Tag Archives: video games

‘Ratchet,’ ‘Warcraft’ and the new breed of video game movies

At long last, it seems Hollywood has pushed the reset button on its approach to video game adaptations.

From the reviled 1993 live-action rendition of “Super Mario Bros.” to last year’s loathed arcade-inspired “Pixels,” big-screen interpretations of games have almost always failed to score with critics and audiences. With four films based on popular interactive series set for release in 2016, could this finally be the year video game movies win over filmgoers?

After decades of commercial and critical pitfalls when attempting to turn games into movies, Hollywood is trying out a few bold new strategies in an effort to tap the interactive medium for the latest hit movie franchise, including hiring A-list talent and collaborating more closely with game makers to rework their immersive creations for movie theaters.

“RATCHET & CLANK”

The first to launch is an animated film out Friday based on Insomniac Games’ zany platforming series for Sony’s PlayStation systems, starring wise-cracking alien tinkerer Ratchet and his witty robot sidekick Clank. The game creators didn’t simply foist their 14-year-old franchise onto filmmakers. They insisted on joining forces.

“Ratchet & Clank” features several of the interactive series’ original voice actors with a story by former Insomniac Games senior writer T.J. Fixman. The game studio also outsourced a few of their own artists to work with the film’s animators to guarantee their intergalactic romp looked and stayed true to what made the game franchise a victory.

“It’s crucial for anyone who works with the worlds and characters that we created to fully understand them,” said Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac Games. “We had lots of open conversations with everyone working on the project. As game creators, we always want to tell more stories. This was just another way to do that for an audience that’s hungry for it.”

Over the past 20 years, game publishers have typically handed over movie rights to Hollywood with little to no creative control. While the results have sometimes hit the mark (“Tomb Raider,” “Resident Evil”), they’re usually unsuccessful undertakings that veer way off course from the originals (“Doom,” “Double Dragon.”)

Shawn Layden, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment America, said he’s been working with Rainmaker Entertainment and Blockade Entertainment to faithfully adapt “Ratchet & Clank” and silly stealth series “Sly Cooper” into animated films, as well with his colleagues at Sony Pictures to craft live-action versions of treasure-hunting adventure “Uncharted” and post-apocalyptic saga “The Last of Us.”

“I’m old enough to remember a time when people thought it was crazy to make movies out of comic books,” said Layden. “That’s certainly changed over the last decade. The really great games now have narratives featuring all sorts of age-old storytelling tropes. It’s become another great fountain of content that can be applied across other media.”

“THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE”

The largest leap for a game-based film this year will be from smartphones to multiplexes. Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony, will spread its wings May 20 with “The Angry Birds Movie.” The full-length animated film features Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad and Danny McBride voicing a trio of feathered characters inspired by Rovio Entertainment’s mobile gaming sensation.

“Back in 2009 when we first created ‘Angry Birds,’ we made it deliberately character based so that if it were successful, we could take it beyond games,” said Mikael Hed, executive chairman at Rovio Animation studios and former CEO of Rovio Entertainment. “We actually have been holding back on the backstory of this world until now. It’s wonderful we’re going to be able to tell it now in this way.”

“WARCRAFT”

For a live-action version of the role-playing odyssey “Warcraft,” Legendary Entertainment and series creator Blizzard Entertainment turned to “Moon” and “Source Code” director Duncan Jones, who’s actually logged countless hours playing games from the 21-year-old fantasy series. The film starring Travis Fimmel is scheduled to debut June 10.

“It’s not unlike adapting a novel or a comic book,” said Jones. “I believe I’m a serious filmmaker. I know what it is I want to do with this movie. The source material is not what’s going to decide whether a movie I make is good or bad. It’s how I treat it and what I do with it.”

“ASSASSIN’S CREED”

After losing its footing with the Disney film “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time” starring Jake Gyllenhaal in 2010, game publisher Ubisoft launched a film division in 2011 to independently transform its own game franchises into movies. The first is “Assassin’s Creed,” which is scheduled for release Dec. 21 and stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

“I think we’ve done something pretty original,” said Fassbender. “All of the stunt work, when we were out in Malta, was happening on site in real locations with stunt teams that are absolutely amazing. They were jumping from building to building in Mdina, the old town in Malta.”

Ubisoft’s dive into filmmaking will continue in the coming years with a “Splinter Cell” adaptation starring Tom Hardy as protagonist Sam Fisher, as well as a “Ghost Recon” movie produced by “Transformers” filmmaker Michael Bay. The game maker is also working to turn its hacker adventure “Watch Dogs” into a film.

