If I were to say to you, Jumper, what would you think? Would you think of the movie or would you think of the game, would you think of both? I never actually saw the movie and I watched the game being played. I was pondering the movie but after I saw the game I decided against it, because to be honest the game was that bad it put me off watching the film. So in a fit of inspiration, after several bottles of tequila and as I sunned myself in my expensive Villa in Spain next to all the cars and beautiful women that surrounded me, I woke up from that dream and thought: ah, movie to game and game to movie article/rant, just what the doctor ordered.
So this article is going to delve into the murky depths of the industry from both directions, examine some of the sure-fire misses and some of the near-hits as I take a look at the Franchise Game. I'm not exactly sure where it started way back when but there have always been games that attempt to mimic popular franchises, right back during the 8-bit era, Batman and anything that might make a good (I use that term loosely) game was packaged into a cartridge or recorded onto a tape. Shows like Airwolf and even Night Rider were blessed with video game conversions.
I could harp on about the Star Wars franchise being the most overly hyped in terms of games, with some of the worst movie->game conversions ever but that's only part of it. There have been some fairly decent Star Wars games and usually those have nothing to do with the movies, the N64 was graced with a decent effort in terms of Shadows of the Empire, a game based on the book of the same name that also had its own soundtrack. The PC and Xbox had two solid Star Wars games that were nothing to do with the movies and focussed on the events prior to Lucas' prequels - the Knights of the Old Republic, though, the second game is often thought of by fans as unpolished and unfinished.
If it's a TV show, a comic, a movie or even a book the chances are that someone out there will think it needs a game making of it. Eragon, a book and movie that borrows heavily from Star Wars in terms of story and design was thrust into the hands of developers, who made a variant of their Lord of the Rings style 3rd person hack-slash adventure that wasn't very good. Lost had its own game that should have remained Lost according to gamers. Beowulf had a pretty average game made about it. The pattern is universal across a large number of these games; they are often made without a thought for the gameplay and just to cash in on the name of the movie.
Harry Potter, it's had some duff video games and perhaps one game that stood out from the rest recently. That's a pretty big ratio of miss to hit though and whilst you can get die-hard fans to part with anything if you stick it in a plastic replica of Master Chief's helmet, most gamers are going to smile and wave as they move onto the next franchise that's usually made from an original IP. Movie/franchise games don't have a great reputation; this is a bit of a shame since there are some of these games that deserve a decent look.
The Witcher is a fantastic game with a lot of heart and soul, based on a series of Polish fantasy novels. It's a success story that keeps on getting better and better, now, there's light at the end of the tunnel for the 360 owners since the game's coming to the console. It's a good example of how to take established source material, give it a spin and make it work. The Spawn games, Todd McFarlane's creation should have been excellent, they could have really done something with that character and instead they were terrible. It was a sign that the industry had a long way to go in terms of technology and game design however, this was in the infancy of the video game market and the power just wasn't there to support the ideas. If we fast forwards to the Xbox, the same can be said, the power was partly there but the skill was lacking in many developers. Movie games were looked upon with derision by gamers as well; this didn't help the cause at all.
I remember hearing about the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and thinking, just like many gamers at the time. Oh no, not another damn movie game. I was all ready to give this the heave-ho and ignore it but one of my friends worked at Starbreeze at the time and he told me a little about the game, just enough to whet my appetite. So when I booted it onto my Xbox and sat back expecting to be highly disappointed, I couldn't have been more wrong. Minutes melted into hours and I blasted my way through Riddick in just over 12 hours.
I loved every second of it. It was as if the movie-game gods had finally smiled on me. Of course it's not really a movie->game, it's more of a game based around the Riddick franchise that was designed to run like this: Escape from Butcher Bay (game) -> Pitch Black (movie) -> Dark Fury (anime) -> Chronicles of Riddick (movie). Yet for some reason Tigon and Starbreeze managed to make a really solid game. So you can imagine that I'm more than stoked for the return of Riddick on the 360 with Dark Athena.
Starbreeze also had marginal success with the Darkness, based on the comic of the same name. Unfortunately they took the franchise in slightly the wrong direction in terms of the lead character design and the gameplay design, so the game that should have been a hit like Riddick turned into a partial star instead of a nova. Another franchise that's been more miss than hit has been James Bond, ask any gamer about the best Bond game and most of the time you'll get the name: Goldeneye (N64) shouted back at you with a few hours of description where they explain their best kill in that game.
In truth there really hasn't been a great Bond game since Goldeneye on the N64. Until now that is, Quantum of Solace is about the best Bond game to come out of the reboot of the franchise with Daniel Craig. Using the Call of Duty 4 engine the developers have managed to pack in a short but sweet single player game that follows and expands both on Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale fitting into the Bond canon and explaining events that were none too clear. It still doesn't have the impact in multiplayer that Goldeneye had, but it's a good step in the right direction for movie->games.
