Tag Archives: stories in video games

The White Whale of Adaptations – A Blockbuster Video Game Movie

Roger Ebert (may he rest in peace) famously contended that video games are not art.  He acknowledged that video games could contain art within themselves, but that they, as a whole, did not constitute art. The reason? The end -user of a video game, namely the player, had too much control over what did and didn’t happen. True art, Mr. Ebert contended, was something that could only be experienced by the end-user, never directed or controlled.

Now, I know plenty of gamers who would love to challenge Mr. Ebert’s assertion, myself included. But in at least one respect video games have lagged behind “story-based” art such as books, television, and films themselves. Despite three decades of in-home gaming, there has yet to be a video game adapted into a movie that is both critically and commercially successful.

Now, as any gamer and movie-goer can tell you, this is not for lack of trying. From 2001’s Tomb Raider to 2016’s Warcraft, Hollywood is littered with video game movies that were critical failures, commercial failures, or more often, both. This despite video gaming as an industry projected to make $82 billion (with a “b”) in revenue in 2017. Put simply, the intersection between moviegoers and video gamers must be huge. There is a ton of money to be made if this pairing can be made successfully.

So why haven’t we had that breakthrough film adapting a video game yet?

In actuality, I believe there are several difficulties in adapting video game into passive viewer experiences. From most to least obvious, I’ll discuss them below.

  1. Many people like playing video games. Significantly fewer like watching someone else play them. Repetitive action by the player with slight variations makes up a majority of most video games’ run-time. For the gamer, this is usually fun if the game is well-designed, because they are in control. For a passive observer, not so much. So the first step of any attempt to adapt a game into a successful and artful film is to figure out which parts of the game have to get stripped out. You’ve got to compress the game to a two-hour run-time without boring people to tears OR losing the feel of what you are trying to adapt. The Last of Us is a beautiful and wrenching story of love and loss in the twilight of humankind, but a film version would still need to find the balance between just-enough and too-much stabbing of fungal-zombies.
  2. Story continues to be secondary in many games. Now this only makes sense. The goal of a game is to provide the player with an enjoyable interactive experience. Telling them a story is generally secondary. While some people (me again) will almost always prefer a game with a well-written story (and there are plenty of those now), many are just looking for an escapist good time with endless replay value and the chance to pretend-kill their friends online. With some notable exceptions, most video games did not expend much effort on a meaningful story until relatively recently (and even now, many still don’t bother). This doesn’t mean that games can’t be adapted into quality films, but it does narrow the field of possible candidates quite a bit. But surely a movie based on the board game Battleship can be green-lit, Hollywood can do better in the video game adaptation department.
  3. Video games are waiting for their champion. This one came to me after Sam Raimi successfully adapted Spider Man into a successful and critically acclaimed movie. At around the same time, Peter Jackson knocked it out of the park with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which Frank Morin will be discussing later in the month as Evan Braun tackles his more complicated The Hobbit trilogy of films. What did these two filmmakers have in common? They were both huge fans of the subject matter they were adapting. And that’s what the coming breakthrough video game movie is going to need, a talented director who grew up loving video games and has a special one close to their heart that they are going to make into a film if it kills them. The problem with video games (as opposed to classic fantasy or comic books) is that the medium hasn’t been around long enough for those directors to really come of age. But do the math with me. It’s been just over thirty years (ugh) since the Nintendo Entertainment System took the home-gaming world by storm. An entire generation of directors who grew up playing video games is just entering the height of their careers. All it’s going to take is the right pairing of director and project.

And that’s where we’re going to wrap things up. Make no mistake, the time of the video game blockbuster film that wows critics is coming, and it’s coming soon. And there are so many games to choose from. The Last of Us has a more emotionally moving story than most movies I’ve seen. With the revivals of both Star Wars and Star Trek, the Mass Effect universe is just begging for a cinematic franchise. Ditto for Dragon Age. Bioshock: Infinite is the very definition of a game whose mind-bending story of parallel universes is better than its gameplay.

So take heart, fellow gamers who watch with envy as every single comic book character is adapted for film. It won’t be long now.


About the Author: Gregory D. LittleHeadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, and the upcoming Dragon Writers Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.


Baby Got Backstory

Dragon Warrior 4 CoverA guest post by Kim May

I still have nightmares about the time we battled a trio of Mystic Dolls. Those damn things multiplied faster than we could kill them. They killed Mara and Nara first, and Brey soon after. Christo destroyed one with a fire spell before a clone got him in return. Taloon was run through before he could summon the Merchant Army. Ragnar and Alena took down a doll and three clones before succumbing to their wounds. I had to defeat the last doll on my own, surrounded by the bodies of my friends. It may have been my imagination, but I swear I heard Ragnar’s spirit cheer me on as I ran my sword through that doll with a cry of anguish. In the nightmare the last doll doesn’t die, though I know it did because I remember the solitary two day journey back to town with everyone’s bodies piled in the wagon so each could be revived by the local healer.

Are these the opening paragraphs to my new novel? No. I was playing Dragon Warrior IV on the 8 bit NES.

In my family, this was THE game to play. Everyone in the house had a quest in progress and a set amount of time every day in which to play. We had all the maps and stat sheets so we could plan our expeditions. All of us gave my sister a bad time for spending more time doubling down in the casino than leveling up. Mom and I would debate the wisdom of risking life and limb to progress further in the quest versus patiently waiting another ten levels so we could easily slaughter every beastie in our path.

