End Of Year Thesis

25 October 2018 / By MohamadAliAwarkeh

‘Why The Games Industry Attempts to Adapt Movies into Video games, Whilst The Film Industry Attempts to Adapt Video Games into Movies?’

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By Mohamad Ali Awarkeh

BA Games Design

January 2018

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank UAL LCC BA Games Design, for giving this opportunity and ability to pursue my dream. I would love to thank Roy Caseley and all his staff members for assisting me through the years. I would like to thank both David King and Florian Stephens for truly pushing me this year and further increasing my knowledge about specific topics.

I would like to thanks all my friends and colleagues from both university and work. More specifically, James Briggs for always assisting me when in need. Alex Clarke to simply find a way to turn a mundane moment in something bizarre and hilarious, and finally Tyra Bishop, my girlfriend for always being there to let me talk about either my thought process or ideas to get my work flow going. Also I can not forget my cat Blu who I always use to make me smile or to start arguments with other people stating that she is the best looking cat EVER.

But most importantly, my family, who have been with me through my toughest moments, my proudest moments, and my greatest achievements. Thanks to them, I am able to pursue Games Design, and also give me the freedom and ability to grow as a person and as a man.

P.S. I also thank both Kaname Fujioka and Yuya Tokuda, for giving me the needed inspiration to finish writing this to play Monster Hunter: World.

I state all of this work is all my own, with supporting research and a questionnaire written by me using google forums. I also referenced all sources use correctly, using the Harvard Referencing System.

The Abstract

The purpose of this dissertation is to research and further understand why both the film and video game industry attempt to develop adaptations related to one another. Whether it’s a game company developing a game around a certain movie, or a film studio attempting to bring a video game world to life. With the two medias having clear difference and many similarities, it begs to question what could and could not work.

 

The problem with attempting to research why something works is, it is very heavily based on opinions with concrete facts here and there. This is due to the fact that there are no direct studies about adaptation in both video games or movies. Breaking down what adaptation is, how it affects what the person is doing is crucial. In addition to the different forms of storytelling, with the two key focuses of interactive storytelling in video games, and passive storytelling in film. The ability to understand what or why a project is being transformed and brought to a different media, with both its pros and cons. The study is divided into three main chapters, adaptation and storytelling, where adaptation is broken is described and further analysed, whilst explaining the two main forms of storytelling which will be used to explain why it works or doesn’t work with the certain media. Three movies which have been adapted into games, and three games which have been adapted into movies shall be used to narrow down discussion.

 

The majority of things discovered along the way were critics and consumers bashing the products due to them simply being mediocre or bad, without potentially understanding the reasons behind why a product would have struggled. Yet a few sources attempted to come up with solutions or justifications to why they have been perceived badly.

Contents

Introduction ……………………..…………………………………………………………………………………… 5

 

Chapter 1: Understanding Adaptation and Storytelling …………………………………………….. 8

 

Chapter 2: Movies Being Adapted Into Video Games ….………….……………………………….. 10

 

Chapter 3: Video Games Being Adapted Into Movies ……….….………………………………….. 13

 

Conclusion ………………..………..………………….…….………………………………………….…………… 16

 

Bibliography ……………….……….…….…………………….……………………………….……………………. 17

 

Table of Figures ……………..………………….…………….…………………………………………………….. 19

 

Appendices ……………..……………………………………..…………………………………………………….. 20

Introduction

The world of film began back in the late 1800’s, when motion picture was captured like stop motion, taking stills or photographs, frame by frame, and constructing them together. Whilst video games didn’t begin until the 1970’s, when Atari introduced Pong, which has now become a staple in many ways. But we didn’t start getting movies based off of video games until 1993, when Nintendo allowed directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton to produce a movie on the beloved Super Mario Bros, which was then distributed through Walt Disney Studios. Whilst the first video game based on a movie, was Death Race, developed by Exidy back in 1976, based on the cult classic, Death Race: 2000.

