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The Top 20 Underutilized Licenses

Time for a Gamasutra thought experiment - what books, comics, movies, and dormant game franchises richly deserve to be made into games? The site's editors have banded together, locked horns, and produced this no doubt debatable result.

Since licensed gaming seems bigger than ever these days, Gamasutra's editors felt - somewhat flippantly - that publishers might need some help picking through the pop culture landscape for un-optioned properties that have the potential to become great games (as well as a few existing game franchises in desperate need of a comeback).

Our criteria for putting together this article - with input from all Gamasutra staffers - was a mixture of gut feeling and impassioned argument; unscientific, to be sure, but rather than functioning as a guide to the 20 and only 20 licenses that could or should be explored, it's much more of a thought experiment into avenues many might not have considered.

Sure, judging by the history of licensed games, many of these ideas would probably be awful if they were actually made. On the other hand, there's nothing that suggests that given the right amount of time and budget that these games couldn't sing: just think about it.

And think about it is what we want you to do. This is not a realistic list, to be sure. It also serves as an exercise in examining how these licenses could be reborn or successfully imagined in today's market.

And it's not just about reawakening fallow game franchises -- inside, you'll find sports, books, movies and comics that haven't gotten the treatment they deserve, as well. And if you have licenses to add to this list, please comment on the feature below. Onward:

1. Kid Chameleon

The franchise:
In the early '90s heyday of the platformer, Sega's Kid Chameleon had one ace up its sleeve to differentiate itself from the rest of the over-saturated market -- pure level selection. Sure, each of the game's advertised hundreds of levels may have been short and relatively basic, but in a time when many young players had a limited gaming budget, quantity often mattered more than quality.

Kid Chameleon's other big conceit was a slew of hats that gave the human protagonist a variety of exciting super powers. The game hasn't seen a sequel since its initial 1992 release, though recent availability on Wii's Virtual Console means today's snot-nosed punk kids at least have a chance of knowing who the heck he is.

The remake: With user-created content being all the rage in upcoming games like Little Big Planet and Spore, a Kid Chameleon remake could ride the crest of this trend. The new version would still have hundreds of levels, except this time around the variety would be provided by the player base.

Creating a wide variety of building blocks and an intuitive level-building interface would be key, but once that's in place an eager crop of would-be level designers should crop up to take advantage of what would essentially be a choose-your-own-platformer game. Add in the ability to easily share levels and play online, and you've got a game with essentially endless replay value.



Spin-off potential: The Kid's wide variety of hat-based power-ups would pave the way for a line of real-life hats lining the walls of Hot Topics across the country. Who knows -- if the game is popular enough, maybe the white shirt, jeans and leather jacket look sported on the game's box will come back into style.


2. The Amazing Race

The license:
The winner of five straight Emmy awards for Outstanding Reality Competition Program, The Amazing Race is one part game show, one part travelogue, all parts awesome.

Teams of two compete in a race around the world, flying to exciting worldwide locales and competing mini-game style trials at checkpoints along the way. The last team to arrive at the final destination each week is eliminated, until only one million-dollar winning team remains. While the challenges and interpersonal dynamics are important, the real draw here is the amazing shots of exotic worldwide cityscapes.

The game:
While a standard, single-console multiplayer game could work, the Amazing Race format lends itself to a web-based episodic skills challenge. Teams of two could register at the web site for a "season" that would run for a matter of weeks in real time.

In each week's episode, the teams would have to complete brain-teasing puzzles and reflex-based tests to raise their position in the global rankings.

Special random events (a delayed flight, an especially quick cabbie), could provide moderate bonuses as teams virtually travel the globe for their next challenge.

Every Monday, a set number of the worst-performing remaining teams would be eliminated, leading up to a top-ten battle for a real cash prize, webcast live around the world.

The developer:
PopCap has a history of developing simple, casual games that challenge both brain and reflexes, which would be invaluable in creating the Amazing Race game described above.

While the online components proposed above would be a bit more ambitious than a single-player game of Peggle, it wouldn't be impossible to pull off. PopCap's art department would have no trouble capturing the beauty of the various locales that each week's competition would take place in.


3. Racquetball

The license: A staple of gyms everywhere, racquetball is like tennis played in a giant, enclosed box. Players alternate hitting a squishy blue ball against the front wall before it bounces on the floor twice. Played shots can be hit off the side walls and even the ceiling, as long as they hit the front wall before the bounce.

While there was a racquetball game for the Atari 2600 and Agetec limped out with Street Racquetball for the original PlayStation in 2003, there has yet to be a game that has secured the license of professional groups like the USAR or WPRO.

