These days, whenever a blockbuster film is released, the studio tries to cash in with a cheap video game based on it. These games are often rushed, poorly-designed, and severely lacking in quality control. This list is not about upcoming blockbusters that would make good games, because if you ask me, that is a lost cause until movie studios start pumping more time and money into the effort. Rather, this list is about classic movies that could be revisited as video games. Since these movies have already been released and have already proven themselves as fan favorites, developers can take time and care to make games that do them justice. It's not like this is without precedent; game developers are already figuring out that this is a good model by making stellar games out of the likes of The Godfather, Blade Runner, and Back to the Future. For this list, I want to find six movies that could represent six different gaming genres in unique and interesting ways, and I want to prove that, with a little imagination, an adaptation can be a great thing.
#1: THE NEVERENDING STORY
Ninety percent of a good RPG is inventing an expansive fantasy/sci-fi universe, coming up with a reason for it to be in peril, and designing a hero who is capable of tackling that peril. In that regards, an RPG based on The NeverEnding Story is already ninety percent complete. A trippy kid's movie (based on an even trippier German novel), The NeverEnding Story is largely set in the fantasy world of Fantasia, where the Nothing, a swath of emptiness, is quickly devouring the known universe. The rulers of Fantasia believe the Nothing is connected to their Empress, who has fallen ill, and they recruit a lone warrior, Atreyu, in hopes that he can scour Fantasia for a cure.
Fantasia is full of varied settings and colorful characters, and what little we see in the movie is obviously only a tiny fraction of what the universe has to offer. We don't even see much of Atreyu's journey; early in the movie, the narrator (Bastian, more on him in a moment) breezes over a week's worth of adventuring with the line "Atreyu and Artax had searched the Silver Mountains, the Desert of Shattered Hopes, and the Crystal Towers without success." A game wouldn't have to skip over such things so quickly, and any writer worth his weight could come up with ways of making these settings interesting. At this point, Atreyu has with him a horse, Artax, and that can be his primary means of transport. However, once Atreyu seeks out Morla, the Ancient One, in the Swamps of Sadness, Artax dies to be quickly replaced by the flying luck dragon, Falkor, and Atreyu's journey opens up throughout all of Fantasia (he seeks out the Southern Oracle and then the "boundaries of Fantasia," which is a long montage in the movie through every conceivable landscape). It's hard not to draw a comparison to a classic Final Fantasy game where access to the world suddenly expands after getting an airship.
A video game version of The NeverEnding Story practically writes itself. Even though he sets off on his quest without weaponry, there is no reason to believe that Atreyu can't arm himself and fight off baddies--he is a warrior after all--and it's easy to imagine him leveling up or earning better armor and weapons, etc. Where it gets difficult is in translating the Bastian storyline. Bastian, you see, is a kid reading along with the book for The NeverEnding Story only to discover that the dividing line between fiction and reality is far blurrier than he imagines and that the Nothing is actually a result of kids not reading much anymore. Since this storyline is absolutely essential to the plot (it is the driving theme of the book), it shouldn't be discarded in favor of a straight-up RPG. That would, after all, be blasphemous to the story's point. Therefore, Bastian needs to be integrated into the game in a clever way, and I think if you start there, you can come up with something unique. For example, perhaps instead of Bastian, the human who is the savior of Fantasia could be you, the player.
#2: DARK CITY
The problem with most video games based on movies is that they try to shoe-horn common gaming conventions into stories and universes where they don't really fit. This is why a Watchmen beat-em-up doesn't work, for example, or why a tactical FPS based on Sum of All Fears is such a dumb idea. Good adaptations find things that already exist within the universe of the movie and tweaks familiar gaming mechanics to fit them, rather than doing the opposite by tweaking the universe to fit the gaming mechanics. Spider-Man 2, for example, is a great game because it starts with the idea that you, as the famous webslinger, can zip from building to building, something never before seen in a video game (well, aside from the original Spider-Man, but that game is broken), and then it builds a game around that mechanic instead of throwing it into a cookie-cutter game template.
So while it may be tempting to turn Dark City into an action/adventure game where you swap magic powers out for "tuning"--which is probably what a movie studio would request if Dark City were released today--it would be better to start at a more fundamental level. In Dark City, a race of aliens has enslaved a population of humans and has them running around in a constantly changing city so that the aliens can learn about human nature. The aliens (known as Strangers) devote an hour or so every twelve hours to change part of their city, to swap out the memories of some of the inhabitants, and to switch up the architecture in dramatic fashion while everybody sleeps. This reminds me of a sim, and that's how a Dark City video game should be approached.