Figure 1. Death Race (Exidy, 1976)

From critics, to reviewers, and from consumers, to producers and developers, discussions about video games being adapted into movies, and movies being adapted into video games have been happening. From social media stars like Rooster Teeth, and Extra Credits, to websites like TvTropes and Nerdist. The discussion of whether movies based on video game worlds are good or bad, and how they do, or do not work in that medium. Questioning the execution and whether it was done horribly or not. Example, just like when superhero movies were just beginning, they struggled to capture an audience, in addition to being poorly made. Now superhero movies, are what everyone waits for, and loved by the masses, whilst also being executed extremely well and have A list celebrities playing beloved superheroes. Whilst many movies have been adapted into video games. Many of which have been perceived as bad and a few perceived as gems here and there. Games such as 007: GoldenEye (Rare, 1997), to Star Wars BattleFront 2 (Pandemic Studios, 2005), and even Middle Earth: Shadow of War (Monolith Productions, 2017). These game simply take the world / universe given to them, and expand on them, create beautiful stories, gameplay mechanics and even visual representations.

Now to understand why companies are constantly attempting to bridge the gap between video games and film, although there are both similarities and differences. In simple terms, adaptations mean the process of adapting. A great way to understand it, is that adaptation is everywhere. It happens a lot of the time. Example, you might be making dinner and your missing an ingredient or two, you improvise and adapt, you substitute different flavours or ingredients replace what could be missing. Alternatively another example could be that, you’re playing a game, example Overwatch (Blizzard, 2016), and your team is losing, and a specific character or two are the problem, you team then would probably adapt, and change characters to counter the others. These are simple and small ways we adapt without truly thinking about it. In Linda Hutcheon’s book, A Theory of Adaptation, she says, “Shakespeare transferred his culture’s stories from page to stage and made them available to a whole new audience” (Hutcheon, 2013). This is a great way to understand what adaptation is as a concept and theory as it clearly portrays adaptation in a clear way, Shakespeare took stories, then brought them to life, and turned it into a play, something that maybe a lot of his audience dont like, but then subsequently, has now grown his audience by also adding play viewers. A more modern view of this could be that we have begun to truly make good comic book movies, our generation has begun to transform comic books and bring them to life with movie adaptations. Additionally, directors are also attempting to make movies based in video game worlds and universes. From as early as Super Mario Bros (Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, 1993), to movies as recent as WarCraft (Duncan Jones, 2016).

 

Storytelling is one of the key focuses and worries for many of these projects. Although we can argue that games don’t truly need a story to be a game, when games such as The Last of Us (Naughty Dog, 2013), Horizons Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games, 2017), or even Angry Birds (Rovio Mobile, 2010). These games all have different approaches to the way they tell their story and the world behind it. If it’s through cut scenes, certain mechanics, gameplay aspects, visual artstyle, and more. With film, it is very similar in that aspect, they develop worlds and stories, and never need to describe every aspect of it, in comparison to a book. They can present it through visual representation. Yet there is a glaring difference between the story in video games and the story in movies. One is interactive, whilst the other is passive. The difference is that, in Chris Crawford’s, Interactive Storytelling, he elaborates on the idea that the definition of an interactive story is oxymoronic, due to the fact that a story, “is based on data, not process” (PAGE 46). Yet the way we can manipulate this is by intervening with the data and what should / could happen, and further extend the length of the story.

Figure 2. Warcraft (Duncan Jones, 2016)

Additionally, by focusing on these three specific video games, and three movies. The three video games will be, Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Traveller’s Tale, 2007), The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (EA Redwood Shores, 2003), and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (EA UK, 2005). The reason I have chose these three video games are because they are all linked to a movie universe or world, in addition to being relatively related to both the plot of the movie, and simply further elaborate on the story of the universe. Whilst the three movies I have chosen are WarCraft (Duncan Jones, 2016), The Angry Birds Movie (Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reily, 2016), and Pokemon: The First Movie (Kunihiko Yuyama, 1998). The reason I have chosen these three movies, is due to the fact they didn’t get the worst or best reception. They were simply decent adaptations and representations of the video game. The storytelling and universe may had not been their strongest suit, but it is difficult to compare a video game’s storytelling to a movie, as a typical movie run time is around an hour and thirty minutes. Whilst a game can span up to twenty to thirty hours long. All of this, in combination of the way it is was executed could truly make or break the movie, whilst subsequently also affect the game itself.

