Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Taking Lessons From South Park - How To Not Ruin an Adaptation

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 6 May 2014 16:00
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My YouTube colleague and occasional friend Gabriel once told me that, in his mind, the formula for a good game adaptation is to not try to reinvent the wheel. Take a proven gameplay concept and slap it around the chops with the franchise to be adapted. A characteristically cynical position, but I can see the sense in it. It's probably only fans of the source material that are going to want the game anyway, so might as well just play to the base, forget about trying to wow the game industry at large, and just concentrate on making something that efficiently passes the time and ensures that the audience can go another eight hours without having to stop thinking about Lord of the Rings or whatever you're adapting.

Then again, suppressing your ambition takes far greater willpower than I could muster. And I can produce counterpoints in the form of (again) Spider-Man 2 the movie the game (not to be confused with etc), as well as Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Both good games and both pretty unique games (you'll note one of them follows a film and the other uses its own story, just to drive more nails into the previous theory). But what makes these two games unique is inseparable from the properties they were adapted from. Spider-Man 2 has really good web-slinging physics that drive the gameplay. Butcher Bay has an efficient mix of combat styles and darkness mechanics that run through the very character of Riddick like words in a stick of rock. (Editor's Note: "Stick of Rock" is apparently something like a Candy Cane in the US, often featuring letters/words visible in the cross-section. The more you know!)

And if you'll permit me to digress a moment, I've always felt that Riddick is far better suited to being a video game protagonist than a film protagonist. Since he's got seemingly limitless physical stamina, an improbable array of skills, and talks like an angry rottweiler stuck down a well. All of which makes someone boring as hell when you're trying to introduce adversity and character drama in such a thing as a film, but in video games are the stuff that's basically handed to you as you come in the door.

So perhaps the only formula for a decent game adaptation is to make sure that the thing you're adapting translates well to a video game. As in, driven by physical action and centered on a lone protagonist. But then again, again, South Park doesn't fit under that categorization. Maybe anything could translate to a video game and if you can't see it then you're just lacking imagination. I think you could make a pretty good stealth game out of Withnail & I where you have to fend off the lecherous advances of a predatory Richard Griffiths.

At the end of the day, I don't think there is a single sure-fire method for translating an IP into a video game, because a video game is a very complex thing and so much needs to be added that it falls to the competence of the adaptor more than anything else. Perhaps the more useful formula to come up with would be how to turn a video game into a half-decent film. And maybe while you're figuring that out, you could mount a quest for the Holy Grail in your spare time.

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