Media that Crosses the LineAugust 11, 2007
The recently released Transformers game tie in with the film of the same name was like Spider-Man 3 before it, something of a disappointment if most reviews are to be believed, and it’s probable that very few people are surprised about this. As usual movie/game synchronicity is seen to be the blame here with some reviwers commenting that the game felt incomplete. Computer games based on film franchises are typically seen as a short-term merchandising investment hence the need to match release dates with the film releases, short-term might be good for the film studio’s pockets, but it isn’t good for gamersor more importantly the reputation of franchise based games.
There is hope though, and I use ‘hope’ optimistically but cynically. The current US box office smash ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ won’t be accompanied by a gane title of the same name, instead the game entitled ‘The Bourne Conspiracy’ won’t be released until 2008 the reason being that “… we didn’t have enough time to build a quality ‘Ultimatum’ game and come out with it at the same time as the movie. So we decided to do things differently, something new.” Whether or not this results in a quality game is another question, but it’s a turn for the better.
The other franchise game that caught my eye is Ubisoft’s Beowulf (see the game videoclip below). Although the game is due out at the same time as the film (November, I think) so a rushed release could still result in a sub-standard game, but in an interview in this month’s Edge magazine provided some hope. Rather than follow the film narrative which will show an aged Beowulf recounting the tales from the past 30 years of his life, the game will fill in the gaps between the events Beowulf tells. This promises to give players plenty of opportunty to battle various monsters from Anglo-Saxon and Nordic myth using the many combat moves available while improving standing with Beowulf’s thanes and this his reputation as a strong and generous ruler. The step Ubisoft have taken that differs from many franchise games is rather than creating filler content to pad out the gaps between ‘boss fights’, they have chosen to make the filler material the core content of the game, which will hopefully give it more variety.
A great book for insights into movie-game relations is Kritin Thompsons’ ‘The Frodo Franchise: the Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood’ (which arrived on my doorstep just this morning, thank you Amazon). A very well respected practitioner of film studies, Kristin was allowed unprecedented access to many of the cast and crew of The Lord of the Rings films, including marketing, fansites and communities and a whole chapter dedicated to the process by which the computer games were made. This account shows the great difficulty EA had in getting access to props and designs from the film-makers, for example there is a request sheet for the ‘Mouth of Sauron vocals’ which as yet didn’t exist and a request that the in-game Shelob design be altered because it was too similar to the ‘top-secret’ design used in the film, which needed to remain a secret until the film’s release (the computer game of ‘The Return of the King’ was released before the film’s debut). There’s a great quote from Neil Young, executive producer of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ games for EA, concerning the problems they faced – “It was a big deal, because it meant that we essentially had to produce high-quality software on a very compressed schedule. If you think about it what the games are, they’re like an action-reel highlight of film of the actual movies themselves, and I think given more time, the games would have had different dimensionality”. This last point sums it up for me, both ‘The Bourne Comspiracy’ and ‘Beowulf’ are attempting to do something different from the film with their game content. In the former, the game developers are doing something radically different in the latter they are actively adding new content to the Beowulf story (in both the film and the book!). Given that prior to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ games there was little interaction between the film making and game making process and that has now become a norm, maybe the two franchises above will set a new precedent that will vastly improve the quality of games based on franchises.