With movie studios having already mined many comics and books for inspiration, comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian believes the time is right for the interactive medium to spawn a hit that outpaces “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” the most successful game adaptation in box office history.

“This is a genre waiting to erupt,” said Dergarabedian. “It’s a huge untapped resource that’s yet to be fully realized on the big screen and grab a huge audience.”

 

 

 

‘Witcher 3,’ ‘Fallout 4’ lead top 10 games of 2015

Associated Press video game critics Lou Kesten and Derrik J. Lang’s favorite titles of the year featured monster hunters, treasure hunters, guardian spirits and murder suspects:

LOU KESTEN

1. “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”: This role-playing drama from Poland’s CD Projekt Red set a new standard for weirdness when it sent his hero in pursuit of a flying ghost fetus. For all its baroque touches, “Witcher 3” boils down to a domestic drama about a jaded warrior and his impetuous adopted daughter — and it’s quite moving.

2. “Fallout 4”: The latest epic from Bethesda Softworks crams in a bunch of genres — role-playing, first-person shooter, even a civilization-building — and veers from hilarious black comedy to heartbreaking tragedy. It’s most memorable for its haunting vision of humanity somehow surviving after nearly destroying itself.

3. “Super Mario Maker”: Nintendo gives its fans all the tools they need to build two-dimensional challenges starring Mario and his crew. Somewhere out there, kids are learning the ropes on their way to designing the games we’ll be talking about 20 years from now.

4. “Ori and the Blind Forest”: This melancholy yet action-packed adventure follows an orphaned spirit creature as it tries to restore life to a devastated woodland. It’s the year’s most beautiful game — and one of its most challenging.

5. “Her Story”: Viva Seifert plays a young wife with a missing husband in this time-hopping mystery that takes place entirely within a police interrogation room. I’m not sure it’s even a “game,” but creator Sam Barlow’s clever plotting and Seifert’s nimble performance combine to deliver a knockout tale.

6. “Rise of the Tomb Raider”: Chapter two of the franchise reboot finds young Lara Croft searching for the secret to immortality. It’s at its best when the Tomb Raider is, you know, raiding tombs, with clever environmental puzzles that work your brain cells harder than your reflexes.

7. “Pillars of Eternity”: A character cursed with mysterious visions tries to find out why babies are being born without souls in this indie role-playing game from Obsidian Entertainment. Fans of old-school classics like “Baldur’s Gate” and “Planescape: Torment” will feel right at home.

8. “Undertale”: This lo-fi project from Toby Fox turns game conventions upside-down. A human child is trapped underground — but instead of killing all the monsters he encounters, he can negotiate with most of them. It’s a thought-provoking approach, and one I hope more big game publishers will notice.

9. “Rock Band 4”: The ultimate party game returns, inviting you to jam anew with all those fake instruments that have been gathering dust over the last five years. The ability to download songs you purchased for earlier versions is a huge bonus. (“Guitar Hero Live,” which streams its tunes, is pretty good, too.)

10. “Until Dawn”: A bunch of teenagers plan a weekend at a secluded cabin. What could go wrong? This thriller initially looks like dozens of slasher movies, but it twists all the familiar tropes into something perversely original. Throw in a witty performance by TV’s breakout star of the year, Rami Malek of “Mr. Robot,” and you have a nasty little horror gem.

DERRIK J. LANG

1. “Fallout 4”:  Despite its unforgiving density, “Fallout 4” was the year’s most captivating title. I wanted to stop returning to Bethesda Softworks stylish version of a nuclear-ravaged Boston and the staggering array of choices it presented, but I couldn’t stay away from carving out my own destiny in this special role-playing saga.

2. “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”: From the bonus swag in the box to the gratis downloadable content, the third installment in CD Projekt Red’s sweeping role-playing series is as much of a love letter to fans of monster hunter Geralt of Rivia as it is to the fantasy genre as a whole. This majestic entry should be remembered for years to come.

3. “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”: After a stunning 28 years of crafting “Metal Gear” games, Hideo Kojima’s open-world coda brought the walls surrounding protagonist Snake down for the first time. In a year overstuffed with open-world titles, “Phantom Pain” was the most technically flawless of them all.

