Video Games have come quite a long way since the day of it’s conception, from the good old days of the Atari 2600 to the modern systems like the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, so much so that it went from selling game cartridges in small cardboard boxes with manuals that had a simple (and usually dumb) story that fit only a small paragraph, to literally cinematic and almost lifelike experiences with actual plot, movie production qualities, thousands of pages worth of script-writing, and even featuring real actors and directors to tell the stories that these games present.
For a long time there has been the debate/discussion of adapting video games to the silver screen, and whether it could be possible to make a worthy film to match the quality of the games that we play, a discussion that has been going on ever since movies the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Double Dragon were made to adapt the games to a cinematic format. (Both which were critically panned might I add.)
The question that I pose is whether producing an adaptation of video games to celluloid is a venture worth pursuing in today’s video game climate.
When it comes to games back in the 70-90’s, making an adaptation of a video game to a narrative movie with a semblance of characters with actual personalities, and stories that attempt to flesh out the background and lore of the games they were adapting it from made more sense then as we have to keep in mind that most games of the time did not have the ability to tell a plot within the hardware these games were being played on. So for actual script writers, and directors to try and adapt these games to give life to the games in a way that couldn’t be done on machines that was incapable of doing so, such as acting, character building, and plot, was a move that was more logical for the time.
However that’s not really so for the modern day. Today we have hardware that is capable of rendering characters, backgrounds, modeling, textures, animations, and even in game cinema-tics that make use of cutting edge gpu’s (Graphics Processing Unit’s) to create not only near photo-realistic qualities, but also imitate the cinematic nature of film such as acting, tightly written scripts to tell well written plot-lines, and even cut-scenes that imitate film quality direction and tightly shot angles that mirror that of most feature films we watch, within the confines of the genre of media that is video games.
The only difference now is that instead of being the viewer in the audience, we are now the actor in the film…in a sense. Instead of watching a movie, we are living it by controlling the virtual actor’s actions in the “films”, making decisions that reflect what we want them to do, as apposed to what the character wants to do.
That’s not to say we have full control over every action that happens in the games we play, there still are scripted segments that play out the same way every time regardless of what we do, only because if we had control over every outcome, it wouldn’t be the creators story anymore, and would conflict with the narrative the developers are trying to convey.
Heck have you even wondered why we call scripted segments in games “Scripted Segments”? The phrase itself is even heavily rooted in cinema, its a phrase/design practice meant to define a segment of the game that are meant to play out as they are written by the designers of the game with little to no deviation, similar to how most actors and scenes follow a script to convey to the audience what the creator wants to happen as it is written and adapt it to the screen. That’s Scripting.
Games like the Metal Gear Solid series, the Uncharted series, and even games such as the Heavy Rain, are fine examples of video games that pay homage to the roots of cinema, by structuring a cinematic narrative, and build the personalities and backgrounds of the characters we either play or interact with, without cutting out what matters most, playing the game…well, some more than others.
Uncharted is a great example of cinematic gaming in the past 8 years, in all the games thus far, the game frames its narrative comparable to an actual movie, with cut-scenes using actual cinematography and camera tricks such as Panning shots, Dutch angles, Over the shoulder shots, etc. even coming down to certain details such as hiding the HUD when not in combat during the gaps of quiet time between action segments as a way to immerse the player into the role of the protagonist and the setting he/she inhabits.
Even little details like when the game asks you to press a button to highlight a certain element in the background or something within the area you are in, the camera pans to what it wants to show you throwing two black bars on the top and bottom of the screen to replicate the screen resolution that films are shown in, the only difference being they don’t last long and are just used for effect more than anything else.
The game’s cut-scenes are also indicative of cinematic techniques and story telling, usually having the main character or a group of virtual actors giving exposition regarding the plot of the game at the current moment usually within short vignettes shot with tight angles, editing cuts between shots and different angles of the same scene in a way most movies do, with the exception that most of these scenes usually last only a few minutes before handing the controls back to the player for the next segment of game play transitioning to and from within the time spent playing the game.
While adding cinematic qualities into the games we play can be a bad idea if done wrong, Uncharted is an example of games doing it right as the Uncharted series has garnered widespread critical acclaim from most if not all major gaming publications citing the games as absolute classics.
