So Mr. Anderson, why are video game movies so bad?

What makes a bad video game movie? Some, or rather a lot, of people would say as soon as a studio decides to make movie out of a video game, that’s when things go bad but the Resident Evil flicks are seemingly immune to public disinterest. Four live-action films have been produced so far with a fifth coming next year and Paul W.S Anderson has been involved since the get go, writing and directing his way into RE history.

When interviewed by MCV, Anderson was asked why he thinks his movies have been successful when so many other video game adaptations have not. The answer is a simple case of love and passion for the franchise:

“Despite what a lot of haters on the internet might say, I love the Resident Evil games. And these movies are made with a huge knowledge of the games and a real passion for the games. I think that translates into the movies we make and that’s why they deliver. A lot of video game movies are made by directors who don’t know the video games they are based on from a hole in the head. They don’t do justice to the games, they don’t immerse themselves in the games, they don’t understand what people liked from the games. And that is the wrong approach and clearly those movies don’t work.”

I’m not so sure that the Resident Evil films are all that reflective of the games but appreciate a director wanting to stay true to the fiction, whether he does so or not. A big problem for movies based on games is the kinds of people they’re targeted to. Hardcore fans of a game may want to see a live-action version of their beloved franchise but in reality, the types of games with the strongest narrative worthy of a transition to film work so well already as games. Take the Portal series. Its brilliance comes from being a part of the fiction and not just a voyeur to Chell’s escapades. That leaves the regular film-goer who may not have any interest in video games or worse, considers it an inferior market. The sometimes goofy plot lines and characters can be a little low-brow for these kinds of people so changes are made to a game’s story which ironically makes them low-brow and goofy to the hardcore fans.

But whether Mr. Anderson makes movies respectful of an existing property or not, his point is sound. The first step in creating a good movie is knowledge of the subject. Lifting pieces directly from a game won’t work and equally change too many things and the whole thing becomes a joke. Remember the mess Sony got in with David. O Russell’s plans for an Uncharted movie? He was trying to turn a great story into a Indiana Jones knock off which suggested he hadn’t even seen the games let alone play them. But as video games creep closer and closer to the film industry with the mature and admirably handled concepts in L.A. Noire and the incredibly deep fiction of Portal (to name but a two examples), maybe publishers should work harder on encouraging movie fans to experience these kinds of games rather than producing watered down adaptations.

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Valve’s single-player plus ideas

When game journalist Geoff Keighley released his iPad app dissecting one of Valve’s latest and greatest games, Portal 2, fans of the publisher couldn’t be more pleased at the hidden details within. That is until they happened upon one particular quote from Keighley: Portal 2 will probably be Valve’s last game with an isolated single-player experience. What this all means is something Newell is still trying to figure out.” He was given this impression after speaking with Valve top dog Gabe Newell and project manager Erik Johnson. Naturally, it caused upset and great concern among gamers as Valve are one of the few publishers who truly understands the importance of good narrative in games and the necessity for both off and online play.

But fear not, the comment doesn’t mean what everyone thought it did. It was misinterpreted as the end of the single-player game from Valve but in a recent interview with a high schooler, Newell felt the situation needed clarifying (via Kotaku). He said that Valve is still fully behind solo games and Portal 2 is a good example of just how far they’ve come over the years. However, this is the age of web 2.0 where everyone and everything is connected to one another and the inclusion of this in games can only increase their value to consumers. At the moment, Valve is a market leader in the various experiences they offer but Newell feels they’re missing the social aspect like Facebook and Twitter. He said “Every gamer has instant messaging, every gamer has a Facebook account. If you pretend that that doesn’t exist, you’re ignoring the problems that you’re taking on. It’s single-player plus, not ‘no more single-player.”

Plus what exactly is the big question now. If it is just a better connection to social network sites, those who enjoy detailing their days on micro-blogging sites are probably already well versed in the practice. More and more games have some link to Twitter especially and Facebook is increasingly being treated as a viable way to deliver news. Capy Games’ Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP allows players to tweet almost everything they do or see, potentially spamming said users timeline. It is however a neat marketing initiative as it places a hash-tag referencing the game at the end of tweets. Clever yes put it could be viewed as annoying too. Just last week, BioWare announced the delay of Mass Effect 3 on its Facebook page rather than the usual avenues for such an statement. That does of course then reach a lot more than the hardcore audience who actively visit game websites.

