Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Thoughts on Video Game Movies

A movie based on a video game should only be made if the game has a good story that stands on its own.  To think that a movie should be made out of a game because the game is fun and popular is so absurd it’s hard to understand how anyone could believe it.  Cashing in on name recognition is the motivation of Hollywood, but there’s no reason to think a good movie will result.

Of course, when the movie fails commercially and critically, fans of the game blame that failure on the movie’s lack of fidelity to the game.  That is about the most idiotic thing imaginable.  Super Mario Bros was a great game.  To be faithful to the game, the movie could have been a 90 minute sequence of Mario and Luigi stomping on mushrooms and turtles, jumping on bricks and clouds, sliding down flagpoles, and shooting fireballs.  There would be very little dialog.  That would be a great movie – right, video game fans?  (I ask that rhetorically, but the scary thing is that there are probably people who would think that would be great as long as the movie had great special effects and Megan Fox playing the princess.)

3295839344_43dce716fcSomeone could say, “okay, Super Mario Bros wouldn’t work, but something like Street Fighter would.  That game had a great premise and would have made an awesome movie if they would have stuck to it.”  Of course, even fans of SF2 games admit the game’s story is nonexistent and the endings for each of the characters are pointless wastes of time – even the endings of the latest game, Super Street Fighter 3.

Here’s what I think goes through the mind of some video game fans. “Video game have great stories, but non-gamers don’t appreciate them because they think video games are childish or something.  If a movie was made of out game x, people would see how profound its story is and maybe even change their attitudes about video games.”  It’s hard to articulate just how wrong that kind of thinking is.  Every video game movie so far has had the opposite effect – instead of changing anyone’s mind about video games, they’ve cemented people’s beliefs that games have juvenile, hackneyed stories.

The answer to why video game movies are bad is obvious – games are good for reasons other than their stories.  Games don’t necessarily have bad stories, but the bar is so low that a mediocre story in a video game can seem a lot better to the gamer than it actually is.  A good game can make a bad story tolerable.  But if a game is bad, even a great story won’t save it from being bad.

Ironically, for all the complaining about video game-based movies not being faithful to their source material, people are praising the recently-released Mortal Kombat short (“Mortal Kombat: Rebirth”), which is completely unfaithful to any Mortal Kombat game I’ve ever played.  I don’t recommend watching the video since it’s a tasteless, pretentious piece of drivel, but if you must watch if you can find it here.  Why are they praising it?  Because it’s full of the pseudo-dark elements that the juvenile-minded think make a movie serious and profound.  But as I’ve mentioned before, fans of this type of stuff aren’t interested in exploring real evil, only a fantasy world where serial killers are interested in competing in martial arts tournaments.

In any case, if a game has a great story (i.e. a story that would be great in another context), I’m open to the possibility of a good movie being made based on it.  But people need to discard the idea that a movie can be good if it’s just faithful to the game.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Video Games Are Optional


There are not 1001 video games you must play before you die.  There’s not even one video game you must play before you die.  If there was a book titled, 1001 Stamps You Must Collect or 1001 Baskets You Must Weave, the absurdity would be obvious.  It should be just as obvious for lists of video games, books, movies, etc. that someone thinks you must consume.

Video games are a hobby.  Unlike gardening, hunting, and bicycling, their real world benefits are negligible to nonexistent.  99% of their value is entertainment.  Does that sound like something you must do?  If you played all 1001 of the games mentioned in this book, would your friends, coworkers, parents, and other people in your life be interested in hearing about it?  Mine wouldn’t, outside the few who enjoy video games, and even they wouldn't be that interested.

In fairness to the writer of this book, maybe the publisher chose the title.  It’s probably a book I’d enjoy flipping through.  But in the end they’re just games.  I’m guessing that most people on their deathbeds aren’t going to regret the games that they didn’t play.  They’re more likely to have some regrets about the amount of time they spent playing games.

Konami is Learning

First they announced Rush'N Attack: Ex-Patriot, now a new Contra game called Hard Corps: Uprising.  Konami seems to be following my advice.  Here’s a quick review:

The Wrong Way to Bring a Classic Game to a Modern Console:

Example 1 (Super Contra for XBox Live Arcade)


Example 2 (Contra:Rebirth For Nintendo Wii)


(If you look at the screen shot above and think, “those graphics aren’t too bad”, you need to realize that those are 16-bit caliber graphics.  The 16-bit era end 15 years ago).

The Right Way:

Example 1


Example 2


Keep it up, Konami!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Demo Assessment: The Bourne Conspiracy

For reasons too boring to go into, I decided to check out the demo of The Bourne Conspiracy game that was released about 2 years go.  The demo covers the escape from the US Swiss embassy that’s depicted in The Bourne Identity movie.  This Youtube video covers what’s in the demo:

The demo was frustrating for me.  Early into it, Bourne has to slide under a closing gate.  You can see this in the video.  If he doesn’t make it, you can reload the last checkpoint.  The load times aren’t particularly long, but attempting the gate slide (and failing) took less time than the checkpoint loading.  Nothing’s more certain to make a game frustrating than load times longer than gameplay times.  In addition, in order to slide under the gate, the player needs to press a button.  The specific button changes per attempt, and is revealed to the player at the time he needs to press it.  I’m not against this Dragons Lair-type system for getting past obstacles.  I thought Shenmue’s Quick Time Events worked well enough.  But, I don’t understand the need to randomize the button.  Shouldn’t the button roughly correspond to the action that the button will perform, and not just be random for the sake of making the task more difficult?  Also, does every wrong or late button press have to be a game-stopper?  Some contingencies would be nice, especially in the game’s demo where I would think they’d want to ease players into the system.

My other big problem in the game is the hand-to-hand combat.  This was an aspect of it that was praised in most reviews, but I didn’t like it, maybe because I’m just spoiled by the “Free-Flow Combat” system of Batman:Arkham Asylum


In the game, when Bourne fights a guy, he squares off with them boxing-style.  This doesn’t make any sense when there are multiple opponents.  Why put your arms in front of you when you’re surrounded by enemies?  That’s a great way to get a rifle butt stock to the back of the head.  Beyond that, when Bourne fights even low level embassy guards, he trades blows with them until knocking them out.  I’m sure the makers of this game saw the Bourne movies, so I’m not sure how they would have gotten that aspect of Bourne so wrong.  The only opponents that Bourne trades blows with are the highly-trained Treadstone/Blackbriar assets.  Everyone else he takes down with incredible speed and efficiency.

I know that the developers have to make it challenging, but the challenge should be true to the character.  If Bourne had to rely on primitive pugilistics to incapacitate enemies, he wouldn’t be able to function.

Batman:Arkham Asylum got it right.  They made Batman fight in an authentic, overpowering way, but still made the combat challenging and fun.  Of course Batman:AA was released after this game, so you can’t blame the developers for not studying a superior combat model.

That’s all I have to say about The Bourne Conspiracy.  I wanted to like the game.  It has good graphics and seems to capture the tone of the movies, but the gameplay doesn’t cut it.