‘Alone in the Dark’. ‘DOOM’. ‘Super Mario Bros’. ‘Street Fighter’. If you are a gamer, chances are you recognize each one of these titles whether you have played them or not. In the same way that we remember certain movies for their groundbreaking achievements, there are a number of classic video games that have greatly impacted the industry as a whole. Each one of these games has become so well known that they have spawned several sequels, a vast array of collectible merchandise, and have been the inspiration for a whole new generation of gaming. They have also been the basis for some of the worst movies of all time.Remember any Koopas that look liked this? Yeah, me neither.
Ever since the success of the Nintendo Entertainment System, movie studios have worked hard at adapting some of the world’s most-loved gaming franchises into blockbuster films, though very few of them have been successful. After a streak of less-than-acceptable game-to-film releases, most notably those made by director Uwe Boll, it had seemed that Hollywood had finally given up on trying to capture the gaming audience. Lately, however, there have been a number of big studios involved in bringing our favorite video games to the big screen, and while the inclusion of some of today’s most respected actors, such as Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender, gives gamers a bit of hope. The real question is whether or not we feel like these movies need to be made, or if they are even relevant.
In a world where gaming technology advances at an exponential rate, we’ve reached a point where video games and films collide. Gone are the days of low-polygon cutscenes and atrocious voice acting, and quite often games hold more value in terms of story and production than most modern films. The best example of this, perhaps, is the Mass Effect trilogy from BioWare.
Featuring a story that explores some very real and mature themes, such as prejudice and morality, Mass Effect puts players into the shoes of the protagonist, effectively placing them inside of the experience where each outcome is a reflection of their own choices. This is something that films will never be able to accomplish, as the stories told in cinema are scripted to walk a specific path and will always lead to the same conclusion. Even in the most linear games, players still have a direct impact on everything that happens, and completing a character’s story often gives a real feeling of accomplishment.
Another great example is the work of Quantic Dream. ‘Indigo Prophecy’ (known as ‘Fahrenheit’ in the UK), ‘Heavy Rain’, and the upcoming ‘Beyond’, are all games that have pushed the boundaries of story-telling and gameplay, while delivering an experience that is so close to film. ‘Heavy Rain’ dealt with the loss of a child, drug addiction, and the mind of a serial killer, with excellent acting and a realistic, believable setting. It was a great accomplishment for the gaming world, and one that raised the bar for video game narrative. The cinema-quality presentation proved that games could hold their own against blockbuster movies.Quantic Dream’s upcoming ‘Beyond,’ featuring Ellen Page.
Of course, a good story is always entertaining, whether we can control it or not. The problem with adapting familiar video game franchises in to feature films mostly comes from the source material getting “lost in translation.” Regardless of a film studio’s budget and overall interest in the project, game-based films often lose the essence of what makes the video game version so memorable. This is most likely due to the film companies not understanding what it is that fans truly find appealing about the game. With games like ‘Bioshock’ and ‘Assassin’s Creed’, players don’t often recall the hundreds of enemies they defeated when reminiscing about their playthrough. While blockbuster films generally focus on action, the most commonly praised elements of a game are the atmosphere and depth of the characters. We all remember the unnerving feeling of Rapture in ‘Bioshock’, and the wonder at the massive architecture in ‘God of War’. The reason why the ‘Silent Hill’ movie was so well-received by gamers is because it actually felt like ‘Silent Hill’.Pyramid Head, as seen in ‘Silent Hill: Revelation’
However, as video game films are once again rising to popularity, there is one promising factor to consider. Ubisoft, who is producing both an ‘Assassin’s Creed’ and ‘Splinter Cell’ film is directly involved with the projects via Ubisoft Motion Pictures. Until now, movies based on video games have only been done under license, with no direct input from the developers and publishers themselves. The quality is bound to improve, but at this point, it all comes down to relevance.
Ten years ago, it was an interesting idea to be able to see video games brought to life with top-of-the-line CGI and familiar actors, but these days, video game graphics are starting to rival even the best special effects. Stories are being brought to life with incredible voice actors who become stars for their performances. Another thing to consider is that these top of line games last anywhere from 15-30+ hours which might be a little tricky to cram into a 2-3 hour movie. Because of this, there could be a time when video games surpass movies altogether, and it may be sooner than we think.