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

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

Yahtzee ponders the elusive million dollar formula for video games - making successful, fun, and profitable adaptations of popular franchises.

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Transferring films to video games is getting blood out of a stone, transferring video games to films is trying to find a stone made out of blood. At least if you want to stay faithful to the original video game.

And also another editor's note, I'm not sure whether it's necessary or not.

I think a lot of it is down to time and money, especially if the game has to release as soon as the movie does. Developers just dont have the luxury to make something great and original when they only have 9 months and a small budget. Although, even then, some developers just make low quality shit anyway just for the paycheck.

There's another option apart from the Riddick route, which is just to make a game and throw some tie-in crap on at the last moment. One of the best (when it worked) games I played on the Xbos was a Pirates of the Caribbean game published by Zenimax, it was open world on the islands and open water as well for sailing and was just depressingly unplayable due to bugs because it was just awesome when it worked. It was initially developed as a sequel to some other pirate/sailing game and the movie tie in bits were just glued on in dialogue and with a black pearl model you could come across while sailing.
If the game is going to be good, then quickly gluing on some superficial thematic elements for an adaptation aren't going to push it over the line towards not good. So either pick an IP that works well for video games or just half-ass the IP bits at the end.

Making a good video game adaptation is simple: just make a good video game, with interesting mechanics that tie into the overall story and decent writing.

"Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force"
Owww, yeah! That game was great, thankfully!

The CAPTCHA seems to have your answer, btw: "mad science"... :)

I think the formula is the same for an adaptation as it is for an original idea. A respect for the IP, a talented developer, and, in the case of adaptations, assistance from the creators. They don't have to be heavily involved but involved enough to say what works and what is crap. The problem is that too many are made for cash grabs and/or marketing.

I'd disagree with Yahtzee's implication that just making the game good in itself is sufficient. I think the secret is nearly always to ensure that the gameplay and level design is intrinsically tied in with the style and character of the story (ie, avoiding good ol' ludothingimajig dissowhatsit)

As well as the obvious Spider-Man 2 and South Park examples, one of may favourite movie games was Toy Story 2, which used the toy's eye view effectively, having you navigate a human-scale world as Buzz, giving lots of enjoyable puzzle platforming elements. They avoided the obvious trap of playing out the game-within-the-film, while nodding to it by giving Buzz equipment like his laser, wings and anti-gravity belt. The levels were based on scenes from the story, without being particularly slavish to them. (Stuart Little 2 used what seemed to be an identical engine to an equally successful degree)

I would like to point out that in his review of Stick of Truth, Yahtzee did not once kill Kenny.
OT: The trick to video game adaptations, especially for movie, is finding the moment(s) in the movie that look like something a video game player can do, and if there's wiggle room in the story to have a game with its own story.
Example: In Captain America: The First Avenger, there's a montage of Cap in his combat uniform and the newly formed Howling Commandos totally jacking up HYDRA by raiding supply lines, blowing up factories, and destroying that giant tanks of theirs. This is before the capture Arnim Zola on the train and attack the Red Skull's hidden fortress and hangar for the Valkyrie Bomber. The tie-in video game, Captain America: Super Soldier, is set during that montage at one of HYDRA's bases in Castle Zemo, former home of Baron Heinrich Zemo. I liked that game because it felt like a mix of Wolfenstein and Arkham Asylum.

The fact is, big-name creators aren't necessarily going to have an advantage in game creation, because different skills are involved.

Exactly.
I still remember the big deal Activision make about having a "proper", award winner writer in charge of the story of Call of Duty Ghosts; only to end up with the worst and most idiotic story of all the Call of Duty campaigns (and that is saying something). After that it became clear: having a talented person work on something does not guaranty a good result if the person doesn't understand the tools and medium he is working on. Being a good screenplays writer does not make you a good whatever writer...
Seems obvious enough but, then again, Activision spent millions on it since they didn't understood that simple fact.

The first thing to establish would be a reliable way to make a good videogame out of a videogame. Then we can figure out how to do that plus proviso's.

The closest answer we seem to have so far is Valve and Blizzard's 'Time and money' approach. But then again Diablo 3.

Maybe making games is just hard

Personally I think you should go in with the idea of making a good game, and use the property you are adapting as another tool to achieve that.

Who do I talk to to get the rights to make a "Waiting for Godot" video game?

