Video Game Movies
June 18, 2012 at 3:45 pm #25417
Responding to a thread in the Off Topic forum got me thinking about what the actual potential for video game movies in. My prognosis there was large pessimistic, and I stand by that, but I then started imagining ways a video game movie might actually be able to justify its own existence.
To sort of some up my thoughts in another thread, the biggest hurdle for video game movies that in my mind is that, whenever a game manages to overcome all the commercial, cultural, and technical hurdles necessary to produce a genuinely worthwhile plot or character, there’s really nothing left for a movie to add, since modern games are already fairly “cinematic” as is. Without a compelling understanding of what a film treatment can bring to the table, I doubt game adaptations could ever really be more than cynical cash-ins. There are two potential scenarios I can think of where this limiting factor might not apply:
1. The setting is the star. The best iterations of the Fallout IP have a unique, hilarious, and nihilistic take on science fiction, midcentury culture, and schlock violence, but none of them have the kind of really memorable plots or characters that would make you want to see a direct big screen adaptation. Getting a smart writer, director, and cast together to tell a new story in the wasteland might yield something good. Similarly, you could probably give someone like Guillermo del Toro a crack at Diablo’s basic aesthetic and produce something that at least looks interesting.
2. An older, “pre-cinematic” IP: Modern games are practically already movies and the oldest games are so “pre-cinematic” they don’t really cry out to have their stories adapted, but I suspect there’s a sweet spot of properties from maybe 85-97 where the ambition was there but the technology hadn’t quite caught up. A Lucasarts adventure game maybe might work, especially considering adventure games were generally more about the story than the interactivity already. Alternatively, something from far end of the Bioware/Black Isle RPG catalog. Planescape: Torment could be awesome. The original Fallout could actually check both boxes, and that story is short enough that you wouldn’t have to edit it down once you’d settled on a “canonical” playthrough to adapt. You’d still lose the interactivity with these types of games, but at least it’s a defensible trade if it meant seeing Sigil or the Master rendered with a proper Hollywood effects budget. Of course, if there was enough interest in any of these properties to validate a movie, they probably would have already been readapted to current-gen technology already, anyway.
Anyone disagree? Have other thoughts on properties that would fit into my criteria, or other ways a video game IP could actually benefit from a film adaptation?June 18, 2012 at 4:26 pm #25419
I agree that it’s hard to adapt a medium that is already cinematic on its own.
The closest success anyone has had adapting a videogame might have been Mortal Kombat. I think that worked because there was mythology to that game, but with enough holes in the story that a screen writer could make a unique story.
Ironcially the more plot holes a videogame has, the better chances the movie has.June 19, 2012 at 9:48 pm #25458
Okay, so I’m a high school student, and really planning to make a career out of exactly this: Adapting Video Games into film. They have been my whole life for a while, and I only realized the potential for this a while ago. Since then, I’ve thought about it non-stop.
I’ll apologize in advance, this is going to be a long-ass post. Sorry.
It’s curios you brought up the sweetspot of technology as Lucasarts adventure games. I have to well actually you though, because I think that the games were really focused on the interactivity, but they told great stories with incredible humour at the same time. You said it as though games today are more involved in story, but really, I don’t think either of them have evolved one way or another.
Now, some boring facts about LucasArts going after interactivity.
Sam and Max: Freelance Police started as an underground comic published by Steve Purcell. Purcell was a talented artist and got hired on to do art work for LucasArts titles. Eventually he pitched the idea of a Sam and Max adventure game. Sam and Max Hit the Road became an instant success and got alot of people hooked onto Sam and Max. To me, they did a Sam and Max game for two reasons: The fanbase and cult following Sam and Max had and continues to hold, as well as the fact that the crime-fighters are perfectly suited to this type of game. Sam and Max would later get a sequel, but…
LucasArts screwed the pooch and faced a fallout in light of the falling popularity of Point-and-Click adventures. Sam and Max got canned, and so did alot of employees. Some employees banded together to form TellTale Games, where modern adventure titles like Sam and Max: The Devil’s Playhouse, Back to the Future: The Game, and The Walking Dead: The Game combine great storytelling, which TellTale excels at, with innovative interactivity, like in The Walking Dead: The Game, where the choices you make carry weight and consequence throughout the game’s 5-episode season (one episode released monthly. It’s a good business model. Keeps me busy for five months!).
With video games, it’s hard to say whether something is made for it’s story, or for playability (outside of sports/racing/fighting games), because great gameplay can come out of a fascinating story, or vice versa. Games with little to no story can succeed on a strong gameplay foundation (like good old Mario himself).
In movies, sequels usually spell disaster for a franchise because they tend to fall flat. In video games, since the dawn of time many Marios ago, when a sequel to a game was released, there were more robust features, a deeper story, more playable characters, and it was pretty hard to fail a sequel to a game. Even if the story is a little bit lackluster, added gameplay elements can really improve a game. But that’s not saying that one is more important than the other. With that settled, let’s get into the meat of the question.
