I’m sure most of us have played that game where we say, “man, that [insert movie, TV show, or book] would make an awesome game!” Leaving aside the over-use of the word “awesome (seriously, cut that out), we keep doing that because we might latch onto what the characters do in the series and assume that it would articulate into interesting gameplay. I’d venture this isn’t too far off from the process game studios and TV networks go through when they greenlight a game based on an IP that ultimately sinks to the depths of licensed horrors.
With that in mind, I decided to try and come up with a few of my own. More than anything else, this is an exercise on my part to see if I could a.) articulate what was good about the show through a gameplay idea and b.) see if I could avoid the licensed property trap of thinking something was cool while missing the point of what made it cool through the game, and c.) in a couple of cases, simply let you know a few of these shows exist.
Series: The Twilight Zone
Genre: Supernatural and sci-fi anthology
Game Type: Multi
And right out the gate, I’ve got my thinking cap on (at least, I’d like to believe so). One of the great things about the original run of the series was that it was a showcase for television and literary talent at the time resulting in pitch-perfect half-hour masterpieces that continue to inspire new stories to this day.
So what if a game based on the series was approached the same way (logistical nightmare though it might be): allow a rotating group of indie developers to craft a short game in any style they’d like under the Twilight Zone banner, delivering new episodes on the regular. Episodic gaming pipelines are getting better, although, of course, this has the extra wrinkle of involving multiple developers and multiple types of games. But I think with a deep enough bench of talent, this kind of anthology format game would be a viable prospect.
Series: Aeon Flux
Genre: Animated action/sci-f
Game Type: Third-person character action game
This entry is cheating a little bit given that the character has technically already gotten a game in conjunction with the not-great live-action movie from a few years back. And it’s a shame, too, because I think if a company like Platinum Games applied the Bayonetta style of gameplay to the strange, hypersexual universe created by animator Peter Chung, players would be clamoring for an Aeon Flux game. If I had the time, I’d also make a defense for his follow-up series, Reign: The Conqueror (a sci-fi-ish take on the story of Alexander the Great) as a fantastic candidate for a RTS.
Probably the most interesting thing about Aeon Flux is that is defied serialization and there’s not much in the way of continuity to speak of, and that would have to be reflected in the gameplay: Aeon could die at any time but that doesn’t mean that would be the end of the game and all manner of paranoid ideas about identity, science, and sex could be played out through this.
Genre: Sci-fi drama
Game Type: Turn-based strategy
Murky waters here, because typically this kind of show would just get shunted into the CSI-style adventure game grinder (not that there’s anything wrong with that for fans of those games). The thing is, I think we’ve got as close to a Fringe game as we’re going to get with the upcoming X-Com remake which taps into so much of what makes the show interesting: building conjectural technology, xenobiology, and new, and bizarre threats at the borders of human knowledge. Consider grafting the X-Com model onto the series, with you playing as a member or members of the Fringe Division, developing new tech to battle constantly evolving scientific menaces.
Genre: Horror, drama
Game Type: Side-scrolling beat-em-up
Consider this my attempt to draw attention to this mostly forgotten (but still excellent) early Fox series and to remind everyone that we haven’t talked about Altered Beast since forever. Voila: departing from the canon of the series a little bit, you’ve got your cursed protagonist, doomed to walk to Earth, punching baddies in the face until the moon turns you into a vicious hellbeast bent on murder.
Series: Eerie, Indiana
Genre: Mystery, horror
Game Type: Adventure game
We had to get around to an adventure game at some point, right? And I think the weird town of the defunct series Eerie, Indiana is just the right one. Consider it The X-Files for kids and you get a sense of what the show was about and why it would make a particularly fantastic game. Again, this would be a place to bring up more episodic content, creating new stories and mysteries for the games’ lead to explore while possibly threading through overarching mysteries. Opening up a town full of mysteries to explore, some of them verging on not-quite-age appropriate, and you’ve got a license worth revisiting.
Series: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
Genre: Sci-fi horror comedy parody
Game Type: Medical action game
A few of you out there have seen this series, I’m sure, based on a fictional set of novels written by the equally fake and hilariously terrible author in the title. The series revolves around a supernaturally-plagued hospital and the hapless, overacting cast that confronts strange mysteries like “Scottish Mist” and Cthuloid babies on each week’s episode. So why not go Trauma Center with it and allow players to become ladies’ man/brilliant surgeon/psychic Dr. Richard Dagless as he probes medical mysteries of the supernatural and beyond the supernatural. “Supranatural” if you will.
Series: Breaking Bad
Genre: Crime drama
Game Type: Management sim
I’d love it if there was some way to communicate in game form the human cost of the actions of Walter White, one of TV’s most compelling characters right now. I think layering it over with action gameplay would kind of lose all of that somehow, so what about reducing the meth business to grim math–in one column an outlay of how much you need to make and sell to stay alive, another column still reflecting how much you need to pay muscle to keep from getting killed, one more reflecting collateral damage (i.e. you’re fraying family relationships, etc.), and the catch is that it’s always a losing game. No matter how well you do in one area, you will lose so profoundly in the end in another.
While this may not be “fun” it would get to the heart of the show and the moral minefield that Walter White lives in.
[Update: and look at that, the College Humor guys had their own treatment for the material.]
Series: Sons of Anarchy
Genre: Crime drama
Game Type: Third-person action
It’s GTA IV’s The Lost and the Damned expansion without all of the penis jokes.
Series: Twin Peaks
Genre: Mystery thriller
Game Type: Third-person mystery
Consider what it would be like if we applied some of the L.A. Noire template to David Lynch’s groundbreaking series? Sure, we already know who killed the troubled Laura Palmer, but the quaint and yet jarringly perverse and dangerous Pacific Midwest village would be ripe for additional questions and mysteries for the player. Remedy made a stab at this with some elements of Alan Wake (at least in terms of inspiration) but I think a full-on assault into this show’s headspace, making the game an active mystery where you have to search for clues, would do justice to Lynch’s vision.
Series: The IT Crowd
Game Type: Diner Dash-alike
Not the most innovative take on the fantastic British sitcom, but what kind of manic monkey wrenches could you throw into a game that has you alternately trying to complete and avoid as many IT calls as possible in your giant, faceless corporate building? Extra points for realizing it in the pixel art style of the show’s famous opening credits.