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Crossing Media
by Craig Ellsworth on 03/17/12 02:44:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I've heard it said that when you try to turn a videogame into a movie, you've already lost; you're trying to take two art forms that are so different that you might as well make a movie out of a painting.

On the surface, a casual movie-goer and game-player might think it would work out fine.  Action games = action movies, and there is no reason game-based movies should be terrible, apart from Uwe Boll.

Yet a more critical viewer/player understands that gameplay doesn't translate well, and no matter how intriguing or cinematic the story of a game might be, the story would need to be changed to clear out the repetitive gameplay, which would become repetitive action on the silver screen.

But I find another alternative to these two views.  I agree whole-heartedly that no matter how great a game is, translating it into a movie is a futile exercise in wasting millions of dollars.  But I also think that certain games -- some which are subpar in the first place -- can come out strikingly good in the theater.

Mostly because some games should never have been games in the first place.

Some games suffer from poor gameplay because not enough resources went into design and too many resources went into the writing and the visuals.  When this happens, it is because the lead decided to tell a story first and make a game second, and that decision shines through the entire product.

So when a game has long cutscenes and gameplay that appears to be tacked on, perhaps that gameplay should be un-tacked and a movie or TV show or mini-series or anime should be made out of the story instead.  Perhaps it should even be a book.

I am a writer myself, and I often come up with ideas for stories.  As I come up with the premise, I also decide how it should be told.  Will I write a short story, a play script, a screenplay, a comic book, or a game script?  Each has its advantages and disadvantages.  Each helps to give off a certain feeling and help along what I am trying to achieve.

If I think the storyline best fits in a game format, I have to come up with a genre and mechanics that help incorporate and intermix the gameplay with the story.  If I can't do that, perhaps I picked the wrong medium.

Some game writers are struggling novelists, that don't understand how gameplay should interact with a story.

In fact, I've heard that it's easier to get into Hollywood screenwriting and move to game writing than it is to start in games, so often game writers actually did write movies first and never quite got out of the trappings of screenwriting.

Heck, when I check out game writer job postings, if you don't have game experience, movie or even prose writing experience is considered the next best thing!

It's not.  The next best thing to videogame writing experience is tabletop game writing experience, and after that is gamebooks.

There really isn't much like game writing at all, because it is so necessary to incorporate gameplay into the writing, and often nonlinearity, as well.  Novelists and screenwriters have their own challenges, but those aren't some of them, and there is no analogous challenge in those fields.

Showing screenwriting credits or novels shows off your style, sure.  It also shows your ambition and commitment to complete long-term projects.  But it doesn't show that you can actually write for games.

I can think of lots of games that can't become movies (or shouldn't have), but I also recognize plenty of games that should have been movies from the get-go.

On rare occasions, the boundary can be broken and games can be made from movies and vice versa.  However, this works best when an elaborate world is created and new adventures can take place without one medium copying the plot from the other.

Take Star Wars for example.  The movies were great, and should have been left as movies.  Game versions of the movies were not particularly noteworthy.

But Star Wars games started to get good when new stories and characters were created in the same universe.  You didn't have to be Luke anymore; you could be a Jedi from generations past, or an x-wing pilot on a side-story between movies, or anything.

In fact, I am in favor of expanding universes into different media, as long as the story gets created by the writer knowing full well what medium they're writing for, and knows the tricks and traps of that medium.  Making a videogame and a movie that take place in the same universe is awesome, but to have them tell the same story makes one of them terrible.

To read this article with pictures and jokes, or other articles, development logs, reviews, and more, stop by 

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Stephen Chin
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@Zack, I think that's what Mr. Ellsworth is getting at though: to be a cross-media product you have to create a -media- franchise not simply a video game franchise. You have to understand what you're making and figure out the proper medium for it. If it's suppose to tie into a related project, great!

I don't think he was saying it's impossible. He's just saying to understand what your design goals are.

Glen Cooney
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I think that the key to effectively turning a game into a movie is identifying the key *themes* and feelings that the work is trying to evoke. It shouldn't be a copy-paste of the narrative, because that's not going to work.

It's like the difference between putting some foreign text through an automated translator, vs having an actual trained translator going through the text. A skilled translator translates the *meaning* of the text, not just what it's individual words mean. And I think it is an apt comparison to what they try to do with half-hearted game to movie/movie to game translations.

The only way to fix the reverse (movies to games) is to do what a number of game companies are starting to do: make your IP a multi-media strategy from the outset. Plenty of games have been doing this for years, with novels based on things like Resident Evil, Starcraft, etc but it's always been after the success of the primary media and as a way to deliver more stuff for the fans to enjoy (or take more of their money, depending on how you look at it).

Nowadays we are seeing some companies actually planning to launch a game as a multi-media piece of entertainment, with games, movies, books, comic books, etc all working to reinforce and cross-promote eachother so that one IP can reach multiple markets, or encourage an avid movie-goer to check out the game, a gamer to pick up a comic book they might otherwise never thought to get, etc.

So don't worry, what you are describing is definitely on the horizon.