So why did we play this one game over all others, including the previous installments in the Dragon Warrior franchise? This game made us care about the characters.
Dragon Warrior was like many fantasy RPGs in that you had to level up and acquire the necessary items and armors in order to defeat the villain. Where IV differed from the standard RPGs of the day was that not only could you choose the hero’s name, you could choose their gender. For the first time I could be a girl and still win the day without being penalized because heroines in this game had the same HP, magic, and strength of their male counterpart.

Another big deviation from the norm, and what I feel was the game’s best asset, was that you had to play the quests for each of the companions before you could even start the hero/heroine’s quest. At first this may sound annoying but the prologue for each of the four companion quests established who the POV character was and why they had to venture into dangerous places because of the villain’s wrongdoings. It was clear why Ragnar had to rescue the kidnapped children, why Princess Alena didn’t fit in at court, why Taloon could get better prices for weaponry, and why sweet Mara and Nara wanted vengeance.

When the hero/heroine encountered each of the companions in the final quest, each still possessed the XP, weapons, and armor that they had at the end of their individual quests. I could take pride in _________ being an asset to the party because of all the effort I put into their individual quest. It also made their enlistment a happy reunion rather than a burden since I didn’t have to spend half my time healing them in the middle of a battle.

Conversely, when one or more of the companions died it magnified the failure. It became personal. Which of course meant that the next six days were spent leveling up and getting better armor so the next time I encountered that monster I could put its head on a spike.

This is the power of backstory. Whether it’s a video game, a novel, or a bedtime story that you pull out of the aether, backstory is important. Not only does a backstory make characters more realistic, it makes their actions more powerful because the reader knows why they acted a particular way. Mara and Nara’s oath to kill the villain may be noble but it’s the fact that the villain killed their father that makes players silently root for them on their journey. If Ragnar, happened to die in battle during the final quest, the feelings of sadness and anger aren’t simply the product of a bruised ego. It’s the product of the indebtedness players felt because Ragnar was responsible for saving the juvenile hero/heroine’s life in the first companion quest. And as players, we had a front row seat for all of it.

So the next time you create a story, take some time to think about what happened before page one. Your readers/players/listeners will thank you for the effort.

Guest Writer Bio: Kim PicKim May writes sci-fi and fantasy but has been known to pen a gothic poem or two. She works at an independent bookstore and dog/house sits on the side. A native Oregonian, she lives with her geriatric cat, Spud, and spends as much of her free time as she can with family and friends. She recently won The Named Lands Poetry Contest. If you would like to find out what she’s working on, please visit her blog.

Not So Final, After All

For those of us who had video game controllers in our hands at the time, the year 1997 will forever live in infamy. While nary a year goes by that doesn’t make a gamer go squee, that year was significant in that it made gamers feel so much more than mere excitement. They felt anger, sorrow, surprise, frustration, hate, love, and loss-all in the same moment. That moment can be encapsulated in two words.

Aeris Gainsborough.

AerisFor the uninitiated, Aeris (or Aerith in the Japanese version) was one of the playable characters in Final Fantasy VII, one who *SPOILER ALERT* met her tragic end *END SPOILER* in one of the most pivotal moments of gaming history. The reverberations of that scene can still be felt today. The reason it-and the rest of the game-was so significant was because it showed us the storytelling capabilities of video games in spectacular, blindsiding fashion.

Of course, games had stories before then. Earlier entries in the Final Fantasy series, especially VI, are known for depth of characters, but not to the level seen in VII. Until then, game stories for the most part seemed to be little more than window dressing, or at least a well-kept secret. FFVII made storytelling a mainstream expectation.

The impact on me was deep. I was astounded that the state of gaming proceeded from the emotionless and abstract intellectual challenges of games like Tetris to experiences that could move you. Not only had Final Fantasy VII taken me to a world where magic was possible, but a world where the depths of human emotion were plumbed. I have no problem invoking a cliche, because there is no other way to say it: that game was life-changing.

I remember watching the credits roll at the end of that game and setting down my controller, and when I recovered from my several-minutes-long daze, I thought, “Gee whiz, I should write a video game script!”

So that’s exactly what I did.

I knew, then and there, that I would be a video game writer. I was resolved, even as I researched the job and discovered how difficult it was to Aerith Gainsboroughbreak in as games became more cinematic. After finishing what I then deemed my masterpiece, the fabled “Final Fantasy-killer” that gamers have been waiting for without even knowing it, I realized I needed a game plan (sorry – I had to). After all, the game industry doesn’t work quite like movies-writers do not submit scripts that then get turned into games. More often, all the writing gets done while the game is in development by writers who have already proven their mettle. I had to gain some sort of writing credit that would elevate my name into consideration for that unicorn of a job, called game writer.

Hey, why not write a novel?

That was years ago, and prose has since stolen my heart-most of it, anyway. Part of me still yearns to get involved with the medium that set me down this path in the first place. Indeed, I recently signed on to an indie game startup as the writer, though that project has since been put on hiatus. For now, I’ll have to satisfy my creative impulses with writing novels and stories, even though I’ll never forget the love of writing that the Final Fantasy series instilled in me, nor will I forget the flower girl named Aeris who lived in a abandoned church.