So why are movie adaptations so sucky then? The missing gameplay element?
No silly, the story! For a while now, I’ve found myself wanting to punch someone whenever they say that games are more and more becoming a “Blockbuster Experience”. Games like Uncharted, God of War, and Heavy Rain dangle cutesy little cutscenes around our heads and distract us from what it really is, and that takes escapism too far. Silly game thinks it’s movies!
The reason Film adaptations of games suck is because the films don’t do their job. That job is to tell the story that we DON’T get in the games. The story that you have read between the lines for. Developer Sucker Punch’s Sly Cooper 3: Honor Among Thieves addresses the issues between characters, and devotes more time to cutscenes and discussion of themes. One of which is the “second-banana effect” as I just named it right now. The dueteragonist of the series feels resentment for being treated as a lesser. This is just begging to be explored further in a film adaptation, as a continuing arc throughout the trilogy. In a more subtle way, Developer Naughty Dog’s Uncharted does the same thing. The story revolves around Treasure Hunter Nathan Drake. Treasure hunting is his life, and the exploits of one Sir Francis Drake consume him in a big way. That’s why, in Uncharted: Drake’s Forutne, the unlikely romance between Nate and reporter Elena Fisher is such a hook that sinks itself deep into the audience. In Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, a new character, Chole Frazer is introduced. She has a history with Nate and a duplicitous nature. When the game introduces a tantalizing love triangle between these three characters, it opts for a happy wrapped-up ending instead of exploring thematic content such as choice, and giving up, both of which are introduced and not acted upon because of the game’s tight pacing. There’s not alot of room for cutscenes when they want to get you back to the gameplay as soon as possible.
These are the type of things I would explore in film adatations of these games, if given the chance of course. I think that this is so much more interesting than alot of the actual narrative the game offers up front. A film lets you explore other characters. In a game, your viewpoint character is the player character, and you don’t get alot of depth from the other characters because of the medium. When the focus is on interaction, you don’t want to watch a cutscene. You want to run around and shoot guys. It’s the whole purpose of the video game compared to a movie. That’s also why the two should never be compared at all. Games can become movies and movies can become games, but there’s always something missing from either one that makes the two mediums inapproachable but we do it anyway and combine them however we can. That’s how we get a game based on Scarface, or a Jaws game where you play as the shark. Neither of these games are smarter than a rock, and the over-simplistic thinking inherent in any paint-by-numbers adaptation makes for a dissapointing experience with the property.June 20, 2012 at 7:43 pm #25473
The formatting of these forums makes it hard to engage with your reply on a point by point basis, and I’m also marginally pressed for time, but just to single out a couple points:
I didn’t mean that games today are necessarily more interested in story than they were 10-20 years ago, I meant that games today have a much more advanced set of storytelling tools at their disposal. This goes beyond upgrades in graphics and budgets.
At a storytelling level, Sam and Max hit the road is basically a well scripted but horribly directed stage play. The character clomp around behind the proscenium arch of the monitor, delivering their lines wherever they happen to be standing at the time without even a basic concern as to whether or not the audience can see their faces. If you tried to direct a movie that way, you’d be laughed out of film school.
The “Interactive Movie” aesthetic gets slagged at least in part because it was mostly pioneered by people who didn’t realizes the limitations of the contemporary technology and more generally had only a vague idea of what they were doing. But what’s come out of the “cinematic” buzz in games is, among other things, an understanding that things like lighting and camera work matter to the overall presentation. Now that game companies seem to have internalized this lesson, I don’t think there’s much left the film industry can do to improve upon their product.July 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm #25591
One LucasArts game has been sort of included in a movie. The first Pirates of the Carribean was at least partially ripped out of a canned Monkey Island movie script.
Reportedly there are plans to make an Assassin’s Creed movie, which I don’t have terribly high hopes for. They could have a great script for it, but the problem is that the big draw of that series is not the story. The best thing about AssCreed games is becoming a silent bringer of death, and there is no way to translate that into a movie. You can show Ezio/Altair dropping from the shadows to kill any number of templars in badass looking ways, but it’s just not the same because we’re not the ones doing it.
A lot of games have one big draw to them that just doesn’t translate to another medium. Stealth/shooting stories don’t feel the same when it’s not you pulling the trigger. Bethesda’s open worlds don’t really have the same draw when you can’t actually explore them. Bioware’s morality systems don’t work in a medium where you’re not really making any of the choices. Bioware does have good characters, and you mentioned Fallout as having a good setting that would work for a movie (Bioshock would probably have a good setting as well).
