Creating universes, just one medium at a time


Stories often struggle to make the leap from book to film, but now the videogame version is proving a trickier if more lucrative prospect

ADAPTING STORIES from one medium to another is challenging at the best of times. From the movie version of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin to the off-Broadway musical of Silence of the Lambs (no kidding), audiences have seen many square pegs wedged into round holes.

Videogame adaptations have had their problems too. They are often a hastily assembled cash-in of a familiar brand, and frequently made without any involvement from the original storytellers. For a long time, these adaptations were very conventional: offering no new scenes or interpretation and consisting entirely of a series of attempts to copy set pieces from the original. The Untouchables, for example, mimicked scenes from Brian de Palma’s classic, such as the train station shoot-out (complete with runaway pram).

But the past decade has changed that. Yes, there are more than enough shoddy games based on film or book franchises (The Bourne Conspiracy, for example), but with budgets increasing, technology improving and more actors, film-makers and writers collaborating, gamers have been spoiled.

After a long gestation, the Game of Thrones videogame is set to finally arrive this summer and the books’ author, George R R Martin, has been heavily involved. Sylvain Sechi is the lead game designer for Cyanide, who have been trying to get this game developed for seven years, long before the TV show aired.

“He was present during several stages,” says Sechi. “He made reviews on the story pitch and detail, the concept artwork, overall look and feel of the game, dialogue of the characters that appear in the book and valuable feedback in general. He’s really passionate about his universe and so are we, so it was a great pleasure to work with him during all stages of the game’s development.”

Adaptations are hampered by adhering too closely to the source material, and videogames are no exception, but Sechi says Cyanide had plenty of creative freedom in the development. “Yes, [we had freedom] regarding what we where creating specifically for the game [such as] story, characters and places, and our interpretation of descriptions we found in the books like people, places, weapons, buildings and so on. It was really great working with George RR Martin for this reason, as he really understands that if you want to create quality content, you need creative freedom.

Game of Thrones is more ambitious than most, as it’s a role-playing game (RPG), which means that conversations are playable too. This means writing countless parallel scenarios depending not only on how the action scenes pan out, but also on the directions conversations take. In the case of Game of Thrones, the developers were lucky that the books were written relatively recently and that the writer is alive – a luxury that fantasy games based on older books (such as Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia) can’t have.

“George is not really a big video game player,” admits Sechi, “but he did provide very interesting feedback during some precise moments in the game where the player makes choices and suffers the consequences. Most of which we took into account.”

These types of collaborations aren’t limited to writing. With the recent Kinect Rush, Pixar’s Bob Pauley (the creator of Buzz Lightyear) designed a new toy robot for the game developers Asobo. On the acting side, Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs is not an anomaly: James Caan and Robert Duvall reprised their roles for The Godfather game (in which you had to place that famous horse’s head, and hide the gun in the bathroom for Michael Corleone) and of course, actors for new franchises (such as James Bond) are usually obliged to lend their likeness and voices to game spin-offs.

Games that build on existing stories are a mixed blessing, and sometimes it’s best not to get too emotionally involved. On the credit side, Star Wars: The Old Republic is a massive multiplayer online game that adds hundreds of hours of story, context and action to the Star Wars universe (and with more than a million players online, that’s a lot of story collaborators). On the debit side, many hardcore fans were not happy with scenes in other games such as Kinect Star Wars, especially the level where Han Solo engages in a dance-off.

Adapted for the smaller screen

Videogame adaptations face challenges unique to the medium. Not only are they dependent on ever-evolving technology and trying to copy famous scenes and characters using console or computer graphics, but there are also issues with copyright.

The Reservoir Dogs videogame features all of the characters from the film and shows each of their journeys that weren’t shown onscreen (such as Mr Brown’s fate and Nice Guy Eddie moving the cars and avoiding police), but only Mr Blonde resembles his movie counterpart.

Michael Madsen was also the only voice actor to reprise his role for the project.

Videogames, unlike other mediums of course, have to offer multiple outcomes for the characters. In Reservoir Dogs, Mr Pink escapes, is killed or is apprehended depending on how you play the game.

The Godfather game alters the fate of the rival families depending on game-play. Scarface: The World is Yours is a speculative sequel that offers an alternate ending to the iconic film and revolves around Tony Montana’s plot for revenge and rebuilding of his empire.