How Hollywood Should Adapt Videogames

By David Valjalo on December 18th, 2012 at 10:00 pm.

Insatiable film fiend David Valjalo stops by to offer his musings on adapting the unadaptables – how Hollywood has its work cut out for it, what we can read into the studios and production houses attached to silver screen versions of Deus Ex, Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed, formalist vs realist styles, the need to make 20-hour, splintered narratives conform to the three-act structure, why auteur directors aren’t the solution we might think they are, and why Russell Crowe is abstractly key to getting game to film right.

With Brit thesp Tom Hardy now officially up a tree with Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher, S-T-E-A-L-T-H-I-N-G, Michael “Best-Thing-About-Whatever-He’s-In” Fassbender long attached to an Assassin’s Creed film and the writers of Sinister (in which Ethan Hawke wears a seriously scary pair of specs) officially tackling the monumental challenge of bringing Deus Ex: Human Revolution to the silver/big/digital/movie screen, the smell of machine heat is clearly wafting through the Hollywood hills along with all that tanning oil and smog.

Critics are prophesying that game properties will soon replace comic book heroes as the go-to source material for this decade’s new wave of blockbusters. It’s easy to understand why: both have had similarly rocky trajectories that may finally be about to level out, with Marvel adaptations in the 90s a shambolic series of underdeveloped, under-produced embarrassments that almost make videogames’ equivalent – the Uwe Boll and Paul W.S. Anderson travesties, look good. Almost.

What’s harder to understand is how Hollywood’s pen-pushers and cigar-chomping producers are going to guide our treasured series to the cinema with their dignity intact or, at the very least, in an interesting I’d-pay-Odeon-prices-for-that sort of way. And that’s where this feature comes in as you journey with me as I, bestowed with the power of a film degree, the instincts of an amateur screenwriter and the pretentious gusto of a broadsheet critic, attempt to dissect and discuss the ways games could (should!) be taken from their cribs and nurtured into cinematic colossi. Oh, and how Russell Crowe is quite integral to it all.

You’re probably still reading because of the line about Russell Crowe, and we’ll get to that (there are some pictures of him below if you want a quick hit, then hurry up back), but now I’ve got you let’s address the fundamentals of what needs to be considered regarding an adaptation of game IP for the movies.

Plot And Structure

The obvious first stop is the Aristotelian three-act structure. Mainstream Hollywood, during its Golden Age studio heyday at least, has adopted the beginning, middle, end structure – quite often cleanly split into three half-hour chunks, but post-millennium (and Michael Bay) tradition seems obsessed with forcing us to sit in the dark for closer to the three hour mark. This classical structure, as with much of early American cinema, is very much informed by the theatre (the theatre being another extension of Aristotle’s theory on plot with its roots in and debt to Greek tragedy); a medium which has influenced film more than many are aware. A fascinating theory on theatre’s transition and relationship to cinema is that film stepped in when theatre reached the limits of its powers to imitate life.

In his seminal 1934 essay, Through Theatre To Cinema, Sergei Eisenstein pinpoints the exact moment he saw this happen – when a 1923-24 production of Tretiakov’s Gas Masks, a play about a gas factory that was staged in a real gas factory, fell on its creative arse due to the conflict of setting and content: “…the plastic charm of reality in the factory became so strong that the element of actuality rose with fresh strength – took things into its own hands – and finally had to leave an art where it could not command,” says Eisenstein,”thereby bringing us to the brink of cinema.”  

Eistenstein

Cinema stepped in as the more capable playground for writers and director’s ideas and visions. And now, I’d like to argue in a teeny tangent, games are stepping in to takeover where science fiction film and movie visual effects have reached their own limits. The most recent decade, in a trend seemingly set to continue with films like After Earth and Oblivion next year, has seen movie sci-fi hit a wall. The action set-pieces are increasingly uninspired, the worlds unimaginative – and now undeniably derivative of gaming’s futures which have, for the most part, taken their own cues from classic SF novels  – and the gap between the effects on our monitors and those on movie screens is closing in fast. To the point that games have a greater cohesion than film, a greater sense of place and offer deliver far more bang for your buck. Games still lack a certain emotional resonance at the best of times, but it won’t be long before that changes, too, and games will tower above their cinematic equivalents not just in the financial realm but the dramatic, too.

The problem with the three act issue is that most games simply don’t have three acts. Many, especially for us PC purveyors and purists, and certainly for those titles going through the green-light process mentioned above, have closer to a dozen acts. Closer to 20 hours’ worth of content; some of it essential, some peripheral to the main story. And herein lies a big problem: we all, as fans and consumers of these properties, hold different strands of them dear. Particularly in a game like Human Revolution: we all have a different journey in Adam Jensen’s shoes. The character may remain Square Enix’s creation, but our moulding of his skills – and therefore arguably his mindset and approach to the world – is unique, player-to-player. Our taking on and discovery of side-quests, distractions and therefore our experience and definition of the game’s world is unique.

So here we have two major stumbling blocks for screenwriters to navigate right off the bat: condensing games into three acts and reducing the myriad strands of game content into the bare, and best, essentials. By “best” I mean the most satisfying both for a wide, new audience and for us veteran fans because, make no mistake, the early cinematic stabs at our beloved game series are going to be reductive in their approach – especially in the first wave of trials and errors. Look at the original, more restrained Sam Raimi Spiderman compared to its balls-out sequel. Look at Brian Singer’s second X-Men film compared to its predecessor. Heck, look at Tim Burton’s first Batman in 1989 compared to the full-goth greatness of Batman Returns.

The first cut in Hollywood isn’t the deepest, it’s the slightest – the litmus test for generating enough cash to make the venture worth it for all those names on the poster under the title “producer” and the mortgages, child support payments, drug habits some of them need to fund.

So what examples should the creative teams channelling our Jensens, Fishers and Ezios into a screenplay look at for precedent and inspiration? Time for the Russell Crowe bit. I’m taking Crowe as the lynchpin here because a) he’s one of the biggest movie stars in the world and b) these two films of his should be easily recognised and recalled. Much better than using obscure chiaroscuro-drenched, impossible-to-find Scandinavian relics, right? (Note: If you would prefer obscure chiaroscuro-drenched, impossible-to-find Scandinavian relics as examples, do drop me an email).

Two Russell Crowe films, I firmly believe, hold the key to successful adaptations of game properties, they demonstrate how to successfully perform cinema-surgery on a game and not end up with a bumbling Frankenstein of a film. First up is LA Confidential. The Oscar-winning screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson completed the impossible mission of translating James Ellroy’s 600-page juggernaut of a crime novel into a film with a runtime of just over 2 hours and a clear three-act structure. The screenplay strips bare the plot to its raw essentials, plucks three main characters out of an ensemble of dozens and removes any threads that don’t fuel and inform the story and its themes of trust, ambition and power.

Characters are mercilessly cut out, those with similar traits and purposes are combined, fused together, and the result is a film with the general feel, effect and pummelling pace of the novel. It captures the “essence” of the source material. When the likes of Deus Ex is brought to the big screen, we should be so lucky that its creative team pull off the same trick. Another element of LA Confidential that contributes to this “essence-capturing” is the visual and sound design of the production – but that’s for another column. There’s more Russell Crowe to be discussed.

The second example of the sprawling adaptation done right is Peter Weir’s 2004 film Master And Commander in which Russell Crowe drunkenly sails the seven seas in hot pursuit of the great antagonists of the British, the French, while cramming as many cakes down his gob as he possibly can. A series of 20 and a half novels, made up of hundreds of characters, side-stories, anecdotal moments of hilarity and raw emotion, all squeezed into a film. It slightly defies the three-act rule, but it still feels faithful, comfortable in its runtime and, again, captures the “essence” of its source.

In discussing the adaptation process, Weir says the first that happens when you pick up the books is the words all fall out, which is exactly what will happen when a screenwriter picks up a game: all the characters and memorable moments – some of which will be built into the core game, some of which we as players will have gleaned from it ourselves – will fall out and what’s left is the skeleton of the plot and a gamut of side missions and quests, peripheral characters and incidents, plot points. Which elements of all this content the screenwriter chooses to put back in to the script, which scenes and scenarios they choose to inhabit their movie-verse take on the property, is the most important decision in the whole project. So no pressure.

