It’s a well-known fact amongst just about everyone who is involved with video games in some capacity, that adapting pre-existing intellectual properties is a dicey venture. While there are some truly excellent examples of video games that not just replicate but elevate its source material, the vast majority of them are pretty awful. What’s really sad about it is that they don’t have to be; more often than not, the reason why these video games turn out poorly is due to having to meet an unrealistic release date and pushing out an unfinished product.
Instead of trying to capitalize on a movie’s release, the best thing to do is go let the video game’s development cycle happen naturally. If it’s good, it will find an audience regardless of the age of its associated film. Hell, Goldeneye came out a good two years after the movie and it’s still regarded as one of the most important games of all time. More recently, Batman: Arkham Asylum redefined the superhero game by existing alongside the Nolan films without depending on them. Indeed, there are good licenses out there, and here are a few that are still untapped.
The God of War series is an object lesson in diminishing returns. After hitting its peak with the second installment on PS2, each subsequent one falls further into ‘meh’ territory. The gameplay and crazy action of it is not, nor has ever been, the problem however. The real reason why nobody cares about this series anymore is that Kratos is frankly not that interesting. Sure, his character arc of villain-as-hero was compelling in the first couple of games, but there’s not much to him beyond that. What this genre needs is a new setting and a new hero. What this genre needs is Machete.
Let’s face it, Danny Trejo’s life story is more eventful and fascinating than most video game characters, which means he’d be a great video game character just playing himself. With Machete he finally got his big starring role after nearly 3 decades of character work, and it was incredible. Combine the lo-fi, violent grindhouse aesthetic of the films with the slick mechanics of God of War series, and Machete: The Game is the recipe for one ass kicker of an adventure.
Big Trouble in Little China
Imagine Nathan Drake, only less capable and with a friend who actually does all the heavy lifting. That’s pretty much the premise of Big Trouble in Little China. This 1986 movie blends horror and comedy, and is actually a pretty good kung-fu flick. What made this movie most memorable was that Kurt Russell’s overbearing Jack Burton was the comic relief and ‘sidekick’ Wang Chi was the true hero. This movie is colorful, bizarre, hilarious, and it is paced perfectly for a video game format; including the presence of super-bosses.
Big Trouble in Little China would make an amazing co-op game where you could either play as Jack; slow but powerful, has a gun, or Wang; fast as lightning, carries a sword. Being able to play as these two knuckleheads as they uncover a conspiracy involving Chinese mythology, street gangs, and fast reflexes would be a joy to behold. Maybe United Front should forget about a sequel for Sleeping Dogs and bring the action back to San Francisco.
Escape from New York/LA/Wherever
All right, by now you’ve sussed me out as a bit of a John Carpenter fanboy. Guilty as charged. Snake Plissken has been co-opted by you-know-who in the video game world, and it’s kind of a shame because Plissken is one of the most nihilistic heroes in cinematic history. How have his stories NOT been made into video games? Case in point:
It would be incredible to see a well-done Escape From… game modeled after something like Dead Rising with its persistent countdown clock. Volition could knock this one out of the park based on the inspired insanity of the last couple of Saints Row games. Snake Plissken would be right at home in a city where ludonarrative dissonance goes to die and he’s free to raise hell.
This mindblowing 1999 film by David Cronenberg is about a game designer who is subject to a fatwa by militant anti-gamers. She and her bodyguard escape an assassination attempt and must play her new game, which involves plugging an organic video game console into your body (and you thought firmware updates were a hassle), in order to find out who is behind it all. eXistenZ has multilayered stories, characters changing roles throughout, and a fragile sense of where reality ends and the game begins. I’d love to see how a developer like BioWare could deal with a premise like this; pulling back on its usual epic scope and focusing on a more inwardly complex and challenging metanarrative.
Surviving the Game
Remember at the beginning of Far Cry 3 when Vaas kills your brother, sets you loose with a head start, and then begins chasing you down? This sequence only lasts for a short time before you get away and the proper game begins, but it’s incredibly tense and effective. Now, imagine if that were the whole game.
In the early 1990s, there was a mini-resurgence of the narrative concept of humans being hunted for sport. Films such as Hard Target and Surviving the Game featured down-on-their-luck heroes who, while being stalked in the wilderness by wealthy men with guns, turn the tables and go from hunted to hunter. Of all the ideas listed in this article, this is the biggest slam dunk for a video game. It could work any number of ways; as an open-world game, as a Left 4 Dead-style multiplayer game with various settings and objectives…the concept is good enough to support just about any genre.
Along with the gameplay, consider the cast of Surviving the Game: Ice T, Rutger Hauer, John C. McGinley, Gary Busey, F. Murray Abraham…Now that is a CAST. What’s even better is that they are all alive and (Mr. Busey notwithstanding) well, and would likely all jump at the chance to revisit this story. I’m serious; you give this concept to a strong developer and it could be absolutely massive.
There are so many great ideas out there, but ultimately it comes down to the right developer at the right time to execute on them. What are some movies/books/etc. that you think could work as video games?