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Weekly Musings #2 - Why Do Movie-License Games Usually Suck?
Author: Michael Ahlf
Date: June 19th 2004
Page: 2

We've all seen it before - an eagerly awaited movie from our favorite book, an eagerly awaited game from our favorite movie, an eagerly awaited TV Series (My Big Fat Greek Life) made from our favorite movie (My Big Fat Greek Wedding).

And somehow, it turns out to be complete, utter, total CRAP.

Why is this? Well, it's obvious normally - something got lost in translation. Or lots of things got lost in translation. The bottom line:

The developers had no respect for the source they were making the licensed product from.

It's actually fairly common. Comic book-based movies, prior to X-Men and Spider-Man recently, had been in a long slump. They'd taken a beating from the continual delays in getting a new Superman movie (and from the rather pathetic turn that Superman 3 and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace took). They'd been beaten to a bloody pulp by what had happened to the Batman series, first with the abysmal Batman Returns, and then the overly campy and completely out-of-context Batman Forever and Batman & Robin (Although it should be noted that Batman Forever did have the second-best casting of villains in the entire series). The developers of the Batman movies had focused more on getting name-brand actors to fill out the suits of the characters, rather than finding actors who could portray the roles, and the writers had no idea other than basic notes on what their villains really were.

So what happened? Well, Marvel - after a long hiatus after several complete flops during the 1980s - came back. Blade, one of their underdogs, became a hit. They followed up with X-Men, and Spider-Man, two movies that had superb casting, great writing, and more to the point writers who showed that they understood and respected the source that they were adapting for the big screen.

Likewise, movies made from video games have always had a bit of a stigma associated with them. Why is this? Because there are video game movies where either the game didn't provide enough plot to be translated to a movie, or where the writers for the movie obviously had never played the damn game. Obvious targets here are Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros, and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.

Which brings us to the games. And here, too, we can see what happens fairly easily; the developers get locked into a contract (or possibly wind up being the lowest bidder) to make a game based on something they know very little about. And they're told "you're going to make a game out of this." Thus we wind up with motion-captured Batman games that have absolutely no play control, but LOOK stellar in screenshots, because the designers don't really care about the license.

Alternatively, the developers could have every intention of respecting their source, but get stuck with two competing sources. The perfect candidate for this would actually be Spider-Man: The Movie from Activision. When the designers were presented with their project - make a game that was going to come out at the same time as the movie, and mimic the movie, and re-create scenes from the movie - they had to balance the movie with all the other sources they had that told them what Spider-Man was like. There were the previous Playstation titles they'd made from the Spider-Man license. There were the comic books. And then there were scenes that just HAD to be in there, like aerial battles with the Green Goblin.

So what did they do? They gave us a game that was, more or less, the next game in their previous Playstation line, and just called it Spider-Man: The Movie. Not their fault, just the respect for source falling through because they had too much conflicting source to reconcile.

One would think that waiting for programming houses to approach the movie studio, or author, to make the game would solve this. In practice, however, it hasn't happened. The best example here would be the absolutely horrid Dragonriders: Chronicles of Pern made from the venerable Dragonriders of Pern novel series by Anne Mcaffrey. Why did it suck? Because in a game titled Dragonriders, you don't actually get to ride a dragon, except as a cutscene while going from point A to point B.

What Dragonriders proves to us is that there's never a guarantee that people who ask to make a game off of a license, will show the license any respect. There's always the chance that they're in it because they think they can make money off of the license. And with movies, this is more likely than with other sources (like novel series). Why? Because, especially when you're releasing the game in a close time-frame with the movie, there's tons of free publicity available for the game.

Which brings us to problem two: Rushing the game to meet a deadline.


Weekly Musings 2: Why Do Movie-License Games Usually Suck?

Added:  Sunday, June 20, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf

Page: 2/5

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