Both of the above also have another factor in common besides a burly, beardy down-underer starring in them. They both have more than one protagonist and deal in a dual-focus narrative; the mainstay of classical Hollywood film since time… well, since American cinema really blossomed beyond being purely a “cinema of attractions”. Typically, there’s both  a genre and a character focus in a film narrative. In LA Confidential these are 1) Ed Exley, Bud White and Jack Vincennes’ rise up the ranks and 2) the solving of the murder mystery. In Master And Commander they’re 1) catching and battering the damn French and 2) the development, destruction and repair of the protagonists’ relationship.

This dual-focus juggle is a particularly nifty narrative trick not just because it adds layers to our viewing experience but, in the case of adapting games, because it mirrors how we experience a game directly and beautifully. I’d argue near 80 per cent of videogames are dual-focus experiences as we both develop our own characters and unravel the main genre story.

In Deus Ex: Human Revolution we have the augmentation of Adam as our character-driven focus and the plot’s conspiracy plot as the genre focus. In Splinter Cell we have any number of heavily accented threats to world peace (well, world chaos as it stands) as the genre focus and Fisher’s relationship with his daughter often occupying the character-driven space. Assassin’s Creed, however, proves more problematic, hosting two separate dual-focus narratives under one overblown roof of story. We have the story of the hooded hero and we have the story of Desmond, each occupying different eras.

Effectively, Desmond’s scenes offer bold contrast to our assassin’s adventuring, offering a shortcut to and through the traditional hero’s journey as defined and laid out incomparably by the theorist Joseph Campbell (“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man”). For a film adaptation I’d wager the screenwriter will need to stretch Desmond’s journey out, make it more intriguing in its own right, rather than pepper it through the narrative. It’s a point that reminds us that what works for game narratives – which are often all about economy and impatience: getting  us right to the action – won’t always work for a film which needs to satisfy the criteria of established industry and historical norms of storytelling.

The right captain

The genius of what Weir and co-writer John Collee did with Master And Commander is they selected the characters and side-stories that lined-up with the core theme of the series as a whole. Patrick O Brian’s novels are about many things, but arguably none more so than friendship, authority and the point at which those two collide. And, crucially, those are the themes that arguably define Weir’s own canon as a filmmaker, from Witness to Dead Poets Society and his recent under-appreciated escape film The Way Back. Which brings me to the second most important choice in the production process: getting the right director for the job.

For Deus Ex: Human Revolution, we want someone whose work is steeped in conspiracy and dystopian futures. Someone who puts corporations under the microscope and knows that technology is a gift and curse equally capable of improving and deriding us. For Splinter Cell we want someone interested in the loneliness of fighting the good fight and how winning on the battlefield often means losing at home. For Assassin’s Creed we want someone who understands that to be a great sleuth in ancient times meant wearing a bright white hoodie that stands out like a sore thumb and pelting around town like you own the place, assured that hiding your forehead will prevent you being identified. What we want, then, is to be able to let directors and writers “be themselves.”

When David O Russell was locked in to direct Mark Wahlberg, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in an adaptation of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, there’s was an outcry because of the way the creative team were going to approach the project (and also, admittedly, because O Russell didn’t have a track-record in the action or adventure genre). O Russell was to make a film about a dysfunctional family, something that alarmed fans and caused people to randomly approach O Russell to demand he hire Nathan Fillion for the lead. But why so dissatisfied? O Russell was just going to do what he does best. He was emptying Uncharted, leaving only the skeleton – as in Weir’s approach – and was going to repopulate it with his own quirky character dynamics, in Naughty Dog’s moulds of course, and keep it all in-tune the patterns of his oeuvre: sharp dialogue, themes of insecurity and a sense of searching  (albeit this time for treasure not emotional or spiritual fulfilment).

Keeping it real. Or not.

Directors come in many shapes and flavours but I’m going to be old-fashioned, cut-throat and draconian, by reducing them down to two camps: the realist and the formalist. The realist camp is defined and defended by the great critic and film theorist Andre Bazin (pictured above). In his essay The Myth Of Total Cinema, he implores that the stages of technical evolution of cinema – from silent, black and white film to sound and technicolour – are part of man’s journey towards a “total cinema”, one that most accurately recreates our objective reality. “The real primitives of the cinema,” he tells us, “existing only in the imaginations of a few men of the nineteenth century, are in complete imitation of nature. Every new development added to the cinema must, paradoxically, take it nearer and nearer to its origins. In short, cinema has not yet been invented!”  The formalist, conversely, doesn’t care about no stinkin’ reality.

The formalist has an actor point his gun at the screen and lick shots at the audience for the dramatic hell of it (an unforgettable scene in 1903′s Great Train Robbery later lifted by Martin Scorcese in Goodfellas. Many consider The Great Train Robbery to actually inhabit a third sphere of film style – classicism – but I’m defying theory here and putting it under the umbrella of formalism. And what?). The emotive is king for the formalist, the cinema is malleable.

The classic and most heavily/obviously contrasting of realist and formalist directors are Georges Melies and Robert Flaherty. Flaherty made what is largely considered – if you discount the Lumiere’s early screen-testing – the first documentary, Nanook Of The North, in 1922 (though its credibility is often questioned due to the framing of certain shots), while Melies conjured visual magic with A Trip To The Moon way back in 1902 (which, when viewed in the post-Monty Python era looks a lot like one of the Brit troupes’ sketches).

For games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Assassin’s Creed and, to a lesser extent, Splinter Cell, your snap decision and vote might be to enlist a formalist auteur. These titles, after all, deal in the futuristic and unusual; extraordinary takes on the ordinary and known world we inhabit. So enlist someone keen to manipulate our objective reality then? I think that’s a mistake. A realist can ground the project, add a layer of believability: an out-and-out formalist might alienate newcomers. The box-office slump of Cloud Atlas stateside recently was a stern reminder that full-on formalist filmmaking is still a niche taste that can have mixed results and reactions (Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi’s performance will either seal that deal or reignite interest in formalist filmmaking at the box office).

Apply a realist to seemingly formalist turf – that of imagining the unimaginable, whether set in the past or future and regardless of genre – and you end up with something quite special. You end up with Tarkovsky’s Stalker. You get Scott’s Alien. The reason a realist is so crucial to game adaptations, in the same way that Christopher Nolan was so crucial to reviving interest in Batman after the formalist overload of Batman And Robin, is that they will more rigidly employ and obey the rules of classical Hollywood cinema, opening up the projects for more fans to be converted. Games might still seem subversive to the mainstream and that’s more reason for us to live in hope that we don’t end up with subversive helmers handling these projects. We don’t want Leo Carax or David Lynch, not yet, first we want Paul Greengrass or Steven Soderbergh.

The choice of the Sinister creative team currently chipping away at a Deus Ex adaptation speaks volumes of the uncertainty still riddling the studio handling it. Sinister is in the awkward, often drab and unsatisfying, middle-ground between realist and formalist film (again, some might throw that word “classicism” in here, as Sinister could arguably be part of Hollywood’s neo-classical horror strand, but I’d rather just arrogantly dismiss it). It wants to satisfy all but ends up satisfying none, as many a middle-tier Hollywood production has and will.

The Studio and the producer

Which production company funds your film remains essential to how it’ll turn out. It’s been a fact of filmmaking since the earliest days of the studio-made film. Each studio has an identity defined in large part by its canon of projects (which themselves are in large part often dictated by the personalities at the top of their pay-scale food-chain). Certain studios, at certain times in Hollywood’s lifetime, have dominated, “owned” particular genres. Think id Software and the shooter. Bethesda and the RPG. The same, historically, has been true of film studios and especially the “big five” of the 1930s/Golden Age (RKO, Warner Bros., Fox, Paramount, MGM). We’ve had RKO and the musical (think Fred Astaire’s porcelain white teeth and lightning feet).

Warner Bros. and the gangster flick (think Jimmy Cagney’s cheeky scowl and towering forehead. Oh, and guns, lots of guns). Nowadays the landscape is certainly more fragmented – studios hustle and bustle over the same genre turf as actors are loaned out more freely, film-schedules are more diverse and splintered across a range of outlets (whether it the mulitplex or arthouse circuit) and mediums (from Pay Per View to Netflix to tablets and living-room TVs).

So what does New Regency, the new guardians of Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed projects have going for it? Well, it has distribution locked down in the form of a long-running relationship with Fox/News Corp so a marketing blitz shouldn’t be an issue. More importantly, there are some realist heavyweights in its portfolio including Heat, though there is a worrying amount of middle-tier comedy that defines and rules its oeuvre, too. Ultimately I think there are enough risks on its books – including Fight Club and The Fountain – to make New Regency a credible partner for Ubisoft and home for its heroes. The hiring of The International’s screenwriter, Eric Warren Singer, is also encouraging (an underrated espionage treat with one of the best shootouts in film history. No lie. Go find it.).

