Name me one good movie that was based on a video game. Go ahead, I’ll wait?

Stumped? Here, here’s a list to help. If you answered “Mortal Kombat, but only the first one, and only if you saw it in 1995”, then you’re right on target.

Why, then, do we have so many video game-based movies on the horizon? This year, we’ll get a reboot of Hitman staring Rupert Friend of Homeland fame. Don’t get me wrong: I love Rupert Friend, but the chances of this movie bombing are about the same as me taking my next breath. Yep, there it is. And now there’s an Assassin’s Creed movie starring two more awesome actors, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, coming 2016.

What say you? Should game companies keep trying? Or, is it time to throw in the towel?

Thursday, 6:00 pm – matt

It’s late, so I’ll try to keep my points to a minimum, but a few things stuck out to me. Ricky you are right, the length of time with a game vs a movie creates a lack of depth in character progression, probably the one constant all gamers share, how did we start, where did we go, and how did they end up the way they are?

2nd problem ties into the problem of length in books vs movies vs games. I see studiod trying to take large ambitious projects like assassin creed, Fallout, Elder Scrolls and just being like “yeah its too big for one movie, we’re turning this into a 3 part trilogy to be released over 5 years”…


3rd. I kinda agree with Gavin in terms of Splinter Cell, but I think Metal Gear Solid would actually make a better movie, with the series more focus on explosions/gun battles and larger than life bosses, I think it translates into a kick ass action movie very well.

Thursday, 10:00 am – Gavin

I love the idea of a video game movie, because I like to naively imagine that the entertainment I derive from one cultural medium can be translated into another cultural medium.  We’ve seen it all the time with books turned into movies, movies spawning a litany of fan-fiction, etc.

Part of the problem with games, though, is that we don’t just “play games for the story”.  The story is told to us, but it is still driven by gameplay.  The story of Deus Ex is fun and all, but the real enjoyment is me sneaking around air ducts and hacking computers, none of which translates to particularly good cinema.  Games are characterized by interactivity, and the interactivity is where we derive our enjoyment.

Typically, when people say “That game would make a great movie!”, they’re usually referring to the setting.  The number of artistic liberties that need to be taken to turn a game with an interesting setting into a good movie with an interesting setting is substantial.

And in the games where the story dominates everything and the interactivity is limited, i.e. Gone Home, Dear Esther, 30 Flights of Loving, etc, we’re left asking a question – how does making a movie of that cultural property improve upon the original?  Gone Home already had great voice acting and terrific characters and a relatable story.  What is gained by turning that into a movie?  Or perhaps more cynically, what isn’t lost in translation?

Games flow radically differently than movies.  They always will.  It’s easy to look at a cutscene and think “wow, this is like a movie!”, but we forget the 45 minutes of gameplay that it took for us to go from cutscene to cutscene.  45 minutes of raw action in a movie is tiresome at best and movie-killing at worst.  45 minutes of a combination of action and another filmic element that doesn’t drive the plot is going to have people walking out of the theatre.

So, how do you make a good video game movie?  You need one with a substantial amount of interesting story, but that isn’t so dense that it’s like trying to remember every name in a George R.R. Martin novel.  Games like Mass Effect, Deus Ex, Grand Theft Auto, they could never work as a 2-2.5 hour movie.  We love characters from games, but it’s also because we spend so much time with them and *as* them that it’s radically different from identifying with a character in a movie.  Many of the best video game characters are so incredibly generic when comparing them to the world of movie characters.  It’s unfair against games, because movies have such a head start, but them’s the breaks.  Andrew Ryan is a great character for a movie?  No, Andrew Ryan is a cheesy B-movie character to be portrayed by Lance Henriksen in the next direct-to-DVD special.  Nico Bellic is portrayed by Joey Buttafuoco in Asylum Films’ “Greatfellas”.  Adam Jensen never gets put on screen because even Keanu Reeves goes “whoa, that guy is dull“.  Commander Shepard is only interesting because of what the player puts into her/him.  When someone else makes the decisions about their characterizations, we lose all sense of agency, which is one of the principle reasons that people loved Mass Effect.

Also, the elephant in the room is that with rare exception, most “video game stories”, as we know them, are absolute garbage for putting on screen.  Plots are dull because excitement most often isn’t concentrated in the story – it’s concentrated in the game play.  A game that prioritizes story over game play is one that finds itself at the bottom of the discount bin very quickly.  Even the games typically considered to have “great stories” are ones that have either been done before, most certainly better than a production company could do with a video game, or are that way because of player interactivity.  Lee and Clementine’s relationship from The Walking Dead, season 1, is amazing because the player identifies with Lee, but more importantly, makes decisions as Lee.  You don’t get to do that in a movie, and that’s why it fails.  And if you do end up making a zombie movie with that type of relationship and a story that focuses on the depravity of the human condition in abject circumstances, then congratulations, you just made a movie that is almost certainly inferior to 28 Days Later.

Nonetheless, the best setting for a video game movie is clearly Splinter Cell: Conviction.  However, we already have the Bourne movies and Safe House, so there’s no need to make another one.  Also, you won’t get Michael Ironside, so don’t bother.

Wednesday, 8:35 am – Ricky

The day I see “Candy Crush Saga: The Movie” is the day I quit this planet.

I don’t think there is an “ideal” game type – or game length for that matter – for movie adaptations, but I do think you’re on to something matt. Most games call for you to invest more than 2 hours of your time (so do most books), which means you are 1) committing a big chunk of precious free time, and 2) have a greater opportunity to connect with characters/story/the world. Add in player agency in most video games vs. passive consumption of movies and books, and you truly are looking at a medium that’s difficult to translate to the big screen.

All of that said, I think that a series like Assassin’s Creed is a good candidate for a movie. There have been lots of “main” characters throughout the series, and by it’s very nature, it is a flexible story. You could tell an AC story in 20 hours, or in 2. You could use characters from the game, or you could make some new ones up!

Hitman, on the other hand, feels more like a puzzle game to me. Sure, there’s shooting, and action, but the objective of most stages is to be stealthy. This makes it more like a puzzle for me to solve. I can’t imagine how a movie would translate an interactive puzzle – I don’t think the producers can imagine it either, which is why there’s an exploding helicopter in the trailer. The Hitman reboot will be an action movie, pure and simple. It might not be a good “Hitman” movie, but it might be a good action movie.

I don’t think it’s quite time to throw in the towel, but I do think there are few chances left for redemption. Maybe Uncharted will be the one to right the ship, or maybe we’ll be sick of it all before then…

Tuesday, 11:00 am – matt

wow, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me to see Mario Bros. was the first North American videogame adaptation… It’s shocking more studios tried afterwards.

I for one hate videogame movies – not like a book adapted to a movie because some books you really can fly through and for the most part are still a linear experience of what the story tellers have written, where as a game in which you control your play style, exploring level, etc. its hard to translate into a film.

There are books that seem to translate well to movies, perhaps we are just waiting on that perfect game – to me the rise of “Social” or “Casual” games that keep the gameplay to a minimum are the ideal candidates.

Monday, 8:00 pm – Ricky

Holiday here in Ontario, Canadaland, and down in the States, so this is late. That’s ok, because thanks to matt, we only just figured out the topic. Yay procrastination! And forgetfulness!