Friday, March 13, 2009

The TEN movies video games have completely ripped off...

...and what we can still rip off... err, learn from them.

Ever since Miyamoto created his homage to the 1933 movie Kong Kong, video game designers have found inspiration (and downright thievery) in the movies.
Here's my list of the top ten mercilessly plundered movies and, more importantly, what can we still take from them for future video games...

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Ah zombies. We love to shoot 'em, hack 'em, stick funny heads on 'em, type with 'em. George Romero's sequel to "Night of the Living Dead" cemented the look and vibe of the zombie but more importantly, contributed to the gore factor that is commonly associated with the walking dead.

Exceeding Nazis as the universal enemy, Zombies are the staple of almost every FPS, Action, Platformer and RTS horror and fantasy game published within the last 15 years from the Resident Evil series to the Typing of the Dead. Dawn of the Dead also gave the video game industry other grist including the shopping mall as a level/world location (Dead Rising, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) and the police hero as fearless zombie fighter. (Resident Evil 2)

What's left to steal? The best bit of Dawn of the Dead (and other zombie movies like Sean of the Dead) is the emotion that are created when the hero realizes a character has been bitten and is doomed to zombification. Despite the fact that some argue that most horror games aren't even really horror games anymore - just action games with undead opponents - the true horror of something terrible happening to a loved one that is out of our control and the painful "I have to kill them" choice that has to be made is still almost completely devoid from the video game lexicon.

Star Wars (1977)
Of all the movies in Hollywood, no movie has been picked clean by video games quite like the orignal Star Wars. (I refuse to call it "A New Hope") Just like in George Lucas' space opera, most video game space battles are now based on aerial dogfights (Star Fox, Wing Commander series), "elegant weapons" looking alot like light sabers have found their way into the hands of many non-jedi characters (MegaMan X3, Smash Brother Melee, No More Heroes), the heroes can be found palling around with snooty robot companions (Ratchet and Clank) and hanging out at alien filled cantinas (The Space Bar), heck we can even play as space pirates in a "hunk of junk" smuggling space-pornography (Wing Commander: Privateer) - Star Wars' approaches to the Hero's Journey and the "used universe" has been done to death in games as it has become the bible for "classic" storytelling.

And I'm not even counting in this the legion of actual Star Wars games that have been published - from Star Wars Arcade to Star Wars the Force Unleashed. Almost every genre of game has ended up with the Star Wars license slapped on it. Remember Star Wars Chess and Super Bombad Racing? Star Wars is so used and abused, it's suffering from rugburn.

And don't even get me started on rescuing the princess.

What's left to steal? Has there been a game where the love interest turns out to be the hero's sister? Howabout a 7 foot tall furry best pal as the hero's companion? Options are slim here, folks.

Aliens (1986)

From the moment the Colonel Marines locked and loaded their first pulse rifle, the video game industry fell in love. From Doom to the upcoming Aliens: Colonial Marines, the rough and ready and heavily armed space marine has become the number one video game hero stereotype. Carrying more weapons than humanly possible, working their way through darkly lit hallways, blasting the hell out of any creature that pokes its head out of an airduct - pretty much sounds like every game made since 1987.

There isn't a space-creepy from Xenophobe to Captain Blood to Dawn of War 2's Tyrannids that doesn't owe something to H.R. Giger's iconic monster design and Ron Cobb's interiors can be found in every game with space horror elements from Contra to Dead Space. Sequences like Bishops harrowing crawl through the airducts have been used in countless video games, the "child-left-to-fend-for-herself" has been used in many a horror and FPS game like Resident Evil 2 and Bioshock. Like Star Wars, the Alien series has had a multitude of games based off of the actual movies, so this ones dried out as well.

What's left to steal? Outside of the official Aliens games, I don't ever remember a Power Loader vs. Monster sequence. The "soft human in the hard shell" versus a ravenous alien could make for some very exciting gameplay.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Ah, the movie that launched a hundred video games. Let us read off their names like a roll-call of the fallen soldiers of the Normandy landing... Medal of Honor, Medal of Honor: Allied Landing. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Call of Duty. Call of Duty 2. Medal of Honor Frontlines. Brother in Arms D-Day. Battlefield. Close Combat. Company of Heroes. Day of Defeat. D-Day.

Steven Spielberg's unflinching realism in portraying the Allied Forces' finest hour made such an impact on the video game community that games are still using it as inspiration. As the harrowing twenty-four minute sequence felt like a First Person Shooter, its visual and narrative style has trickled down into other shooters regardless of the genre. The movie's "band of brothers" cast of characters inspired military team gameplay like Mercenaries, Commandos, Deadly Dozen and the Rainbow Six series. Even playing as a "lead character" who eventually dies in action made it's way in the excellent Call of Duty 4.

What's left to steal? Outside of the Medal of Honor titles, there could be more games about Paratroopers (why not space paratroopers? - oh wait, didn't Ratchet and Clank do that?) and I don't remember a video game with any military guys flying gliders (although that didn't turn out to well for the guy in the movie, did it?)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Depite having the distinction of being one of the first licensed home video games, no movie has been ripped off more often than Steven Spielberg's (and George Lucas') Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Every ancient civilization the hero discovers from Lode Runner to Uncharted, every environmental death trap from The Legend of Zelda to Tecmo's Deception, the rise of Nazis as predominant video game enemies in Castle Wolfenstein to Bloodrayne, every rolling boulder from to God of War to Resident Evil 4, every video game snake that ever slithered from Pitfall to Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, every heroic archeologist protagonist from Tomb Raider to Tomb Raider Legends owes it all to the king of all action films.

