The Problem With Video Game Adaptations


Transferring a story between different forms of media is often a fickle task. When adapting novels for Hollywood, for instance, directors often struggle to properly balance the source material with their own unique interpretations. Video games particularly struggle with properly capturing another medium’s atmosphere, because video games ask for a different set of criteria than books, movies and other art forms.

While a movie may present an overarching conflict embraced by a riveting narrative, the video game industry‘s most successful products entice players by implementing a variety of challenges that string together into long-term rewards. This system remains particularly at odds with movies and books, which emphasize narrative over awards. Therefore, many adaptations force themselves to stray from the source material in order to assure that gamers will enjoy the final product, usually culminating in a product that does neither.

Video game historians often cite the 1982 game “E.T.” for the Atari 2600 as a perfect example of adaptation gone wrong. Naturally, the original “E.T.’s” commercial success in theatres encouraged Stephen Spielberg and Warner Communications to work towards developing a video game based on the movie. Unfortunately, the Atari interpretation failed miserably. The game‘s programming was left to one ambitious developer, Howard Scott Warshaw, who created an adaptation too frivolous, repetitive, and graphically unimpressive for the 1980s. “E.T.” historically proves that, in order to create a successful video game adaptation, developers need to properly understand the source material.

Even today, Gearbox Software’s critically panned “Aliens: Colonial Marines” represents how many games fail to find a good balance between respecting the source material and creating an entertaining experience. Original E3 demos suggested that “Colonial Marines” would embrace tense Xenomorph bug hunts focused in darkly lit passages in a manner similar to the original 1986 “Aliens.” Upon release, fans noticed that Gearbox’s rendition of “Colonial Marines” appeared underdeveloped, most notably for its poorly written story.

There are some adaptations that successfully capture their source material’s atmosphere. In particular, CD Projekt RED’s Action RPG series “The Witcher” fully embraces the original fantasy book series written by Andrzej Sapkowski. “The Witcher” video game series represents a proper balance between gameplay and story, as the series works to fully immerse gamers in both aspects. CD Projekt RED’s developers painstakingly designed “The Withcer’s” models in order to represent their original interpretations, programmed Geralt with a variety of abilities mirroring the original series, endowed its characters with the novel’s moral ambiguity and created an open world which fully embraces Sapkowski’s vision. CD Projekt RED themselves have assured this, stating, “We have Mr. Sapkowski’s blessing and what we create is in line with his vision of the world, no matter how the saga will evolve.” Despite a history of poor adaptations, many games set high standards by working closely with the source material.

Adapting iconic franchises into a video game format is a difficult task. From “The Witcher” to “Star Wars Battlefront,” video game adaptations can definitely succeed on the modern market - as long as developers grant original franchises the proper respect they deserve.


Philip Wythe

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