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Hollywood's Bad Influence

GameCore is CBSNews.com's gaming column written by William Vitka.



The Don is not happy.

At least, he might not be. And I, for one, would fear the Don.

Looking at what games have become movies, and vice versa, is like reading a list of bad ideas.

Make it stop.

GameSpot Senior Editor Jeff Gerstmann shares his woes and warnings with GameCore.

Jeff: It's been interesting, because over the years the formula has classically been to take an existing current movie and turn that into a game. Whether or not it's part of a marketing push is kind of up for interpretation I guess, but it's all about trying to catch something's hot, current popularity.

The crazy thing is, like, this year there are a lot of companies digging back into older movies. So EA's making their "From Russia With Love" game and then they're also working on "The Godfather." You have Vivendi working on a "Scarface" game. You've got games based on "Jaws" out there, Rockstar's working on a game based off "The Warriors."

Movies that are twenty years older or more are now being brought back and it just begs the question: Is the current audience for games open to that sort of thing? Do they even care about "The Godfather?"

William: So do you think it has to do with a kitsch thing? What's old is new again? Or do you think it has more to do with their being out of ideas?

Jeff: I definitely think they are kind of going for the retro thing. But on top of that, it's probably a weaker than usual movie release calendar this year. Maybe that didn't really lead to a lot of movies that would make sense as games.

Ultimately, I don't really know what's driving it. I definitely don't see a whole lot of interest there from people because they're really walking a fine line. You have people that are big fans of the film who might not be big fans of the game. They're more likely to look at this stuff more closely going, 'well, they're ruining this story that I'm incredibly nostalgic for.' And then on the other side you have current game players, many of which are going to end up being in the younger set, that might not have ever even seen "The Godfather" or care about it. So it really doesn't seem like a situation that's leading to a winning conclusion right now.

William: The games that are based, or have been based, on current movies or based on movies in general -- how well do these games sell?

Jeff: You know, they do all right from time to time. It kind of depends on a number of different factors. The main driving problem with games based on movies is that most of them really aren't very good.

Typically, it's a licensed product so the developer of the game is kind of forced to pitch and hold whatever they want to work on into this framework. It's like, Batman can't fly, Batman can't do this. You know, they have to stick close to that. They're limited by the limitations of the license. And then on top of that there have been situations where companies have spent so much money on a license that they don't have enough money left to properly develop the game.

So you end up with games being done on tight budgets and very tight deadlines because stuff has to be out on the date with the movie and all that.


William: They care more about the synchronicity of the product, not the actual quality of the product.

Jeff: Yeah, definitely. And it's become a running gag because it's kind of in the status quo with video games ever since back in the old Nintendo days it was just kind of a given that games based on movies or other licensed properties often…suck.

William: Especially if you think about…well, "The Crow" is my favorite. The video game version of "The Crow" is definitely my favorite piece of evidence for suckitude.

Jeff: "The Crow" on the Playstation was broken. Just broken. Oh, man.

William: I remember when the Super Mario Brothers movie came out, Hollywood took a video game and they just, it was a licensed thing, but they went so off track. Not as though there was a lot of plot to the original Mario Brothers, but…

Jeff: I think that that's part of the problem there. You have moviemakers trying to turn these paper-thin plots into 90-minute movies and they have to take so many liberties with it that anyone who's a fan of the game is just going to watch it and go, 'King Koopa's a dragon, not Dennis Hopper, what the hell is that?'

So they have to stray so far from the blueprint to make it make sense to the general movie-going audience that it's the same type of deal. They're not making a movie good enough for general movie fans to enjoy and they're certainly not satisfying fans of the game either.

William: Now, the Fantastic Four has done well, even though it was sort of a mediocre game. For some reason everybody seems to be buying it, and I guess the general feeling is 'It's OK', so we'll buy it anyway. Is there a lower set of standards now?

Jeff: Fantastic Four came out in the middle of the summer, which is a very weak season for game releases. Typically, everything is bunched up around the ends of every quarter because they're trying to rush stuff out for financial purposes and then, of course, the holiday season. So you kind of hit this patch when the weather gets warm, there are just no games until Madden comes out in August and the first week of September, or where we're at right now, everything starts coming out all at once.

William: So gamers were just hungry for something.

Jeff: Pretty much.

William: They just needed a game, they didn't need it to be "Fantastic".

