There’s no shortage of adaptations of popular media franchises in the video game industry, but there is a remarkable shortage of examples of it being done just right. For every Knights of the Old Republic or Telltale’s The Walking Dead there are at least ten tie-ins so bad you want to forget they exist before you finish the online demo.
But when it’s done right there’s nothing quite like being able to dive into your favorite fictional universes headfirst and participate in them. With the right development team converging with the right intellectual property, magic can be made against all odds. I’m feeling a little self-indulgent today so I’m going to play god of the industry and decree unto my favorite video game developers what their next projects would be if the world was a perfect place.
Some of these franchises have been adapted before and even recently, but didn’t make much of a splash for one reason or another. I’m going to recommend the best possible developer for each adaptation to create something to remind fans and gamers alike why they love the story and why gaming is quickly evolving into the escapism medium of choice.
I recently fired up the classic British science fiction series after doing without for far too long and almost immediately, one thought entered my mind: this is like a Bioshock game without all the shooting. And what was a lot of peoples’ complaint about Bioshock Infinite? Too much shooting. It sounds ridiculous for people to complain about too much combat in a first person shooter, but when you consider how unbelievably Irrational games carried out the game’s plot, such standard gaming fare as killing lots of bad guys seems almost beneath them, even when you can summon flocks of attack crows to descend upon their panicked masses while doing it.
The answer: another game with an awesome plot that does away with the thing people enjoyed less. Everything about The Prisoner screams “make a video game out of me, Irrational Games!” The plot revolves around a man who resigns from his job as a government agent. Due to his knowledge of sensitive information, the man is captured and sent to an isolated village where each resident is assigned a number instead of a name. What do they want from him? Information. Information. INFORMATION.
The village is an Orwellian dystopia appearing under the pretense of a rural utopia. The residents all appear suspiciously happy and friendly, there are masquerades, marching bands, and all the trimmings of idealized living. The catch is you can never leave. Exploring this setting in a video game while uncovering the mysteries and encountering the many characters and socio-political themes would be amazing; especially in the hands of master storytellers.
One of the finest examples of storytelling in any medium from the last decade or so was Heavy Rain. One of the most enduring novels of all time is Dracula. How could this not work? I mean, aside from making the story crazy linear as a possible result of a budget squandered on hiring big-name Hollywood actors? David Cage? You listening?
Okay, here’s the pitch. The plot, of course, revolves around Bram Stoker’s gothic masterpiece about a master vampire who gets bored with terrorizing a rural village in Transylvania and strikes out for the big city with the help of Jonathan Harker, whom he imprisons in his castle prior to absconding to London to feast upon his friends and beloved. But rather than following the plot in a linear fashion, this game would offer various paths and outcomes.
Like Heavy Rain, the player would play as multiple characters, making choices and interacting with the environments and characters of the classic tale with the story playing out in different ways depending on those choices. Harker and his Transylvanian traversions, Mina Murray with an option to romance Dracula or travel to save her love, Lucy Westenra’s subplot with her flock of suitors, Abraham Van Helsing’s quest to gather forces against something nobody believes exists; all with choices to make and intersecting narratives to build.
Even better would be the option to play the story from the other side. In addition to our heroes, there should be a separate campaign to play as Dracula, Renfield, and other dark side allies as well as some characters you could turn along the way (Harker and Lucy, for example). Having to stay one step ahead of Van Helsing’s hunters while choosing victims to ravage and ravish would be amazing.
I’ve been giving this multimedia franchise a lot of love lately since it was one of my favorite properties of the 90’s and last year finally saw the release of Shadowrun Returns (pictured above) via Kickstarter, a sequel to one of my favorite SNES role playing titles. In a perfect world, this would lead to a tidal wave of a resurgence for the underappreciated cyberpunk/fanasy/noir series culminating in a AAA title from the masters of Western RPG storytelling at BioWare.
It’s not a perfect world by a long shot, but I’m still allowed to dream all over this keyboard. The original Shadowrun video game actually shared gameplay elements with the first Mass Effect. For example, even when aiming at an enemy you might not hit it as your stats decided how straight your shooting was. In addition to that, both were party-based RPG shooters with in-depth dialogue systems and colorful casts populating imaginative worlds. Frankly, the two games may have more things in common than they have differences.
So basically, what we would have here is an extra-cool combination of Mass Effect and Dragon Age. It takes place in a dystopian future where magic has returned to the world and mages, dwarves, and orcs, live alongside virtual reality hackers and cyberware-modified street samurai engaging in mercenary work for warring megacorporations. It’s a world that is pretty much limited only by imagination, and I’m pretty sure that BioWare’s imagination would be capable of bringing this property to new heights.
Given the depth of existing Shadowrun lore, the developer’s penchant for memorable stories and characters, and the similarities between games, this is the definition of a gaming match made in heaven. If only it would happen.
It seems really wrong to me that there’s never been a role-playing game made out of Akira Kurosawa’s unparalleled epic jidaigeki masterpiece. It’s got all of the standard conventions: an eclectic cast, interpersonal and political drama, a party of warriors with diverse abilities coming together to defend the weak from the strong, and much more.
I was thinking Square-Enix at first for this one. But considering that their decision-making and character-building skills have been suspect for a good while now, I’m going to pass on them. Instead, I’d rather look at a developer that’s on a roll. Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei: Persona games are creative darlings amongst RPG aficionados and Catherine was an immensely unique sleeper that served up one of my favorite stories from the last console generation. They’ll do.
While one might argue that there isn’t enough action in the first half of Seven Samurai to carry a video game, I’d point to the sci-fi anime adaptation Samurai Seven as a pretty solid extension of the concept which stretched the defense of the village from invading bandits into an extended campaign rather than a single lengthy battle.
In addition to the partitioned combat, sections of the game would be spent getting to know the characters, interacting with villagers, and training. Rather than constant combat and obsessive grinding, battles would be occasional, drawn-out, and challenging affairs requiring strategy and teamwork. A strategic RPG format with real time elements fully utilizing terrain, fortifications, and traps would be a natural fit.
My love for Koei’s classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms strategy games is documented and everlasting, as is my disappointment with their current insistence on focusing on the myriad sequels and variations on their button-mashing Dynasty Warriors franchise. What if they not only returned to the glory of turn-based conquest, warfare, and diplomacy, but took on George R.R. Martin’s brilliant medieval fantasy franchise at the same time? It’s been tried as a generic action-RPG, real time strategy, and as mods to PC strategy titles, but we need that perfect game that really captures the ambition of Martin’s world.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms featured large scale conflicts spanning multiple territories within kingdoms and diplomacy, governing, and military micro-management right down to individual character stats. Various scenarios let players pick which point in history they wanted to begin at. Leaders could call each other out for duels on the battlefield and rulers could get married, have heirs, and use deception, subterfuge, espionage, alliances, and betrayal to achieve their own ends. Does this not have Westeros written all over it?
I’m not even suggesting using the Game of Thrones license. Overpaying for popular actors’ likeness and voices is the sort of things that leads to a half-assed final product. This game needs to be all about the quality, and the strength of concept alone should sell it. Could it be a blockbuster in a niche genre without HBO’s support? Maybe not, but with the development costs kept low, it wouldn’t need to be. A cult classic of excellent quality is better than a big budget dud all day, any day, every day.