Thursday, September 12, 2013
Heath Holland On...When Video Games Go to the Movies
Riddick, the most recent entry in the Chronicles of Riddick franchise opened in theaters this last weekend, and it’s safe to say that once again Vin Diesel used his gravely voice and shiny eyes to save (survive) the day. While it was the third theatrical film to feature Riddick, it’s actually the sixth time (and there’s an argument to be made that there are more) Vin Diesel has given life to the character. Between Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick was the animated, direct-to-DVD feature Dark Fury. But the official Chronicles of Riddick storyline also continued in two video games that served as prequels to the whole shebang.
The first of those games was Escape From Butcher Bay (first released in 2004), a game that allowed players to take control of the character as he attempts to escape Butcher Bay Prison. Most of the game involves sneaking around, killing people from behind, and defending yourself from surprise attacks by other inmates. It’s during the game that we see Riddick get his eyeshine, which allows the players to sneak around in the dark. It’s all pretty fun. In 2009, the story of Riddick continued with Assault On Dark Athena. The games are notable for having Vin Diesel’s full participation, doing all the voice work for the character as well as allowing his likeness to be used for the game.
Video games are SUPER successful and make far more money annually than movies do (which, even as a gamer, is sad to me). We’ve gotten to the point where it’s now a real question as to whether or not video games are currently replacing movies as most people’s chosen form of narrative. On the surface, I suppose that makes sense. A night at the movie theater can cost upwards of $30-50 and you get an evening’s entertainment. A brand new video game costs $60 and you usually get a minimum of ten hours of entertainment, sometimes far more. In fact, some games have infinite playability and only end when the player gets bored. Take the Elder Scrolls series, where you can take up a profession and completely lose yourself in an artificial world.
I’m not here to debate the merits of video games versus movies; my loyalty is clearly to movies, and always will be. But everyone seems to know that video games have come a long way since the days of Pong, or Super Mario, or even Mortal Kombat. These days, video games are deep and involved and have extensive scripts. No wonder more and more people from the movies are bringing their talents to video games.
As I write this column, I’ve literally just finished Ghostbusters: The Video Game from 2009. There have been games based on the Ghostbusters franchise before, but nothing could ever hold a candle to what we ended up with in this AMAZING video game. Every Ghostbusters fan knows that Ghostbusters 3 will likely never see the light of day; it’s a movie that’s been talked about for years and years, and it seems like Bill Murray is the one who doesn’t want to return for a third movie.
But Bill Murray had no problem lending his voice to the video game. And he wasn’t the only one who came back: Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson ALL return to voice their characters. But that’s not all! Annie Potts is back as Janine, William Atherton voices his slimy character Peck, and even Max Von Sydow lends his voice for Vigo the Carpathian. Just as he was in Ghostbusters II, Vigo is stuck in a painting. In this game that painting is a permanent fixture in the Ghostbusters firehouse headquarters. It has no plot purpose whatsoever, but you can walk up to it and interact with it. Your reward for approaching the painting is to have Max Von Sydow berate you.
Aykroyd and Ramis have their fingerprints all over the game and have made sure that every little touch is in line with their vision. For instance, part of your equipment is a scanner that lets you examine each ghost that you encounter. Some of the ghosts are just your basic plasma formations that need to be disposed of quickly, but there are more exciting and entertaining ghosts that you can reference in the game using Tobin’s Spirit Guide from the movie. Each of these ghosts found in Tobin’s book has a colorful name and description, such as Pappy Sargassi, a fisherman ghost. Tobin’s Spirit Guide informs us that Pappy Sargassi came from a long line of fishermen who all died prematurely. Because of this, he feared the sea and, instead of fishing, opened a restaurant in 1950. At the end of his life he thought it would be safe to finally take up fishing. He died choking on a fish stick while being eaten by a great white shark.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game is genuinely charming and fun to play. It’s short, as far as video games go: about 8 hours. But due to that short length, you can play through it relatively quickly whenever you want without a lot of commitment. There are so many interactions between the Ghostbusters that fighting the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man one more time and defeating the minions of Gozer (again) takes second place to listening to the four Ghostbusters bounce off one another 20 years after we last saw them.
Another classic movie series that has been given the video game treatment recently is Back To The Future. The newest game to hit the current gaming systems is almost as impressive as Ghostbusters: The Video Game because it sees the return of both Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Bob Gale, the co-creator and co-writer of the original trilogy was involved in the creation of the game. It seems that more often than not, the creative people behind these successful movies seem to want the games to be just as successful as the movies, which I think says a lot about the state of current gaming.
I could just go on and on, because that’s what video games do -- they go on and on. I could talk about how the Batman video games Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are the greatest cinematic realizations of the Batman universe period, surpassing both Tim Burton’s and Christopher Nolan’s reach (the games draw heavily on elements from both director’s versions of the Batman universe, as well as the Bruce Timm animated series) because of their ability to tell stories outside traditional movie boundaries of budget, believability, accessibility, and length. Plus, the Arkham games aren’t going for a traditional, wide audience. The core audience of gamers is composed of people like me: people in their 30s with a nostalgic love for pop culture and who have disposable income.
Video games can be many things to many people. They can be interactive stories that totally immerse us in a cinematic experience OR they can become a place where we can hide from the world instead of living our own lives. But they can also be Deloreans, time machines that can capture that old cinematic magic from the movies of our childhood and allow us to be an active participant. While the filmed image is frozen in time, video games can cheat the clock and create a false reality. Like most things in life, they can be a blessing and they can be a curse. And like movies, how far we let them transport us is completely up to us.
*Note* Heath Holland is more than willing to license his likeness for video games, spin-off action figures, and an animated series. Also, enter the code “up up down down left right left right B A Start” to read this column in God Mode.