Movie Sequel Games – Time For Revival?

 


So… they reckon Hollywood is collapsing in on itself, buckling under the weight of scandal and political hubris.

I’m not sure it would be a total ruination – and even then, they’ll try to rebuild on the rubble of an industry that has been brought to its knees. But, as I alluded to in my previous blog post – there’s never been a better opportunity for video games to take the lead in terms of entertainment. I’m all for more grown-up games (even if I think the showreels need a little more thought but it’s quite a strange situation we’re in and it has kind of come out of nowhere), and I’m all for more movies to make the transition to video games.

The reason I bring this up is that this was attempted once before – back in the early-to-mid 2000’s, the runaway success of the PlayStation 2 was giving even Hollywood companies pause for thought. Is this the new medium we should be tackling? How do we go about it? And whilst there was certainly an air of half-arsed licensed tie-ins, a few brave souls would attempt something far more lofty and interesting: an entire movie sequel in game form.

Hence in 2002, we got The Thing.

The Thing (2002) is actually a direct canonical sequel to the original move, The Thing (1982). Yeah, took them twenty years to attempt it. Here’s the kicker though – The Thing (2002) wasn’t just a damn good video game, it was also a damn good story and a damn good sequel. It shouldn’t have worked – and heck knows at the time, Universal Pictures – who owned the rights at the time – were mocked for daring to suggest that video games were a good medium for this. But it was a solid piece of work for its time – it was competently made, decently paced, kept in the stuff from the original movie which it needed to keep in whilst adding in a relatively new function for the era of being able to build up a team, and having to keep them sane or to prove you (or someone else) wasn’t an alien host about to go all tentacle-monster on you. With competent voice acting and an actual script that felt like it was made by a serious person taking the project very seriously, The Thing (2002) was a phenomenal achievement – scoring 8’s and 9’s.

Unfortunately, the game sold about a million units and the studio would collapse a year later.

Of course, the failure of The Thing (2002) sort of put the whole idea of “movie sequels as video games” on hold for a while. Yes, we had a few attempts over the years – James Bond 007: Blood Stone was one such title, released back in 2010, but it didn’t sell very well either and as usual, the studio collapsed not long after. It seemed that the world wasn’t quite ready for this brave concept of making serious movie sequels as video games in their entirety, just not quite pulling in the sales figures and/or profits needed to justify it.

And for some years, as the games industry went through a bit of a crisis from 2012-2016, it seemed that the movie industry was sort of proven right. Struggling sales figures, plummeting returns and some right stinkers dropping into the marketplace all suggested that video games were struggling to get out of some kind of rut…

… and of course, then the Nintendo Switch happened and now Nintendo is pretty much single-handedly reviving the console space at the same time Hollywood collapses.

Opportunities don’t come along very often like this, and it’s unquestionably in my mind a time for big movie studios to reconsider the video game space. Video games are now tackling big issues – violence, survival, abuse, neglect, mental health and so on. The video game arena has been emboldened, or perhaps came to the realisation that the only way to grow as an industry was to grow up a little more and make more serious content. Developers are tapping into a vein of ideas and concepts that for years most people wouldn’t have considered viable for what is, ultimately, meant to be an “entertainment product” – but on the whole, it seems to be working for them.

The Thing (2002) was proof positive fifteen years ago that done right, written well and with a solid eye on game design as well as the source material, that a movie sequel couldn’t just work in a video game context but thrive, and challenge our very notions of what games could be. And it’s not like The Thing (2002) is alone here – Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider and plenty of other franchises have all been for decades proving that video games could be every inch the storytelling counterparts as their movie brethren – if not, in some respects, better. The Last of Us was a fantastic example of this. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was an extremely complex story that worked brilliantly. There’s no doubt that the industry is capable of this.

But of course, the question for the movie world was “can we really invest in this space?” – in other words, is there any return?

And for the longest time, one can argue the answer to this was, well, no. Not because they couldn’t be done – or be amazing when given half a chance – but because the monetary investments required didn’t add up. In effect, the movie industry had a solid plan for its monetary gain – box office takings would take the front, and DVD sales would shore up the rear. Having two distinct pieces of a market generating big chunks of revenue was a groove which seemed to work extremely well.

