for-hire scheme. Dirty cops capable of major schemes and good cops capable of intricate investigation. And at the center of it all stood a stubbornly ideological kingpin who ultimately turned out to be more bluster and brains than brawn.

All that drama happens long before you even get to the tense arrest attempts and courtroom fireworks. But taking this huge story and translating it into a film that could be successful at the (before times) box office while keeping a normal runtime isn’t simple. Montgomery says the team started by identifying then tackling two core challenges: the scope and the screens.

“To this day, there’s so much we had to leave out. Really, what this needs is a six-hour limited series,” he tells Ars. “So that was really hard, and it had to find a balance. Do we just tell Ross’ story? Do we even have enough time? Then we ultimately had a DEA agent who’s really an amalgamation of real people. We didn’t feel comfortable from a legal standpoint telling Carl Force’s story or using another guy, so we made a combination of several.”

To maintain this narrow focus, Silk Road unfolds in parallel storylines. On one side, the film follows Ulbricht, played by Nick Robinson (Jurassic World). Montgomery has lived in Austin, Texas, since the ’90s, and he remembers having friends that put him a degree of separation away from a young Ulbricht. But despite how captivating the team found Ulbricht’s backstory while working through the research, the film ultimately skips the Silk Road founder’s upbringing and college years, and it halts before the courtroom drama.

What’s covered, however, is extremely loyal to reality. Silk Road had Ulbricht’s former girlfriend Julia Vie as a consultant who also optioned her story rights. The film shows Ulbricht problem-solving early marketing and technical hiccups until he increasingly loses his grip on reality. He goes from philosophically driven entrepreneur with a life to man whose site is his sole focus. And as nefarious as some of his choices and motivations ultimately become, Silk Road does sympathize with this character—a stubborn but personable young adult driven to a dangerous obsession that wipes out his humanity.

“On Ross’ side, that portion of the story is very, very accurate,” Montgomery says. “[Vie] lived with him during that time, so she more than anyone else—even more than his family, his friends—knew. We don’t always tell our parents everything. But it’s much harder to hide it from her, so he was very open with her story… The FBI had interviewed Vie and decided she was not a suspect, so she felt very free to talk with us. They had a relationship we could explore, and we could share their intimacy.”

Continue Reading

Gaming

Valve moves Dota 2 International to Romania, adds mask-and-vax rules

Published

on

Valve announced this week that its prestigious Dota 2 tournament The International will require all attendees to be fully masked and vaccinated for entry.

As noted on the Dota 2 site, anyone attending the October competition at the National Arena in Bucharest, Romania, must be at least 10 days out from their final vaccination, and attendees will need to present proof of inoculation (which must be in either English or Romanian) along with a photo ID to gain access to the event grounds and tournament arena. All attendees must also wear a mask and proof-of-vaccination wristband along with their registration badges. Additional safety protocols will be put into place throughout the tournament.

Now in its tenth year, The International gathers together the best Dota 2 teams from around the globe to compete for a multi-million dollar prize pool.  But over the past year, Valve has not had an easy time with COVID-related restrictions for its annual tournament. The company’s initial plans to hold The International 10 in Stockholm were scrapped earlier this summer after the Swedish Sports Federation decided not to include esports in its officially recognized body—a move that meant anyone traveling for the tournament would be denied an entry visa.

Valve’s subsequent requests for the Swedish government to intervene were denied, with the company announcing the move to Romania in July. (2020’s tournament, which was also planned to be held in Stockholm, was indefinitely delayed in April 2020 over safety concerns amidst the global pandemic.)

The move to make The International a fully-vaccinated, fully-masked tournament is just the latest in a growing trend of gaming events tightening up COVID restrictions. For instance, this summer’s PAX West in Seattle required attendees to present either proof-of-vaccination or a negative PCR test for entry, as well as wearing a vaccination-proof wristband along with their registration badges.

The International 10’s group stage, which doesn’t appear to be open to the public, will be held October 7-10, while the main stage tournament event (the only stage Valve is selling tickets for) will be split between two midweeks running from October 12-15. The finals are scheduled to be held on October 16 and 17. Tickets for the main stage will go on sale September 22, and those are sold in three separate two-day bundles.

