Could A Twilight Video Game Not ‘Suck’?
Is there a game story-telling possibility or would it be devoured and drained by the moneymakers?
© 2009 David Hilton
UPDATE 29/07/09: Well there you go…a Twilight game IS being produced….at least on PC. Brain-Junk Studios is apparently releasing a game that will be “an interactive experience that will allow players to immerse themselves into a deeper understanding of the Twilight Saga…(It) will capture you with it’s great storytelling…” So story is indeed a focus, as it needs to be. But will it suck? The studio’s name (Brain-Junk) doesn’t fill me with confidence…
Twilight the film and Twilight the book series by Stephenie Meyer, featuring a ‘girl meets boy’ love story with a vampire twist, have certainly captured the imaginations of people around the world. The target audience may have been teen girls, but much like the Harry Potter series before it, which was also originally considered for younger audiences, the story has spread beyond its demographic to include people of both genders and of a variety of ages.
With obvious high interest and huge commercial success both as books and a movie (soon to be series of movies for sure), there is the possibility of Bella and her vampire beau Edward making it into the next entertainment medium: the video game.
I’ll be honest and say I’ve not read the books, but I have seen the first film. Everyone around me has been talking about the books and film, and even the Sunday paper featured an amusing full page confession from a ‘mature’ woman who couldn’t help being absorbed into the phenomenon, try as she might.
My wife read the second book in a night, unable to put it down, and she usually falls asleep reading. My teen son has seen the film and is reading the books.
I liked the movie well enough, but the thought of a video game of it is scarier to me even than the idea of a vampire doctor working at my local hospital (as in the story). But I’ve heard it said that Twilight would make a great game, especially if based on the later novels.
Why would a Twilight game be made?
The answer is this: licenced video games follow success wherever they can and the entertainment media would be well aware of both the need for ‘guaranteed’ returns on any game-production investment in the current economic climate and of the potential attraction this game could have beyond the usual male game-playing demographic.
So obviously I won’t be surprised to see a game made in time for the next film, now that the cat is out of the bag and the success well and truly demonstrated.
But would a Twilight game be any good?
No, it would most likely…ummm ‘suck’. It would turn out like the game based on Jumper (although that movie was pretty bad too). The story would translate into the gamer playing as Edward protecting a dumb AI NPC version of Bella from other vampires.
The gamer would be like a super hero jumping around and killing baddies before Bella died from their attacks or from her own clumsiness. Or until the gamer died of boredom. But the publisher would still probably make a fortune.
If they were trying to add diversity they might have a stealth ‘shadowing a person’ level (sort of like the Prague level in Metal Gear Solid 4) where the gamer, as Edward the vampire boy, follows Bella around foresty Forks and the dark streets of Port Angeles, saving her from potential rapists and bad vampires.
The level would be a sort of ‘stalker sim’, where the girl apparently likes it and he can apparently resist her and his vampire urges only when he is in her room watching her sleep in her underwear. (No, I don’t get it either, but that’s what apparently he can do in the film and book).
Or worse, the game might be like the pod-racing game made for the N64 taken from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace or the Quidditch game on Gameboy taken from the Harry Potter series of games. The game-makers may make Twilight: Vampire Baseball for the Wii, complete with Wii remote pitching, batting, and shaking to run really fast to catch the ball, all with a Muse soundtrack in the background.
This would of course be based on the vampire baseball game in the film and book and you’d obviously play as the good vampires against the bad vampires, with Bella as prize. As Vampire Homer Simpson would say: “Mmmm Bella”.
The bigger question I have though is could Twilight: The Game actually go beyond the usual shallow cash-cow game and compliment the novels and films?
I like to visit the land of ‘What If’. What if whoever got the video game rights tried to use Twilight, which is heavily reliant on the love story dynamic, as a story driven game, rather than just an action brawler, stalker sim, or gimmicky baseball game? This would be a real challenge for them, but gaming has been maturing and story-telling is in my mind integral to that growth.
Gaming may never be seen as art or even as mature entertainment by non-gamers, but certainly graphically they increasingly have become art. Where they tend to fall short, though, is in the story-telling department.
While many gamers salivate over the upcoming Killzone 2, I’m much more interested in Heavy Rain and Alan Wake, two games that have a stronger focus on story-telling.