Thing is, box office takings have been falling for years – with this year seeing its weakest takings for more than two decades. And as for the tail-end DVD sales? Yeah, that ship has been christened Titanic, set sail and struck an iceberg already. With the march of technology, and far faster and more reliable Broadband Internet, has come streaming; people don’t need to buy DVDs, or Blu-Rays (sorry not sorry Sony), they just push a couple buttons now on a service and they can watch as many movies as they want for a small monthly fee, when in the past you’d either need to rent them at £5 a pop, or buy them at £10-£20.

What I’m getting at is that the business side of Hollywood, rather like the Music Industry in the mid 2000’s, has been devastated by the speed and convenience of The Internet. And as the music world had to change, so too must the movie world.

And now video games aren’t being paraded around as being sexist and misogynistic and evil (I think Hollywood kind of proves GamerGate was a typhoon in a thimble in comparison), the time has come to once again posit the question – if you’re going to spend, say, $100 million on a movie project now – does it work better as a movie, or can it work better as a video game? The two mediums are both viable places to tell stories, so do you want to tell a tale – say, The Martian, where we’re supposed to be onlookers (though I can’t say a survival game on Mars in that vein wouldn’t have tickled me in hitherto unknown erogenous regions). Or perhaps something like, say, Blade Runner 2049 – which I can’t be the only one who thought that should 100% should have been a video game. Hell, the original movie kind of left a question open which should NEVER have been answered – which, casting a now much older Harrison Ford, kind of does answer it, no?

A video game version would have been more able to keep that quintessential question open – you just make a Harrison Ford model somewhat like his original movie incarnation without all the ageing. And then you could have had the likenesses of lots of other actors and actresses. Hell, the budget for this movie was $185 million – I’m almost convinced that a video game adaption would have cost significantly less than that.

This, in effect, is where we are. The hardware today is more than capable of not only doing a good likeness, but a DAMNED good likeness – see Ellen Paige in Beyond: Two Souls, or hell, even Daniel Craig and Joss Stone looked damn good back in 2010 in Blood Stone. If you’re going to bring back old licenses – you can very much raise people from the dead. Somewhat literally, even, if you’re prepared to pay the deceased persons estate for some rights to their likeness and find a damn good impersonator. Done well, this is big business too – Michael Jackson had a tour even though he was dead thanks to modern hardware.

But even here, it wouldn’t be a question to ask if Hollywood was still in a very good place. But it isn’t. Now, there’s a resurgent video game space taking over, and overtaking, what was once the biggest corporate bubble in the world. Now, more than ever, the question is clear – if video games can be a place for serious writers and talent to tell stories, how many otherwise movie-oriented projects could move or even work better re-imagined – or reconstituted – in the guise of a video game?

Considering the complaints about streaming revenue, I’d even hasten to argue that the video game space gives them a far more viable long-term profit model; movies come and go on streaming services, and people aren’t paying much for them. Video games can hold their value somewhat; and sold digitally, you can even take larger slices of the revenue without any real additional work on the end of the big movie company. Games can get DLC. Or be re-released, or remastered five or ten years down the road at minimal cost. There are far more ways for a video game to make money now than there ever was – even back in 2010, when digital still was a novel new concept.

But to me, I look back at The Thing (2002) and say to myself – yeah. You know what? If the movie space takes this seriously enough and gets the right talent to drive it – they can, and have, made damned good games. Goldeneye 64 was a corker of a game too. This isn’t new – but video games, for a long time, have had a more expensive shelf-life. You paid for a certain limited run and that was it. Now, there are models in play (NOT LOOT CRATES) that offer better means of deriving profit from a work, and it also means if a team wants to do a short follow-up section or something; DLC. £20. Thanks ever so much.

It’s not without its risks. But Hollywood was never without its risks. I’d argue the time is right for a pretty major transition of power.

Just maybe not let Randy Pitchford near it, alright?

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