In the comic industry, it’s very common for artists and/or writers to abandon their work on a series, only to have another artist jump in and continue mid-series. However, the same cannot be said for the video game business, where developers often finish entire trilogies. Because of changes like this, the new team often creates a hurdle for the gamer, whether it be a change in artistic design or gameplay mechanics, an unexpected shift in the story, or maybe even the main character getting killed off in the first ten minutes of the game only to be replaced by a minor character from the previous installment whose name you can’t even remember.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a number of titles come out from developers who weren’t tied to the original game at all.
Digital Extremes took the reigns from Starbreeze Studios and delivered The Darkness II, a game that focused less on the sappy, emotional overtones that the first game shoved down our throats, and delivered more fast-paced, bloody, and down-right brutal gameplay. The Darkness is a great example to use, since it is also a comic book series. Both iterations of the namesake have undergone changes within the people behind it. Does this make The Darkness II better than the original, based solely on the fact that it is giving us more of what we have come to expect in games based on today’s standards? Or can the audience find a satisfying experience between the two, regardless of their drastic differences?
Another popular title that frequents most peoples’ minds is Fallout: New Vegas. Fallout started out as a PC game developed by Interplay Entertainment and was reinvented in 2008 by Bethesda Studios, developers of the renowned Elder Scrolls series. Still using the the Gamebryo engine from their last game, Oblivion, Fallout 3 was not technically advanced. It did have its share of bugs and glitches, but what made it unique and grossly engaging was the game’s central theme of freedom and choice. Its “Go anywhere and do anything” mantra made it a commercial and critical success.
Fallout: New Vegas continued this tradition. While the story, characters, and weapons might have changed from its former, it remains largely similar. Run on the same engine and offering almost no changes in gameplay, developer Obsidian Entertainment stuck with the motto “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” and that’s exactly what they did. While time did give the team a slight advantage in terms of added features, the lack of polish that went into the game deteriorated its chances of being just as successful as its counterpart.
Having people other than the original team working on a project doesn’t necessarily mean they are guaranteed to make a better product. This is made evident by the sequel to the 1995 film adaptation of Mortal Kombat. What it does mean is that the new people behind that project have had time to listen to the feedback from the audience regarding the last game. Meanwhile, the developer responsible for the original title can focus on something else. They can relinquish their rights to the new developer and it becomes a win/win for both parties.
How does this differ from the comic industry, who can seamlessly switch writers, artists, and others at a moment’s notice and yet make the reader still feel that they are a part of an original idea from start to finish; no extreme differences, no drastic art direction changes or anything? Why can’t video game developers pull this off? Is it a lack of communication from within the team, or could it just be a minor obstacle the video game industry hasn’t gotten a grasp of yet, much like their film adaptations? For the most part, studios are not enemies. There is an open line of communication and if a new team wants to try their hand at an existing franchise, there is nothing that is stopping them from going to the parent developer, and just being like, “Hey, this is where we want to go with the game. How do you think we could transition the first game into this one so it flows better?” Not only would communication make for a much more solid story, but in my opinion, make for a richer experience.
I understand that every one of these studios is pressed for time. We have seen so many triple-A titles come out in just a few short years, but I’m sure an afternoon or two would do both sides good. I can also relate to the fact that maybe some developers just want to do things on their own. They have a vision, they have the ambition, and a solid, secure group of individuals who are excited to voice his or her own ideas into a video game. There are very few other experiences I can think of that would have the same amount of pure joy and exhilaration that seeing your ideas in a game would bring.
When all is said and done, the video game and comic book industry are very similar. Both have creative teams putting out a single product, all in hopes that their audience appreciates the game or issue that they worked on and dedicated so much time to. Both businesses are labors of love, and without each person putting forth his or her respective effort, it ultimately shows in the final work, and almost never for the better. I think that with a little feedback and a lot of ambition, we might start to see some excellent reboots and continued sagas from developers who had nothing to do with the premiere title, and maybe later, (and I’m not holding my breath in the least) we will hopefully see a good video game adaptation of a movie more than once a decade.