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Why Movie Games Fall Short

It seems that movie-based game projects are often doomed before they start. And yet, games, as an interactive media, have more to offer players than a movie ever could. Let's start giving players a real play experience.

Shelly Warmuth, Blogger

October 18, 2010

6 Min Read

We've all had the experience of watching a movie based on a well-loved book.  Inevitably, the movie falls short and the axiom holds true:  "The movie is never as good as the book."

 For me, it was Interview with the Vampire, a favorite book since H.S.  The movie was doomed to fail in my eyes.   Tom Cruise could never pull off LeStat and, while the movie included every detail of the book, they couldn’t portray what I found to be the best part of the book: Louis’ emotional state.  Inevitably, movies just seem to fail at finding what made the book great.  

Likewise, games created from movies always seem doomed to fail before they are even created.  There are a few exceptions, however, and we can learn from these..

Batman: Arkham Asylum was based on the characters of the much-loved franchise instead of actually “playing the movie.”  It allows players to experience the abilities of Batman in an immersive environment.  Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie allows players to play as Jack in a first person environment.  In other words, players can “be” Jack, a character in the movie.  They also play as Kong, experiencing his abilities and creating carnage, albeit from a third person point of view.  

Star Wars Battlefront II allows players to experience and explore places from the movies, effectively placing them inside the movie.  In similar form, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King uses actual digital images from the movie to place players in the movie environment, itself.  

From there, players choose from eight playable characters, all with voice-overs created by the original movie cast.  And yet, despite some outstanding successes, movie-based games seem more likely to meet with criticism than praise.

Sports games, on the other hand, seem to meet with universal acclaim as a genre.  This seems significant given that franchises such as Madden NFL really fail to offer any meaningful improvement to gameplay year after year and yet, even the smallest improvements continually earn each addition to the franchise high review scores.  

Sports game developers succeed in eking out every themed feature of our favorite sports.  From the war chants of various teams to the artwork on the field, the environment completely immerses players in the same sports experience that arrives on their TV at home or in the actual stadium they visit.

It puts the player in charge of play on the field, empowering the player and, in some cases, allowing them to relive glory days from H.S. or college.  In short, it lets the player become part of the action while including every element they have become used to from life experience.

When a band plays covers, fans of the music expect it to be done well.  They want to hear the song they are used to in the way that it was originally made.  If we are to make great movie games, we must deliver the elements that the fans expect.  We don’t have to deliver the whole movie, however.  

What is it about the movie that people want to experience?  Is it the combat of the main character?  Then, create a story for that character and place the player in a first-person environment challenging them to “be” the character.  Or, empower him to “be” a character in RED, for instance, even if it is from a third person view.  Perhaps, the real experience is in the environment.  Players don’t necessarily need to be Harry Potter to attend school at Hogwarts.  A really well-done first person environment is extremely immersive.  

We can make truly immersive games based on movies, and even comics, but first, we need to find out what makes it cool.  Then we need to deliver everything the fans expect.  

It doesn’t have to be a thorough treatment of the original piece; in fact, it’s better if it’s not.  Instead, we need to pick that one cool thing and do it well.  I believe we can make great movie-based games as long as we theme it well and deliver the things the fans really want.

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