Its like any other media-to-video game adaptation...

Development times must not be rushed. (South Park did this, even delayed a bit)

Dev team must love the source material AND games. (See: Rocksteady and Batman, as if I had to say that)

Project management and marketing folk should also have a knowledge of both the source material and games AND actually care about them both instead of rushing the product out the door to cater to a focus group testing.... seriously people those focus groups are taken way tooo serious sometimes.

Basically it seems to be a mix of heavy handed marketing, rushed deadline, poor QA, and a lack of real caring for the source material that bogs adaptations down (or destroys them completely). Huh, minus the adaptation part that last sentence pretty much describes why the majority of all games seem less like works of art and more like literal crap that people call "performance art".

All I know is Stick of Truth is the best video game adaptation of anything from other media.

SecondPrize:
There's another option apart from the Riddick route, which is just to make a game and throw some tie-in crap on at the last moment. One of the best (when it worked) games I played on the Xbos was a Pirates of the Caribbean game published by Zenimax, it was open world on the islands and open water as well for sailing and was just depressingly unplayable due to bugs because it was just awesome when it worked. It was initially developed as a sequel to some other pirate/sailing game and the movie tie in bits were just glued on in dialogue and with a black pearl model you could come across while sailing.
If the game is going to be good, then quickly gluing on some superficial thematic elements for an adaptation aren't going to push it over the line towards not good. So either pick an IP that works well for video games or just half-ass the IP bits at the end.

I'd argue that in that case they weren't gluing on superficial thematic elements; they found a game that had the right thematic elements (pirates, sailing, swashbuckling, etc.) and glued on PotC decals. It worked in this instance, but hoping that there is a decent game that you can co-opt for your franchise is not exactly a reliable formula for making an adaptation.

For making a movie out of a game, I'd say the most important thing is figuring out if people would be interested in the game if they couldn't control the main character. For instance, an shot-by-shot Shadow of the Colossus movie would be terrible, because most of the game is riding around, going through simple puzzles, and shooting lizards. Its lots of fun if you're playing and engaged with the atmosphere, less so for audiences passively waiting. And showing each Colossus would be tempting, but way too derivative; at the end of the day, most of them are variations on "get the timing right to slowly scale the massive thing and stab the weak point."

If it was to be a movie, they'd have to boil it down to maybe 3-4 Colossi, with some riding in between to get the mood, but there's no way it could be some 3-hour epic. Keep it short and sweet to prevent the parts that work in games from being the parts that don't work in movies.

No mention of the Wolverine game, which I thought was a decent game adapted from a terrible movie.

"Adaptation" might indeed be the wrong word. An adaptation implies a separate canon and often replacing the events of the source material. To put it another way, there are two ways to make a TV show movie: an actual adaptation and what I like to call a The Movie. Adaptations aren't very common and usually happen to shows that went off the air decades ago, in an attempt to cash in on nostalgia. Yogi Bear, that Beverly Hillbillies movie from the '80s, and The Last Airbender come to mind. I swear I didn't cherry-pick that list; I can't think of a single example of one that was genuinely good. A The Movie, meanwhile, is basically a very long episode of the series. Stuff like The Simpsons Movie, Serenity, or indeed South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. They tend to work well because TV and movies are already the exact same medium, just with different formats and budgets.

Trying to make the video game equivalent of a The Movie is very difficult because you're actually working in a different medium now and have to work Video Game Mechanics™ into an existing universe. You're liable to run into what I guess we could be very nerdy and call "meta-ludonarrative dissonance", where characters suddenly sprout abilities that they didn't have in the original series because a video game wouldn't work without them. You can still pull it off if your universe is sufficiently wacky already, or if the mechanics are still close enough to realism that you can shrug them off as abstractions of what's "really" happening. (Remember Yahtzee's idea about regenerating health indicating "luck" that keeps the enemy shots missing, action-movie style, as long as the hero doesn't stand in the line of fire for too long?) I think Batman: Arkham Asylum did that reasonably well, and that wasn't even connected to any particular Batman series.

I would totally play a Withnail & I game. That stealth section sounds awesome, and I can imagine the drunk-driving-down-the-motorway-without-getting-caught and pluck-the-chicken mini-games would be pretty swell too :)

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Essentially, the word "adaptation" implies, in my mind, something being crafted to resemble something that was made by somebody else.