I think they could probably just make a movie version of Garry’s Mod and tack it onto an already existing series. Call it ‘Garry Almighty’December 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm #27285
I’ve given some thought to this. First, we need to consider what, exactly, is a successful video game movie? I would say it is a movie that is:
1. Commercially successful enough to want to make a sequel
2. Appeals to the larger movie-going audience, not just fans of the games
3. Studios might actually be willing to invest in it, meaning it cannot be too expensive and cannot be too out bizarre compared to existing movies
4. Is pretty loyal in terms of plot, characters, and mechanics to the games
5. It actually takes place over one or more of the games, not as a side-story.
And I’ll say, arbitrarily,
4. is NOT animated (that would make it too easy). Although it can have large amounts of CG, at least some of the main characters must be live-action.
So what sort of characteristics do I think would make a video game movie work with rule 1 and 2 while still satisfying 3?
1. Characters: at least some of the characters must be human (otherwise it would be animated). So no Sonic.
2. Mechanics: the game must be at least relatively close to the real world in terms of mechanics. So it can be sci-fi and swords-n-sorcery, but no jumping on enemies to beat them. So no Mario (we tried that already anyway).
3. Length: since studios are not going to want to make a 3-hour movie for an untested franchise, we should probably aim for a roughly 90-minute movie. I would say the plot part of the game should therefore be between 45 minutes and 2.5 hours. Less and there won’t be enough plot to be appealing, more and it will be impossible to squeeze it in without cutting out important parts. So no Final Fantasy.
4. Number of characters: there must be multiple characters, you can’t just have one character running around on his or her own for much of the game. So no Metroid or Halo.
5. Plot newness: the plot should be something different than what we have seen before. It can’t just be a rehashing of sci-fi cliches. In those cases gameplay can make such a game unique, but that won’t work for the movie. So no Half-Life.
6. Plot familiarity: the plot must be new, but it cannot be TOO new. It cannot be something that requires movie goes to think too hard, or would upset their sensibilities too much. That could work, but again studios are not going to want to risk it on an unproven franchise. Sequels could do this. So no Mechwarrior II.
7. Main character: for movies made today, the main character should probably not be a pure altruistic good guy/girl. He or she should have some serious personal flaws, be in an imperfect line of work, be willing to do bad stuff to accomplish his or her goals, or something along those lines.
8. Dialogue: the main character needs to talk, so no Zelda or Chrono Trigger.
9. Action: excluding graphical adventure games, the game should have a significant action component, probably at least 20-30 minutes total. So no puzzle games.
10. Romance: the game should either have romance in it, or at least have characters that could have some sexual tension without violating the plot or characters of the game.
11. Sequel: there should be room for a sequel within the game series, although the sequel will be part of an established franchise so many of these rules could be bent or even broken for the sequel.
So, given these rules, what games do I think could actually be successful video game movies?
1. Mechwarrior II: Mercenaries. This has everything:
- the main character is a mercenary
- there aren’t many movies primarily giant robots but it is well within special effects limits and enough movies have features them to a small degree that they wouldn’t be too surprising
- there is a female pirate who he teams up with later who could act as a romantic interest
- Much of the first half of the game is inconsequential to the plot, it is just getting you used to the mechanics before things get crazy. It would allow for a bond-style intro sequence before they introduce the main villains.
- It is part of a huge game universe spanning at least a dozen games, so plenty of room for sequels.
2. Secret of Monkey Island (some have argued this movie has already been made)
- The main character is a pirate and completely incompetent but likeable (think Hickup from How to Train your Dragon)
- The main character has a girlfriend, who is actually much smarter than him
- There is action, although a large part of it is trading insults
- The plot could easily be squeezed down to the necessary length
- It could differentiate itself from Pirates of the Caribbean by the fact that most of the cast is completely incompetent.
3. Trace Memory: Another Code – probably could be made a very appealing movie for tweens and teenagers.
- The main character is a 13 year old kid, so we can excuse “imperfect” bit
- It doesn’t have much action until the end
- it is mystery/crime solving with some sci-fi and supernatural elements thrown in
- There are enough characters moving in and out of the story, but there are also periods of her alone with her ghost friend that could be made pretty suspenseful (by the standards of the target age group)December 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm #27330
I would love to see a MechWarrior movie, but it couldn’t get too bogged down in the backstory. There is a lot there, and if successful, maybe some more could be told in later installments.
Giant robots shooting each other? It’s worked pretty well so far.December 17, 2012 at 4:30 pm #27331
That was one reason for picking Mechwarrior Mercenaries. Most of the backstory, political bickering on both sides, cultural debates, and other stuff that might either bore or upset audiences can be (and was in the games) ignored or at most only alluded to. Because the main characters are mercenaries and pirates, they don’t care about any of that so viewers don’t have to either. The screenwriters can work in as much or as little as they want without running afoul of either the game’s plot or the characters personalities.
Once the franchise is established, sequels can use those elements so they have something new to add that wasn’t in the original.
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