Chapter 1: Understanding Adaptation and Storytelling

Understanding exactly what adaptation and storytelling is, can be very difficult due to multiple perceived difference, in the simplest form storytelling is simply a social activity of sharing stories, but how the story is told whether through pictures, drawing, visual, spoken or even emotions could all be interpreted differently. In addition, adaptation could be seen very understood different for many people. Yet is very difficult to just simply say this or that is what adaptation is, as Linda Hutcheon says, “However straightforward the idea of adaptation may appear on the surface, it is actually very difficult to define” (Hutcheon, 2013). To fully understand what adaptation is, breaking down how it is used and perceived is the best way. Linda again breaks it down to a simple way, explaining that “Adaptations are often compared to translations” (Hutcheon, 2013). Adaptation is simply reformatting or remixing something, a form of re-expression. Adaptation no matter how difficult or simple it is to understand, is a part of everyday life. We may also take it for granted, adaptation is like breaking a routine, maybe the job requires you to be there from nine to five, but your typical commute to work seems to be down, you improvise and find another way, whether its by a different mode of transport, or simply not coming into work. These are simple adaptations where a person cannot perform certain tasks and must work around them.

 

To Understand storytelling, we need to understand how Chris Crawford views things, firstly her breaks down storytelling into 4 categories; Visual-Spatial, Social Reasoning, Environmental Knowledge, and Language. Visual-spatial is the way we view visual perception and spatial imagination. Social reasoning which is understanding the behaviours of others. Environmental knowledge which is collecting information of the world and storing it, and finally, language which is simply the form of communication. Whilst additionally figuring out what interactivity is, Chris Crawford puts it like this, “For example, reaction, no matter how intense, is not the same as interaction” (Crawford, 29). A reaction is a form of expression, when you react to something, such as a cutscene in a game where a character may die or an scene in a movie happens how you did not expect it, that is not the same as interacting with said things, you are simply evoking emotion. You aren’t truly interacting with the situation, no matter what you say or do, you cannot change the outcome of the situation.

Figure 3. Abzu (Giant Squid Studios, 2016)

There are many forms of storytelling, in games you can a multitude of them, from Linear based stories such as The Last of Us (Naughty Dog, 2013) where you are simply heading down a single path and being given snipits of the story. Multiple ending style games such as Fallout 4 (Bethesda Games Studio, 2015) where through a set of decision, there could be multiple outcomes to your actions, an example not related to the game would be you are hunting a person down, and you catch him, now you have two decisions, you either kill him, or let him live, these decisions will have consequences which will then further progress the ending you will most likely lead to. Now because of this, there are also multiple games which give false perceptions of multiple choice or end multiple endings, Mass Effect 3 (Bioware, 2012) did this, pissing off its fan base and reviewers. There could be the styles with branching trees stories, such as Heavy Rain (Quantic Dream, 2010) where the player is given multiple options to decide what they want to do in that certain situation. Finally, Environmental Storytelling, with games such as Abzu (Giant Squid Studios, 2016) or Journey (ThatGameCompany, 2012) where the developers focuses on using the world and environment to express the story, to convey their message, to explore the world, and embrace the bizarre and beautiful. These are simply some forms of storytelling, but these will be how we follow and explain how other games use these tactics to explore their medium.

 

Whilst with movies, they are a lot more passive. In the sense that you have no input on what can happen in a movie, there is no interactivity, because the movie is a product with a predestined ending, everything will happen the same way every single time, in a movie you can simply react to what happen, rather than interact. In a movie you just sit down, and enjoy the show, whilst with a game, you are the main character or just a character, the story is built around you, what you do and how you do it, no matter the style of storytelling will still be different for players, it’s how you perform these that makes games an interactive form of media in comparison to movies.

