Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?Complications Ensue
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Sunday, March 29, 2009

I'm pondering the differences between a great video game and a great action movie.

My hypothesis is it's in the flaws of the hero. A video game hero has no flaws -- only the mistakes of the player. A great action story has the hero make decisions not just because of the situation but because of his character. His mistakes, his hesitation, his reluctance, are what make him human and make us care about him.

Whereas in a video game, you have to force the player to make errors, by failing to give him enough information, or by simply doing it in a cut-scene. And few players will make a mistake out of sentimentality, because they're trying to win.

What would you say are the great video game adaptations? What did they do differently to make a great movie?

What would you say are the great action movies that could easily have been video game adaptations? E.g. PREDATOR. What differentiated them from a video game?



Often in games, the game itself demands that the character make a mistake to progress. Let's say YOU (the player) know that walking a certain route will lead to an ambush. But the only way to continue is to go there anyway - forced flaws.

Interestingly, a lot og games are granting more freedom to the player. A fair few RPGs let the player make decisions - the light or dark path etc.

I think Predator would make a horrible game because what would you do? Either run around trying to evade an alien, or run around trying to stop people evading you.

90% of Predator is the uncertainty of what the killer is. In a game, all that would be lost.

By Blogger Neil, at 1:51 PM  

I'm still waiting for Pong: The Movie.

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 4:26 PM  

1. Video games are a solo, internal experience, a bit like a comic book. The audient(?) is much freer to put his/her own interpretation on the main character. In a movie, it's pretty much proscribed and the emotional experience is generally shared. Spiderman and Batman are the most conflicted comic book characters which is why they translate well.

2. Movies (should) have a plot. Games are a sequence of puzzles, they're not about character. If a game character kept disobeying instructions because of a personality flaw, the game would tank. The only character shading in games is about genre.

By Blogger blogward, at 4:34 AM  

I'm actually structuring the story for a game spec script right now (and will then write it); it's pretty much an modern-day action thriller with a bit of near-future sci-fi-style tech thrown in.

The main problem is going to be having the player make a particular decision (concluding that his best ally and potential love interest is betraying him; turning on her; actually she was innocent), a decision which has to be made, but trying to get them to do it without forcing them to do it.

Obviously the traditional way to do forced failure like this is to stick it in a cutscene, as this prevents the player from evading critical plot points, or even more importantly, prevents them from repeatedly trying to avoid the point of failure which is intentionally unavoidable.

But my hope is to convince the _player_, during the story that comes before, that the other character really is guilty. If 90% of the players willingly choose to sacrifice her, then it won't be so bad if the other 10% are forced to against their will. Branching storylines in games are not pretty.

In terms of mistakes and character, therefore, what I'm attempting is to align the player with the character closely enough that they willingly share in the mistakes of the character -- and thus are also complicit when the mistakes are revealed. Hopefully that should be emotionally engaging.

By Blogger David, at 5:40 AM  

I liked the old "Blade Runner" game. It adapted the movie's atmosphere fairly well and broadened the game's scope by including aspects of Dick's novel. It also had about a dozen different endings, depending on the player's choices, particularly their empathy for the replicants.

Lucasarts has become a fairly reliable producer of good adapted games, particularly for Star Wars and Indiana Jones. (I've hardly played all the Star Wars games, mostly just the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series.) Maybe that has something to do with the fact that Lucas' movies look more like video games than movies. One of the most satisfying aspects of an Indiana Jones games was solving a puzzle set in a ruin, which relied on your interpretation of the glyphs on the ruin, not unlike Indie himself.

By Blogger David, at 9:17 AM  

The best games now days are where you create your own character and can have him act as you wish. Games like Fallout 3 allow you to be good or evil or neutral, with benefits and problems that go along with how you act.

This is the future of gaming. Not set storylines, but rather making use of the vast memory and power of computers now days to have branching storylines with multiple endings and outcomes based on how you play them and how you decide to do things. Will you make friends with a character to get info or beat him up to get it? Or just kill him and loot the body for info? The interactive aspect is what makes a game great.

Movies are a whole different beast. We watch movies to see a story unfold, to sit back and get enthralled by the images and dialogue. There is no interaction and that is the good part of a movie(or it should be, some movies obviously suck). The plot, the details. Just like a really good novel. You just surrender to it.

By Blogger mallet, at 12:39 PM  

Resident Evil. Because all the game (and the movie) had to be was scary.

By Blogger Eric M, at 6:57 PM  

I don't mean to be rude, but you and some of the other posters here have a ridiculously narrow view of what constitutes videogames. If you look at old Lucasarts adventure games, like Monkey Island or Sam and Max, the heroes are flawed and as insteresting if not mroeso than most movies. Yes in many games you inhabit and control the protagonist the whole time, but there are also many where you don't.

The partial control of videogame characters is key to giving them personalities. Whether it is spontaneous one liners, or what they say when you make them talk, there are numerous ways of communicating character. Also, like movies it is possile to give them character through backstory. They may have had flaws in their life before, but now those flaws become the players to make up for.

And the only good videogame adaptation is DOA. It's not high art, but it's well made for what it is. The others (Doom, Silent Hill, Mario) mistook branding for a story and characters.

By Blogger eoincleland, at 11:48 AM  

@Eoin: which DOA is that?

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:40 PM  

DOA the Corey Yeun directed film.

It has nicely shot fight scenes, a consistantly fun tone, pretty actors, a reasonable enough script and a generally likable and unpretentious vibe.

It's not going to win any awards, but it's the only film where I thought they fundamentally had th right approach to the material they were adapting.


By Blogger eoincleland, at 1:43 PM  

I think in action games, something that gave me a thrill was hearing the enemy before actually seeing it. That built tension, because you didn't know exactly where it was coming from, but it was there, lurking.

What I liked about action films was the initial stunt or effect that disrupted the routine, that told me all bets were off, and it was going to be a wild ride. That's hard to explain, but Terminator 2 did that for me, and also Mad Max 2. In all of these, you're not thinking, but you want a visceral feeling.

By Blogger Jack Ruttan, at 8:16 AM  

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