The recent success of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie has given a raise to the discussion why and how adapting video games as films is supposedly difficult. This haughty attitude usually comes from Hollywood, and when Hollywood wants to make games or show the ropes how to make great entertainment, the games themselves turn out to be less than desirable and low in success. On the other hand, a movie turned video game is usually about as successful, and the more it veers off the course and does its own thing, the better success it tends to garner. Take the NES Batman as an example, a game that is less than spectacular adaptation of the Tim Burton movie, but as a game it has aged like fine wine.
Perhaps one of the best early examples of using a movie as the basis rather than directly adapting it. There’s also that top-tier Sunsoft soundtrack
The issue is rather old topic for the blog, but perhaps it needs to be stated again; games’ stories are player acting them out. The FMVs, story sequence and all that, those are the framing device for player’s action, not the other way around. Describing someone playing is boring, but when you’re the one doing the playing, be it with dolls, wooden swords, card games or whatever, it’s interesting: entertaining. Hence games are about personal action within given rules, and real story is build by player actions. Take the TAS above; the framing is Batman must defeat Joker and his minions but the way to defeat the Joker and his minions is far more interesting when it’s a game. How do you approach an enemy, how do you avoid this trap, what’s the best route to take in a given situation? These moment to moment actions are what builds the game’s experience, the story the player is weaving with the game. The less player actions there are in a game, the less there is a play to be had. This play can’t be turned into a movie, a book or anything passive. You, the viewer, can’t be the actor.
This really is the crux of the issue. When a game is being adapted into a series, movie or whatnot, the first thing that is being looked is at the framing device. In Mega Man, the main character fights evil robots lead by a mad scientist. Easy to adapt, the games have sold millions so a story as simple as this should be a piece of cake. The issue of course is that Mega Man games don’t exactly celebrate how well their framing stories have been constructed. After all, all of them are just there to facilitate player going through stages and beating enemies. You always have to write something extra, create new content that might make a good story. You can make Mega Man running through a stage into an action scene for sure, but eight times in a row? A movie doesn’t have for such things, and even in comics action chapter after action chapter without a breather makes you feel stupid. A TV-series, surprisingly, is the best place for a video game adaptation in overall terms, as it not only gives time to explore expanded characters, but also gives leeway for action. Even one cours series, that is about twelve episodes, would be enough to adapt any game.
The Mega Man OVAs are interesting beasts in that they didn’t adapt the games at all, unlike the Ruby-Spears TV-series. Instead, they were vehicles to introduce children to cultural heritage, hence the it was Presented by Japan Center for Interculultual Communications. It should be cultural, but typos tend to sneak in even.
A game becomes easier to adapt to the silver screen, or elsewhere really, the more there is framing for the play. That is, the less there is chaotic elements, the less player actions there are. The frame never changes. This applies to role playing games as well, and the difficulty bar gets set higher the more options the player has. For example, RPGs that allows completely customisable characters and party creation determines how the characters advance forwards. With each change to the party characters, and how the player wants to approach any given opponent, the story has already changed. Perhaps in one playthrough the player goes with an axe wielding warrior to save the day, and in another opts for a mage build. The connotations, suggestions and approaches are all different and while the base framing is the same, the core story has been drastically altered. Perhaps the player character opts to use a fork as his only weapon. I heard you can make a fork as one of the most broken weapons possible in Skyrim.
It is largely evident that most game adaptions on television and the silver screen have people working on the product that don’t understand games. Sure the framing is easy to get. Expanding that to a full film-length story is what’s usually done. You can’t turn play into passive entertainment, unless that play has been executed extremely well. The reason why I linked Batman TAS is because of this. A mundane playthrough of the game might look boring, but a TAS, in principle the most effective and best way the game could be beat, becomes almost cinematic. Issue of course is that you need to know how the play is acted out, and that’s different from genre to genre. On the reverse, it’s also hard to make a movie into a game, as movies don’t tend to have content that can be easily turned into an active play. They might offer one or two set pieces, but games require far more freedom than what a strictly structured story can offer. A game of course can fill in missing spots in an action sequence or the like, but the more game adheres to its adapted source material, the less room for play there is.
Then again, the easier and less chaotic the game’s play is, like a tournament fighter akin to Mortal Kombat, the more clear how to adapt and how becomes. Nevertheless what kind of source material you have in your hands, the adapted material can always trump over the source, and adapting always asks for something more than directly lifting elements from one medium to another. Individual decisions and actions are just far more difficult to adapt to the silverscreen than, e.g. a comic panel. You could, of course, take one well played game and turn that into a film, considering that would be that particular player’s story and all the emotions and excitement it brought with it. Perhaps that should be considered more rather than just the framing.
This is why something like Game Center CX is entertaining. It’s not just about the game or the play, but about the how the games are played and what happens during the play. That’s the core of a game’s story
As an end note, this blog’s 9th anniversary was yesterday.