September's Topic

This month's topic is the intersection of Hollywood and Video Gaming most notably (or disappointingly) the wild world of video game adaptations of films.

In my followup to my own post in the June round table I wandered around some of the topics of Hollywood and Video Gaming and there's a pretty good core mantra that I think bears repeating:

The thing to learn from the "interactive movie" mess is not that "interactive movies are bad", it's that you can almost shoehorn a bad game into a good movie (Dragon's Lair) and you can certainly cross a good game with a good movie (Wing Commander 3 and UAKM), but do not ever think that it is a good idea to make a bad movie more palatable by shoehorning in a bad game to the experience. We learn that Hollywood fails to understand gaming as far back as the early 90s and that smart game companies can build good games that make use of Hollywood know-how to intertwine good movies into the gameplay.

It's about interactive movies, but I think the general principles are sound and pretty applicable to the entire intersection of Hollywood and Video Gaming. Both are subtly different art forms with almost widely divergent (but co-evolved from similar roots) tools. Mistakes happen when one or the other side underestimates the other, or tries to bludgeon their way through the other art with nothing more than a tight deadline and lots of cash.

Let me tell an allegory of two games: Long, long ago in a Californian city far, far away (to me right now, at least) was a company founded by a well to do Hollywood gentleman. This company had a vast and easy profit center in the gentleman's vault and chose to farm that profit center to other developer's in order to better experiment with original titles, using the easy royalties from licensing and publishing to fund the original stuff. There came a day when that gentleman and his compatriot embarked upon the journey of filming a third film in a well-regarded series about an adventurer and his radio serial-like exploits. The gentleman asked his company to produce a game worthy of the film and his compatriot, a lover of games in his own accord, agreed. The company choose to make two titles; one following the company's existing modus operandi was given to another developer to be a populist expression of the "action" side of the film, and the other was done in house, with usage of almost all of the company's resources and made use of the company's cache of originality and took a wider view of the project, including more attempt to capture the wittier, more intelligent side of the adventure. The first game is better forgotten and the second a classic.

For those not good with allegorical parables, the company here is LucasArts and the games are Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and it's "Action" companion. Both were made under the same tight movie deadline, but as I said one is easily a classic and the other is easily forgotten. I think there's a lot to say about film adaptations simply from examining the difference between these two games. The Action game was a clone of the mechanics of some other action game at the time with a loose connection to the film. The Adventure game pushed just about all of LucasArts' talent at the time to get it out the door on time, but rather than do just the bare minimum necessary for the title the passion of a team honed on original properties went nearly full bore on the project and the creativity invested in the project shows, particularly in its influence on later titles. (Among other things Last Crusade is the first LucasArts appearance of the now ubiquitous dialog tree.) The adventure title is arguably one of the first, and the few, good adaptations of a film.

Rather than ramble further on a game that I admittedly don't know as well as I should, I encourage you to read Mixmojo's Secret History of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. While you are at it, you may find the other articles in the Secret History series fascinating and enlightening.