Chapter 2: Movies Being Adapted Into Video Games

Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Traveller’s Tale, 2007) which was a game that complied all previous series together into one mass collection. Improving on the graphics of the game, overall core mechanics of the series, and simply fulfilled what it set out to do. It brought the universe of Star Wars and presented it, in a cute lego artstyle with precise controls, brilliant humour, and fantastic storytelling across the board. This can be seen with Metacritic giving it a rating of 80 out of 100 with critics stating that is simply a joy or blast to play, whilst GameSpy said, “Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga […] feels like you’re playing with a living Lego playset” (Metacritic, 2007), whilst users gave it an overall of a 7.5 out of 10 stating that the game has simply improved on the gameplay, the world building, comedy, and even the characters. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (EA UK, 2005) attempted to rebuild and re-explore the world of Harry Potter with a slight spin, where you follow Harry through the movie world, but with a few twists and turns, to extend the story and gameplay of the game, with enjoyable wand combos and more. Yet, critics rated it a 68 out of 100 on Metacritic, with critics stating that this installment of the game, was better than the others, but that wasn’t much of a achievement, as the past games weren’t received very well. Whilst users gave it a score of 6.6 out of 10, with user HenryT stating that “The game, and lots like the movie which is ace” (Metacritic, 2005). The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (EA Redwood Shores, 2003) was a game that took you straight to the heart and action of the world. Lord of the rings, wasted no time with introducing its gruesome and gore filled world, whilst alternating from many beloved main characters such as Aragon, Legolas, Gimili, and even Gandalf. Critics gave this a very high score, with an overall metascore of 85 out of 100 on Metacritic, with critics stating that the game simply does more than justice to the movie and brings it into full swing with fantastic hack and slack mechanics, and a great world, in addition to it attempting to push the technological boundaries and bringing great graphics. Easy to pick up mechanics that make this game, that much more of a fulfilling expierence. Whilst users gave it a 8.6 out of 10, with users stating that this game has truly stood the test of time, in addition to players stating that it has brought them back to play it, with a solid co-op experience. User ActionJackson states that, “It delivered great gameplay through the story of the Lotr-films” (Metacritic, 2003). This statement alone helps cement that this game truly does do both the game and the movie justice, with core mechanics, beautiful aesthetics, and a solid game to set everything together.

 

Movies that have been adapted are something that are very unique, but ever growing and loved by both hardcore and casual gamers. The simplest way to put it is, if you are an avid movie watcher and you loved a certain movie universe such as Star Wars or Aliens, then the idea of a game that is based in that world, with mechanics that bolster that universe would be amazing. Like a dream come true. Your imaginations of becoming a lightsaber wielding jedi, or follow the story of a character related to Ellen Ripley attempting to escape an abandoned spaceship with an alien hunting everyone on it would be amazing. Yet not all video games that attempt to take movie universes always turn out well. Example Catwoman, which was an attempt to cash in on the movie, whilst also following the storyline of the movie to its best, as WatchMojo states, it sports “Bad controls, weak level design, a vomit inducing in game camera” (Thinault, n.d) all of these together turn the game from a mundane typical cash in, into something much worse, and boring. The problem with games like these, if they bury the thought of good adaptations of video game movies, this is due to the fact that companies will always and shall continue to attempt to cash in, whenever possible, to maximise profits from a certain IP

 

Many games have also wanted to prove that the world or characters of a movie is all they would need to develop something great, which has worked out for the games industry with cult classics like Star Wars BattleFront 2 the classic, Middle Earth Shadow of War, and more. The reason these worked so well, is they simply took the world, or supporting characters, and developed a well thought out game around the idea. They weren’t constrained by the story of the movie, or the plot, they simply developed gameplay elements and mechanics around ideas or things in the movie. Example with Middle Earth, they introduced a system they called “The Nemesis System” in which there is a hierarchy of Uruks and other beings, and you have to battle your way through these troops to reach higher ranked enemies. Killing a normal ground soldier might trigger the captain to arrive, which in tail, killing him could now force out the commander, and so on.