Batman, Spiderman and most comic book heroes in terms of Marvel and DC have all had their turn at the wheel. Some of them based on movies, such as the 8-bit Batman games and Spiderman 1, 2 and the pretty generic 3rd game. Superman has had a few outings, yet none of these games have really had the impact that they should have. The developers try to shoe-horn in the movie characters, the plot and attempt to put a spin on it. The Lord of the Rings has had several game iterations, some of them based on the books and some of them directly on the Peter Jackson movies and again they're limited appeal since most of the time they railroad the player into the movie's plot, be it a third person hack-slash game or an rts like Battle for Middle Earth 1 and 2.
The recent Iron Man game was a wasted movie-license opportunity since it was a good game but shallow. The best description is lack lustre and rusted. Rather than thinking of doing a game where you had a hub level such as Stark Industries where you could interact, change into Iron Man's many costumes and go off to solve crimes around a GTA style city - they made a generic 3rd person blast-a-thon that really got quite boring after a prolonged period of play. With game engines like the one used in Assassin's Creed and GTA IV, Saints Row 2, there's no reason why a comic book superhero game like Batman couldn't be made into a 3rd person GTA style game as long as the gameplay elements are mixed correctly.
It's quite funny how that with all the power we have in our current-gen tech, the developers are still bound by last-gen's mental attitudes. It's about time to step outside of the safety zone; people aren't going to stick to buying the same level based movie crap forever. I mean look at the Lego franchise based on all the popular movies, or characters. Batman, Indiana Jones and the complete Star Wars set. These games are fun, they're replayable and they're packed with little in-jokes from the movies and genres they represent. I'd say they are some of the best franchise based games even though they have their own problems.
There is of course another side to the coin, its movies that are based on franchises and especially games. I couldn't write an article without mentioning the dark spectre that haunts the movie-goers worst nightmares and dreams, the king of B-movie game to movie conversions, the master of trite and dire cinema: Uwe Boll. From House of the Dead to Alone in the Dark, Bloodrayne and more Uwe has turned his director's hand to bringing these franchises to life and probably death on the big screen. He's taken the incredible talents of a man called Ben Kingsley, the man who played Ghandi and managed to suck all the life out of his performance.
Yet he still manages to make these movies, some of the worst game->movie cinema out there. He's a cult classic and his films like In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege tale have managed to snag actors like Ron Pearlman, John Rhys Davies, Jason Statham, Ray Liotta and more to his cause. He must have more money than sense because I can't see how he can manage it, the scripts are terrible, the direction in most of his films is flawed and the bullet time sequence in the House of the Dead is laughable.
Jurgen Prochnow is in that film, WHAT? I can't begin to fathom that. Yet even without Uwe's talents Hollywood is capable of taking our beloved franchises and murdering them until there's nothing left on the floor but a cold stone corpse. Resident Evil is nothing like the game, Daredevil only makes sense if you get the Directors Cut and Ghost Rider was a complete and utter let down. The first couple of X-Men movies were Ok, Spiderman was decent until 3 and I have to admit that I quite liked Thomas Jane's Punisher. There will be hell to pay if the Watchmen movie is utter crap I can tell you that, Alan Moore will sit there in his high-backed chair and smile into the blackness of his own heart.
He will say, "See I told you so."
Alan is notoriously against comic->film regardless of his own intellectual property. He despised the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where they turn Mina Harker from a schoolmarm who is highly intelligent into the SEXY VAMPIRE that must be in all movies! He wasn't too fussed on From Hell and he hated V for Vendetta. I can see where the big man is coming from having met him at a comic convention once. He has every right to be opinionated in that respect too, since he's very much the voice of derision in the mass media market of today.
Yet it's not all despair in Hollywood, once in a while they actually get something right and for every Daredevil there's an Iron Man. This whilst being a tad long on the setup/exposition was a wonderfully made film of one of my favourite comic book characters. Robert Downey Junior was the best person to play Stark and Jeff Bridges, when not running around driving a light-cycle was amazingly good as Obidiah Stane. Then you have Timothy Oliphant as Agent 47 in Hitman, a movie that surprised me and was fairly decent. The new Batman Begins and Dark Knight were excellent; they replaced the original Batman and Batman Returns as two of my favourite Batman films. Don't talk to me about Superman though; I've no love for him in game, movie, comic or anything form.
It just goes to show that if you have the right director, the right script writer (anything by David Hayter thanks) and the right mix you can actually make decent movies from a game or comicbook concept. The game industry has yet to fully grasp the requirements for making a successful movie based game but I'll give you a step in the right direction. Try to stop making games based on the actual movie, make it after the movie or before, make it about the character and the hero we want to play. Let us have some kind of choice where we take this character. Not only does it avoid you having to shoe-horn in the movie's plot and so on, but it actually means you can focus on making a fun game rather than packing it with stealth, vehicle, shooting sections that often don't gel well together.
I look forwards to this, I also look forwards to the day when Uwe Boll gives up making movies based on games. Then again, they're always good for a laugh, so whilst I dream of a point and click Doctor Who adventure game on the console or PC I'm going to go and watch Batman Begins again, catch you on the flipside Dominic!