The reason I bring up Uncharted as a prime example for this discussion is because of the fact that for over the course of 6 years, producers have been trying to get a cinematic adaptation of the Uncharted series to the silver screen, however because of multiple directors and writers constantly dropping out usually to be on other projects have stunted the production.
Actors such as Nathan Fillion from the television series Firefly expressed interest in playing the role of Nathan Drake urging his followers on twitter to help in getting him the spot, Mark Walhberg even discussed his possible involvement in the film, Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg were repeatedly asked to write for the project and repeatedly shot down the offer, currently landing on Seth Gordon and Evan Boal’s shoulders to actually make the thing, with a possible release date of June 10th, 2016.
It makes one wonder though, if a movie adaptation of the games is a venture worth pursuing, with the eventual estimated release window for Uncharted 4 set for Spring of next year, and considering the possibility that the game will most likely be a critical success, and with the near lifelike production values of the game’s current graphical fidelity, even if the movie does release, I wouldn’t be surprised it the game ends up more memorable than the movie itself.
The main reason I’m skeptical of the idea of the film being of quality is mainly because I’m not sure if either Evan Boal or Seth Gordon even know what actually makes the games great to begin with, and even then, because of the quality that triple AAA game’s development can achieve, any developer with the budget necessary can do much more than what any movie can, and I just don’t feel ultimately a movie adaptation of any game could really compare to the quality that games give us.
However not all spin off media of about video games is bad though, in fact a lot of the best movies based off of video games happen to be made by the fans. Movies such as the Megaman fan film by Blue Core studios, or Machinima’s Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist series are fine examples of a film/series based off of games that mainly works in their own way mainly because it’s made by people that have an understanding of what the games actually are and the characters that inhabit it, giving the franchise’s the respect they deserve, regardless of their lower budget qualities.
When I started this article I asked the question, is making a film adaptation of video games a venture worth pursuing…in my opinion, no.
Considering that we live in an age where the medium of video games have progressed to the point that actual acting talent from cinema such as Kevin Spacey and even Keifer Sutherland are crossing over to make bigger and better experiences that can only be achieved through video games, the rise of digital distribution and the increasing ticket sales of films making it less of a viable option for most people, and considering the fact that video games is a far more profitable industry than film, slowly but surely, Movies are growing irrelevant…but for me to pronounce all of cinema as totally irrelevant would be just plain wrong of me to state.
In order for video game films to become relevant it would require studios to actually give a damn
The Box office still brings in billions of dollars each year, and with movies such as Furious 7 being a box office smash, bringing in over $1.322 billion dollars worldwide, it’s obvious that the movie industry isn’t quite dead yet, and still has it’s place.But is it impossible for video game related films to be relevant? Well not really.
Film companies like Marvel Studios as well as DC Entertainment have been producing some pretty awesome adaptations of the comics they produce. If the Iron Man trilogy, the Thor movies, and The Avengers are anything to go by, it does show that making an adaptation of previously existing material in a different format is possible to do. For a big budget video game movie like the possible Uncharted film set to release next year to work, the people behind it have to not treat the series as ‘just another blockbuster’, it has to be given the proper respect and understanding the series deserves for the film to be worth anything.
I feel for video game related films to become relevant in the mainstream film industry, it would require studios to actually give a damn, and learn about the Intellectual Properties that they are trying to adapt, instead of having cynical cigar chompers just slap a name on a film and say it’s based on X to appeal to Y without having any understanding why the thing they are trying to adapt was good in it’s opposite format, as doing so would only spell disaster.
It’s very telling when the best video game film in recent memory was the Prince of Persia The Sands of Time, and even then that movie wasn’t perfect, but hey, at least it showed some understanding of the source material and at least tried to give a damn.
in the end, all we can do is wait, and let time decide how things turn out.
It’s up in the air as to whether video game films could work and could be relevant in the modern day. While I don’t have all the answers as to what may happen, and how next years Uncharted film will turn out (if it even happens at all) I am at least hoping that someone in the film industry will finally make a video game movie actually worth something.