The video game: Since both players share the same limited play space, high level racquetball is a game of positioning and angles played at high speeds.

Completely accurate physics wouldn't be as important as easy playability and the all-important ability to follow the ball and place shots without slowing down the action.

A traditional console controller could use one stick for movement, one stick for shot placement, and shoulder button for various types of shots (drops shots, ceiling shots, etc.) Mini-games could train players in kill shots and winning positioning.



The developer: Sega seems like the obvious choice, with the Virtua Tennis series proving it can create a fun, fast-paced racquet-based sports game with just the right mix of realism and playability. Clap Hanz could modify the Hot Shots Tennis game to work, in a pinch.


4. Neverwhere

The license: This 1996 Neil Gaiman novel follows the story of Richard Mayhew, a Londoner who, through an ill-advised act of kindness, finds himself a part of the parallel "London Below," an invisible world filled not only with the dregs of society but also mythical creatures and historical figures.

In this strange land, he sees the life he had built before crumble around him as he helps his new companion, named Door, escape from a murderous pursuit.

The novel was actually an adaptation of a BBC miniseries that also aired in 1996.

The game: Showing the parallels between the real "London Above" and the hidden "London Below" would be the key to making the game resonate with players.

An open-world structure could first see Mayhew traveling around London, engaging in the usual tedium of life, only to see everything twisted when he's inevitably taken to London Below.

From that point on, the gameplay would focus on Mayhew's efforts to protect Door from her pursuer, all cast against the fantastical, confusing world Mayhew finds himself in.

The developer: The developers at Team Ico obviously know how to create a game focused on protection of a ward, as well as one with imaginative, organic environments.


5. Power Stone

The game:
In a time when the major 3D fighting franchises Tekken and Virtua Fighter were focusing more than ever on complicated button combinations and tactical positioning, Capcom's Power Stone went a different direction, allowing for full 3D movement, four-player simultaneous play and plenty of items littering the field.

The game draws a lot of comparisons to the Super Smash Bros. series, with frenetic, pick-up-and-play multiplayer action getting more attention than depth of fighting tactics.

The 1999 arcade original and a sequel were ported successfully to the Dreamcast, and both versions were recently remastered for a PSP collection, but the series has lay fallow for too long.

The remake:
With Super Smash Bros. and Jump Superstars! more popular than ever, a Power Stone-style mascot-off could be Capcom's answer, and a goofy counterpoint to the seriousness of the company's traditional fighting series'.

Keep the characters and fighting engine from the original Power Stone, but add in a smattering of fan service characters from Capcom's Street Fighter and Darkstalkers series too. Throw in more fan favorites from Mega Man, Resident Evil, Strider, etc. while you're at it, and you've got a great, not-too-serious party game.



The spin-off:
Power Stone main character Falcon could easily anchor a new series of Capcom flight sims!


6. Groundhog Day

The license: Ever had a day that seemed like it would never end? Small town weathercaster Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) knows how you feel. In this hilarious movie, Connors is caught in a time warp, trapped reliving the same day reporting on the Groundhog Day festivities in small town Punxatawny, PA. Not even death can spare him from facing the same mundane tasks over and over and over again. Sound like any video games you know?

The game: Some form of Majora's Mask's time-based gameplay would work perfectly for Groundhog Day: The Game.

In each daily repetition, the player would learn more about the daily schedules of the local businesses and people, using that information to complete self-bettering goals (learning the piano, saving a falling child, etc.).

While the events in the game should share the same general premise and environment of the movie, the events shouldn't echo the movie's exactly.

Instead, the game should show the un-shown days, perhaps with a few wry hints at the movie's events for fans.



The developer: As strange as it sounds, I think Rockstar would be a good fit for this game. In Bully the company showed it can transform the monotony of the private school grind into an engaging gaming experience; a Groundhog Day game would have to do the same thing.

The only challenge would be getting the developer to tone down the raunchy language and instead grab at the heart as the movie does.


7. The Venture Bros.

The license:
If you've watched Jonny Quest while drunk, you've probably already seen something like The Venture Bros. Airing on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim late night block, the show follows the genius Dr. Venture, mucho-macho bodyguard Brock Samson, and the two young, naive Venture boys on all sorts of absurd adventures.

The fast-paced show is full of adult humor, wry pop culture references and surprisingly strong continuity and character development.

Though the characters have appeared on a few Flash games on AdultSwim.com, the madcap fun is crying out for a more fully fleshed out interactive experience.

