Games based on movies do not have a very good history. “The Godfather” was fun, “The Bourne Conspiracy” had some strong moments and few will say that “GoldenEye” was anything less than amazing. By and large though, making a game that’s spun off from a movie is a bad move, one likely motivated by money and nothing else. Hayter echoes that as well: it always comes back to the money.
“I work on very expensive movies, [so] I’m pretty intimately involved with the process,” he said. “What happens is, nobody wants to pull the trigger [on a big-budget movie] because once you do it becomes a freight train rolling, there is no way to stop it. Once you pull the trigger on $100+ million, that’s a train you don’t want leaving the station unless you’re absolutely sure.”
“So it takes a long time for people to agree that the movie is going forward and once it does, it just goes. And the filmmakers start spending money before the studio gets cold feet. So they drag their feet and drag their feet and drag their feet, and then they give the green light and suddenly you’re going, you have to be shooting this summer.”
That’s where the trouble begins, the long, drawn-out waiting period followed by the flurry of action once the light turns green. “If you want to do a proper video game adaptation, well that really takes a good two years, if you’re going to do a good one. And [game developers] don’t have that kind of time, because they don’t know the movie’s going.”
Hayter went on to point out that it isn’t always so simple. “With something like ‘Iron Man 2,’ from the opening weekend of [the first] ‘Iron Man’ you know you’re making ‘Iron Man 2.’ So theoretically, the video game adaptation should be great. But that’s really the only situation where you’re going to get enough advance time and enough advance money to do a proper video game adaptation.”
Unfortunately, in the specific case of “Iron Man 2,” that was not the case. I haven’t played the game personally, but review aggregator GameRankings (think RottenTomatoes, but for games) reveals that the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 versions average out at roughly 45%. The same goes for “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” which averages out to 60% across PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC reviews.
Nonetheless, Hayter has encountered some games adapted from movies that he liked. There’s one in particular that he couldn’t praise enough. “I loved a bunch of the ‘Spider-Man’ video game adaptations,” he said. “The ‘Grand Theft Auto’ open sandbox of New York and just being able to swing around New York. Although there could have been a lot more variety in terms of the fights and the villains and stuff like that. But those games were an incredible experience to me and really nailed down the ideal balance between a game and a movie.”
“The first two ‘Spider-Man’ movies for me really worked because I loved Peter Parker, I loved his story, he was engaging, the stories were funny, it was well-written, the characters were great fun and it was just a well-done movie. Sam Raimi is a brilliant guy.”
“Then, the video games allowed me a completely different experience, which was to actually be Spider-Man, to actually climb up to the top of a building, jump off and just flick out a web and swing through the street canyons. If I wanted to go to Times Square, I’d go to Times Square. If I wanted to go to Central Park, I’d go to Central Park. And that was a completely different experience from the movies and yet all very true to the original world.”
It turns out that loving the game wasn’t enough to get Hayter to write for one, highlighting another unique problem facing games spun off of movies, and story-driven games in general, really. “They had asked me if I would be interested in [writing]… the ‘Spider-Man 3’ video game adaptation. So they sent me all the material and everything.”
It all sounds great, right? So what happened? Money got in the way. Hayter was essentially being offered a fraction of what he would normally make developing a film script, and for “literally seven times the work.” It wasn’t an attempt to rip him off; it’s simply the difference between two entertainment industries. That’s not to say game publishers can’t afford to pony up for more expensive writers — profit margins on video games are high enough — it’s simply that they don’t need to.
As Hayter put it, “The video game world and the movie world are two different worlds and so they’re used to paying what they’re used to paying.”