The Movie Game

In 2009 video games generated £700 million more in revenue than cinema tickets and the relationship between movies and games became even stronger with both games of movies and movies of games being produced. What does the future hold for this symbiotic relationship and how did it begin? Take the red pill and we shall see how far the rabbit hole goes…

At the dawn of gaming some clever chap at Atari had the great idea of taking the biggest movie of the year and producing a game for it. Coded in less than five weeks and with terrible reviews the first ‘Game Of The Movie’ was “ET. The Video Game.” It went on to sell over 1.5 million copies, sadly rather less than the 5 million cartridges Atari had created, somewhere in the Mexico desert there is a land fill with over 3 million unused E.T. games. This intial set back did not deter others and since then we have had hundreds of movie tie-ins.

In theory the idea seems like easy money, a no brainer – create a game based on a new movie, wave the ride of publicity and rake in the cash. The problem is that for the last 20 years movie games have been mediocre at best, terrible at worst. You only have to look at last couple of releases, the risible Iron Man tie in, the patchy Transformers Revenge Of The Fallen game and the less said about The Golden Compass game the better. Video game publishers now have a big problem – gamers have grown up expecting movie licenses to be terrible. Neil Bloomkamp, director of hit movie “District Nine” is one of these people;

“The idea of ‘District 9’ as a video game stresses me out a little bit because games based on movies rarely work,” said Bloomkamp. “And movies based on games don’t work — I don’t know what’s up with that.”

“I photographed the film in a way that isn’t that different than video game perspective in some parts. So a game would be interesting to me. There’s nothing happening with it, though.”

Recently Ubisoft has announced they were cutting back on licensed games and concentrating on original IPs as the sales of Avatar the Game have been weak, especially compared to the billion dollar revenues from the film. Does this indicate the end of movie licenses? Probably not, but perhaps games firms are changing their approach to movies. Uber producer Peter Jackson has indicated he would like to develop games rather than movies in the future.

“I think some of the ideas I’ve got, I’d rather do them as a standalone game,” he said, “because that world is getting more and more interesting.” Peter Jackson is one of the few Hollywood producers whose direct involvement with a game has produced a hit with “King Kong”, a game that was well received and sold well. He is not the first Hollywood director who has created a game; George Lucas famously scripted “The Dig” way back in the 90s. Other big shots such as Michael Bay are also moving in to game production.

Games of movies are a declining breed, but conversely movies of games have never been more popular. In the coming months we have movies for Prince Of Persia, Tekken, Red Faction and Spyro along with new iterations in the Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat movie lines. Other big games such as inFamous, Uncharted and most recently Mass Effect have rumblings of movie adaptions. Retro fans are to be treated with big screen outings for Asteroids, Space Invaders and Missile Command.

Just as games of movies are generally terrible, movies of games are not much better. The legendary Streetfighter live action film starring Jean Claude Van Dame and Kylie Minogue is regarded as a truly terrible film and represents all that is wrong with turning games in to movies. Mortal Kombat, Mario Brothers, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Double Dragon, the list goes on.

One of the few projects to successfully create a semi-decent movie yet still retain elements from the video game was the 2006 Silent Hill film, a sequel to which is now in pre-production. Rather than slavishly trying to follow multiple storylines from multiple games it cherry picked ideas and themes from them all and created its own story. The forthcoming Prince of Persia movie is taking the same approach with characters and storylines of the various games merged together to create a new Prince of Persia mythology.

Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time is a turning point for movies of games as it has a huge budget, an A-list cast and an A-list director but that does not mean it’s all hugs and puppies for the genre in the future. The Bioshock film has had a budget cut and is currently ‘on hold’ and just today the Gears of War movie has had a set back. The budget from the movie has been slashed from $100 million to a much smaller figure and the ‘sprawling epic’ storyline is being cut to a ‘typical invasion movie plot.’ Len Wiseman, who previously helmed the vamperic Underworld movies, has also jumped ship leaving Gears needing a new script, a new director and a new bank balance.

If that news has made you a sad kitteh then you probably don’t want to know that somewhere in the bowels of Hollywood the ‘Shadow Of The Colossus’ movie is still in production with a script penned by the same writer who wrote “Streetfighter: The Legend Of Chun Li” movie. Back in spring 2008, Justin Marks said:

“Street Fighter isn’t your ordinary game adaptation. It’s a gritty, realistic character piece (if I don’t say so myself) that just happens to use characters taken from a video game. All hype aside, it’s going to be a very different game-to-movie adaptation and I urge everyone to go see it when it comes out next year.”

A metacritic rating of 17 out of 100 indicates the movie was not the ‘gritty, realistic character piece’ Justin described.

It’s not all bad news, a movie of Halo was well in to pre-production before the project fell though. District 9 director Neil Blomkamp was at the helm so it could of been fantastic but Microsoft and the film studio disagreed on how the film should progress so it was cancelled. Frank O’Connor, the development director at Microsoft’s 343 Industries, has revealed that the Halo team is still considering a feature adaptation of the first-person shooter.

“We own the IP. If we want to make a movie, the scale of all the other stuff that we do changes dramatically. We make tens and tens of millions of dollars on ancillary stuff, toys, apparel, music and publishing. If we do a movie all of that will grow exponentially. We have some numbers if we do a movie, but it changes everything. It also changes our target and age demographic.”

Suprisingly the director whose style is arguably best suited for games is not interested in them. In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Quentin Tarrantino said,

“I cannot get myself interested in video games. I’ve been given video game players and they just sit there connected to my TVs gathering dust until eventually I unplug them so I can put in another special-region DVD player.”

The dark knight horse of last year was of course ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’. Rather than being tied to a movie the developer created their own story around the IP and the result was a highly rated chart topping game. Many developers have commented that having to rush a game to tie it in with a movie creates quality issues, with no looming movie deadline Batman had the time to be polished and improved.

The forthcoming Transformers: War For Cybertron is following Batman’s example and creating their own story rather than relying on an upcoming movie. Hasbro, the creators of Transformers are so impressed with the game that it is now the official ‘origins’ story for all Transformers products (bar the Michael Bay movies) from hence forth. There will even be a tie in toy line to go with the game.

Sources: Daily Telegraph, YouTube, Digitalspy, MCV, Gamasutra, SlashFilm, Theiapolis,, Movietome, Kotaku, IGN, Gamer Centre Online, LA Times, The Guardian.