Oh, I slay me.

Jeff: [Hahas ensue]


William: The video game industry beats Hollywood as far as yearly gross goes. Do you think Hollywood's coming to the video game industry going, "Ah, well, you know, the kids all seem to be enjoying this, movies aren't doing so great right now, maybe we should start cherry-picking loved titles and games and franchises and have our way with them?"

Jeff: I think that there is some of that, but it seems like – oh, is his name Uwe Boll? Yeah, he just went around and snatched up a bunch of B- and C-tier video game licenses and then turned out "House Of The Dead" and now is working on "Path Of Destruction." [laughs]

So you've got him out there doing that, and then the whole thing with Microsoft actually going out and shopping around a "Halo" script, which is kind of the opposite of how it sounds like it normally works. But I'd say I agree with that. I think there is a sense that Hollywood's maybe running a little thin on ideas. And if video games are hot, then maybe they can try and attach themselves to that. Maybe get some of that "cool factor," some of that audience.

But that audience seems to be wise to it. There have been way too many movies based on games that have been as bad as games based on movies.

William: I'm wondering if – I'm sort of hypothesizing here – Hollywood has often taken inspiration from novels and they've churned out great films. Do you think that video games at some point - because I think they are art and they should be considered art, at least some of them – do you think that Hollywood will get to the point where they really do a video game justice on the big screen?

Jeff: I think it's possible, but it's really hard to say. It really depends on the advancement of video game story lines in a sense, because when you get right down to it, even really good video game stories aren't all that great. You're not going to run out and start comparing the latest Legend Of Zelda game to a great novel because at the end of the day, the Legend Of Zelda is:

This princess got kidnapped, you should totally go rescue her.

Why?

Because shut up! Just do it!

Even the games that try to get a little headier like the Metal Gear Solid series, stuff like that, just naturally, the story telling isn't quite as tight as a movie. Plus, you know, these games are going on for 12-15 hours, so you can liken them more to a series of anime or something because, I mean, so much of it is coming out of Japan.

But most of them really are still focused on 'Crash these cars,' 'Complete this mission for me,' 'Rescue this princess.' That sort of thing.


William: So it is, at the very least, a difficult transfer.

Jeff: And conversely, a lot of movie narratives wouldn't necessarily lend themselves to video games all that well. Especially if you're directly translating a movie. I mean, that's part of the problem with games based on movies. You kind of already know how it's going to end.

"Oh, I remember this part from the movie." You get that moment of recognition coupled with, "But wait, but why am I punching all these guys in the face over and over again? That part wasn't in the movie. Where in the movie was the bad jumping puzzle where I keep falling off this building to my death over and over?" It's all over the place.

William: Any parting words?

Jeff: They all need to stop! I don't know, so much damage has been done on both sides from the movie to game and game to movie thing that it's going to take a whole lot of work from a whole lot of people that are not only extremely dedicated but have the resources to really do this stuff right. It seems like it's something that might have to happen earlier than, you know, this game's been out for six months and then someone walks in and goes, "You know what? This game's hot, let's make it into a movie."

Maybe that sort of collaboration needs to start happening earlier rather than later so that they can work together and have something that satisfies both ends of the audience.

William: Maybe take the video game idea and have filmmakers working with the production team as it's being made?

Jeff: Maybe, I mean, they tried stuff like that in the past. That was the whole big thing back in the 90s when everyone kept saying the word "multimedia" over and over again like it was going out of style – because it was.

That was what everyone said the future was going to be and it lead to a whole lot of really awful full-motion video games. You had games like Hell with Dennis Hopper in them, you had the full motion video sequences in the Wing Commander games with Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell.

So, the last time the two sides got together it just lead to a bunch of B and C actors getting work in games. I'm all for that I guess. Those guys need to work too. But if those two sides can work together in a more meaningful way it would probably result in better products.

William: Dr. Phil is...oh, good. I'm watching Dr. Phil now [on a studio monitor]. He's about to tape a segment from down in New Orleans, actually.

Jeff: He's finally bringing the healing to the region.

William: He can feel their pain. It all has to do with their childhood and cookies, somehow, I'm sure.

Jeff: Exactly.

William: If they would just acknowledge that they hate their moms..."Really, your problem is internal."

Ye gods.

Jeff Gerstmann is a Senior Editor at GameSpot.
By William Vitka

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