Play as movie

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.

CAPCOM’s either ignoring things again or they just don’t get it

It’s interesting to notice how CAPCOM manages to ignore West with its releases that are not Resident Evil or Street Fighter. The upcoming re-release of their Dungeons & Dragons arcade brawlers are getting a fine Limited Edition release,  but in Japan only. When Darkstalkers got the digital release, CoJ had a physical release for it in Japan only. It boggles my mind.

CAPCOM’s trying to sell pita sandwiches in hamburger business. From their point of view it’s less risky to release games as a digital download. It’s understandable, but how they treat these releases is backwards. Thus far pretty much all releases have been a testing ground for possible future games as was with Darkstalkers, but their expectations have been insanely huge for them. The game industry does not realise that we live in a world wide economic depression. If they want to sell their products, half-assed meat in you burger won’t get us customers. By having these tests they achieve very little value and results. Granted, Darkstalkers isn’t the most popular franchise out there and was never too popular anyway. It’s a fine fighting game nevertheless, but in popularity it loses to many other games in the same genre. To Guilty Gear, for example.

Not all games saw these extensive packages during releases, but for PC games it was almost a standard to get a lot of stuff to further illustrate the game world. Actually, a lot of old console game were packed with awesome content outside the game itself, now that you think of it. Atari had comics for crying out loud. D&D Chronicles of Mystara’s Limited Edition’s has very standard extras, but they’re nice extras nevertheless. The value of package is good, and the games’ license most likely wasn’t the most expensive out there. Actually, this re-release is most likely a response to Dragon’s Crown, as many comparisons were drawn to these D&D brawlers. To those, and to Gauntlet games, interestingly. The interest that Dragon’s Crown garnered most likely triggered this reaction from CAPCOM, and now they’re trying to play against it. At least in Japan. In the US, pre-orders are getting an artbook with the game, and CAPCOM’s not going to even release these D&D games on disc there. Or in Europe. Dragon’s Crown doesn’t even have European release date, which begs the question whether or not they’re even going to release it here. Too bad really, I was looking for a decent co-op multiplayer in this style. There’s always Guardian Heroes HD on XBLA…

I can’t see either game succeeding too well, and Chronicles of Mystara will be another blow to CAPCOM’s quarters. Most likely both of them will break even, but I can’t see Chronicles of Mystara making huge profits. Dragon’s Crown has already a cult following for better or worse, and Vanillaware fans will flock and buy the game if nothing else. Chronicles of Mystara has… honestly, I don’t see D&D players getting excited over this. The general audience will see it as something interesting and dismiss it. Retro gamers will most likely enjoy it the most. If CAPCOM would further push Chronicles of Mystara with further additions, like completely new game with the old ones, it would add much more to the game.

The thing with Chronicles of Mystara is that it is a re-release of the Saturn compilation. Granted, it’s more based on the proper arcade games and allows online support and those bells & whistles, but the question is whether or not these are enough to differentiate itself. Sure, the Saturn compilation was never released in the West, but that doesn’t take away the fact that it was released and that copies are in at a circulation world wide scale. Dragon’s Crown is completely new game with Vanillaware’s standard visual fare, whereas Chronicles of Mystara is games from the mid-90’s. While it’s up to you whether or not that’s a good thing, it can’t be denied that side-by-side comparison between the two makes Dragon’s Crown stand out more. Well, both in good and bad, as some of the character designs in Dragon’s Crown are a bit too overblown. You know what I’m talking about. [Editor:…. boobies?]

CAPCOM has shown their distrust towards their games with digital releases. More often than not they’ll push certain games as a digital release rather than giving it their full support, and often these games are not even developed or adapted in-house. CAPCOM’s one of the biggest mistakes is that they have outsourced almost all of their game production and development outside few key franchises and it shows. This is partially because a lot of good names have quit working at CAPCOM within the last ten years, further showing that CAPCOM doesn’t really understand what they’re doing. They used to be a good arcade and console game company, but nowadays they produce PC games for consoles, and they’re just awful. It’s like if a console tried to push movies, movies and everything else that doesn’t have anything to do with games on their console. It would be one big screw-up.

I want to see Chronicles of Mystara with a physical release here in West. I’ll import the damn thing from Japan used if I have to. This is a game based on the damn Dungeons and Dragons; it needs to have those extras. Be marquees, stickers or something along those lines, but from a Dungeon and Dragons game I’m expecting a rich source book and world map to boot. Then again, if we were to get a physical release here, it would be with the smallest budget possible, with one paper for instructions and the disc itself would be just a download link to the digital version. I can already see it now, and I’m laughing myself. It’s something CAPCOM we have now would do. They would be offering us a hamburger they spit in.

Sadly, now Chronicles of Mystara is a hamburger that’s a bit dated with a new pair of buns, and those buns were brought in from the local Seven-Eleven just now.