Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Games "Would" Make For Good Movies?

I know I write a lot about the failure of video game movies. It’s almost a hobby in itself. “What can I poke fun of for game movies this week?” The truth is that I mildly enjoy it. There are a lot of bad video game movies. Picking them a part is what I do best.

So when a reader prompted me on what games I felt would make good movies, I really had to sit down and think about it. That’s not an easy question. It’s the exact opposite, in fact. I could rattle off a few games and hope for the best, but that’s not how it works. Video games are not designed to be like movies, and vice versa. That’s one of the reasons why movie games don’t fare as well in the market. They don’t properly capture the essence of the film, and try to stretch a 2 hour story into a 20 hour game.

Does anyone remember the Avatar video game? Not the Airbender, the blue people. So far the most entertaining thing I can find about the game is a “mini-quest” where you cut down trees. Wasn’t this suppose to be a Fern Gully movie where we love nature? Whatever you want James Cameron. I’m not going to argue. (By the way, I still think the movie is horrible. Please stop trying to convince me otherwise.)

But in essence what happens is the movie based games become a joke; a simple means of expanding product line for profit. “Oh! Cars the game! The movie was so good, we got to get the game.” Simple name recognition and association leads to disappointing purchases. I’m sure someone, somewhere, out there, loves the Avatar game. And they would be the only one.

Since we can’t simply take the story of a game and slap it onto a movie screen, I really needed to consider which games would best fit the movie model. Difficult. But I’m up for the challenge so let’s see what I can come up with.

How about Infamous? It’s more of a sandbox game. There are a few primary objectives, but for the most part you carve your own path. You can choose to be good or bad (but still good enough to still be considered a hero), and the story could easily transform into a movie plot. The superhero craze is still going strong and I do see a potential market for new, non-comic book heroes. Hancock sounded like a really good idea. In fact it was! And then the last 20 minutes of the movie happened, and well, there you go.

I can already see the movie pitch: “A military experiment gone wrong destroys half of a city, leaving it to be quarantined and ravaged by gangs. But one man, Cole, survives the blast and finds himself with new powers to help bring order to chaos. Think Escape from New York meets Spiderman or whatever super hero the kids are into these days.”

The fact that Infamous is an open story also means that a lot of the content could be restricted for the purpose of a film without disrupting the original intent of the game. We can still see Cole being his crime-fighting self with moral ambiguity. This is the type of story that would probably lend itself best to a big screen adaptation. It allows the film makers the ability to use their personal style and keep the game intact. Also, Infamous is short. You push through the main missions and you can probably get everything square away in less than 8 hours. At least that’s what I did. What a lovely bonus for the film industry. “You have a game with an open story that we can easily manipulate with a plot that takes under 8 hours to complete? Done.”

Which is why GTA would never work as a movie. There’s a difference in experience between Infamous and GTA. The former is a game you could watch someone play, understand the story and enjoy it. The latter requires you to interact with it. You can never completely comprehend GTA until you play. It’s the type of game that requires you to immerse yourself and find a connection to the main character. With Infamous, the game tends to keep the player at a distance. Enough to care about Cole, but mostly to show off the neat things you can do with your super powers.

If Infamous represents sandbox for movies, Beyond Good and Evil and Heavy Rain would be the character driven stories that Hollywood loves to eat up. Hell Heavy Rain already has the makings of a great movie. Even the style of the cinematic sequences draw the gamer in more as a viewer and less of an active participant. The game centralizes on character and story development, less on movement and control. BG&E works the same way. Yes you have to make choices and do stuff, but what we take away from these games is that they feel like you were playing a movie. They were built to be a bridge between movies and games so a transition from one format to the other seems plausible.

And that’s all I’ve got. Honestly, it was difficult to come up with 3 titles. The problem is everyone is so focused on the “popular, hit making titles” without breaking down the game. A lot of video games are not designed to be movies. So many have such in-depth, expanding stories that to summarize them into a film doesn’t make sense. You would need a Lord of the Rings trilogy going on, and studios are not always so gung-ho to front the money for that. They want the one movie, and if it does well then maybe you’ll get a sequel.

Halo, Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, these are games designed as games. You would have to completely retool the plots, characters, and subtext to make them approachable for movie-goers. How the hell can you do that with MGS? I don’t know. Kojima is wanting to try and I wish him luck.


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