Story-telling in games:
Recently gaming studio Activision boss Mike Griffith said at the Consumer Electronics Show:
“Games are no longer pre-set trips through linear mazes. They are becoming a legitimate story-telling medium that rivals feature films.”
Unfortunately in the BBC article he then seems to use his company’s game James Bond: Quantum Of Solace as his example. The problem with his reasoning is that Quantum Of Solace is a very linear game with very poor story-telling that does not even do the two film’s stories it is based on justice.
As a First Person Shooter (FPS) it is fine, but the disjointed summaries at the beginning to each cut and paste mission based on the films you play is hardly ‘legitimate story-telling that rivals feature films’. It could never stand alone as an independent story if you had not seen the films or read Casino Royale.
This is unfortunately true of most games. Even Gears of War 2, which tried to incorporate a tragic subplot about Dom’s wife, didn’t have a particularly convincing emotive feel: Dom’s story felt stilted and side-lined by the main ‘story’ which was simply about killing the monsters before they destroyed Fenix, Dom, and the rest of what’s left of humanity.
Games are interactive and so unlike other media like film and literature we are directly involved in the narrative. Story-telling, if there is much in the game, is either told through text to read on the screen (Lost Odyssey), voice narrative at the beginning (Quantum Of Solace), RPG conversation trees (Oblivion), or cut scenes (Metal Gear Solid). On the go narrative is used less but has been effective in games like the Half Life series and Bioshock though.
Love story in a game?
Besides the ‘how to tell a story’ in an interactive medium there is the ‘can we engage the gamer emotionally’, which for a good film or novel, and especially for a love story like Twilight would be essential.
Games like The Darkness have shown that a love-story can be integrated into the gameplay, most obviously demonstrated by the achievement you get on the 360 when your character snuggles up with his girlfriend to watch tv and the haunting scene at the end.
Ico’s two characters and their silent emotional and physical hand holding bond throughout the game also evokes emotion. Uncharted and Broken Sword have romantic tension between their lead characters through the games too, even if it is more playful than romantic.
Other games rely on cut-scenes or voice narration to portray a love story narrative. Max Payne 2′s reluctant growing mutual emotional connection between Max and Mona draws the gamer in during short cut-scenes and voice narrative points. Anything but short are Metal Gear Sold 4′s somewhat melodramatic and convoluted emotional connections between various characters displayed in movie-like cut-scenes.
Final Fantasy is famous for its story-telling scenes and even Star Wars: Force Unleashed sees a cut-scene romance develop between the Sith Apprentice and his pilot. The problem is here that once the scene is over, it’s back to the action and the story feels disconnected from the gameplay.
Narrative not important enough in games:
William Vitka, writing for CBS News in 2006, says:
“Game companies do not seem to believe that telling better stories is in their best interest. They’ve generally relied on the graphics and the bells and whistles to sell games. With a few exceptions, they’ve never tried to sell us on emotion or character. This can be partially blamed on us, the gamers. Soon, however, gaming companies might have to change their ways.
The best next-gen game is mediocre when compared to – heaven forbid – a good book….Creating powerful narratives is the next step – not shinier guns or ultra-realistic intestines. We need real emotional and intellectual experiences. The potential is there for video games to become the paramount medium and it won’t be through the resolution they’re played at. It will be through the stories they tell. “
Some may argue a romance-based story like Twilight isn’t the vehicle to try and advance story-telling in video games, but judging by comments by Bioware’s Ray Muzyka these themes can be entirely appropriate.
He says, even though the love story in Mass Effect was optional:
“We’re proud of the mature plots that we build into our games. They’re really appropriate for the type of story we’re trying to convey. And romance is part of that. It’s part of life. It’s part of an interaction – a healthy relationship with other people.”
If a game studio makes a Twilight game which contains all the action it can suck (ooops did it again…) out of the stories but strives to also capture the story of Bella and Edward in an engaging way, wouldn’t that be a pleasant surprise? I’d be very happy to be proved wrong.
Until then my cynicism will reign.
• Could a successful and decent game be made using Twilight as its source?
• What games, if any, with strong emotive stories have engaged you like a novel or film can?
• Do you think games will ever rival great films or novels with their interactive story-telling?