Regardless of New Regency’s legacy, regardless, even, of Eric Warren Singer’s involvement, it’ll all come down to the studio heads and producers involved. In Bambi Versus Godzilla, David Mamet explains – and brutally, brilliantly dissects and damns – the studio system’s approach to creative properties. His description of the producer is priceless if sweeping: “The producer is like the getaway driver who sells the getaway car and waits outside the bank grinning about what a great deal he’s made.” So, if anyone out there has any info on which heads are guiding Fisher and Ezio through the production pipeline – their personality, narrative preferences, eating habits – do let me know.

The passive, the active, the future

My final point in this sweeping (fleeting?) look at adapting our beloved series, is the most obvious. Film is a passive medium, more passive even than Eisenstein’s once beloved theatre, and games are active – they require our active engagement, physical participation. When the gap finally closes between science fiction visual effects in the movies and our games – it’s a change that’s certainly coming, the time is near when movie and game assets are interchangeable and shared across film and game studios – it won’t be enough to simply project a narrative, a Team Fortress film, for example, on a cinema screen and expect us to go and see it, irrespective of the voice talent hired, the promotional campaigns. We’ll need something more. Ironically, we’ll need something games can’t do, use or employ: our objective reality. I predict that once the age dawns when film and game studios are exchanging assets with the click of a button, the sending of a package file, there’ll be a movement back to realism, back to humanity and gritty verisimilitude in film as it tries to capitalise on the one aspect it can do better than a computer: people.

I could, of course, be wrong and so to conclude I’d like to invoke the words of screenwriter William Goldman who famously observes that – in terms of predicting what will be a hit and what won’t, as in much of life – “nobody knows anything”.

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108 Comments »

  1. pakoito says:

    I think they should play the games first. But we all know they just read the scripts, maybe take a look at the aestetics to dismiss it as a minor media and proceed to deliver a ka-ching product.

    • Obc says:

      ^this, sooo much this.

      Avengers was great because Whedon knew his superheroes in and out. Dark Knight was good because Nolan (but mostly) Goyer knew Batman.

      and the only good Video Game movie: Silent Hill was good because its’ director played all the games and knew what had to be in the movie. (even if people dont like the movie that much, i still think its the best video game adaption coz its contains everything the game has and is about plus sean bean survives the movie xD).

      So please: whoever is taking helm on the next Blockbuster movie adaption: PLEASE PLAY THE GAME. Or atleast watch someone else play it. Not like the guy from Prince of Persia who had other people play the game and give him cliffnotes on how the game was.

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      • ChromeBallz says:

        Actually, i rather liked the Tomb Raider movie. The second one was a bit less, but still decent.

        The silent Hill movie just seemed… /off/ somehow.

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  2. FeatherRuffler says:

    Mostly agree, but I think this article largely touches open deeper issues on making “good” video game movies as opposed to “bareable” video games movies, which we currently have none of.

    Anything from the Koopa Kingdom being a dystopian future to Max Payne having literal demons hints at a larger issue: how about making video game movies about video games?

    It’s an issue that’s completely foreign to me and I have no way to describe other than to repeat and compare. The current video game movies are like if they were making a Lord of the Rings movie, but made up their own universe and own characters but used the same names for everything. I don’t understand why they completely change the source material and pick games with no source material worth changing. Anyone remember the thick storyline of Doom? Mario? Or Street Fighter? I don’t. Why is there a movie? I had the same reaction to O Russell wanting to make an Uncharted movie that had nothing to do with Uncharted, why use the name?

    The article has good suggestions though. I think lack of convincing talent is another huge contributor the poor films being made. I’d like to see a real director or crew work on a video game movie. Nice work.

    • tormeh says:

      Well, the plots of most games are shite because storytelling isn’t a high priority in most games. The average AAA Hollywood screenplay writer looks at the storyline of a game he is supposed to adapt and thinks “This needs to go. All of it. Now.”
      That said, if anyone tosses out the storylines of Deus Ex:HR or The Witcher 1/2 then it’s probably because they want to write something original (i.e. another movie entirely) and think most people won’t mind that the original story has been butchered.

      The games without a great story could probably be adapted into Transformers/Battleship-style special effects porn. Gameplay in games is mostly combat and combat lends itself well to special effects porn, so why not?

    • The Random One says:

      Producers do that to save their own asses. Imagine they get a hold of a script they think might work. They do it and it bombs. So now they have to deal with the fact that they greenlit a moneysink. So instead, if they have a script they want to go thorough, they look at any IP’s their studio owns and changes the names and some details of the script to fit. Then if the movie bombs they can say “well, preliminary polls indicated that the Grandma Shooter franchise is very well liked, I don’t know what happened, but I did my job.”

  3. SirKicksalot says:

    Paul Anderson gave us Mortal Kombat and that’s still the best video game movie.
    He totally ripped off Assassin’s Creed at the start of that Musketeers movie he made.

    What bothers me about adaptations is how they miss the point of the game. Doom deals with genetic mutations and Prince of Persia (which I enjoyed) barely uses the time gimmick. Max Payne had one shitty bullet time moment when it should have been 90 minutes of The Matrix lobby scene (I liked the hallucinations though, and they were shit in the game so good job on that at least).

    • welverin says:

      Jordan Mechner was heavily involved in the PoP movie, that’s what kept it from veering so far from the source.

      • Jackablade says:

        It was still absolutely dreadful, full of terrible performances and worse writing. Like most game movies, it’s evident that the majority of the focus and budget went to making it look impressive, and it does, and less so on writing and direction.

    • Shuck says:

      The problem is that the point of the game is often not worth making a movie out of. Doom is about people on Mars… who open a gate to Hell. That’s pretty damn silly, actually. The time gimmick in “Prince” works better in a game than a movie. Bullet-time may have been a game innovation when the Max Payne game got around to using it, but as a cinematic element, was a long since dead cliché, long used by Hong Kong action movies before the Matrix blasted us with their hyperbolic versions. For a recent movie, that wasn’t going to work anymore. And that’s a more general problem with games – they’re using elements that audiences are already well familiar with thanks to movies and television, that are already past their prime as part of a cinematic experience. There’s no point in moving those elements back into film.

    • PedroBraz says:

      Hardboiled(1992) is ALMOST Max Payne, so it´ll do.

      • dee says:

        Oh my gods Hardboiled

        There was a 10 hour video on youtube of Yun Fat gunning down infinite stairs that I am no longer able to find.

  4. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    But do we want movies of games? Aren’t games that are games, and movies that are movies, enough?

    Why should we want games of movies or movies of games any more than we want cake of dance?

    • Yglorba says:

      Honestly, I think this hits the nail on the head. I’m not saying there should never be any cross-media adaptations — Betrayal at Krondor was a great game based on a series of books, say — but they’re more driven by the $$$ of a guaranteed audience than a desire to produce something cool.

      And before someone says it, that’s not true for all media! I mean, sure, everyone has to eat, but you don’t generally get into the arts or indie gaming or whatever because you want to get rich; most directors and game designers do dream of producing something incredible, with the money just a necessary way of supporting themselves and their dream. Cross-media adaptations, though? They’re generally just cashgrabs. There aren’t very many directors who tell the world that they’re going to shatter convention with a Doom movie.

      And the other problem is… let’s be honest. Most games don’t have very good plots or characters (even the really good ones.) Many of the games that do do well do so by exploiting the unique way that games can interact with the player — people talk about a Shadow of the Colossus movie, say, but I don’t think the death of a Colossus could have the same impact if you’re not there, controlling the wanderer, responsible for its death.

      I mean, look, just as an example: Any Metroid movie is going to suck. And it’s not just going to suck because videogame movies tend to suck, it’s going to suck because the things that make Samus cool and the things we love about the series are entirely tied up in the gameplay, not the characterization or story. (Even the visual look-and-feel isn’t really that amazing, being mostly cribbed from Alien. It’s all about the gameplay.) The most characterization we got on Samus was in Other M — what, is anyone eager for a movie based on that? How exactly would any movie capture what makes Metroid fun? Are they going to give you multiple routes through the movie, slowly unlocking new abilities for the audience as you go?

