Dear Whoever buys game Movie Tie-ins, Kindly Desist with your Annoying Habit

July 27, 2008 § Leave a comment

It’s a trend that’s happily dying out with increased development costs of current-generation consoles but it’s a problem nonetheless. The game tie in to a summer blockbuster, designed with all the good intentions of a Spiderman helicopter, filling game shelves and websites with a putrid mess of consistently low review scores and overtly mediocre gameplaying experiences, does its level best to kill my belief that gaming is the eighth art form. It’s evident that the only reason they get made is to supplement the profit raked in by the film when it hits box office but more often than not these games are rushed, and lack any form of innovation or relevance to the source material to the extent that many could easily have emerged as mods for any number of established games.

There are several reasons why a tie in will often fall to its knees before critics everywhere. Firstly and most obviously, they’re rushed to release at the same time as the movie. Bugs remain unfixed, controls untweaked, and all those things a developer needs to do with a game before pushing it out the door get left undone. It’s hardly the developer’s fault, they have a harsh schedule to keep to and even the best of them run over, more it’s the fault of the men in suits at the film production company in charge of licensing such deals not giving the programmers enough time to get the game done. Marvel have recently decried that this is something they hope to change in the future, by arranging tie (cash) ins further in advance of a film hitting cinemas. It’s a nice step certainly, but it does nothing to bypass the next few problems they have to face.

Like the fact that for around 90% of films, a tie in game should not exist. I could put forward hundreds of arguments why the likes of Fight Club should have never be thrown into the gaming spectrum but most of them can be summed up in one word, dialogue. Dialogue is never more than a pleasant novelty in games, when the most you want to get into a conversation is with the intention of getting a quest from it, preferably with as little dialogue in it as possible. Whereas in a good movie you’ll expect to sit through a good two hours of conversation, do that in a game and people understandably start throwing hissy fits. How do you get around this unfortunate side effect of forcing a franchise into a medium it doesn’t belong? Well you condense some of the best written dialogue around into around a thirty second cutscene (or better yet, have supporting characters yell it out during play, people love that) in favourite of massively extending action sequences, some of which may not even have appeared in the film. Path of Neo cannot be excused in this department (well apart from awful voice acting, that was present in the movies as well). Even such small set pieces as the Smith battle before reaching the door with the keymaker were extended to their logical extreme. Part of this fight was forced to take place in the White House.

Many of these reasons come due to the huge difference between the length of your average game and an equivalent movie. Developers have to fill all that extra time with something, and more often than not, sequences put in to lengthen the play time of the game won’t add much or anything at all to the experience, but then this may not be a problem in itself. Many great games have sections in them which could be considered “filler,” but when you do the same in a game based on a movie you immediately draw comparisons to the source material, which more often than not is far better than anything the game developers could come up with.

It’s not all gloom and doom though. When a tie in’s done well it can be an amazing experience, allowing the player to be a a part of some of the greatest action sequences ever made and if any effort is put into a game by the movie’s production staff, a game can even expand on the dramatic narrative, adding scenes which develop characters or plot events not fully explained in the film. Enter the Matrix is a prime example of this. Although the gameplay was mediocre at best, because you took the role of two fairly minor characters in the films the game was interesting to Matrix fans far beyond the novelty of “You’ve seen the move, now play the game!” It features extended scenes from the movie and filled in the back story of what was going on before and after the films took place. For that reason it was one of my favourite tie in games of all time.

In the end though how good a game is has as much to do with the movie studio as it does to do with the actual developers. Getting the film’s actors on board to voice characters in the game as well as giving direction to the developers really make playing the game worthwhile for a fan of the film, and not just another embarrassing Christmas gift from a clueless relative.

Edit: I’m not saying that every movie tie in is inherantly a bad game, just that most of them are because they aren’t compelling experiences. With every opinion their are exceptions, and this remains exactly the same in the realms of interactive entertainment. It is completely possible for developers to create an innovative experience based off the ideas of a movie, but many don’t, and that’s where my problem lies.

My point about Enter the Matrix being my favourate game does imply that I like it better than Path of Neo. This is true. I’m of the opinion that neither were amazing games in terms of gameplay (although path of Neo’s controls were more refined it has to be said) but as a fan of the trilogy Enter the Matrix was more compelling for me because it filled in backstory. Whilst gamplay is the most important feature of a game, the story it tells can improve the experience.

Sorry for lumping things together, this should of course never be done.


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