Welcome to Gameological Q&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. If you have a brilliant question that would make a fun Q&A, send it to brilliantquestions at gameological dot com.
Games adapted from other works have a reputation for shoddy quality, but there are exceptions. The recent console Batman games were well-made, for instance, and the Walking Dead series on Xbox this year has received a lot of praise. So let’s play “fantasy adaptation,” like Billy Campbell did for The Killing a few months back. What work would you most like to see adapted into a game, and what would the broad strokes of the game look like?
As my wife and I catch up on the latest season of Justified, I’ve occasionally imagined the show as a Genesis-era, Final Fight-style street brawling game (with plenty of gunslinging thrown in). Mostly this is because the third season features a larger-than-life villain in the form of the grinning blue-eyed sadist pervert monster Robert Quarles. But once I started thinking about it, I realized that all the pieces were in place for one of those clumsy 1990s adaptations. You’ve got charismatic, fearsome bosses ensconced in intimidating lairs, like pyromaniac Boyd Crowder in his white-supremacist church, and marijuana kingpin Mags Bennett in her family compound. Rural Kentucky seems to offer an unlimited supply of barely skilled henchmen for the hero, Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, to bring down. And Givens already has the itchy trigger finger of a video game hero, anyway, so it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. Okay, okay, it would be a huge stretch. But that’s what I like about it.
There hasn’t been a Bill & Ted game since the NES version, but that would be a fun open-world game, finding personages of historical significance. I think, though, I’m going to have to go with a game version of Sylvester Stallone’s 1987 family drama, Over The Top. In the film, Stallone plays Lincoln Hawk, a truck driver whose real passion and talent lie in arm wrestling. When he’s reunited with his spoiled, estranged son at the behest of the boy’s dying mother, Hawk slowly connects with young Michael and teaches him a love of the game, and also to stop being such a pompous jerk. When the grandfather, ably portrayed by Robert Loggia, takes his son away, Hawk has no choice but to enter the big Vegas tournament so he can arm wrestle for money and custody of his kid. This game would combine actual physical arm wrestling—like one of those machines where you can test your strength against various primates—intense truck driving, and plenty of fighting Loggia’s goons. This game writes itself.
[No Robert Loggia, but there’s always this. —Ed.]
We’re ready for a Mad Max game. Car combat has been done before by the likes of Carmageddon and Twisted Metal, but those games angled on fun over consequence. And while the post-apocalypse has been mined by games like Fallout 3 and Borderlands, I feel like there’s much more to explore. My game, modeled after The Road Warrior, would be a brutal, massively multiplayer game where death means a permanent game over. No recovering your corpse, loot, or guzzoline. Players could band together to produce gas, repair vehicles, and scrounge for food. Or they could team up with other like-minded fiends and roam the wasteland preying on the innocent. Games like DayZ have proven that placing grand consequences on violence can create an amazing amount of tension. Imagine how thrilling it would be to hit the nitros on your V8 Interceptor with a dozen bandits on your tail, knowing full well that one twitch of the steering wheel could mean certain death.
Anthony John Agnello
The worst part of this question is that my answer has been adapted, albeit partially. The first book of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels, The Golden Compass, was turned into an abysmal movie back in 2007, and Sega in turn made an abysmal adventure game for Xbox 360 based on that movie. Pullman’s worlds, where people’s souls walk around as animals outside their bodies and talking bears are as much a part of the political climate as border disputes, deserve better. Telltale’s format with The Walking Dead games would allow for the sort of lyrically existential dialogues that made Pullman’s characters so memorable, but I’d much prefer an evolving open world in the vein of Skyrim. Set me out as a stranger in Lyra Belaqua’s world where I can find my soul and take on odd jobs as an aeronaut. Or just let me hang out with some armored bears and level up my armor-crafting skill.
My fantasy adaptation is already in the works, so I’m just hoping it doesn’t disappoint. When I read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, I thought it would translate amazingly well into a role-playing game and was unsurprised when a tabletop guide was released last year. I was surprised to learn that a video game release is planned for 2013, and I’m really excited about the possibility of stepping into the book’s world where nobles divide their time between courtly intrigue and flying through the nights assassinating people with obsidian knives and telekinetically flung coins. My ideal vision of the game would require you to build alliances and curry favor for access to resources, but it would also have a system for power usage in combat and noncombat situations that’s as nuanced as the one Sanderson lays out in the book. Sanderson’s already signed on to do the story, so I know at least that will be strong.
