Thursday, April 24, 2008

Can we play a game now?

Videogames and films could easily be deemed as two of the biggest revolutions in multimedia. It's been since its earliest days, the videogame industry has been fascinated with films and movies, and with turning big-screen stories into interactive worlds and all this with a range of success. But later down the years Hollywood indulged into creating movies based on the interactive storylines and worlds rendered in videogames - again with mixed success. In recent times, Hollywood has been mining videogames (and their predominantly huge male fan base) for box office gold. What makes this art of transition of films to games, analog to digital and vice versa so inconsistent? What makes success to elusive?

In the last 2 decades or so there has been a magnitude of revolutions in films, in multimedia. This revolution is the shift from analog to digital methods of recording and manipulating vision, perception and sound. However, if you think about this, it is interesting that the development of videogames in many ways followed that of film. The only difference being, it took films about eighty years to do what videogames took 20 to do. Still games are trying to get as close as possible to movies, may it be looking photo-realistic, may it be having deep storyline or may it be to inject emotion through games the same way movies do. Movies on the other hand, are trying to cash in on the gaining popularity of videogames.

Videogame developers are passionate about their games. And gamers, are more passionate about the games they play so devotedly for most part during the day (and, even in their dreams!). When a movie based on such a game which is popular and has a massive following comes onto the big-screen, the gamers expect it to be closest it could in following the game. But the game's biggest assets, its interactive form, challenging AI or the multiplayer aspect, the non-linear format are the most difficult to replace. And when the director of that movie manages to encompass all these hurdles and pack it into a linear medium, there are the non-gamers and conventional movie-goers who think it's too radical or a blasphemy or maybe just that the plot doesn't make sense. I remember this incident, I was watching "Doom" in a theatre and right when the pinky monster pops up, the guy (presumably a gamer) sitting ahead of me remarks, "Oh, I would have so landed a headshot on that!" And a person sitting next to me just looks at the guy perplexed and possibly disgusted. He probably did not realize the cult following that Doom possesses among FPS gamers. Still, the gamers did not react favorably to the movie primarily because the movie strayed away from the original game-plot, there were not enough monsters, etc.

A movie has such a wide base of audience that it's almost impossible to have a successful game-based movie that would be an instant box-office hit. It does not take a film fanatic to know that the critics rarely appreciate seeing a video game on the silver screen. Unsurprisingly, it is equally rare to find a film critic who appreciates a good video game at all! Movies like the first Mortal Kombat, Silent Hill, Resident Evil, both Tomb Raider installments followed the respective game plot loyally and have done pretty well among general audience and gamers. Transformers (movie), on the other hand was praised my general public but grossly criticized by the hardcore fans.

The failure to make this transition is solely due to the lack of interactivity in a movie, and without the luxury of a joystick (or a controller) in gamers' hands, he stands no chance to make the incoherent on-screen antics any better. The joystick places the gamers in control of the narrative, essentially allowing them to rewrite the story. Two of the most nerve-chilling games Silent Hill and Resident Evil have multiple successful sequels. However, they each offer a completely different take on fear where Silent Hill often feels more terrifying of the two. There is a reliance on torchlight, for instance, creating a sense of intense vulnerability whilst a hollow morose soundtrack of gothic industrial screams and clangs shake your spine. It does not mimic the high level of monster-slashing action and shock horror techniques used to build fear in Resident Evil. In 2002, Paul Anderson's interpretation of Resident Evil was released, followed by Christophe Gans' Silent Hill in 2006. Both directors admittedly being huge fans of the respective series, thereby allowing the films to remain largely true to the games, each using the same nightmarish creatures to haunt familiar locations. Both directors even recreated some of the most iconic scenes; such as a train carriage showdown in Resident Evil reminiscent of the second game's ending, and Rose Silva's car crash in Silent Hill taken directly from the opening of the first game. This loyalty means that the films also reflect their respective games' portrayal of fear. Unsurprisingly, the critics in both the US and the UK were mostly negative in their reviews where as both films were a hit with the fans, although when reviewing the profit margins it appears that the action-orientated Resident Evil was more successful overall. Nevertheless, gamers should perhaps be reminded that even in videogames, the joystick only gives the gamer the choice to do his own stunts and stuff, rather than the ability to affect the storyline, which is usually pre-determined by the developer. Nonetheless, support from fans means that the industry will continue to push into the cinema and games will keep evolving and getting closer.

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