I'm picturing a $15 downloadable title, not a full-fledged game, and a lot would depend on how well the mechanics work. You play as the Strangers. You start with a blank slate and a certain number of people to play with, and you have a set amount of time and "tuning" energy with which to build your dark city. After each building session, the clock runs forward 12 hours, and your arrangement of buildings and people determines how much "human spirit" you collect, which in turn adds to the amount of "tuning" you can use for the following building session. Maybe, as the game progresses, you can collect more people who bring with them more memories and more time periods from which you can pull new architecture, thus "unlocking" new building types, jobs, and the like. And maybe, if you keep one area unchanged for too long, the people in that area start to realize what's going on and you have to expend your "tuning" energy to put down rebellions. The possibilities are nearly endless, and if this game existed, I would play the crap out of it.
There haven't been many Westerns made in the last few decades, but among the few that have been made, Tombstone is arguably the most entertaining and popular (whereas Unforgiven is unquestionably the best, but that's irrelevant to the current discussion). It tells the story of Wyatt Earp, played by Kurt Russell, and his gang of shady lawmen as they go to war against a group of outlaws known as the Cowboys. The movie is full of memorable characters and settings, and so much happens within the story that a lot of it is glossed over through montages. This is why the story can be retold as a video game, because there is so much room to elaborate on what is shown in the movie.
I'm imagining a game similar in style to Red Dead Redemption, a game that proved how popular this kind of subject matter can be. You've got to give Rockstar credit, because they've defined the sandbox genre so well that you can't make a sandbox game without blatantly ripping off one of their games. The Godfather: The Game, for example, is an ingenious adaptation that shamelessly borrows from the Grand Theft Auto series. In much the same way, a Tombstone video game shouldn't be afraid to reappropriate the innovations in Red Dead Redemption, though the end result should, by necessity, be a different game.
You could play as one of Earp's crew with your own fictional story. You're there for all the major movie moments--the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt's surprise attack at the train station, and the riverside ambush where Curly Bill meets his end--but you also have unique moments that aren't found in the film. Maybe you could even go after Ike Clanton, the only Cowboy who survives in the movie. The bottom line is that you could recreate the town of Tombstone and the surrouding countryside in game form and could create an organic sandbox where the famous stories take place. However, if you can't get the original actors to sign on--Kurt Russell, Powers Boothe, Val Kilmer, Michael Beihn, Bill Paxton, etc.--there'd be little point in going on. After all, the one major failure of The Godfather: The Game is the conspicuous absence of Al Pacino.
One of the single greatest movie-to-game adaptations is 1997's PC release Blade Runner, a point and click adventure game that tells a story tangental to the one from the eponymous 1982 film. The story for Blade Runner, the game, follows a separate protagonist and blade runner during the same time period of the film, with plots and events that often intersect with Harrison Ford's (though Ford's character never actually appears in the game). For my money, this method of adaptation is one of the richest and best ways to tell a new story while honoring and perhaps even improving another. (Another good example of this is Enter the Matrix.)
This is how I would approach a video game version of the 2002 cult hit Equilibrium, a movie set in the dystopian world of Libria, where feelings are outlawed and the law in enforced by gun-toting warrior monks knows as Grammiton Clerics. Equilibrium not only has a deep universe ripe for exploration, but the unique martial art of the film--a fanciful form of statistically perfected and choreographed gunplay known as "Gun Kata"--is simply begging to be adapted into a fun video game mechanic. You could start the game as a Cleric in training, with Gun Kata skills that improve as you level up, and the story could quickly throw you into the terrorist underground of "sense offenders." Perhaps, during a mission in the Nethers to wipe out a terrorist cell, you are badly wounded and left for dead, only to awaken a few days later, your body free of the emotion-erasing drug Prozium. Then, filled with the weight of emotion and the guilt over what you've been doing, you join up with the terrorists in an attempt to take down Libria. Perhaps you even have a role in recruiting Christian Bale's partner, played by Sean Bean, who is discovered and killed early in the film, and maybe, in some subtle way, what you do in the game is directly responsible for Bale's character eventually succeeding in starting the sense revolution. Without a doubt, you should at least be acquainted with the Underground's leader, Jurgen (William Fichtner).