Continue Reading

Gaming

RIP Sir Clive Sinclair, creator of UK’s famed ZX Spectrum gaming computer

Published

on

Enlarge / Sir Clive Sinclair holding the world’s smallest television screen when it was created by Sinclair Radionics in 1977.

Getty Images

Sir Clive Sinclair, the namesake of a British electronics manufacturer who helped pioneer Europe’s microcomputing boom, is dead at the age of 81.

His company, Sinclair Radionics, is arguably best known around the world for 1982’s ZX Spectrum, an early example of a computer capable of multi-color, real-time graphics. The device dominated the UK and other European territories in the early 1980s. This computer was a major processing step up from black-and-white Spectrum computers like ZX80 and ZX81, and it debuted in a configuration priced as low as £125. American readers probably best know this platform thanks to popular and ambitious ZX Spectrum games from the little developer Ultimate: Play The Game. That company eventually rebranded itself as Rareware and turned into a ’90s powerhouse on Nintendo consoles.

Yet before his name became interminably linked to gaming history, Sinclair’s rise to running his own electronics manufacturing company largely resembles the stories of American electronics pioneers who began as garage hobbyists. A BBC documentary, Clive Sinclair: The Pace Setters, chronicles the inventor’s rise, which began with him selling one-at-a-time radio kits via mail order in the 1960s.

As the documentary is region-locked, many readers will have to settle on this BBC text version of its highlights, which follows Sinclair’s rise as a maker of British pocket calculators and portable TVs before redirecting his efforts to personal computers. During this time, an effort to get the British government to back Sinclair as a formally supported PC maker, especially as the government began bullishly promoting computer access in homes and schools, fell apart. Instead, rival computer manufacturer Curry became a “BBC Micro” partner. Sinclair and Spectrum fired back with the more powerful ZX Spectrum, which went on to sell over 5 million units. Sadly, the rest of his career didn’t reach the same heights, and it was largely marked by botched efforts to launch electric modes of transport, including the famous failure that was the pod-like C5 “car.”

For a charming Clive-on-Clive conversation, check out this 1990 interview with longtime British TV host Clive Anderson (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), complete with the two men looking at and talking about various Spectrum inventions over the years—including, incredibly, Sinclair’s failed C5.

Sir Clive Sinclair talks about his product history in 1990.

Continue Reading

Gaming

Battlefield 2042 joins recent game-delay frenzy, moves to November

Published

on

Enlarge / This looks fun.

Battlefield 2042 has been delayed from its initial October 22 release date, though it will still launch this year, EA announced today. The multiplayer-only shooter will now hit stores on November 19, the publisher said in a statement.

Citing the complications of developing games in a work-from-home environment during a global pandemic—by now a familiar challenge for the countless game makers that have had to delay other high-profile 2021 games—DICE assured fans that the team is working on finishing touches rather than dealing with any kind of development trouble. The developer also reiterated that there would be updates later this month regarding 2042‘s open beta. In other words, this is pandemic business as usual.

After Battlefield 2042‘s reveal during EA’s June E3 news blitz, the publisher announced that the game will feature three modes, none of which are battle royale-related. “All-Out Warfare,” the traditional BF deathmatch mode, is finally upgrading to 128 players on current-gen consoles and PC. “Battlefield Portal” is a mashup game that lets players customize matches with elements of Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3 inside 2042 maps. “Hazard Zone” is an alleged squad-based mode that EA has thus far been mum on. Today’s announcement didn’t specify whether all three modes would launch with the game.

As far as the seemingly endless train of 2021 delays is concerned, DICE’s isn’t as bad as it could be. Earlier this week, Techland confirmed its long-in-production Dying Light 2 is being pushed back to February 2, while Ubisoft announced this week that its guitar-instruction game Rocksmith+ is shifting to 2022. Sony also recently announced that Horizon Forbidden West will move to February 28 from its original “late 2021” launch.

Continue Reading

Trending