The game:
The main appeal of a Venture Bros. game would be the ability to control Brock Samson as he decimates hordes of assorted bad guys with extreme prejudice in a side scrolling beat 'em-up a la Final Fight.

Bosses from the show's Guild of Calamitous Intent are a must, and each battle should highlight their particular powers and humorous quirks (the Dr. Girlfriend battle could be especially hysterical).

Dr. Venture and the boys could make cameo appearances in mini-games and cut scenes, but the core of the game would be Brock Samson's rampage. Hey, that would make a good title.



The developer:
The Behemoth, the team behind Alien Hominid, knows its fair share about the frenetic, animated action that's inherent to the Venture Bros., and could easily adapt that knowledge to a similar side-scrolling brawler with some established characters.

The developer should have no trouble capturing the show's distinct look and animation style -- the more key frames, the better.


8. Curling

The license:
Sometimes called "chess on ice," curling is a battle of precision played on a long, narrow ice rink. Two teams alternate sliding heavy stones across the rink, aiming to plant them as close as possible to the center of a target on the other end (bumping the other team's stones is allowed and a key strategy).

While only one person on each team does the actual hurling, the other teammates use specially designed brooms to smooth out the bumpy ice, affecting the speed and curve of the stone in transit.

While curling has appeared in a few winter games collections and a series of low-budget PC games, it's never gotten the dedicated video game attention it deserves.

The game:
While curling isn't quite as exciting as other Winter Olympic sports like figure skating or alpine skiing, it could still be made into a relatively exciting video game. Precision would be the key, with fine analog control letting players choose the power and direction of the initial shot.

The DS would be the perfect platform for such a game, along users to sweep vigorously with the stylus as they would a broom. A "beginner's mode" could let players get the feel for shot placement without having to take part in every piece of the shot. Online multiplayer is a necessity.



The developer:
So what if EA has the NFL license wrapped up until the end of time? By thinking outside the box, 2K Sports could get in on the ground floor of the inevitable curling craze by picking up the official license of the U.S. Curling association for peanuts. And hey, it's already huge in Canada, eh?


9. The Dark Tower

The license: This epic, seven-part Stephen King book series follows Roland, the last gunslinger, as he navigates a society that mirrors the American old west, but with hints of advanced technology and magic.

Roland seeks out the Dark Tower, a fabled building said to be at the intersection of all universes.

His journey takes him through a dizzying array of parallel worlds and time periods, facing all manners of creatures and enemies with a ragtag group of followers.

The game: Straight action is the name of the game here. A Dark Tower game should follow the plot of the books and emphasize the thrilling fights with all manners of weird creatures that the gunslinger and company get into.

A multiplayer option is a must, as is the ability for solo players to take control of any of the myriad members of the gunslinger's ever-changing crew.

Certain elements of the books, like The Waste Lands' riddle contest and Wolves of the Calla's strange subplot involving the protection of a single rose, lend themselves to monotony-breaking mini-games, while the overall story can be condensed into short cut scenes.

While the plot of all seven books would likely create a game too long for even hardcore fans, an episodic release schedule could break the whole thing down into manageable, bite-sized chunks.

The developer: Midway showed a penchant for hack-and-slash fantasy with its 3D Gauntlet remakes -- this game would give the opportunity to put a similar engine to something with a more substantial story and characters behind it, perhaps using Midway Chicago or Surreal Software.


10. Punch-Out!!

The game:
Long before Fight Night made the sweet science palatable to the current gaming generation, Nintendo pitted the tiny Little Mac against a cast of some of the most stereotypical, cartoonish fighters out there in this arcade classic.

The NES' Mike Tyson's Punch-out!! (Later renamed Punch-Out!! featuring Mr. Dream after Tyson's legal troubles) also focused less on real boxing strategy and positioning and more on pattern memorization and recognition of the opponents' signature visual "tells."

A Super Nintendo sequel upped the graphical fidelity and added a whole new cast of borderline offensive stereotypes, but the series has remained regrettably unused since then.

The remake: The obvious template for a modern Punch-Out!! remake would be Wii Sports' boxing, but the latter game's almost-random mapping of real-world movement to on-screen punches seems ill-suited to Punch-Out's more calculated, timing-based gameplay.

The Nunchuk and Wii Remote setup could still be effective, though, with the analog stick used for dodging and the Wii pointer used for pinpoint blows.

A similar setup could work with the DS touch-screen and D-pad for a portable version, or the developers could just go old-school and go for straight button controls. Either way, keeping the gameplay simple and the animation vibrant is key.