I’d love to try playing The Glass Bead Game. This book by Hermann Hesse describes a semi-competitive game in which polymaths create artistic works using musical symbols, more or less. As each Game builds, the performances grow intricately inter-referential and harmonic; they reveal truths, tell stories and form jokes. Since Hesse pulled off this book by describing everything about the game except its core mechanics, we’d have to speculate a little before synthesizing an analog. (Folks do make attempts at creating the definitive Glass Bead Game pretty regularly, but none of them have been any good.) Memes competing for upvotes on Reddit are probably today’s closest parallel, and despite their vulgar pandering, they still use symbols to reveal truths, tell stories, and form jokes. The two defining aspects which Hesse didn’t foresee were his game’s great capacity for sarcastic irony and our insatiable appetite for it. Or maybe Drawception is The Glass Bead Game, which turns out to be a lot of stupid fun if you ask me.
One of the books I always turn to when I need some inspiration is Channel Zero, the very first published comic by Brian Wood. It’s the story of Jennie 2.5, a post-Hackers journalist in a neo-future New York City after all of our freedoms have been taken away. It was a fascinating work of science fiction pre-9/11 and significantly less charming afterward. Take the courier-type missions from Mirror’s Edge, apply them to the roller-blade parkour and tagging of Jet Grind Radio, and slap it with the visual style of MadWorld. Throw in some of those pulpy halftone filters from Lollipop Chainsaw for good measure. Add a news ticker at the bottom of the screen that is constantly spewing counter-intelligence, and you’re golden. Release the game for free or for a small donation and take every opportunity you can to remind the player that corporations are oppressing our liberties. The game would probably be shallow and pretty dumb, but that hasn’t stopped any other adaptations so far.
How is it that we’ve seen three God Of War games steeped in ancient Greek mythology and a recent title based on Dante’s epic poem about hell, but no developer has yet touched Homer’s The Illiad or The Odyssey? Achilles is even more of a rage-filled jerk of a protagonist than Kratos—chasing Hector down, stabbing him in the throat, and then defiling his corpse until Zeus says that’s enough. Best of all would be a sequel where you’d play as Ulysses, who’d have to fend off the advances of Calypso, defeat a giant Cyclops, win a pentathlon, best a witch-goddess who turns half his men into pigs, ignore the Sirens’ song, slay a six-headed monster, survive a shipwreck or two, and escape some hungry cannibals in order to reach his wife before she gets married off again. Who needs writers to concoct an entertaining plot for a hack-and-slash style game when Homer wrote one thousands of years ago?
He’s the Dude, His Dudeness, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. The bearded, THC-addled hero of the film The Big Lebowski is also one character I’d love to see in his very own video game. I picture it as a retro-inspired point-and-click adventure game in the style of Sam & Max. You’d guide The Dude and his trusty pistol-packing sidekick Walter through yet another stoner noir mystery, gathering clues, solving puzzles, interacting with a cast of bizarre characters, and of course, enjoying the occasional bowling mini-game. There’d also pretty much have to be a boss battle against the psychotic, ten-pin pervert known only as Jesus, with health recharged by sucking back White Russians (The Dude’s beverage of choice). More than just a novelty recreation of the film, my version of The Big Lebowski game would really be series of ongoing episodic adventures, complete with Saddam Hussein-filled dream sequences and a lovingly pixilated 32-bit art style. The Dude abides. Now how about we give him his very own game?
I’ve been thinking about this question all week, and for the life of me, I can’t think of a single thing I’d like to adapt into a video game, not even in the fantasy world. I’m sure we could talk about this ad nauseum, but to me games exist in a universe where traditional storytelling and irony can exist on a whole different plane. Any movie/TV show/book adaptation is going to fall into the trap of, “Well we have to focus on the plot, of course, because that’s what people like.” I had the thought this morning that Memento would make a great game—not so much the film itself, but the idea of an unreliable narrator, a story told in reverse, and a playfulness with time constructs. Then I remembered Braid already exists. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m a gigantic stick in the mud, and I choose no adaptation. [Cue the sound of a thousand game developers promptly ignoring my idea.]