      I don’t think adaptions are, generally, something we should call for. Let game designers make cool games, and directors direct cool films; I don’t think there’s a lot to be gained by chaining them together, in general. Maybe at some point there will be some genius director who says “I must adapt this game!”, but I think it’s probably a once-in-a-generation thing, not something you can script and force.

    • solymer89 says:

      I’ll say that I am a big proponent of the “movie style” video games. I love games that have a good story as once you’ve mastered the abilities/mechanics of the game, it is really the only thing driving me to finish said game. On the other hand, I’m not sure how I feel about video games becoming movies, simply because there is no interaction with a movie, you just sit and take everything in.

      For me, playing games is a release, an escape from reality that I’ll often think about even when I’m not playing. Movies have this effect as well, but only the great ones (imo at least) are the ones that stick with me, that might inspire something in me.

      With all that said, I don’t think I’m qualified to have a sound opinion on the subject as while I was reading the article I had to stop more than a few times to fully grasp some of the unfamiliar concepts.

    • antoniodamala says:

      Me, as not just a game enthusiast but also a movie, literature,music and art in general enthusiast, solely agree with your questioning. And if i may add, it’s hard to demand a good adaptation when most games themselves haven’t got much of a deep and powerful storytelling. Even when they do have, they communicate that through interactiveness, which movies just can’t do. So if people intend to adapt them rightly, it will turn out quite different from the game. (which i have no problem at all, but “fans” do)

    • Blackcompany says:

      Well said. And I agree.

      Last year I finished my first play through of the Witcher 2 (oh backlog, why do I even buy games anymore) and achieved one of the roughly 16 different endings. By the end of this month or perhaps next, I will have completed my – MY – journey through the world of Deus Ex: HR. I will have chosen my skill sets, executed certain enemies and left others alive, either from convenience or a lack of precious energy or ammo. When everything is said and done, my journeys through those worlds will be just that: Mine.

      I don’t want to see a movie “based on” that story because I already know the story. Its mine. And I would frankly like to keep it that way. Let movies be movies, and games be games. I don’t want any dance on my cake.

      • Snakejuice says:

        “I don’t want any dance on my cake.” should become a meme! I’m going to use it every time a cross-media adaptation discussion comes up!

    • Quinnbeast says:

      Why would we NOT want cake of anything? ALL CAKE IS GOOD.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Wrong place.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      I’m disappointed in you people.

      https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7268/8151071328_0f267673cb_z.jpg

    • tomeoftom says:

      Yeah, I agree. The best solution is to not make the damned movie in the first place. The difference between mediums is far, far greater than for adaptations of novels.

    • Rindan says:

      I do want to see video game moves… but only on some games. There is a difference between stealing a great setting and stealing a title. If you do a Doom movie, you are clearly just stealing the name. Doom had no story. You can’t screw up the story because it had none. Even Doom 3 had only the thinnest of stories. It is a crash grab and I hope all of these movies fail miserably a lesson to others.

      There are games though with fantastic settings that are ripe for movies style stories. I would kill for a well done Dues Ex, Mass Effect, Dishonored, Metro 2033, STALKER (yes, I know there is a Russian film), or anything Warhammer 40k. Why? These are compelling settings. You steal the setting, remain true to it, and then tell a story. You SHOULDN’T retell the story in the game. When we think of a game with a good story, we are actually thinking about games with good video game story telling. What makes good video game story telling is radically different from what makes a good movie. Steal interesting settings and characters, but tell a new story and move on.

      I could see a golden age of video game movies coming. They just need to pull their heads out of their asses like what has recently happened with super hero movies. Somewhere out there, there is a Joss Whedon for video games (it might actually just be Joss Whedon…). It is someone who truly understands and plays these games, and gets what the hook is, but isn’t a slave to trying to duplicate it on the big screen.

      Also, seriously, give me a Warhammer 40K movie. Now. Give it to me.

      • Mechorpheus says:

        As a small point, while Doom might not have the greatest of stories, it had a basic premise and the Doom movie even managed to screw that up by someone on the screenwriting staff having apparently watched the Resident Evil movie instead of actually playing Doom. Where were the demons?? Where was Hell?? No Hell, its not Doom, ’nuff said.

        Paul W.S. Anderson gets a lot of stick, but Event Horizon was more a Doom film than the film actually called Doom. I do find that POV FPS bit a little guilty pleasure though……

        • Smion says:

          If I recall correctly the special effects of Event Horizon were actually done by id, so there’s that I guess?
          Also Laurence Fishbourne getting sucked into space and being like “Hell naw”

      • Smion says:

        The problem is, that the vast majority of interesting videogame settings are simply reskinned settings from other sorts of media. Out of your list only Deus Ex and Dishonored have anything akin to an original setting and even then they’re mostly an amalgation of a handfull of (usually better written) Sci-fi and fantasy novels; Mass Effect is a fairly generic space opera, Metro is an adaption of a novel, STALKER is Stalker with guns and Warhammer 40k is a “cross-media phenomenon” or whatever the wank-term for stuff like this is nowadays.
        If you want to see Deus Ex as a movie, make a Neuromancer movie with the Illuminati in it.

    • Rawrian says:

      Agreed. I’d rather go with movies made by directors who like games, like Guillermo del Toro.

  5. aliksy says:

    Nice article.

    I guess I’m not really the target audience for video game movies. I routinely skip cut scenes in my video games.

  6. TsunamiWombat says:

    Wow, I came in expecting an article basically saying “lower adaptation expectations, suck less” and got a very in depth thesis

  7. Hoaxfish says:

    There’s some interesting examples in film-to-games recently… that of basically handing it to small indies to make tie-in, rather than take in as much of the world as possible, simply give one aspect of it (e.g. turn a chase scene into a canabalt-style runner).

    In the same way, Dredd (3D) is pretty much a pitch perfect reflection of the comic, while having roughly one comics worth of adventure, for a series that has been running decades.

    It’s a matter of scope, and I imagine the very opposite of a “AAA Big budget” Director/Developer’s natural instinct.

  8. Serpok says:

    Film is a passive medium, more passive even than Eisenstein’s once beloved theatre, and games are active – they require our active engagement, physical participation.

    Tell that to Hideo Kojima.

    • Feferuco says:

      Kojima gets unfair treatment because his cutscenes are too huge. The Metal Gear games make much better use of being a game than a majority of titles out there. I value what he does over what happens in a title like Dead Space that in the end has cutscenes just the same but it lets you walk while you watch.

      • benBearz says:

        Personally I think its completely reverse, Dead Space makes a far better game in combing the gameplay and narrative aspects together than the Metal Gear Solid series (I’m mainly talking about MGS4, but 2 is getting close), Kojima and his team suffer from an unfortunate problem in that they don’t quite know how to get the narrative across well in anything but cutscenes, and considering the various threads and plot points they had to tie up in MGS4, it just pushed the length of each cutscene to be longer and longer in order to give the player all the needed information.

        In games as a basic rule you don’t want cutscenes to be past a certain length, otherwise what happens is that players start to feel like they have gone into a passive, rather than an active role in the game which is when players start to lose patience, become irritable and won’t feel whatever emotion your trying to push across. The rule is fairly malleable to a degree, scenes like when a popular character is killed off or when the main character does something badass due to ‘your’ actions you can extend the cutscene length a bit. The only point where you can smash the rule to pieces is the final cutscene really, which you can use it to tie off the final plot points and the player is usually fine with sitting through an extended cutscene, as they are still feeling the ‘high’ of finishing the last level and killing the boss, so they are more likely to be happy about going into a passive role.

        Dead Space on the other hand does keep its cutscenes to a certain length (I’m including the ones you mentioned where you have some control as well), audio is used to present information (radio calls from other NPCs, growling from creatures, even the music to a certain degree), the environment is used to project information across (messages on walls, placement of items/corpses ect). The fact that you can control Isaac during these cutscenes, or there may be some quick time events does help stave off that passivity that players feel during long cutscenes, which of course allows them to be slightly longer than they could normally be before the player starts to feels frustration.

        Dead Space does have its narrative flaws these being poor gameplay balancing in accordance with the games atmosphere and player perceptions. The gameplay problem is due to the player feeling in control of just about any situation they come into, your given too many options combat wise and most of the weapons are exceedingly effective against the Necromorphs. The developers want you to feel fear during the game but that’s just impossible when you’re an unstoppable killing machine, fear as an emotion is more powerful when you are vulnerable, not after you’ve slaughtered 100 monsters effortlessly and have enough health packs to heal an entire hospital ward. If they had made the weapons weaker, health items scarcer and the enemies stronger then that feeling of fear would have been more pervasive in the game.