Like with Blade Runner, I imagine an Equilibrium game would flesh out dangling plot threads and seemingly random events from the film. For example, early in the film, Christian Bale's character attempts to go to an "Equilibrium" building to replenish some lost Prozium, but the building is in lock-down following a terrorist attack. What if, in the game, you are involved in breaking into the building and are directly responsible for the lock-down? You could also have fun little tie-ins, like perhaps you character once owned the dog that eventually becomes Christian Bale's undoing in the film. The bottom line is that the story is chock-full of potential, both in terms of the narrative and in terms of the gameplay. It could be a full throttle action game with a high body count and deep philosophical overtones, and if that doesn't sound like an awesome video game to you, you are dead inside.
#5: INDEPENDENCE DAY
The first-person shooter has been the dominant video game genre for a decade now, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Most FPS games feature a character who weilds a variety of predictable weaponry--a pistol, an assault rifle, a shotgun, and a sniper rifle--and who is tasked with mowing down hordes of enemies, be they zombies, Nazis, aliens, demons, or demonic alien zombie Nazis. Still, despite how cookie-cutter the genre can be, it has also grown as a storytelling medium and spawned a few truly groundbreaking games like Bioshock and Fallout 3.
Necessary components of an FPS are a constant stream of enemies, a reason to carry weapons, and an interesting setting. This is why Independence Day would make a good FPS, not as a simple adaptation, but as a sequel. Imagine it: you are part of a squad of marines tasked with going into one of the crashed alien vessels and eliminating whatever is left of the alien threat. Independence Day leaves plenty of gaps to fill, and a storyline could emerge surrounding the secrets that the aliens still have. There could be varied enemy types, enemy weapons, and surprising plot revelations that would not require twisting the well-known story into any knots, because much of what was happening on board the alien ships is still a mystery.
They've been trying to get an Independence Day sequel off the ground for years now, but it's never quite worked out. It remains a popular bit of popcorn entertainment that geeks think on fondly, so gamers would easily get excited by a video game sequel. If you could get Bill Pullman, Will Smith, and/or Jeff Goldblum to lend their vocal talents to the project, so much the better, but the cool thing here is that you have a chance to build upon an existing mythology in a way that makes perfect sense. Hell, a video game sequel almost makes more sense to me than a new film.
#6: I AM LEGEND
Yes, Will Smith makes a second appearance on this list. I've been deeply critical of the recent adaptation of I Am Legend, but when I sit down and think about turning it into a video game, I discover to my surprise that I cannot think of a movie more suited to it. I imagine playing as Smith's character, Robert Neville, as he explores a post-apocalyptic Manhattan in search of supplies and answers, all the while knowing that zombie-vampire-creatures are stalking him in the shadows. Though I'd primarily call this game survival-horror, it would really be a mix of several different genres: during the day, you could have the freedom to explore the entire city in sandbox fashion, but if night falls before you get back to your safehouse, it quickly becomes a brutal fight to survive.
You need to get food, batteries, ammo, and other supplies, and pickings are slim. You have your dog to alert you to danger. You can stumble into nests where the infected sleep. You have to trap one in order to test your cures. You can visit the South Street Seaport at midday, where your AM radio broadcast instructs survivors to find you. You can go to the video store where you can talk with your mannequins. Heck, you can even play golf on an aircraft carrier.
Now, naturally, the story would have to deviate from the movie. Perhaps the entire thing can be a prequel (after all, the filmmakers have been trying to produce a prequel for quite some time without success), ending roughly where the movie begins. Who knows what adventures Neville had before? Perhaps there could be a storyline of you finding another survivor who is then kidnapped by the infected and you have to try to rescue him, only to discover in the end that it was all an elaborate trap set up by the infected to take you out. Regardless of the plot, though, the central idea of a sandbox-style survival game with wildly different gameplay between day and night is incredibly alluring to me. I want to explore an abandoned Manhattan with nothing but a shotgun and a backpack while monsters hide in the shadows; don't you?
These six movies are just examples. I would love to play any of these, but the possibilities are endless. I'm not trying to argue that every movie can be a good video game--that's simply not true--but that many great movies could become equally great games. I know a lot of people decry the lack of originality in the world, but a good adaptation can show just as much imagination, if not more, than a brand new IP. More importantly, though, I know millions of people would pay good money to play games like these, so I hope game developers are listening.