4. “Her Story”: Sam Barlow’s voyeuristic mystery is a rarity. The game features a provocative performance by actress Viva Seifert and gameplay that almost anyone can engage with because it involves simply searching for words on a screen. If more developers created games like “Her Story,” the medium would be taken more seriously.

5. “Rise of the Tomb Raider”: Lara Croft is on a roll. After a much-need reboot of the treasure hunting franchise, developer Crystal Dynamics keenly avoids a sophomore slump with a snowy, survival-focused second installment that meticulously builds on what made 2013’s “Tomb Raider” an adventure worthy of the iconic heroine.

6. “Ori and the Blind Forest”: This luminescent platformer did something that no “Super Mario Bros.” has ever accomplished. It made me tear up — and that’s not just because it’s so darn difficult. Moon Studios managed to artfully balance intricate riddle solving with an emotional tale about loss and discovery.

7. “Sunset”: While most games tell war stories from behind the barrel of a gun, “Sunset” dared to do so on the other side of a mop handle. Yes, it sounds boring to play as a housekeeper tasked with cleaning — and snooping around — er boss’ penthouse. Belgium developer Tale of Tales made it a strangely evocative interactive experience.

8. “Splatoon”: With an overreliance on a certain bouncy plumber, Nintendo has long been guilty of playing it safe. That totally changed this year with the introduction of the loveable paint-wielding squid kids. A splashy aesthetic and adrenaline-pumping action helped “Splatoon” successfully roll over all other multiplayer shooters.

9. “Batman: Arkham Knight”:  Rocksteady Studios’ apparent swan song  in their incredible “Arkham” series finally unleashed the Dark Knight across all of Gotham — complete with the Batmobile at his disposal — without sacrificing the cerebral storytelling or majestic fluidity of its well-oiled predecessors. Ben Affleck should take note.

10. “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate”:  After last year’s buggy and boring edition set amid the French Revolution in Paris, Ubisoft’s stealth series rebounded in 2015 with a jolly jaunt to old England. A brilliant recreation of Victorian London — right down to the pubs — was a spectacular playground for quirky twin gangsters Jacob and Evie Frye.

Nintendo apologizes for excluding gay relationships in ‘Life’ game

Nintendo is apologizing and pledging to be more inclusive after being criticized for not recognizing same-sex relationships in English editions of a life-simulator video game. The publisher said that while it was too late to change the current game, it was committed to building virtual equality into future versions if they’re produced.

Nintendo came under fire from fans and gay rights organizations this past week after refusing to add same-sex relationship options to the game “Tomodachi Life.”

“We apologize for disappointing many people by failing to include same-sex relationships in ‘Tomodachi Life,'” Nintendo said in a statement. “Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to change this game’s design, and such a significant development change can’t be accomplished with a post-ship patch.”

The game was originally released in Japan last year and features a cast of Mii characters — Nintendo’s personalized avatars of real players — living on a virtual island. Gamers can do things like shop, play games, go on dates, get married and encounter celebrities like Christina Aguilera and Shaquille O’Neal. Already a hit in Japan, “Tomodachi Life” is set for release June 6 in North America and Europe.

Tye Marini, a 23-year-old gay Nintendo fan from Mesa, Arizona, launched a social media campaign last month seeking virtual equality for the game’s characters.

“I want to be able to marry my real-life fiancé’s Mii, but I can’t do that,” Marini said in a video posted online that attracted the attention of gaming sites and online forums this past week. “My only options are to marry some female Mii, to change the gender of either my Mii or my fiancé’s Mii or to completely avoid marriage altogether and miss out on the exclusive content that comes with it.”

Marini said Saturday that he was “very happy” with Nintendo’s response. “I don’t believe they are a homophobic company at all,” Marini said. “I think that the exclusion of same-sex relationships was just an unfortunate oversight.”

Yet the issue does mark a cultural divide between Japan, where gay marriage is not legal, and North America and Europe, where gay marriage has become legal in some places. It also highlights the problems with “localization,” the process when games are changed to suit different locales and customs.

The uproar prompted Kyoto, Japan-based Nintendo Co. and its subsidiary Nintendo of America Inc. to pledge to create a more inclusive “Tomodachi” installment in the future.

“We are committed to advancing our longtime company values of fun and entertainment for everyone,” Nintendo said. “We pledge that if we create a next installment in the `Tomodachi’ series, we will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players.”