        The 2nd problem is our perceptions, if like me you’re a grizzled veteran of gaming you will have developed an in depth knowledge of how games work. For example there are various times in various games where you will be ambushed by the enemies, after experiencing this so many times you become adept in spotting situations where you are likely to become ambushed. Best example is the ‘waiting for the elevator to arrive’ situation, so many games do this so we know that when we press that button all hell will break lose, so the surprise that we should feel in being ambushed is nulled because we expect it. A Newbie on the other hand doesn’t have this experience and so for lack of a better term, will be shitting bricks.

        I think I’ll leave it at that so you can at least shift through this Kojima sized wall of text :P

        • Snakejuice says:

          I’m 30, have played games all my life and I don’t agree with you at all about Dead Space not being scary. I couldn’t stomach more than a couple hours of that game because it was so scary to me! Maybe it was because I played it on console (I can’t really aim with a pad) but in general I have a problem with scary games, even games that are not supposed to be scary but has “BOO!” moments of enemies suddenly appearing out of nowhere. I think the problem is that I have to REACT to scary moments in games, even if I have the feeling something “scary” is about to happen I can never know exactly when and have to be on my toes until then.

          On the other hand I don’t have ANY problems watching scary movies as I don’t have to react or even care about what is happening because it’s not me (or my video-game-character) that is in danger.

          • f1x says:

            You are not alone, I’m still trying to play Amnesia but I think I will just get a trauma from it

            Even tho, me being a coward, I could easily play through Dead Space 2 not Dead Space 1 tho, I think the fact that protagonist is already an expert killer and the how you get powerful weapons and upgrades quite at the start do make a difference

          • benBearz says:

            @SnakeJuice – Thats fair enough, like any media one persons experience with a game can be totally different to another, when it comes to games I dont like to give out my experience of any game due to the fact that I’ve studied Games from every angle (Music, Design, Art ect), this has meant that I can very easily recognise the techniques used by developers to generate threats, to provoke certain emotions yadda yadda.

            I know some film students have the same problem, since they have studied films they can recognise what filmakers are doing and anticipate with a fair amount of accuracy of what will happen next, for me this problem completely ruined games for while and even now I still dont get quite the same amount of enjoyment as everyone else might.

            I will say this the guys that made Dead Space did the first 15-30mins really well, it was the first time in ages since playing a horror game that made me feel like I was shitting myself, after those 15-30mins I started to recognise what was going on and I happily ploughed through it, a number of friends have said similar things hence why I said that it isnt scary.

            Saying that Like f1x I cannot play Amnesia for more than 30mins before I have to quit out the game due to me being a complete wuss.

        • Feferuco says:

          This is why I say Kojima gets unfair treatment for what he does in the MGS series.

          MGS games make an effort to blend everything, to not create a divide between the story telling world and the gameplay world. This sounds crazy when he has such huge cutscenes but let me get to it.

          First, from the start Kojima didn’t want CGI scenes, MGS is among the few PS1 games that don’t use any CGI at all. Second, the game openly recognizes that it is a game. While the Colonel instructs you on your mission he’ll go and say something like “Press triangle to press against walls”. The series recognizes this in several ways. Snake in MGS2 talks about war as a video game while Raiden brags that he has completed thousands of hours of VR. Missions. On MGS3 the Boss tells snake to use his sense, sight, hearing and smell to sense the enemies, and Big Boss replies he can’t smell.

          These are smaller examples of MGS recognizing and embracing the fact that it is a game, in trying to merge everything together. The biggest and best example was the end of MGS2. The meta moments inside GW are genius and it isn’t there gratuitously, it is part of the story and it helps making the player feel like Raiden’s supposed to be feeling.

          Other examples are how MGS recognizes everything you do during the gameplay. A lot of games pretend the gameplay and cutscene world are two separate entities. Characters go on murdering rampages and nothing’s made of it. In every MGS title the people you kill are acknowledged. Sometimes you are accused of being a murderer, sometimes you are haunted by their ghosts, sometimes Snake pukes in digust for his own actions.

          Lastly, there’s the greatest thing MGS does, it encourages emergent gameplay. Dead Space puts you on tracks from start to end and expects you to play your role. MGS is an equally linear game but despite that you still have choice. The games want you to be creative and a lot of the kooky things you might try actually work. Bosses can be defeated in several ways. There’s a boss you can kill by just not playing the game for too long. You can play MGS in different ways.

          Another thing is in every game he’s made an effort to make the gameplay mechanics be part of the game’s theme. There’s a reason why you play as Raiden in MGS2, why you have to eat and heal yourself in MGS3 and why you barely get hiding spots in MGS4.

          These are some examples of what Kojima does with MGS series that make good use of video games. Dead Space does avoid the gap between gameplay and story but in the end it is a pretty average game and it doesn’t entirely make use of being a video game.

          • benBearz says:

            I think it might be your wording, but I think your getting a bit confused about what a cutscene is, a cutscene doesnt have to be CGI it can be done in game and still be a cutscene. A cutscene is when control is taken from the player and forcing them to take in information via audio and/or visuals.

            The MGS series are not the only games that utilise the games engine to do cutscenes, Halo 4 (most but not all) does it, Killzone does it, Half Life 2 does it, Oblivion and Skyrim does it, lots of games do it. The reason for this is that the graphics have gotten to the stage where they are good enough that they can replace CGI cutscenes and still get the same emotional response, without poor graphics getting in the way.

            But the problem is that these cutscenes while they are progressing the story, they are stepping on the toes of gameplay, this is what makes people irritated and angry when its a very long cutscene, they want to play but just cant they have to sit through this cutscene and take in the information. The best sadly is MGS4 for the first hour, maybe even into the 2nd hour you probably spend over 75% of the time staring at a cutscene rather than playing the game.

            A cutscene should only be put into a game if there is no better way to pass the info the player needs across, if its better to do it via characters talking to you, messages on walls, audio logs or any other way then thats what they should do. Story shouldnt step on the toes of gameplay, and gameplay shouldnt step on the toes of story, they should blend together as best they can, same with any part of games development.

            Although they really didnt help things with putting those adverts and fake tv shows you have to watch at the begining of the game, and then after that forcing you into another cutscene which you have to watch before controlling Snake. But then the worst thing possible they could do which they did, was give you 5 mins of game time and then another long cutscene. Practically no one has the patience to sit through all that without getting fed up and skipping it.

            What they should have done is take away those fake tv shows and adverts from the start and put it in game in a way that a player can choose to watch these things rather than forcing them to sit through it, for all the other cutscenes, they should have split the list of plot points they needed to tie up in half, sort them out in one game and sort the rest in another game, tie to the 2 together somehow, perhaps by making yet another game, this should cut down on cutscene time.

            Or get an editor for Kojima in order to help him to cut down all these ideas he wants to put in his games, to just a few really important ones so that he can spend more time with his team making it work well, rather than having 500 different things going on because the game will just suffer for it.

            The 4th wall stuff you mentioned doesnt have any bearing on progressing the story, it is a quick and easy method to get some laughs out of us, I will agree that the metagame stuff you see in MGS2 in GW is the best example of breaking the 4th wall done right, in a way that goes beyond getting a quick laugh, but its the only example I can think of out of all the games I’ve played and I have played a hell of a lot. Sadly my memory on what happens is pretty fuzzy and I just dont have the time to go back and play it so I leave it at that for this bit.

            The rest I agree on for the most part, more choice is always good as it keeps players from feeling like they are being railroaded, Gameplay mechanics being the games theme is a symptom of how games are made so that can be said for most games.

            I will say that Kojima does some good stuff, I enjoyed the MGS series but unfortunately they just suffer from too many cutscenes which are far too long, and while Dead Space is an example of how Kojima could have gotten round those long cutscenes, its certainly not the best example, I’d probably pick something like the Halo series as a good example, but since you did mention Dead Space in your post, I decided to use it as an example instead of something else.

          • Feferuco says:

            I know what a cutscene is. MGS didn’t use CGI cutscenes, is what I said, unlike many other games at the time. You’re talking about recent games there, I even said this
            First, from the start Kojima didn’t want CGI scenes, MGS is among the few PS1 games that don’t use any CGI at all.

          • benBearz says:

            Just re-read your comment and you did put that down earlier, sorry about that seems my brain took in CGI and MGS and not much else, I’ll blame it on having to do Christmas shopping in town for hours and having to fight through crowds to get where I want, of all the things I hate crowds and long shopping trips are up at the top.