That really isn't what "adaptation" means at all. I think you might want to revise your mental placeholder for that.

Adaptation is working from original source material and making a different version of it. It does not have "resemble" the original. For example, you can take Shakespeare's works, and use them to adapt another work that doesn't feel like it's Shakespeare at all.

For good adaptations see the Lego games.

They generally follow the stories without getting too burdened in details. They are skillfully written in a way that simultaneously honors, parodies, and deconstructs the source material.

The Lego Movie Game was done particularly well with only mild spoliers. If you haven't seen the lego movie yet SEE IT OH MY GOD.

But yeah Lego games, fun for the whole family, and interesting enough to keep the adults coming back to search for that one last collectable.

Mahoshonen:
Who do I talk to to get the rights to make a "Waiting for Godot" video game?

You'll be waiting a long time.

Beckett's estate is notoriously protective of that work, and don't even allow re-interpretations on the stage, let alone in other media.

Thanatos2k:
All I know is Stick of Truth is the best video game adaptation of anything from other media.

Ahem.
Batman: Arkham series.
That's all.

RealRT:

Thanatos2k:
All I know is Stick of Truth is the best video game adaptation of anything from other media.

Ahem.
Batman: Arkham series.
That's all.

And of course, Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.

RealRT:

Thanatos2k:
All I know is Stick of Truth is the best video game adaptation of anything from other media.

Ahem.
Batman: Arkham series.
That's all.

Batman is portrayed so wildly inconsistently across different mediums and even within one medium that you can't exactly say it was a perfect adaptation. Perfect adaptation of what?

Thanatos2k:

Batman is portrayed so wildly inconsistently across different mediums and even within one medium that you can't exactly say it was a perfect adaptation. Perfect adaptation of what?

Who said adaptations have to be "perfect" or consistent? Some of the best adaptations are the ones that veer wildly from the source material, and some of the worst are ones that stick slavishly to it.

Good way to make a game adaptation:

Dev 1: Hey dude, I got a good idea how to make a game out of <franchise>.
Dev 2: Let's make a prototype and test it how it works.
Dev 3: Yay this look fun, let's make this into a full game.
CEO: Shut up, take my money and make this game.

Bad way to make a game adaptation:

CEO: Guys, [a new entry in franchise] is coming out in 6 months and we won the contract to make a game out of it.
Dev 1: Seriously? I hate that crap <franchise>.
Dev 2: Six months? You can't make a beta in that time.
Dev 3: And besides we have no idea how to adapt this into a game.
CEO: Don't worry, we have a mockup script of the <entry in the franchise> so we just need to follow this. Now get to work, we need to have *something* by the time <entry> comes out so we get contract to the sequel.

Aardvaarkman:
[quote="Thanatos2k" post="6.849212.20969856"]
Batman is portrayed so wildly inconsistently across different mediums and even within one medium that you can't exactly say it was a perfect adaptation. Perfect adaptation of what?

Who said adaptations have to be "perfect" or consistent? Some of the best adaptations are the ones that veer wildly from the source material, and some of the worst are ones that stick slavishly to it.

You're the one with your own personal definition of adaptation that differs from the norm. I'd say it's trying to capture the look, feel, and tone of the source material as closely as possible - and that's what South Park Stick of Truth does better than any other video game.

Thanatos2k:

You're the one with your own personal definition of adaptation that differs from the norm. I'd say it's trying to capture the look, feel, and tone of the source material as closely as possible - and that's what South Park Stick of Truth does better than any other video game.

No, I'm using the actual definition.

If you've ever studied literature, theatre, film or adaptation on any level, you'll find that my opinions on adaptation are not unusual or abnormal, but are very much the norm. Even the most basic degree in such areas covers this ground thoroughly. Even high school level assignments in adaptation and reinterpretation are common and cover these issues.

Capturing the look and feel of something is one subset of adaptation, but it does not encompass the entire range of adaptation. People haven't expected adaptations to be exact replications of the original for decades (or even Millennia, if you look at what the Ancient Greeks did).

Was West Side Story supposed to capture the look and feel of Shakespeare? Hell, what is a Shakespeare play supposed to even look like, anyway, given it was originally just words on a page? Nonetheless, West Side Story certainly doesn't sound like Shakespeare.

