As I’ve mentioned many times on the podcast, I have been SORELY disappointed with the Assassin’s Creed movie adaptation. I have been a long time fan of the series jumping in around the time of AC Brotherhood. I have played all the major releases except for AC: Rogue simply because I had jumped early to the Xbox 1 and didn’t have the personal time to bang out two AC games at the same time. So many games, so much adulting.
Leading up to the release of the movie, there had been much speculation regarding the quality of the movie and the possibility that it could FINALLY be the first “good” video game movie. The AC franchise has plenty of lore to dig deep in to and has roots in actual history, if not modified to fit the fictional narrative of the game. I was able to break it down somewhat briefly in my Xmas Shorty episode for one last gasp of hype. I was still holding out hope that this, THIS, was going to be it!
Alas…I was wrong.
Unless you’ve completely disconnected to the internet and still use a rotary phone, you probably know that NetFlix and the CW have been taking on comic book characters for their own TV content and have been very successful. A few of these were discussed in my episode with Judge Greg, and there’s quite the bit of source material to work with. For myself, the moment of realization came when I first watched Dare Devil. It was dark, the fight scenes were incredibly well choreographed, and it was a perfectly self-contained story. Sure, it left the script open enough for the series to continue, but the main story arc with Kingpin was resolved effectively.
This of course translated in to the other Marvel NetFlix series of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, with as of this post The Punisher yet to be released. Looking beyond that, they are following the same formula as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and this is all leading up to the release of Defenders which brings the whole crew together. The process is brilliant, yet blatantly logical: Establish everyone’s back/origin story, inch along a common story arc, then bring them all together for the bigger party.
Currently writing this up on 8/5/2017. Defenders release date is 8/15/2017. HYPE INTENSIFIES!!! #ComeAsYouAre
But What About Video Games?
What the CW and NetFlix have done is tuned and refined a method for which these stories, whose medium still maintains a childish stigma, in to a production that is palatable to adults. They have created contained stories that fit in a larger universe and all contribute to a larger saga.
They have figured out the pacing for how to tell stories rooted in deep lore to an audience that is both already well versed and to which these characters are new.
I am admittedly not a “Comics” guy, so I was constantly looking up named character to find out who they are and if they are actual characters in the books (They were). Still, even with out pre-existing knowledge, each of the series would have been perfectly enjoyable. It is in this way that Video Games may finally find their way in to video format.
Castlevania: A Proof of Concept
The only down side of the Castlevania NetFlix series was that it was only four episodes. Despite that, it is currently earning a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is BY FAR a higher rating than any other video game adaptation! It has already been been approved for a second season, this time doubling the length to eight episodes. Obviously, I am personally excited for this!
So, how did this success happen? How was Adi Shankar able to do what so many others have failed? Using the success of the MCU, we can draw some similarities:
Established Lore. Most people are already familiar with the story’s concept even if it is through cultural osmosis. You do not need to be a die-hard gamer to know who Mario is, just like you do not need to be a die-hard comic nerd to know who Captain America is. You just, I don’t know….”do”. The same thing, possibly with a lesser extent, with the name “Belmont”, but most definitely “Dracula” and the concept of Vampires. These are things that you just know. What this does is allow the writers to skip or merely gloss over certain bits of information. We do not need to explain why Vampires are immortal or why they fear the sunlight, just like we do not need to explain why Belmont’s weapon of choice is a whip. We just know this, and we can move on to the nuances of the particular story that is being told NOW.
Original Story Based on Source Material.
The MCU, while is heavily based on the Infinity War story arc, maintains it’s own original story lines. They are not retelling a particular story, but more inserting references from various stories in to something original and in some instances modernized. I mean, we kinda have to acknowledge that smartphones are a thing now despite having no place in most Marvel character’s origins.
In Castlevania, we have somewhat limited source material which allows for a bit of freedom. Games in the time of the original Castlevania did not have much of a narrative outside of slaughtering your way through untold masses, jump across a few oddly placed ledges, until you find the big meanie that you have been hunting from the start. Still, that establishes a framework to start with and we can form a story around that.
Minimized Time Crunch. This is probably the most critical parameter in the process. To make a full length “Team-Up” movie would be ridiculous without all the back story that has been established through the individual movies before. You cannot expect the audience to fully grasp and understand the motivations and personalities of all the main players in a single film while still moving along a main plot line. Unless the characters are already well known, you need to take your time to explain everything thoroughly.
Additionally, the setting requires no explanation either as it is set in modern day New York City. With a Video Game, this is not always the case. Sure it may be planet earth, but there’s always something more going on or it may be set in an entirely different dimension or time period. These are all things that take additional time to properly establish that consequently take away from the actual narrative.
Castlevania focuses on very few characters who’s backstory can either be safely assumed or we are learning about them at the same pace as Belmont. This means that you do not need lengthy explanations to describe an extended cast in detail. Since Castlevania’s setting is already established, it benefits from this concept as well. We open up in the time of Vampires and Alchemy with a little magic thrown in for effect; your standard Western European Gothic Fantasy. Done. Got it. Move along!
So What Do We Do?
For those reasons, that is why I assert that movies may not be an appropriate medium for video games. There simply is not enough time to hit all the points listed above. Take for instance a Bioware franchise such as Dragon Age or Mass Effect. These are games that could be accepted as having a body of lore worthy of a feature film. However these worlds are crafted and shaped over the course of +100hrs of gameplay, and that is not including Codex entries that give deeper details! Granted the settings may be readily familiar with Western European Fantasy and Space Marines respectively, but there is so much more within each universe.
So I propose this: Stop with the Video Game Movies, at least for now. It is not working for the deep lore games. There are simply too many unestablished plot points that need to be secured before moving on to the next chapter of the story. Rather, try making pushes in to more episodic series like Castlevania and soon-to-be Metroid. This way, we can take our time to, in small digestible segments, slowly be introduced to the world and its main players.
My personal preference would be something from the Fallout universe. Considering the plot line of Fallout 3, the first episode could be akin to the intro mission where you are born in Vault 101, get your Vault-Tec education and take the G.O.A.T., and eventually escape in to the real world. Do that in the first episode, and the world should be sufficiently explained and the viewers would be prepped for the trek towards Megaton. The main story arc could be your quest to to the Project Purity while all the side quests would be akin to the smaller stories along the way. Exactly how to pace that all out is something best left to those with better and more creative minds than my own.
If You Must…
If you insist on the auxiliary income then make it for fan service, such as Halo: Forward Unto Dawn or Final Fantasy: Advent Children. This way you will attract only the fans of that franchise who will swoon over (almost) whatever content you push out. They will already be familiar with the main characters, their motivations, and the settings, so no additional effort would be required in its crafting. We’ll see “Hey! A [totes fav franchise] movie is being made! W00t!!”
So let us give this new approach a try. Rather than thinking What game would make a good MOVIE?” I going to ask you this:
What game series would make a good TV SERIES?