      • iainl says:

        Too huge is an understatement. There’s a copy of MGS2 somewhere here, but I’ve never lasted long enough through the opening to reach meaningful gameplay.

        • benBearz says:

          Dont play MGS4 then, the very first cutscene which is right before you play will bore you to tears, because its just a bunch of fake adverts and tv shows the team put in for giggles, which you cant skip, then you get the proper cutscene which gives you a bit of story background, after watching this for 15-30mins you can then finally control snake.

          For 5 mins and then theres another fairly long cutscene.

    • BatmanBaggins says:

      I have such mixed feelings about Kojima and the MGS series. On the one hand, the first Solid game is one of my favorite games ever. Maybe I was just younger and more impressionable back then, but I think it was really a game changer. It redefined for me what games were capable of being, in more than one way.

      On the other hand, by the time I managed to force myself to finish MGS4 all those years later, I came away from it feeling like it was a completely overblown, self-indulgent piece of pretentious garbage. And also, just kind of (painfully so in some places) stupid.

      If you wanna make movies, then just make movies, guy.

      • sinister agent says:

        I’ll keep saying it until it stops being true: someone needs to get kojima to make a game, but bludgeon him with sticks every time he tries to write a story for it. Let him make some godawful 93 hour z-list sci fi garbage in another room if that’s what it takes. Just keep it the fuck away from the potentially fun games he keeps ruining with it.

        • benBearz says:

          Kojima can do good stuff, but him and his team just dont know how to present it in a way that doesn’t involve a cutscene. which kinda shows how much they probably don’t play games, if they did they would have a better knowledge of how modern games have used different tools to present narrative info to the player. As for the silly amount of plot points in the MGS series that had to be tied up in 4, which pushed MGS typically long cutscenes to a frustrating length, is Kojimas inability to trim the narrative bush so that its healthy so to speak, he has a bajjillion ideas for what to put in storywise but can’t seem to choose between the ideas he has and so tries to shove all of them in at once, and hopes he can sort it out sometime down the line.

          The rest I shall blame on their Japaneseness, the amount of films, anime, manga and games that have come out of that country which are downright crazy plot wise is astounding.

          Perhaps we can have the bludgeoning to occur when he starts to write something utterly crazy, in the hope that the crazy is smacked out of him.

          • Geen says:

            MGS3 is great simply because the story is unobtrusive and lets you do whatever the hell you want, while 4 was linear and didn’t have nearly as many path options and easter eggs as 4.

          • Smion says:

            Kojima without crazy would be kind of boring though, don’t you think?

          • benBearz says:

            @Geen – MGS3 is the one game in the series that I havent played yet, its on the list of stuff I need to play but its so far down the list that its going to be a while before I get to it D:

            @Smion – A bit of crazy is fine, in fact I like a bit of crazy, its the giant quantity of crazy and weirdness that we got in MGS4 that put everyone including myself off the game.

            Or perhaps it was the fact that we had to sit down through a 30+min cutscene at the beginning of the game before we could actually control snake…for 5 mins and then oh look…another…bloody…cutscene that takes forever to get through. >_>

  9. hypercrisis says:

    Official adaptations may be a little ropey, but big blockbusters like Avatar and The Hobbit watch like videogames already.

    • Oozo says:

      …ah, nevermind. Basically, I just wanted to say that yeah, that’s correct. Even though that it’s not something I particularly endorse.

  10. Feferuco says:

    They’ve lost their window of opportunity to adapt games. Movie adaptations come with many faults but we put up with them because it brings fiction closer to life.

    The gap between what we read/see and imagine is one of the biggest qualities in books, comic books, but I also enjoy seeing it all made flesh. There was a time when the gap between what we played and what we imagined was much larger, in this space Hollywood adaptations had their only chance to thrive.

    Now I don’t think Hollywood has a shot. Games have sound and graphics that leave little to our imagination, complex action scenes and dramatic moments that used to be implied through abstract gameplay are now made real.

    Would you rather watch Drake hop between cars or do it yourself? Do you want to see the rich world of a 50 hours game reduced to a 3 hours movie that will still feel like a rushed version of what you played?

    • MarcP says:

      “Would you rather watch Drake hop between cars or do it yourself? Do you want to see the rich world of a 50 hours game reduced to a 3 hours movie that will still feel like a rushed version of what you played?”

      As someone who has enjoyed watching edited, movie-like Uncharted playthroughs on Youtube more than any actual movie in the last five years, and yet has no desire to actually play the games, I’m compelled to be snarky and say yes, that is what I want.

      Admittedly, I’m not exactly disagreeing with you either, as movie-like video games as is already offer the ideal experience for both of us.

  11. Sic says:

    While I largely don’t agree with using the realist/formalist dichotomy the way you do (being that they are mostly normative and has been cut and moulded into a plaything for the more interesting phenomenological and cognitivist theories), and certainly not putting Flaherty up against Méliès (you should read some Bill Nichols), and finally, film is, of course, not a passive medium; I do agree that we need to take a long hard look at how Hollywood are adapting games.

    I think the main problem really is how the Hollywood economy functions. What you’ll find is that game adaptations are mainly trying to fit into the rather narrow booth of the best-selling films of all times, the films following the so-called “midas formula”.

    Games are seen as largely pre-marketed products. They’re easy sells. The problem is that they usually have no one worth a damn fighting for them. Rights are bought by people only wanting to earn an easy buck, wanting to hold an easy sell for investors. That fact will never go away.

    The only reason you have any films with a (mild) aura of quality among the highest grossing films of all time (within the last ten years, pretty much all of them adapted, sans Avatar) is that someone is willing to bet a larger amount of money on them. That’s how you get “quality” in Hollywood. The only other option is to give it to an auteur, or someone who is willing to fight for the idea, not necessarily using oodles of money doing it, OR an auteur who is willing to try outsmarting investors/studios in a game of making a real film versus just making a quick buck.

    … and here’s the kicker: how many artistic souls do you think are interested in the intellectual properties of games today? How many studio suits do you think want to give them the Harry Potter treatment?

    For any serious director, games, seen as ideas, are piss poor. You don’t need the Deus Ex IP to make a good transhumanistic sci-fi. In fact, having to drag all sorts of things along from the game is only a huge hassle.

    For any serious suit, games are only good because they are mildly pre-marketed, not because they are sure-fire runaway successes because of narrative or characters.

    Can we get decent films from games? Sure, at some point, the stars will align, and a freak project will be green lit, but as a rule, at least in the Hollywood of today, we still have to endure the manure the ill cultured Hollywood suits shovels at us, because the people who could have made the good game films see game adaptations as a nuisance, not as an opportunity.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Hollywood is now terrified of anything that doesn’t come with an attached IP. They hate having to make a decision on the merits of a thing; probably wise, as most have no taste anyway. If someone else already made ‘it’ (in another form) its not their fault the production failed! In Hollywood you get a job because someone else gave you a job first.

    • David Valjalo says:

      Great reply – thanks for taking the time here, and I agree that the motives of those involved will be pivotal to the quality of the end result.

      As for the realist/formalist issue, take your point and well made; I intentionally painted in quite broad strokes here and I’ve clearly rattled the right cage with my draconian approach…

      • Sic says:

        Thanks for the reply!

        I loved reading the article on RPS, and I hope you write more. Film academia has a lot to say about games, in my opinion; so I hope to see more from you.

  12. SkittleDiddler says:

    Funny he mentioned L.A. Confidential seeing as how L.A. Noire completely ripped it off.

  13. guygodbois00 says:

    Hollywood and good movies? Yes, but rarely. Russell Crowe? No, just no. Well, alright, maybe. But only after he learns his proper English accent. Movies out of games? Very, very bad so far. So that’s also no. Yes.

  14. AmateurScience says:

    That was quite a read. Very good indeed.

    Thanks David.

    Thavid

    • BatmanBaggins says:

      Seconded, thanks for this piece.

      As someone with an admittedly enthusiastic yet amateur interest in film theory & analysis, this was very enjoyable.

  15. Surlywombat says:

    Fantastic article.