What's left to steal? Outside of the mediocre Pursuit Force, the greatest action sequence in cinematic history; the Cario truck chase, has yet to be adequately ripped off in video game form. C'mon developers, get cracking!!

Scarface (1983)
Second only to Saving Private Ryan in the speed of games rapidly spawning from the genre, Brain DePalma's Scarface has left it's impact on the video gaming world - albeit 20 years late from when the movie was first released. Ironically, it was the movie's release on DVD that helped push it into the brains of the video game industry (as most game developers probably weren't even born when it first was released!)

You can argue that there have been other more influencial gangland movies (Godfather for example) but the combination of the perverted American Dream: the foreign newcomer who works his way up through the underworld, coupled with the sheer joy of being a criminal scumbag all started with Tony Montoya and his "little friend."
Al Pacino's portrayal is the poster boy for the thug life and his legacy can be found such games as the Grand Theft Auto series, the Saint's Row series, the 50 Cent games, Crime Life: Gang Wars, not to mention a game based on the actual movie itself.

What's left to steal? The idea of a hero addicted to a health damaging substance (cocaine in Tony Montoya's case) is intriguing. Both Redneck Rampage and Haze have played with this idea (beer and Nectar) but more on this idea could be expanded on.

Death Race 2000 (1975)
OK, I know what you are thinking. Other than the infamous 1976 video game, what impact did the Paul Bartel movie have on gaming? Well, first, there's the entire notion of video game violence. This is the one that started it all. And all the controversy that goes with it. The violent game as entertainment as seen in Smash TV and Mad World gets its roots with this film. And of course, you can thank this movie for the entire car combat genre. The Twisted Metal series, Vigilante 8 series, Autoduel, Full Auto series, hell, even Mario Kart owes it's creation to Death Race 2000's car-on-car action.

However, Death Race's greatest contribution to video games is the themed adversary. Without Frankenstein, "Machine Gun" Joe, Herman the German or Matilda the Hun, we would have never gotten King Hippo in Super Punch-Out, Blanka in Street Fighter, Voldo in Soul Calibur, any unusual or freakish themed character in any fighter, action, brawler or any other video game. This movie is the greatest unsung influence on gaming ever and you heard it here first at the Design Lair.

What's left to steal? Spoiler alert! At the end of the movie, the viewer learns that Frankenstein (John Carradine) is just one of a long line of "Frankensteins" who carry out assassinations as well as drive in fast and deadly cars. The theme of the replaceable hero is one that hasn't been exploited in games - which is odd because you'd think that with as many lives an average player goes through in the course of a video game, that it'd be a natural.

Blade Runner (1982)

Syd Myd's visual design has influenced almost every futuristic city skyline in video gaming: whether it's Final Fantasy VII, Ratchet and Clank or Shadowrun - from the giant video advertising billboards to the crowded murky, trash strewn streets.

But the biggest rip-off comes from Micheal Kaplan's costume design. The "anti-hero in a trenchcoat" has become the second most video game hero archetype (Aliens being #1). Graduates from this rip-off school of fashion include Dante, Max Payne, Kyle Katarn and those little tiny guys from Syndicate; not to mention every film character with a licensed game like Hellboy, Blade and Neo.

What's left to steal? Ironically, the Spinner or flying car, has not been a video game staple. Other than BeamBreakers - which mimics the environment of Blade Runner, There still has yet to be a game that allows the player freely switch between flying and driving.

7th voyage of Sinbad (1958)

If the video game industry had to pay a royalty to Ray Harryhausen every time an animated skeleton showed up, I'd wager he'd be richer than Bill Gates. Ghost N' Goblins, Legend of Zelda, Diablo, Skeleton Warriors... you name it; if the hero wields a sword (or an axe or chain-weapon-thingee) you can guarantee they are gonna smash it into an animated skeleton. As of late, other creatures from Harryhausen's bestiary have been showing up: God of War, Legendary, Conan - it's only a matter of time before players are battling against the Beast from 20, ooo Fathoms.

Another thing taken from Harryhausen is the classic myth/fairy tale themes. The modern Prince of Persia series directly borrows heavily the Sinbad series while elements from God of War are clearly inspired by Clash of the Titans.

What's left to steal? What makes Harryhausen's creations so appealing is not just the excellent character design and strong visualization of classic mythological creatures, but the way they moved. As with Willis O' Brian's King Kong, you could see Harryhausen's master's hand in every creature's pose and action. Audience are savy enough nowadays to complain when something feels too "CG" - they are responding to the lack of "hand made" aestetic.

Robocop (1987)

Paul Verhoeven's ultaviolent cyberpunk film came out in 1987. NARC, the arcade game from Williams Electronics came out in 1988. Both featured cops with large guns blowing away baddies in an urban sprawl punctuated with vehicular manslaughter. Coincidence? The giddy violence in Robocop obviously inspired the team who later went on to make Mortal Kombat - the poster child for video game violence. Even though video game violence existed before these two games, never was it so much fun or so spectacular to off the baddies - a trend that attempts to yearly outdo itself even to this day.

But Robocop's influence doesn't stop there. The character design clearly inspired character design from 1992's Cyber-Cop all the way through to Halo's Master Chief and beyond. And one can argue that Robocop's POV and HUD system was the precursor of the FPS game.

What's left to steal? The script is phenomenal in quickly introducing a character, gaining sympathy for him in 15 minutes, killing him and then getting our sympathy back again. Even as a "mechanical killing machine" we still care about Robocop - something that is often left out of most video game characters.

Well, there you have it. 10 movies, 10 free ideas. Have any ideas or movie suggestions of your own? Post 'em below!

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