It would be interesting to see if Valve could take the idea of social connectivity in a new direction and not just let people tell their friends what Valve game they’re playing or where they are in it. With such ingenious writing in both Portal games there’s lots of ways these sites could provide a continuation of story lines or even a little more background to them. When the voice over from Cave Johnson in Portal 2 said (SPOILER) “Black Mesa can kiss my ass,” there were gasps-a-plenty. Imagine then if more stuff like that appeared on random Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Speaking of the inter-twining of Half-Life and Portal, Newell was also asked about whether a direct crossover would ever happen: “When you’re thinking about games, you sort of want to think about how characters collide,” he said. “In their current forms, Chell and Gordon are very similar characters. In terms of the phenomenology of their experiences. … In terms of having these people coexist at same time and same place, that’s … part of the reason Portal and Half-Life are in the same universe.” So it was definitely deliberate. Who knows what we’ll see in Half-Life 3

The necessity of Lara’s reboot

When a franchise of any sort becomes a little stale, there are usually two choices. The first is to take the Activision route; cancel it or ‘put it on hold’. Another option is to wipe the slate clean and start again with a potentially life-saving reboot. For Crystal Dynamics, the only real decision for one of their biggest IPs was the latter and that’s why the next Tomb Raider is being receiving a complete overhaul of ideas rather than letting a once mighty star fall deeper into the bargain bin.

In a conversation with Edge magazine, CD studio head Darrell Gallagher spoke of the necessity to make a serious reboot: “Lara had hit her apex in how she was before, and we didn’t really feel we could take that any farther. It was a chance to look at everything again, bring new people in who had been interested in the franchise before but didn’t feel like Lara was modern enough.” It’s interesting that he suggested Lara wasn’t modern enough. The over-sexualised female lead is fast becoming a joke for games with more realistic characters like Faith from Mirror’s Edge and Portal‘s Chell being championed as the way forward. There’s a common debate over Bayonetta who is often portrayed as a sex object yet her dialog in-game alludes to her being the one in charge of her sexuality. Regardless of my obvious tangent, as a character and the incredibly dated use of look-a-like models, Lara is old and people are noticing.

That being said, changing her completely wouldn’t be right either and although all aspects of Ms Croft were analysed, the important thing for Gallagher was keeping the essential familiarities “We left no stones unturned as we were going through the concept, and then kept the right stones. The crucial thing is that it feels like her, even though it’s completely different.” I’m all for change and admit I came to the Tomb Raider series relatively late but if the new Lara was missing some of her attitude and spirit shall we say, the danger would be her loyal audience being alienated.

When Crystal Dynamics first was given the franchise in 2003, the games which followed were often thought of as reboots by the media yet the developer didn’t view them that way. They just put their own spin on it. But this spin received a lot of criticism for being too easy, neutering the exploration element and not pushing the boundaries enough compared to other similar franchises. Over the years the games got better but still lagged behind the new kings and queens of third-person action adventures. The hope of Crystal Dynamics and fans of tomb raiding is that making a prequel where a young Lara is shipwrecked on a Japanese island and must learn to survive, will not only be a great game but one that wins back come credit for the developers too.

Angry aggregations

As if Metacritic wasn’t steeped in enough controversy, the aggregation site has once again been made to look the fool by its users. Instead of giving honest and balanced opinions, members of the user reviews section have polluted the figure of Portal 2 with a number of 0/10 scores (via Gamesindustry.biz). Why? A lot of grumbles are due to the game being a console port – heaven forbid – with PC users are expressing their disgust at how Valve’s highly anticipated puzzler already has a mountain of launch day DLC. A common console idea not generally found on PC titles.

Portal 2‘s length is another gripe. One user said how if it was cheaper, a 10/10 score is perfectly fitting but a 4-6 hour experience isn’t worth $60. The critics disagree. The 19 which have so far been submitted collectively award Portal 2 with 95/100, claiming it’s not only better than the first but one of finest games ever made. That sure sounds like it’s worth paying full price for.