  16. Xardas Kane says:

    I honestly didn’t really find this article that revealing or even correct in its assumptions. Stating that video games are going to magically take cinema’s place when it comes to sci fi because CGI has hit a wall and the genre is going nowhere is nothing short of, sorry for being so frank, stupid. CGI is nowhere near its limits and as for the genre, it was practically dead 5 years ago, but has seen a great resurgence since. Dismissing the work of so many young directors who are still far away from reaching their peak, like Duncan Jones, Neil Blomkamp, Gareth Edwards, Josh Trank, Rian Johnson or Joseph Kosinski is downright wrong on too many levels to list. Meanwhile, 2013 looks rather promising thanks to Oblivion, After Earth (last time I give Shayamalan the benefit of the doubt), Pacific Rim, Elysium, Gravity, Star Trek into Darkness and the new Mad Max. That whole statement just shows a complete lack of knowledge when it comes to the sci fi movie genre and where it’s currently headed. Waving all of these movies away because why not is just plain wrong.

    And then there is your actual point, which is completely off the rails. Out of nothing you assume that adapting a game is basically the same as adapting a book. It isn’t. Then you proceed to give as a few examples of extremely complex books being successfully adapted for the silver screen, and you finish it off with some movie theory that is barely applicable to today’s cinema and few even care about. But let’s start from the top.

    A game is NOT A BOOK. It’s a visual and audio media and adapting it presents a challenge unlike anything cinema has seen up to this point. Unlike Edmund Exley from LA Confidential, we KNOW Ezzio’s voice, we know what he looks like and we sure as hell know every visual detail of his world. Just think about that for a second. Think about how terribly constricting it is, how much harder it would be to actually capture the original source’s atmosphere. This is a gigantic issue unto itself, so I’m not going to delve any deeper, just crossing this one off the list. No mention in the article at all though.

    A game also has that thing called gameplay, and if you don’t somehow represent that gameplay in the movie adaptation, it will enrage the fans, and rightfully so. That’s why, say, the Elder Scrolls games are barely (if at all) film-able. You simply can’t express what makes the series so special within the confines of the film media – the freedom to go wherever you want and do whatever you want. This is a deep one as well, but you don’t even consider it for a second.

    And then third is the story. And I am sorry, but 90% of games have paper-thin stories that actually would need to be stretched quite badly for them to work on the big screen, which undermines you whole lengthy essay on how to adapt huge books. Thing is, like I said, we are not talking about books here. We definitely aren’t talking about games that have as much story as a regular book, not in most cases. And no, don’t pull that crap on me how, see, Dragon Age is 9 books in one. A gigantic slice of that is backstory and exposition, branching dialogue, origin stories, race and genre-specific dialogue and sidequests that would have no place in a movie. You cut all that out and, well, not that much is left in there. Certainly nothing comparable to Master and Commander.

    But the worst part is, you completely forget something game adaptations offer that books don’t. Can you make a LA Confidential movie without Exley? No, of course not, that would be silly, it would turn it into just another neo-noir film! But a Half-Life movie without Gordon Freeman? Yes. And you know why? Because you already have the whole visual style of the movie, you know what kind of music you should be looking for, in other words, you have the look and feel and if you capture that, you have Half-Life in a bottle! Congratulations, now you are free to take the story in almost any direction you want. You can make an interquel through the eyes of some resistance fighters in CIty 17 during the riots in HL2. Or make a prequel set between HL1 and 2. Or hell, leave City 17 behind, go to another town, start fresh! No matter what you do, it will feel like Half-Life. Games always have very specific and easily distinguishable visual aesthetics and take place within specific and easily distinguishable world, which would help tremendously in such situations. Again though, completely ignored in this article.

    So after we have discussed (rather superficially, but never you mind that) how one should go about adapting a game we come to the choice of director. And here we get yet another stellar dissection. Formalists and realists. In this day and age, when probably more than half the directors in Hollywood actually didn’t study movie making, close to two decades after the indie boom that gave rise to filmmakers who learned how to make movies not from dusty books, but by simply, you know, watching movies, you come up with that Bazin essay, a great read that’s not exactly relevant today. Nobody is thinking in terms of formalism and realism. No studio head will base its choice of movie projects on the group they fall into, no director even stops to think whether he’s a realist or a formalist, no audience member even knows about those things in the first place. Saying that Cloud Atlas failed because it’s a formalist movie (!) almost made me laugh. You sure that’s the reason? Not because it’s extremely pretentious, over-complicated, failed at actually explaining what it’s all about pre-release and stretches itself too thin in its attempts to tell 6 stories at once? Huh. You know, a couple of days ago in celebration of the inevitable release of Aronofsky’s Noah I watched The Black Swan again. By your definition a formalist movie. That made its budget back twenty five times. Huh, something ain’t right here.

    After that comes your point about applying realists to formalistic “stuff” is just… yeah, doesn’t really make much sense, since, you know, nobody thinks in those terms. Don’t forget – such labels were invented by journalists and movie historians and they largely remain used only by a handful of journalists and the odd movie historian. They are hardly necessary, but that’s a whole other story.

    And so we come to a close. The odd quote here and there doesn’t magically turn this piece into a stellar example of game journalism, rather I’ve the lingering feeling the article was a bit pretentious, but without the substance to back that up. Then again, maybe I’m the pretentious one over here. Who knows, it’s 02:30 on a Tuesday, pardon, Wednesday morning, my English is morbid, as is always the case with foreign languages after the clock dings twelves times, and I’m no journalist, so I have little credibility. I’m probably going to regret writing this so late and surely someone will find a gigantic fault within my post because it’s too late for me to think things through, but what the hell, these are my 2 cents. Appreciate your work, but didn’t really like the piece. Also, sorry for the wall of text and any grammatical mistakes.

    TL;DR – You state that the sci-fi movie genre is dying and CGI has been developed as far as it can be. That’s not true.

    You assume adapting a game is like adapting a long book. That’s not true.

    You categorize everyone into formalists and realists and misuse the term “auteur”. That’s not relevant.

    You go unnecessarily into detail about the current studio structure. Didn’t really see the point of that.

    • guygodbois00 says:

      Ditto.

    • Berzee says:

      Someone should make this post into a game and then make that into a movie.

      edit: it should star Russell Crowe. (and so should the movie)

    • hypercrisis says:

      My thoughts exactly. A rather sixth-form film studies feel to it.

    • tomeoftom says:

      Well said.

    • Anonymatt says:

      Yeah, video games are not long books. They are closer to being paintings. Oh, or gifs.

      People talk about the plot of Mass Effect and I want to laugh. I’d rather write a movie out of Hotline Miami.

    • David Valjalo says:

      Thanks for the feedback and taking the time to thoroughly interrogate the feature! I was hoping to give a quite broad look at the industry and offer some issues worth considering in basic film theory and an entry point for anyone interested in digging a little deeper into what makes movies work… It’s a shame that came across as amateurish to you folks, and a sincere thanks for making that clear.

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  18. Berzee says:

    “You’re probably still reading because of the line about Russell Crowe”

    >_>
    I…I have Russell Crowe typed into my Firefox search bar right now.
    I will maybe come back and read this article when I have time too, honest!

  19. Jamesworkshop says:

    seems easy to me just do a movie specific narrative and not a cut down retread of a games narrative which spends half its time directing the players forward movement and instruction of goals in a quest narative

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  21. Smashbox says:

    Thank you for not splitting this post into several posts.

  22. Obc says:

    If there is no “I never asked for this” or even “What a Shame” i am so gonna baie on the DE Movie.

  23. gravity_spoon says:

    Hollywood should just stay the fuck away from games. That is all

  24. frightlever says:

    “A series of 20 and a half novels, made up of hundreds of characters, side-stories, anecdotal moments of hilarity and raw emotion, all squeezed into a film. It slightly defies the three-act rule, but it still feels faithful, comfortable in its runtime and, again, captures the “essence” of its source.”

    Stopped reading after this. Master and Commander adapted incidents out of exactly one and a half books, cutting out 90% of what was in either including the plot. What was said is akin to claiming that Inglourious Basterds is the distilled essence of Winston Churchill’s “The Second World War”.

    The answer to adapting video games to movies is to not do it. Use the characters but use them in discrete stories if you must use them at all.

    • David Valjalo says:

      Another fan of the Aubrey/Maturin novels (I hope)! I’ve been wrong before, but when I read through them I did find many lines and moments had been taken from earlier books than the one of the film’s name…

      Maturin’s self-surgery for example (shudder) I recall occurring some books earlier… HMS Surprise – my favourite of the series – I believe it was. I’ve just discovered there’s a Patrick O Brian Wikia, too. Finally :0)

      Apologies if the rusted cogs of my mind need a good oiling :0)

  25. Shoelip says:

    I’m not entirely sure why games need to be made into movies in the first place. Well, ok, that’s not true. I know they need to be made into movies so that the license holders can make even more money off them, but why should gamers care about them? As a medium, the only thing movies have that video games don’t is as much public acceptance.

