Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
Why the Movie Is Better than the Game

Steve Butts | 25 Nov 2010 13:00
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There's also a certain amount of fan expectation involved in the way these games are made. It only makes sense that publishers rely on fan familiarity and the massive momentum of the Hollywood marketing machine. But all too often, that discourages developers from creating experiences that stand on their own, at least from a narrative standpoint. Yes, it's fair to say that most people who pick up an Indiana Jones game are fans of Indiana Jones. But that doesn't mean that developers can take the shortcut of skipping exposition and transition. Many games based on movies do just that, leaping from action sequence to action sequence with only the barest attempt to connect them with plot. It's assumed, of course, that fans won't have a problem following the story, but that makes the game more of an extension to the movie than a fully-realized independent experience.

Along with that comes the problem of predictability. Films rely on a scripted plot that moves from A to B based on the artistic needs of the story. Videogames require a certain level of freedom to let the player feel in control over the experience. The two approaches are essentially incompatible. Even if they weren't, part of the problem of playing through a game based on a movie you've seen is that the developer is tied to giving players what they expect to see, which leaves no room for surprise. Like watching a movie after someone has told you the entire plot, playing a videogame adaptation often feels like the player is merely going through the motions. At the same time, there's such a strong expectation from the audience (and the license holders), that the developer is actually discouraged from branching out and doing anything original within the story.

Strangely, MMOs like Star Wars Galaxies and The Matrix Online have realized that it makes more sense to use the massively detailed and beloved worlds of the film series merely as settings in which players can tell their own stories. Of course, that approach has its own problems, not least of which is placing every character in a secondary relationship to the iconic characters from the series. Players in those games could never be Luke Skywalker or Neo, which always set an upper limit on their success.

Finally, because the game needs to be released alongside the movie, the development schedule is often compromised as the team tries to make a ship date they themselves did not set. Consequently, some movie games feel rushed and incomplete, which doesn't do much to discourage the notion that they're merely attempts to cash in on a movie's success. Given the huge licensing fees videogame publishers have to pay to secure the rights to adapt a movie, that's often not too far from the truth. Any why bother throwing development money at a project when the brand itself is going to drive more sales than a good story and good gameplay ever will? Maybe that's a cynical point of view, but experience bears it out.

So what do you think? Have you played any movie games that you loved? If so, what about them worked?

Be sure to come back tomorrow to read our thoughts on how movies are made from books.

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