Figure 4. Middle-Earth Shadow of War (Monolith Productions, 2017)

A survey was conducted in which many people were asked how they felt about movies that had been adapted into video games which garnered many mixed responses, one stated no, whilst giving their reason, “A lot of them just do it for money and try and force the developer to complete the game in 2 years” (See Appendix A, Figure 1), this person believes that movie companies only allowed developers to make their movies into games with tough constraints and for the main reason of profiting even further on their IP, whilst another said yes, stating that “It gives you more of a story to the actual movie, and lets you even relive the movie yourself” (See Appendix A, Figure 2), this person wants to believe that with the correct tactics, you can develop something meaningful and grow your audience and even the fanbase due to the accessibility of games.

Chapter 3: Video Games Being Adapted Into Movies

Warcraft (Duncan Jones, 2016) which was adapted from the game World of Warcraft (Blizzard, 2004) came at a time when most people where begingfor the next best video game movie, where people had high hopes for something to workout. Whether it was exploring the world of WoW or even following a small aspect of the story. Instead, if attempted to tell a full feature story in 2 hours, which would’ve most likely taken multiple hours to complete and even get a basic understanding of what was happening. Due to this, the movie was perceived terribly by movie critics across the board, just like most other video game movies, most found it boring, disjointed, and above all, lackluster. Whilst many fans of the game, had absolutely fallen in love with the movie, with gamers loving their world coming to the big screen, and typical movie goers expressing interest in a beautiful and vast fantasy world. Angry Birds The Movie (Rovio Entertainment, 2009) which was an mobile game classic, with close to no story besides you are birds destroying wooden structures and taking out pigs, to protect your eggs, attempted to take that extremely simplistic concept of a story and make a full feature length film. Yet this didn’t truly workout. Although the movie was enjoyed marginally more than Warcraft, the audience members disliked it greatly, in comparison to Warcraft. A lot of critics explore how the Angry Bird movie although bad, has its quirks and laughs here and there, yet truly in underwhelming as there isn’t much in terms of storytelling or world building to be made about a game where you fling birds at buildings and pigs. Whilst movie goers also came to a similar conclusion to the critics, yet simply found it a lot more boring, even if it was to watch with your family. Finally, Pokemon: The First Movie (Kunihiko Yuyama, 1998) following Ash but developing its own story to fit the premise, was attempting something different in comparison to the other two games, it took the world and character of pokemon, and attempted to develop a story that was new, something the players of the game, would not have seen before, so both movie goers and video gamers would enjoy all together. Fundamentally though, the movie had also been additionally seen terribly by critics due to it’s heavy handed and very mature story expressed in the movie, whilst it seemed to sell itself as a child like animation style and world. Whilst again movie goers and gamers loved the movie as it was their world, their game reimagined and brought to life, with main characters such as Ash, Misty and Brock brought to life with unique and enjoyable personalities and grand pokemon battles, with your favourite pokemon duking it out against one another, and or working together.

 

The root of the problem could be one of two things, firstly it could be the fact that it is simply how different the two mediums are, movies are very passive with their storytelling, where the audience, simply sits back and relaxes, watching a very linear story, and following the story of the main protagonist through their adventure. Whilst video games are a much more interactive medium, where the player is the main protagonist, and although games can have a linear path or story, the way in which the player experiences the game, or simply interacts with the world, is very branched, different, exclusive. This is due to the fact that developers of video games understand that there is this conundrum where players simply love to do foolish things, such as attempting to manipulate the world and its functionality, in unintended ways and more. In addition to the fact that there are many games where you can simply perform actions when you want, with many means given to you by the game, whilst in movies you watch the actions being done in one set way with no input on how it should or could be done.

 

Secondly, the problem could be the fact that directors and major movie companies simply do not care. As YouTube channel Extra Credits who are mainly known for their expertise in video game development and more asked the question, “Why Are There No Good Video Game Movies?” (Extra Credits, 2016) then proceed to discuss why or what could be the reason behind why their might be no good video game movies, one of the greatest things expressed in the video was when voice actor and creator Daniel Floyd explained how, “A theme that a story could be married to, you could probably make a movie out of it, if you want to, and that’s probably the more pressing concern” (Extra Credits, 2016). Floyd express how he believes that many large companies and people with money simply do not care, or want to put the effort into making these video game movies with proper funding, due to the typical fear of a failed IP, of wasting money and not making a bang for your buck. They then further express how this was the exact same with early superhero movies, when Batman was thought out to be a brilliant film, other companies attempted to copy this, but didn’t know who were popular superheroes, so instead, opted for heroes like The Phantom who were more based on the newspaper era rather than comic books. This could be a similar case with video games, where most companies simply do not know what or how they could employ and further progress these worlds and movies to truly fulfill a proper video game movie.

