Why studios haven’t been able to crack the cheat codes of video game adaptations yet-Opinion News , Firstpost

What is the point of a video game movie where you feel like you are watching somebody else play the game? What value does a movie have if the intention is not to adapt the source material into a narrative but merely recreate the experience of it?

In this, the golden age of geekdom, Sounds Geek To Me is a column that seeks to discuss and dissect the latest from the various fandom universes, new and old. From Marvel to Middle Earth to The Matrix, sci-fi sensations to superheroes, galaxies far far away to wizarding worlds, the column aims to inform, opine and take fantasy storytelling far too seriously.


What do an alien hedgehog, genetically enhanced marine, and globe-trotting treasure hunter all have in common? All are iconic characters at the center of beloved game franchises which have been adapted on screen in the last two months.

February saw the release of Tom Holland-starrer Uncharted, based on the adventure game of the same name which aimed to mount an origin story of its central figure, treasure hunter Nathan Drake. In March we finally got the long-awaited Halo live-action series based on the beloved alien-busting first-person shooter. And this month, there is the theatrical release of Sonic The Hedgehog 2a sequel to the big-screen adaptation of everyone’s favorite sound-barrier-breaking hedgehog (not that there is much competition on that list).

Why game adaptations?

Game adaptations are by no means a new phenomenon. For years, Hollywood has tapped into the deep well of video games in search of the next big blockbuster. But it feels like studios are going all-in on gaming adaptations like never before. Over the next year, we will get Chris Pratt play Mario, Pedro Pascal lead HBO’s The Last Of Us series, and Jason Momoa star in a Minecraft movie. Not to mention other announced projects, including Netflix’s Bioshock movie, new Assassin’s Creed series, the upcoming Borderlands movie Twisted Metal series, and rumors of a god of war series at Amazon Prime Video. Alongside, of course, the countless other game projects which are no doubt languishing in development hell.

Why studios havent been able to crack the cheat codes of video game adaptations yet

Still from Halo

For blockbuster franchise makers, you can see the appeal of adapting games. Existing IP with a massive in-built fanbase is movie studio catnip. Throw in the fact that in recent years US video game revenue has surpassed movies and music combined. Who would not want a slice of that pie? No wonder Netflix is ​​foraying into gaming (the streaming giant famously declared in 2019 that their biggest competitor was not a rival streamer, it was the online game Fortnite).

Why are they rarely successful?

But as much of a no-brainer as it appears on the surface, the fact remains that video game movies have long been considered a box office graveyard, let alone managing to have much cultural impact by producing actually good movies. Hitman, Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed, Resident Evil (all three franchises made, remade, rebooted and forgotten). There is also Need For Speed, Street Fighter, Max Payne, Warcraftneed I go on?

Why are these movies so rarely successful? Why have these popular games known for monsters and mayhem made for such massive movie misfires?

Why can’t Hollywood seem to figure out the cheat codes for getting game adaptations right? More specifically, what is it exactly that we want from a video game movie?

Is the aim to breathe life and do justice to the world, story, and characters of a game, or to try to recreate the feeling of the game?

I still remember watching the cheeky action sequence from Dwayne Johnson-starrer Doom (2005), in which the perspective shifted to give us a first-person shoot-em up sequence. Similarly, a number of action sequences from the objectively terrible Uncharted movie are said to have been directly inspired and lifted from the games. Momentarily fun and familiar as it can be, what is the point of a video game movie where you feel like you are watching somebody else play the game? What value does a movie have if the intention is not to adapt the source material into a narrative but merely recreate the experience of it?

That too at a time when games themselves have become cinematic visual shows in their own right. In his review of Uncharted, IndieWire critic David Ehrlich wrote “Nowadays, in an age when interactive epics are so vast and cinematic that Playstation characters are regularly played by movie stars… it seems that video game movies are bad because video games give movies way too much to work with.”

Why studios havent been able to crack the cheat codes of video game adaptations yet

Mark Wahlberg and Tom Holland in Uncharted

Instead, I would argue that, much like a book adaptation, the focus should be on adapting the narrative elements of a game. Of course, this comes with a degree of creative liberty, which often feels limited as studios live in fear of the f word: the fans. The recent Halo series opened to much outrage online when it was revealed that main character MasterChief (always helmeted in the games) removes his helmet for much of the show. (It really does not take much does it? At this point, a character from a popular franchise could blink weirdly and these folks would start a TikTok petition). It is a call that made sense to me. In the Halo game, we are him. The show, however, is about him.

It is often the very reason why, in computing how best to approach these movies and successfully pander to the fans, these projects tend to get buried under the weight of countless opinions and get stuck in development hell. (Tea Halo on-screen adaptation has changed creative hands for almost two decades till it finally got made; Uncharted for over a decade).

The Success Stories: Fuzzy, Funny, Family

The two recent video game movie “successes” to some degree are Detective Pikachu and the first Sonic: The Hedgehog and, in hindsight, you can see why. These are family-oriented comedies that aim to do justice to their spunky lead characters rather than get lost in imitating the feeling of the games. Though hardly masterpieces, these are fun, low-stakes, irreverent comedies that refuse to take themselves too seriously that live in service of their characters above all else.

Netflix smash-hit series The Witcher could also be seen as a gaming success story. The fantasy series is of course based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s books of the same name, but much of the show’s visual elements are owed to popular game series the books inspired. It is a show that sets out to tell a story and captures the essence of both the books and the game and their world rather than recreate the feeling of playing it.

The Way Forward

How then do you more successfully bridge two industries to come out with richer movies? For one, you could involve the creators of the game. One of the most celebrated shows of last year is the Netflix series Arcane, a prequel to video game series League of Legends. Arcane co-creators Christian Linke and Alex Yee have been part of the League of Legends creative team for years.

Why studios havent been able to crack the cheat codes of video game adaptations yet

Still from Arcane

Similarly, Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin is currently hard at work shooting HBO’s The Last of Us, based on the popular post-apocalyptic series. Co-writer of the game, Neil Druckmann, also serves as executive producer, co-writer, and co-director of the series it stems from. There is also much to be said about the series format, which seems to serve the vastness of many of these games’ universes, lore and characters far better than the limitations of a movie.

The right creative teams and sincere intent aside, I guess most of all what you would hope to see is studios seeking out narrative-driven games that actually lend themselves to movie adaptations, rather than diving on anything popular that can be played. I guess what I am trying to say is: Forgive me if I do not see the narrative and cinematic potential of a bunch of jumping plumbers running exclusively towards the right.

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