The lights are on
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Not long ago, I was listening to a writer's lecture featuring my favorite science fiction and fantasy author: Orson Scott Card (writer of Ender's Game, Xenocide, Ender's Shadow, and a wide array of other excellent books). During this particular lecture, he openly addressed a frequent question he receives: will Ender's Game (his most popular novel to date) be made into a movie? While the answer was "yes" and the confirmed cast listing to that date was impressive (Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley to name a couple), he made an interesting observation. To paraphrase (poorly, I might add), he observed that modern society seems to view the big screen as the ultimate medium, with readers wishing their favorite books would be turned to movies. This transition will frequently kill a book for me as the way I had envisioned a character or a scene is completely different or portions of the book I enjoyed are ignored altogether.
Sadly, in many instances, the subsequent movie is then adapted into a video game so more money can be generated by the hype of the movie, forcing developers to make a game quickly to keep up with the relevance of pop culture at the time. This leads to a mediocre game, at best. I propose that we start taking movies out of the middle; they just make the games and books worse. I think games should be made from books instead and here is why.
From a visual perspective, a game made from a movie is forced to try to mimic the visuals of that movie. This includes the visual appearance of the actor, the background scenes, and the props. Any deviation from a character's appearance from a movie or any other portion of the movie tends to make players of that game who have also seen the movie feel uncomfortable with the character.
That's right readers...there really was a Balls of Fury video game.
Conversely, when building and rendering a character from a book, the designers can use the physical descriptions provided by the authors and be free with their creative ideas and imaginations, feeling no pressure to make the character appear like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise. Though not perfectly like our vision of the character while reading, I theorize that this freedom allows the player to feel more comfortable with the visuals and relate better with the game.
I wrote a blog a few months back about some of my favorite video game soundtracks. I rarely think about it, but the other day I found myself mentally hearing a tune while I was reading a particularly heroic moment in a book. However, while I think music is an important key in a good game, I feel that a well-crafted them written for a movie can play just as well into a game, so I will not focus my attention on Soundtrack with regards to audio. Instead, I think it is important to consider voice acting and sound effects.
At first glance, sound effects seem like such a trivial matter but when you really think about it, they play an important role in our entertainment experience. Some effects can be iconic like the snap-hiss of a lightsaber in Star Wars or the speaker shattering noise caused by the Repaers in Mass Effect. Having pre-defined sound effects limits the potential for experiences in video games. Imagine a Star Wars game that didn't use the iconic sounds created by sound designer Ben Burtt, wouldn't it seem odd? This need to follow pre-prescribed paths further limits a development company's ability to be creative.
In addition to being forced to replicate sound effects, developers are placed in a dilemma: pay big bucks to use the actors from the movie for their voices, copy audio from the movie and re-use the lines, completely ignore voice-casting altogether and use all captions, or find someone who sounds similar to the movie actor. Regardless of the method chosen, sacrifices have to be made at the expense of the game. If you pay the big bucks for the actors the developer would need to trim the budget elsewhere, most likely harming visuals or gameplay. Copying audio from a movie sounds cheap and leaves gamers with a feeling like their experience was just a copy of the movie. Ignoring voice acting altogether, though it harkens back to the old days of the NES, is downright boring. Finally, anyone who had a favorite cartoon show when they were a kid and a character's voice suddenly changed one week (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did this to me all the time when I was a kid) knows that the change can distract you from the story. In a gaming sense, this almost forces us to compare the voice with that of the actors from the movie. Regardless of the method chosen, the quality of the game will suffer.
As books do not include sound effects (except for the children's press button books) and lack any voice talent except for what our own heads make up, they would not suffer from these constraints when converted straight into a video game.
Let's face it; movies made from books have to cut out essential scenes that made the book so great. Context of certain conversations has to be changed; some characters even survive when their book equivalent met a grizzly end (i.e. Jurassic Park). In some cases, the movies end up either not resembling the book at all or the experience is confusing for those who never read the book. If the movie attempted to cover the vast expanse of a book, movies would be much longer than they are now and only the brave would attend. Games, on the other hand, do not suffer from this problem. In some cases, we sit and play the same game for hundreds of hours. Our direct connection to the characters as we play them and make their decisions, solidifies our investment in the entertainment and allows the developer the chance to tell the entire story and not just bits and pieces of it.
Need I say more?
In the end, I think games should be unique ideas and stories spawned from the minds of their developers. However, I also recognize that book readers want new ways to experience their favorite stories. Unfortunately, we seem to think movies are the answer to this desire. So books are turned into mediocre movies and those mediocre movies get made into poor games because the developers get hamstrung by the mediocre movie. I think we could do with fewer games based on movies and more games based on books.