 

Finally, nerdist discuss how it could be that movies might simply be too difficult to cram a video game into. Other forms may be better, such as television, where video game stories could span across 12 – 15 episode seasons or more. It could be the solution but it is also a lot more costly at the same time which would be a big reason to why many companies would rather not even attempt a video game series knowing it could flop, and so movies would be a safer bet, as a one time large transaction in essence.

Figure 5. The Phantom (The Phantom, 1996)

Researched was conducted to assist the claims stated before, 31 people had completed the survey and of those 31, when asked if they believe video games should be adapted into movies, 67.7% stated that they believe it depends on the movie (See Appendix A, FIgure 3), with one anonymous response saying, “If the movie can use the character in the appropriate way to form a story line that correlates to the game” (See Appendix A, Figure 4) this person believes that with right things, a good video game movie could be made, and further developed into something that both movie goers and critics would actually enjoy. Whilst another person when asked if they believe if only a games’ story, world or characters were used to create independent movies, how well they would do, a person responded with “In short, nobody likes watching someone else play a fun game, same thing happens with a game adapted to a film” (See Appendix A, Figure 5) the way this person said this comes full circle with the mentality, where the discussion that the reason there is such a disconnect with video game movies compared to people who love video games is due to the fact you are passively watching someone doing the thing you love, the thing you wanted to do, it’s the same talk about why would you watch a let’s player or how does a let’s player differ in comparison to watching a movie.

Conclusion

Through research about what adaptation means and what kinds of storytelling both the film and video game media use, and further garnering a respect for the both the efforts and work that goes into attempting to bring a project from these medias to life. With critics viewing many to most video game movies as terrible adaptations which corny storylines, badly executed visual effects and more, there’s a need for greater understanding and further knowledge to be gotten about games, as the video game industry is still relatively recent in comparison to the film world. It could be that down the years to come, they will simply improve as the generation now who grew up playing video games, might become the next bunch of directors and screenwriters to help make a proper video game movie, if not, potentially transforming a game into a television series rather than a movie, might do it more justice. Whilst movies adapted into video games might have found a solution to their problem, but still have a longs way to go. Whether the game is strictly following the movies plot, or simply taking the world of a movie or its characters, and using them to propel a movies universe forwards, whilst bringing old and new fans towards it would be great.

Bibliography

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Guerrilla (2016) Horizon: Zero Dawn [Video Game]. Available at: http://www.mobygames.com/game/playstation-4/horizon-zero-dawn.

 

Hutcheon, L. (2013). A Theory of Adaptation. 2nd ed. New York: Routhledge, p.2 – 16.

 

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Table of Figures

Figure 1

Exidy (1976). Death Race. [image] Available at: https://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s–hwnSu2J8–/c_fit,fl_progressive,q_80,w_320/17ey1t5aveaidjpg.jpg [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].

 

Figure 2

Giant Squid Studios (2016). Abzu. [image] Available at: http://store.steampowered.com/app/384190/ABZU/ [Accessed 24 Jan. 2018].

 

Figure 3

Jones, D. (2016). Warcraft Movie Poster. [image] Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/56/Warcraft_Teaser_Poster.jpg [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].

 

Figure 4

Cdn2.techadvisor.co.uk. (2017). Middle-earth: Shadow of War review. [online] Available at: https://cdn2.techadvisor.co.uk/cmsdata/reviews/3665394/screenshot__11_.png [Accessed 29 Jan. 2018].

 

Figure 5

The Phantom. (1996). [image] Available at: https://static.comicvine.com/uploads/original/10/100559/1833612-thephantom_film.jpg [Accessed 29 Jan. 2018].

Appendices

 

 

 

 

 

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