Monday, April 27, 2009

Movies and Video Games

There is a long list of movies based on video games and vice versa. Sadly the list is full of games and movies not worth spending your money on. It seems like a no brainer that movies would translate to games and games would become great movies. Action movies in particular have so many cool moments that the viewer would love to play. Some games have such fantastic worlds that the thought of seeing them on the big screen is exciting. But something gets lost in translation and things never work out the way they should.

Movie based Video Games

Some designers create games out of their own imaginations, and creativity. New worlds and experiences are born out of this, and you can see the time and care put into a great original game. Movie games are almost always corporate decisions and the movie license is thrust onto a studio. There is almost no room for creativity because the designers are in a trap. They can either create a note for note re-creation of the movie with added action, which usually turns out to be a shallow experience. Or they can change the game's direction far away from the movie and lose everything that made people fans of the movie in the first place. It is really a lose/lose situation and it rarely works. Adding to this problem is the fact that the developers have to rush the game out to match the theatrical or DVD release. If the movie based game comes out at a different time than the movie the public may have lost interest in the property already. This creates games being sold that are incomplete messes. The following examples are only a select few out of the many movie based games.

Superman Returns

The game came out around the time the DVD hit stores. It was still too buggy and unplayable to be worthwhile. Also the movie was less action oriented and more about Superman as an icon, something that cannot be translated into a game. Recieved a 54% of Gamerankings


This game was diluted twice over. From an amazing book, to a medicore movie and finally a bad video game. Beowulf is part of the English literature cannon and any alteration of it ruins the original intent. It is so ingrained in its orginal medium that it was impossible to mimick the genious that the novel was. Recieved a 54% at Gamerankings.


This game was so bad it helped along the video game crash in the 80s. Millions of copies were made since the movie, made in the same year, was an enormous success. The game was barely playable and most of the copies were returned and people lost faith in video games. The returns were so large that there is a landfill in New Mexico that houses millions of cartridges. ET was a drama and it was impossible to emulate the magic of that movie onto a primitive Atari cartridge.

Very rarely do video games based on movies work, but it does happen. Sometimes a game based on a movies can become commercially and critically successful. These movie games usual change the details of the movie a bit while leaving the original theme of the movie present. The movies that mostly work as games are part of a franchise that have rich worlds full of characters. The game designers can sidetrack the movie while still using memorable locations and include characters players will recognize. These successful movie games used the movie franchise as a blueprint and created an expanded universe within their game.


No one was expecting this game to be a hit, the publishers and developers included. They did not print off enough cartidges to meet public demand and it was near impossible to find the game during christmas. Rare, the developers did a number of things right when creating the game. They did not try and match the game's release with the movie's, in fact the movie was already out for 2 years. They took their time polishing and working on the game they wanted to make. Goldeneye the game did not follow the movie note for note and added a lot of new locations and missions. This worked for this game since James Bond is already an established icon with a large backstory to exlpore. Finally the game had a fully realized multiplayer mode and pioneered the movement of first person shooters on consoles. Received a 95% at Gamerankings and is currently the 19th highest rated game of all time and the highest rated game of 1997.

King Kong

Not a great classic, like Goldeneye, but a good game none the less. The game lucked out by having Michel Ancel, a designer of the critically acclaimed Beyond Good and Evil and Rayman series, as its lead designer. Having a truely great creative force behind the game helped the game stand out. Michel also took the movie license seriously and used it to create a unique game by trying to capture a cinematic feel. The game got rid of health bars, maps and any other thing that typically is displayed on the screen. You saw what the player would have actually seen, creating a more realistic look. The game was also not very long but it worked to its advantage, rather than repeating itself it led the player through a series of events and told a focused story. Recieved an 80% for Gamerankings.

Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay

Nothing should have pointed towards this games success, it was tied into a summer action movie starring Vin Diesel and it was timed to come out with the movie. Starbreeze, the developers, took a different approach to making a movie tie in. Rather than try and recreate what happened in the movie, they took the lead character and told a new story that took place before the movie. This could have been a cheap storytelling techinique but it worked. Since they had a different storyline they could create Riddick as a video game from the ground up. They took the game seriously and added a lot of their own personal touches and techniques to make it stand out. In fact this game recieved better reviews and commercial success than the movie. Received and 88% on Gamerankings.

Movies based on Video Games

These never ever work. There has not been a good movie based on a video game and I don't think there ever will be. Many people think that video games will translate perfectly to film because of their cinematic presentation. Games may look cinematic but it is a mistake to see them as such. I have said it before, but a video game without interaction is not a game at all. Without the player interaction it loses most, if not all, of its purpose. Books can become great films because all you need to do is translate the words on the page to the screen, but games have hours of gameplay and every player has a different experience with it. You cannot bring a video game to the big screen without cutting something crucial from it. Because the player has so much influence over the main character in a game it is impossible to translate the feeling of the character to the big screen. Everyone has their own vision when they play a game and not a single director or script can capture all of them. Furthermore most games do not rely on storytelling so there is not that much story to pick up on. And the games that do have a focus on story have way too much in it to handle properly. It is a lose/lose situation. Just look at the reviews for Double Dragon, Mortal Kombat 1 and 2, Silent Hill, House of the Dead, Super Mario Brothers, and Alone in the Dark. Video games are untranslatable to the big screen, because they are games first and foremost. Do you think someone could make a movie out of Hungry Hungry Hippos, or Monopoly? Just because games are art doesn't mean they can translate to other forms of art. They are too unique, and there is nothing wrong with leaving them in their original forms.

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