The absurdity of a game’s length directly affecting its price is continuously brought into conversations yet only ever one way. No one ever shouts how a 40-60 hour RPG should cost considerably more than a 12 hour FPS. If a game provides anything more than a satisfactory experience, hasn’t it justified its price tag? And the platform ownerships of titles is a little ridiculous. There are some games which by their very nature are far better suited for one system over another, the RTS genre for example, but if anything, Portal was just a big a hit for the Xbox 360 as it was for the PC so the fact that it’s become more console-focused as a package is expected and doesn’t sound as if it detrimentally effects the actual game.

Thankfully, the user scores aren’t regarded very highly because of occasions such as this but it’s still a shame that it happens at all. Having your own opinion is fine as long as the criticisms are educated and not aggressively negative for the sake of lowering an aggregate score.

Keep preying

The end of early Xbox 360 FPS Prey left the (portal) door wide open for a sequel. With nearly five years passing by, it seems now Bethesda will be responsible for publishing Prey 2, announced in French gaming magazine, Joystick (via Kotaku). 2K Games had the honour the first time around but Bethesda Softworks secured the rights to the franchise which follows native American Tommy as he fights off an alien invasion, getting to grips with their gravity shifting and seldom used portal technology.

Prey wasn’t an outstanding game but did prove popular due to the time it was released. It appeared when the 360 was still young and lacked games so owners would gravitate to whatever happened to be coming out. I was one of those people and luckily had a blast with Prey though the treatment of death wasn’t all that fun. The idea was cool, how you don’t die but are taken to another realm where you have to shoot spirits to replenish your health and are then transported back into the real world. It did’t quite work because it made the threat of death somewhat inconsequential. I’d quite like to see if this gets rectified in the sequel which is yet to have a release date but probable for late 2011, early 2012.

LittleBigPlanet 2, meet Portal

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Some clever beta tester for LittleBigPlanet 2 has made full use of his popit and time with the pre-game to make a level heavily inspired by cult classic Portal. When I say heavily inspired I mean so similar that you’ll be hard-pressed not to gleefully tell the person closest to you. Even if they’re not a gamer, receiving polite but bewildered nods. Watch. Enjoy. Smile.

Huge savings on XBLA next week!

To celebrate next week’s big E3 event, Microsoft are offering some of their best XBLA games at a considerable discount starting Monday 14th. The first five reductions are all 50% off the original price and include favourites like Shadow Complex (check out my review here), Trails HD and Marvel vs Capcom 2. Then, from Wednesday 16th until Tuesday 22nd, a further sale of other great titles will begin and will hopefully not crash Xbox Live due to the mass of downloads. Featuring Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers (superb! See my review here) and Braid, there is a significant amount of quality games that, if not already on your HDD, should definitely be there as of next week. Joy! The full list is as follows:

Monday 14th June:
Shadow Complex
– 560 MS Points/£4.80
Trials HD – 560 MS Points/£4.80
Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 – 560 MS Points/£4.80
TMNT Turtles in Time HD – 400 MS Points/£3.43
‘Splosion man – 400 MS Points/£3.43

June 16th-22nd:
A Kingdom for Keflings – 400 MS Points/£3.43
Alien Hominid HD – 400 MS Points/£3.43
Banjo Tooie – 800 MS Points/£6.85
Bionic Commando Rearmed – 400 MS Points/£3.43
Bomberman LIVE – 400 MS Points/£3.43
Braid – 800 MS Points/£6.85
Castle Crashers – 800 MS Points/£6.85
Castlevania Symphony of the Night – 400 MS Points/£3.43
Contra – 240 MS Points/£2.06
Crystal Defenders – 400 MS Points/£3.43
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 – 400 MS Points/£3.43
Magic: The Gathering – 400 MS Points/£3.43 (Bargain!)
N+ – 400 MS Points/£3.43
Panzer General – 400 MS Points/£3.43
Portal
– 800 MS Points/£6.85
TMNT: 1989 Arcade – 240 MS Points/£2.06
Uno Rush – 400 MS Points/£3.43
Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment
– 800 MS Points/£6.85
Zombie Apocalypse – 400 MS Points/£3.43

{Thanks Joystiq}