Ask Game Producer: Are Movies Just Not Meant to be Made Into Video Games?

I got a tricky question via email.


Generally when a motion picture movie gets picked up by publishers to be made into a video game or vice versa, the overall gameplay or quality is just poor excluding some movie games out there. Gamers just already get the notion that when a movie game comes out it is going to be bad. Maybe it’s the gameplay or the storyline that just destroys the game. Are there any ways that this can change? Are movies just not meant to be made into video games?

First I would like to argue if games using movie brands (or vice versa) are really that bad – in general. In fact… as I start to think about this, it seems that there’s lots of rubbish games and movies transitions. But, I think there’s actually many games using movie brands that are really good.

I like how they’ve done several Marvel games (well, they are originally based on comics… and then movies and games, but still) that are fun to play. Hulk and Spider Man for PC were good. In Hulk you can smash pretty much everything and Spider Man can use fancy moves and move on ceilings – these really fit well in the theme.

I also like Battle for Middle Earth (not the sequel 2, but the good ol’ number 1). The feeling of orcs attacking, Gandalf doing fancy stuff and Gimli using axe is there. Although… that movie is again based on literature. There’s also poor games using LOTR brand, but you can find good ones as well.

Maybe movies and games that are based on some existing world have more background material which have more potential to make the games interesting. I really want to see established brands as games, and I’m sure there’s room for that.

Ruining the gameplay
It’s true that developers can “ruin” the gameplay. I hated the camera in Spider Man game (and it really affected the gaming experience) and in some games they make things really easy (which also can ruin the gameplay). Some games are very simple hack’n’slash skinned with some brand, which might be not so interesting to everybody.

I don’t know if there’s magic potion that would solve this problem. When game developers are allowed to “take chances” and make things little different, we can see new shining stars. Meanwhile, we just have to hope for the best and make sure we indies produce innovative games.

Perhaps upcoming Halo will be successful as a movie – if they solve contract problems. Who knows.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. But we can’t forget some of the aweful movie games like Miami Vice, Resevior Dogs. Really Bad.

  2. Yep the Indie games rocked, the oldstyle point and click was great and the 3D one was better than all teh TombRaiders imho.

    Of course how could I forget Xwing and Tie Fighter, two of my all time favorite games! Also those console starwars games are pretty Rad, espe the Gamecube ones.

  3. What I think went right with the Indiana Jones and the Fate of the Atlantis was that it managed to capture the feel of the movies in a completely new and compelling story. The game was actually quite much tried & tested old adventure game, with the nice more-than-one-way-to-go puzzles.

    What the game developers should be doing is not replicating the movie into a game, but trying to find the themes and the feel of the movie (or of any existing franchise) and turn it into a new and different experience. This is something that Battle for Middle Earth succeeded in (or so I gather, I haven’t played the game). Then again, the problem is probably as much in the constraining IP as it is in the non-imaginative designers.

    Ofcourse there always the one game that was not only based on an existing IP and a sequel but also created a totally new genre or games: Dune II.

  4. Good discussion people.

    @Jay: I totally forgot Indiana Jones adventure games – those rocked big time! X-wing was also nice to play.

    @Lund: What you say seems to resonate with what I wrote earlier about quality/time/money. Why not share some insight about your product bit earlier? ;)

  5. Having worked on several licenses over the years I can tell that most of the problems stem from lack of time.

    Basically there are two kinds of licenses:

    1) The license is for a movie already released and therefore you don’t have insane time constraints. On the other hand publishers going for this model are typically not very likely to give you a “proper” budget to work from and therefore either scope or quality must suffer on the altar of development budget / time. Production value suffers.

    2) The license is for an upcoming movie and therefore you have a lot of time pressure. This forces you to use “tried and tested” gameplay mechanics often makng the games uninteresting. Furthermore the graphics are typically rushed as there is typically high production value and lots of content to produce but not so much time. Quality suffers.

    Of course there are notable differences (Godfather, already released movie, huge budget, mediocre game or Chronicles of Riddick, upcoming movie, new game production company, unproven studio, excellent game).

    At this particular moment in time I’m working on a project that has a different approach (thank god for forward looking movie production companies) and I’ll be happy to tell you all about it in a couple of years :-)

  6. There are a notable handful of games (mostly older) that did a great job on a movie license. I’m thinking the 1990’s era LucasArts games… the Indiana Jones adventure games, and Larry Holland’s X-Wing / Tie Fighter games.

    Three things were working in their favor that few movie-licensed games have:

    #1 – I’ll bet they got the license “cheap,” as part of the company that owned the I.P. That was more money to spend on actual development.

    #2 – They were existing movie licenses for already-released movies. They didn’t have to constrain the schedule to match a film’s release to hitch a ride on the same hypewagon.

    #3 – They didn’t attempt to mirror the events of any movies too closely. They used the setting and some characters from the license, but told their own story, one that worked for a game. Of course, they did have you blow up the death star in X-Wing. But they let YOU do it – they didn’t force you to be Luke Skywalker. That’s more leeway than they’d probably have given an external developer with the canon, I think.

  7. I think one reason might be that the movie is done and then they think “now, quick, let’s make a game out of that and release it about one month after it hit the cinemas”. In my opinion, that’s about the same as if they say “well, we also need some t-shirts and some posters to sell along” – an additional income source, but nothing more, really.

    It would surely turn out quite differently, if movie production and game production were not constrained too much, e.g. if there are years between the movie and the game and they decide “let’s make a really cool game based on the movie” instead of “we run out of money, let’s convert our movie into a stupid FPS” ;)

    But there are of course exceptions. In fact, I enjoyed Ghostbusters on the C64 and The Lion King on the PC ;)

  8. ACtually I htought that the Elite Force games were pretty good and so was that deep space 9 3rd person one. And also a while ago Klingon Honor Guard, and also a point and click adventure. Those bond games did well on the PS2 gettting no bad reviews. Another really good game is Chronicles of Riddick, excellent.

    As for the other way round, the Silent Hill movie is pretty neat, and Resident Evil was OK.

    But year it’s fairly rare to see a successfull “port” either way.

  9. Perhaps the movie studios interfere too much in the development process, taking away the development teams’ creative freedom (what little creative freedom they had, anyway).

  10. Funny, I was discussing this very same topic with my brother last night, particularly about how James Bond and Star Trek games are generally quite awful.

    I’m not sure if the problem is with games as a medium, or the fact that using an existing IP constrains you too much. There are so many cool things that could be done with some movie franchises, but they never seem to live up to their potential.

    Then again, they generally sell well even if they’re terrible, so perhaps it’s a case of studios not caring too much about the quality.

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