    • LionsPhil says:

      In theory, it could be pretty cool.

      It’s just that I’m not sure it’s ever happened. (I liked Street Fighter as a silly comedy, but anyone who liked the game seems to hate what it did to the cast and setting.)

      Also, Deus Ex is about one of the worst choices, because even though it’s not the branchiest of games, how JC behaves and thinks varies by player. So for half the audience he’s going to be Wrong.

      • Xardas Kane says:

        No, you are wrong. Deus Ex isn’t esclusively about JC Denton, consequently, a Deus Ex movie doesn’t even need to have JC in it.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Right, because someone’s going adapt something (anything) from one medium to another and decide “You know what? Let’s leave out the protagonist. That will in no way fail to cash in on a major bit of brand recognition, the driving force of this venture.”

          • Xardas Kane says:

            You think JC is the driving force? The main character in one of THREE games?! That his character was what makes DE special? Is this for real?!

            Look at the sixth paragraph of my wall of text. What I said is by all means applicable to DE as well and I am not in the habit of repeating myself.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Thanks for reminding me why I had you blocked. Bye!

          • Xardas Kane says:

            You block people who disagree with you? Keep up the good work.

  26. jhng says:

    Great article — another excellent guest appearance for RPS.

    My take on game adaptations would be to start from the premise that the better a game is the more splintered and incoherent it’s (potential) plot will be. A by the numbers three-act linear plot in a game is usually a sign of weakness because it excludes the player’s own narrative. So why not start off by ditching the plotlines and explicit narrative. Then go looking at what aspects of the game have magic that still stands up (and aren’t pure gameplay). I think what you might find is that a lot games get a heavy dose of magic from worldbuilding, characters, and overarching themes/tensions that provide the soil in which the potential plots happen. So perhaps those elements should be the starting point.

  27. FurryLippedSquid says:

    I hold out some hope for Roger Avary’s adaptation of Castle Wolfenstein.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Me, I’d prefer the Tex Avery version….

      • FurryLippedSquid says:

        You may be out of luck there, although anvils dropping on Nazi’s heads would have been no bad thing.

  28. daniel80 says:

    even though I don’t fully agree with the article (I don’t agree to xardas’ fundamental critique, either), there are interesting points made here. some of my thoughts on that:
    1) It is possible to make a good movie out of a video game IP. (In fact, I quite like the first Resident Evil movie, even though it is more film than a ‘true’ game adaptation)
    2) To make a good movie out of VG IPs, it has to be translated into film language (whatever that is, and I agree with xardas that it’s not necessarily a good idea to limit our idea of film language to the realist/formalist dichotomy). It is neither enough to transport VG characters into some sort of generic film (just think Mario Bros here) or to use the backstory/world of a VG and tell some story there (which is what happens in the first Resident Evil movie). Also, there is the massive problem of representing gameplay mechanics within the more passive situation of film.
    3) There is a massive difference between the way plots are constructed in games and films. As was discussed, VG plots are often paperthin AND don’t rely on the constructive formulae of film. Much fuzz has been made of the idea of free will in VGs (with Bioshock being a most disturbing critique of the idea of player), yet I don’t see the biggest problem there – Lola runs has already integrated multiple outcomes of a narrative.
    4) Where to go from here? Obviously, what may be a ‘correct’, or at least feasible translation for one VG may not work for another one. To preserve the ‘feel’ of a game, three aspects are most important (I think):
    1) world-building – even though the game already offers much of its world, a careful translation has to be made: I don’t want to see Ezio on some CGId rooftops, but in a believable real-world setting.
    2) representation of the most important mechanics / interaction tools – this is certainly the hardest part, because translation is obviously impossible. it might work through the use of certain representative techniques (think a mockumentary in DayZ, and maybe even bullet-time in max payne). the film can only transport the feel, not the interaction of a game (did anyone see the first-person-segment of Doom and think it’s any good?)
    3) characters – this is not the most important thing to translate from a game. As Xardas said, you could do Halflife without Gordon, and even Assassin’s Creed without Ezio. You can well do Resident Evil with Alice (sorry to repeat myself here)

    last: Doesn’t Source Code offer an interesting way to deal with the Desmond/Ezio-situation?

  29. Cockles says:

    I enjoy both films and games but (call me a cynic if you like) there is not a great deal that computer game stories can contribute to the medium of film. I don’t think the explosion in comic book superhero films has brought anything that will be remembered (there are a couple of exceptions). Sure, there has been a lot of fun and some half decent stuff but overall it’s been action-film filler material that will be forgotten once the next shiny-shiny product is released.

    The hollywood interest in computer games is purely a decision to make money out of large existing franchises as the comic-book superhero well is running dry. Quite frankly, I dread the day when call of duty is released in cinemas, it’ll bring absolutely nothing that we haven’t seen before as a film.

    Games are also doing a lot to push themselves to be more than just gratifying experiences, we will always have excellent games where we get to mindlessly blow the crap out of aliens and we are starting to get more deeper and emotionally resonant games as well. I fear that this Hollywood interest and the next console cycle will push us back in to being obsessed with making games with the BIGGEST F*CKING EXPLOSIONS IN CUTSCENES, PRESS X TO LIVE! THERE’S STILL TIME TO PRESS X, COME ON, PRESS IT NOW ALREADY. We have enough shit games pretending to be hollywood blockbuster trilogies already, we don’t need them actually trying to be made in to them.

    On the flip side, telltale’s The Walking Dead has much more interesting characters than the TV series and could make a good film. I’m sure the possibilty exists but I’d like to see games be more varied and meaningful before film-makers have a serious interest in them. Perhaps once there are a few big action-film successes there may be films made of more interesting games and there will undoubtedly be something that is as good as Nolan’s Batman films eventually. If 100 films are made based on games then surely the law of averages states that 1 of them will be excellent?

  30. Hyomoto says:

    Here’s the real question though; why would we want to sit down and watch something about a game we’ve already played? We know the characters, we know the plot and, in many cases, we know how it ends! The thing about the ‘re-imagining’ of Batman is precisely that, it’s a re-imagining of a beloved and well-known character. Not nearly as many video game characters can boast as such. Additionally, you are adapting the game for a different viewer, a cinema goer. Honestly, what is in it for them? What’s in it for me? It’s almost as if your entire argument presumes I simply MUST need something to do–why not watch a movie about a video game?!

    Hollywood is already scraping the bottom to make a bunch of soulless, formalist films. Really all I hear is we need more Quentin Tarantino and less Michael Bay. Which I can agree with. But that’s why I like to watch those comparatively small budget movies with art and drama and save the AAA’s for when I just absolutely need a realistic explosion and a happy ending … kind of like gaming.

  31. roryok says:

    Amazing article. This is why I love RPS

  32. gamer99 says:

    To me MGS was a real game changer, the first time I played I knew this is the one game I would play and never forget. Kojima’s footprints are there on each step and it’s hard saying or commenting on his work in a bad way if you’re true fan. To me Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, was trully epic, even though the story was pretty heavy and pretentious, the storytelling and gameplay was pretty amazing. the stealth mechanics was amazing and I don’t believe I ever played a game like that for a long long time, if you’re looking to play simple games go lpay some flash games like this , either than that I think everyone should learn from Kojima how to create epic games the way they should be.

  33. Lacero says:

    I’m late to the party, and wasn’t going to bother opinion awaying, but the last section convinced me to.

    Simple three act films are too passive, but if you shake them up and make some crazy multi act thing like raider’s of the lost ark or one of the later pirates of the caribbean films and have enough side threads a film requires enough investment that it’s more interesting to someone used to games.

    But, it won’t sell yet. And simple film is still doing well.

    • David Valjalo says:

      I think so long as the general rules of the three-act – equilibrium/disequilibrium and then some more equilibrium – are followed, a multi-act feast might well still sell… Even Casino Royale managed to cram in four acts and that was a full-blown franchise rebirth/start. Audiences are used to sitting for a long, long time now. When I saw the third Pirates flick there was even an intermission at the local Odeon it was so long and most of the seats were still full for the second half.

      I suppose we can in part thank Peter Jackson :0)

  34. oldfart says:

    I would watch a, let’s say, Prototype summer popcorn flicker. There, I said.