While many English-language games don’t feature gay characters, several role-playing series produced by English-speaking developers, such as Electronic Arts, “The Sims,” Microsoft Studios’ “Fable” and Bethesda Softworks’ “The Elder Scrolls,” have allowed players to create characters that can woo others of the same sex, as well as marry and have children.

After Nintendo said this past week — in response to Marini’s growing campaign — that it wouldn’t add same-sex relationship options to “Tomodachi Life,” the publisher of such gaming franchises as “The Legend of Zelda” and “Mario Bros.” was called out by fans and organizations such as the gay advocacy group GLAAD.

“Nintendo has taken a first step, but if the company’s longtime values are rooted in ‘fun and entertainment for everyone,’ then it needs to catch up to peers like Electronic Arts, which has been inclusive of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) gamers for years,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement.

‘Dishonored’ tops diverse year in games

The video game universe in 2012 is a study in extremes.

At one end, you have the old guard striving to produce mass-appeal blockbusters. At the other end, you have a thriving community of independent game developers scrambling to find an audience for their idiosyncratic visions. Can’t we all just get along?

Turns out, we can. For while some industry leaders are worried (and not without cause) about “disruptive” trends – social-media games, free-to-play models, the switch from disc-based media to digital delivery – video games are blossoming creatively. This fall, during the height of the pre-holiday game release calendar, I found myself bouncing among games as diverse as the bombastic “Halo 4,” the artsy “The Unfinished Swan” and the quick-hit trivia game “SongPop.”

Some of my favorite games this year have benefited from both sides working together. The smaller studios get exposure on huge platforms like Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. The big publishers seem more willing to invite a little quirkiness into their big-budget behemoths. Gamers win.

1. “Dishonored” (Bethesda Softworks, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC): Arkane Studios’ revenge drama combined a witty plot, crisp gameplay and an uncommonly distinctive milieu, setting a supernaturally gifted assassin loose in a gloriously decadent, steampunk-influenced city.

2. “Mass Effect 3” (Electronic Arts, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, PC): No 2012 game was more ambitious than BioWare’s sweeping space opera. Yes, the ending was a little bumpy, but the fearless Commander Shepard’s last journey across the cosmos provided dozens of thrilling moments.

3. “The Walking Dead” (Telltale Games, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, iOS): This moving adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s comics dodged the predictable zombie bloodbath in favor of a finely tuned character study of two survivors: Lee, an escaped convict, and Clementine, the 8-year-old girl he’s committed to protect.

4. “Journey” (Thatgamecompany, for the PlayStation 3): A nameless figure trudges across a desert toward a glowing light. Simple enough, but gorgeous visuals, haunting music and the need to communicate, wordlessly, with companions you meet along the way translate into something that’s almost profound.

5. “Borderlands 2” (2K Games, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC): Gearbox Software’s gleeful mash-up of first-person shooting, role-playing and loot-collecting conventions gets bigger and badder, but what stuck with me most were the often hilarious encounters with the damaged citizens of the godforsaken planet Pandora.

6. “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” (2K Games, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC): A strategy classic returns, as the forces of Earth fight back against an extraterrestrial invasion. It’s a battle of wits rather than reflexes, a stimulating change of pace from the typical alien gorefest.

7. “Fez” (Polytron, for the Xbox 360): A two-dimensional dude named Gomez finds his world has suddenly burst into a third dimension in this gem from indie developer Phil Fish. As Gomez explores, the world of “Fez” continually deepens, opening up mysteries that only the most dedicated players will be able to solve.

8. “Spec Ops: The Line” (2K Games, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC): This harrowing tale from German studio Yager Development transplants “Apocalypse Now” to a war-torn Dubai. It’s a bracing critique, not just of war but of the rah-rah jingoism of contemporary military shooters.

9. “Assassin’s Creed III” (Ubisoft, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, PC): A centuries-old conspiracy takes root in Colonial America in this beautifully realized, refreshingly irreverent installment of Ubisoft’s alternate history franchise.

10. “ZombiU” (Ubisoft, for the Wii U): The best launch game for Nintendo’s new console turns the Wii U’s GamePad into an effective tool for finding and hunting down the undead.

Runners-up: “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” “Darksiders II,” “Dust: An Elysian Tail,” “Far Cry 3,” “Halo 4,” “Mark of the Ninja,” “Need for Speed: Most Wanted,” “Paper Mario: Sticker Star,” “Papo & Yo,” “The Unfinished Swan.”

What were your favorite games of 2012? Share them on Twitter at @wigazette with #games2012.