Spin-off potential:
While Punch-Out!! Protagonist Little Mac appeared as an assist trophy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, his continued absence as a controllable fighter in the series is mind-boggling. The guy is already a fighter as well as a popular, core Nintendo property with plenty of retro cred. Passing him up for the likes of Ice Climbers and Mr. Game & Watch makes absolutely no sense.

Furthermore, the game's colorful cast of opponents could make for some great assist trophies -- Bald Bull's Bull Charge should be an instant KO for anyone unfortunate enough to get in its way.


11. Choose Your Own Adventure

The license: Everyone loves books, but their narratives can be awfully linear. Enter the Choose Your Own Adventure series, which lets readers choose which page to jump to at key points in the storyline.

Do you run from the tiger, or attack it with a sword? Do you marry the rich contessa, or abandon her for the plain, funny girl next door?

With the CYOA books bringing some of the interaction of video games into the literary realm, bringing it back to the video game realm should be a snap!

The game: While there have been plenty of games that resemble choose your own adventure books, no game yet has actually captured the thrilling stories contained in books such as The Cave of Time, The Dragons' Den and The Throne of Zeus.

Ideally, the actual text of these books would be read aloud as the character wanders a staging area, making inconsequential decisions such as which skeleton to kill, what bit of scenery to look at, which person to talk to, etc.

When an important decision comes along, a quick player-decision can lead to anything from an untimely death to unexpected riches. The games could even improve on the books with features like an item inventory and an easy "undo" function (no more dog-eared bookmarks!) Cheap, episodic download releases can lead to an endless array of possible stories.

The developer: I'd love to see the team behind the Grand Text Auto web site take a stab at this license. As experts in the interactive narrative field, the result of their work would likely be surprising, mind-expanding and entertaining at the same time.


12. Apocalypse Now

The license: Inspired by Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now is the story of Army Captain Benjamin Willard, sent in to the jungles of the Vietnam War to assassinate Colonel Walter Kurtz, who's reportedly gone insane and raised a private army of his own.

On the way, Willard and his team take part in a variety of surreal and horrifying attacks and extended monologues that highlight the insanity of war.

The climactic ending between Willard and Kurtz is somewhat ambiguous -- which could lead to plenty of forum debates when revisited in game form.

The game: Following the story of the movie to a tee could actually work quite well, but might lessen the impact for those who have seen the movie.

On the other hand, it would be nigh impossible to craft a new story on top of this universe that captures the intensity of the original.

Regardless, a game translation of the film should deliberately mislead the player at regular intervals, messing with camera angles and or lighting to simulate this disorientation of war.

The developer: If Irrational Games can make objectivist philosophy palatable to a wide audience through the veneer of BioShock's violence, then the studio could probably convert the stylistic morass of Apocalypse Now into an engaging and thought-provoking game.

Infinity Ward, similarly, has shown it can handle the complexity and chaos of war through Call of Duty 4, and would bring a lot to the table.

At the same time, Silicon Knights' handling of insanity in Eternal Darkness would prove invaluable in handling the complex psychological situations in Apocalypse Now. Could all three team up somehow?


13. Fables

The license: Snow White. The Big Bad Wolf. Little Red Riding Hood. The characters from the stories you heard growing up are real, and they're living in a part of New York known clandestinely as Fabletown.

Or, at least, they are now, since they were pushed out of their mystical home worlds by a shadowy Adversary (later revealed to be a well-known fable himself).

While the bulk of the story focuses on the relationships and day-to-day lives of the Fables, a brewing battle between the Fables and the forces of The Adversary would provide a good groundwork for a game.

The game: Take one part SimCity, on part Warcraft III and a healthy helping of traditional storytelling and you've got the basis for a Fables game.

The SimCity portion would involve maintaining the needs of the various citizens of Fabletown, keeping them all happy while building up defenses against the Adversary.

When the inevitable attack comes, a Warcraft-style real time strategy battle would ensue, putting the player's previously-built defenses to the test. The supernatural powers of the fables themselves provide the extra juice to keep thing interesting.

The developer:
The mix of real-time stagy and world-building would seem ideal for Level 5, which had a similar mix with their Dark Cloud series. Blizzard or Firaxis would also be good candidates, for obvious reasons.


14. R.C. Pro-Am

The game: Before Super Mario Kart introduced the world to the joy of throwing colored shells at opposing cars, Rare showed the world that a racing game could succeed with floaty controls and, most importantly, an array of weapons to use against friends.

While each individual race was relatively short, the between-race purchasing of power-ups could transform a quick game into an all-day racing and car-improving affair.

The game

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