I'll also note that the post you were responding to only mentioned the "best" adaptation - and made no mention of it being "perfect." Even then, "perfect" doesn't seem like the right word. It seems more like you mean "faithful."

Mahoshonen:
Who do I talk to to get the rights to make a "Waiting for Godot" video game?

That would be one awesome game.

I believe adaptations should be able to stand on their own and add depth to the story that only their medium could provide. Otherwise I see no reason to make an adaptation at all.

Thanatos2k:

RealRT:

Thanatos2k:
All I know is Stick of Truth is the best video game adaptation of anything from other media.

Ahem.
Batman: Arkham series.
That's all.

Batman is portrayed so wildly inconsistently across different mediums and even within one medium that you can't exactly say it was a perfect adaptation. Perfect adaptation of what?

How does his inconsistent portrayal - which is more a sign of character versatility than nothing else - in other adaptations changes the quality of this one? Arkham's Batman takes elements from all other adaptations and comic original and blends them all together in a way that everything fits well together.

RealRT:

Thanatos2k:

RealRT:
Ahem.
Batman: Arkham series.
That's all.

Batman is portrayed so wildly inconsistently across different mediums and even within one medium that you can't exactly say it was a perfect adaptation. Perfect adaptation of what?

How does his inconsistent portrayal - which is more a sign of character versatility than nothing else - in other adaptations changes the quality of this one? Arkham's Batman takes elements from all other adaptations and comic original and blends them all together in a way that everything fits well together.

I'd say it would be a pretty poor adaptation of Brave and the Bold Batman, for example. We all know they're going for TAS nostalgia there, and it worked great, sure, but I wouldn't call it the perfect adaptation. South Park Stick of Truth is the perfect adaptation, for better or worse.

Aardvaarkman:

Thanatos2k:

You're the one with your own personal definition of adaptation that differs from the norm. I'd say it's trying to capture the look, feel, and tone of the source material as closely as possible - and that's what South Park Stick of Truth does better than any other video game.

No, I'm using the actual definition.

The "actual definition" from a dictionary is: to make suitable to requirements or conditions; adjust or modify fittingly

So there is no actual definition of what makes a good adaptation. It is a subjective thing. You appear to be focusing on plot elements. I focus on the tone and presentation, as does Yahtzee. If you're going to quote warrior for another 2 pages to try and prove this wrong, don't bother.

If you've ever studied literature, theatre, film

We're not talking about literature, theater, or film. We're talking about video games. And in fact, treating a video game like one of those is what usually leads to bad adaptations.

I think we need a video game adaptation of Adaptation. We'll turn it into a co-op 3rd person shooter where both players play as Nicolas Cage.

Thanatos2k:

The "actual definition" from a dictionary is: to make suitable to requirements or conditions; adjust or modify fittingly

I'm using the definition as it is used in the relevant fields. But still, the definition you have provided is a fitting precursor - note that it has the word modify in it?

Thanatos2k:
So there is no actual definition of what makes a good adaptation. It is a subjective thing.

Who said anything abut a definition of a good adaptation? I was just talking about the definition of the word itself, as it applies to creative works. Of course "good" is subjective in the creative arts - nobody said it isn't.

Thanatos2k:
You appear to be focusing on plot elements. I focus on the tone and presentation, as does Yahtzee.

That's fine. But you claimed that my definition of adaptation was "personal" and "not the norm." In fact, your narrowing of the definition to only those elements is an unusual interpretation, as far as this field of studies go.

Thanatos2k:

We're not talking about literature, theater, or film. We're talking about video games.

Video games are often considered a branch of literature, as are theatre and film. So, yes are talking about those things. Especially as we're specifically talking about an adaptation of a TV Show that is not separable from the video game. How do you discuss the adaptation of a TV show into a game, without discussing the TV show?

Again, you're narrowing definitions unnecessarily. Literature doesn't just mean books, and contemporary conceptions of it are much more porous and malleable than you are giving credit for. Anyway, you could just replace any of those terms with "creative arts" and my comment would just be valid.

My examples were given, because the study of video games is a descendant of those other fields of literary study. If you want to know about adaptation theory, and what adaptation means, then the vast majority of published work in the area comes from literature and film studies.

What was wrong with the Ghostbusters game? It wasn't horrible by any means.

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