With more and more Hollywood directors getting involved in video games will it usher in a new era of gaming, or will they make the same mess of games as they’ve made of game / movies?

After fifteen years, it’s finally happening. John Woo and Chow Yun Fat are reuniting for a sequel to the historic Hong-Kong-action-epic Hard Boiled. Woo has influenced a generation of filmmakers, and trademarks like two-gun toting heroes, slow-motion , and borderline melodramatic action sequences have become staples of almost every director who wants to add a little flare to his gunplay. Hard Boiled is one of the films that really put Woo and Fat on the map with American audiences, so it’s high time that the adventures of Inspector Tequila were revisited on the big screen.

But…wait a minute…you mean this action blockbuster isn’t going to debut at my nearest multiplex? You’re telling me that the sequel (titled Stranglehold) is taking the form of a video game? Why would a big-name director choose to bring a high-profile sequel to the world in such a form? The answer is simple (and apparent to any gamer): video games have become a legitimate and exciting venue for storytelling. John Woo isn’t the only director who’s caught on to this fact, as it seems like every time you turn around, some Hollywood heavyweight is throwing their hat into the gaming ring. It’s clear they know where the future of entertainment lies. In this week’s column, I’ll look at some of the players in this Hollywood invasion, and what it means for games. I’m James McGee, and here’s The Game Plan.

I love movies—they’re one of my passions—but even I must admit that things ain’t what they use to be. Movies have been the premier form of popular entertainment for close to a century, and any industry that has been that powerful for that long is bound to get complacent. There are still incredible films produced every year, but by and large, it just seems like the standards have dropped. Really, though, you can’t blame the movie studios. Why should they bother putting the time and effort into creating a quality product if you’ve got the only product of its kind? Where are people going to get their thrills, chills, and compelling stories if not from movies?

Surprising as it may be to some, video games are fast becoming the alternative venue for movie-sized entertainment. Over the years, games have been slowly evolving from arcade quarter-pits and expensive kid toys—good for a few hours diversion and nothing else—into a major entertainment juggernaut in their own right. Some of the best storytelling and most immersive entertainment can be found pouring out of your local game console. I challenge anyone who has played God of War, Halo, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, or any other entry in the new generation of cinematic-minded games to tell me that they aren’t just as exciting, engaging, moving, and enthralling as the average summer blockbuster. Where so many lack-luster movies like to bill themselves as “epic,” here are pieces of work that actually deserve the moniker.

With games being such a huge business, it’s inevitable that other people want to stick their fingers in the pie. How else do you explain the myriad of almost-universally-crappy movie tie-in games that flood the market every year? Those looking for a quick buck have always been with us, and always will be. But what’s exciting now in the industry is that more and more directors are looking at games not as a cash-in opportunity, but as the storytelling vessels they truly are.

Rather than have it be yet another rushed, mediocre movie tie-in, Peter Jackson took a personal interest in Ubisoft’s adaptation of his King Kong remake. The result is what many people call the best movie-licensed game of all time. Jackson has gone on record as a fan of games, and has said he sees them as the future of entertainment. So, the next logical step after overseeing a game adaptation of his own movie is to jump headlong into a game project all his own. That’s what Jackson has done with the super-secret Halo¬-themed game project he has been working on with Microsoft and Bungie. Though he’s been instrumental in the long, rocky quest to bring Halo to the big screen, he isn’t content to play with someone else’s toys. Rather than simply bringing the game into his realm of expertise, he wants to explore the Halo universe on its own turf. Jackson respects the medium enough to not simply highjack it for his movies—he wants to really be a part of it.

The idea of filmmakers producing original intellectual properties for games isn’t new by any stretch. Though Star Wars definitely had a large, often high-quality presence in video games for years, Lucas Arts has also produced superb original games such as Maniac Mansion, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, and the Monkey Island series. For a time, George Lucas was distinguishing himself and his various studios more through game work than film work, so it would certainly be unfair to count them among the newcomers in this new wave of game-interested Hollywood types. However, even Lucas Arts has recently stepped up their involvement in the industry with their work on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Fracture, and an untitled Indiana Jones game still in the works. Lucas Arts has begun to put the full force of their wizards at Industrial Light and Magic behind creating video game technology, promising more realistic physics and something they’re calling “Biomechanical AI.” Michael Bay has recently followed suit, indicating that he plans to enter the video game market with his visual effects company, Digital Domain, behind him. If these two studios can bring the same, unparalleled special effects to games that they have given films over the years, it could push the industry as a whole forward by leaps and bounds, just as Star Wars revolutionized movie making in its day.

Rounding out the list of filmmakers getting in on the gaming action is Lucas’ friend and frequent collaborator, Steven Spielberg. He has two games in the works with Electronic Arts, and though details are still sparse (one is a puzzler and the other an action/adventure title), anytime you have one of the most talented storytellers on the planet behind the wheel, it can’t be a bad thing. Spielberg is famous for taking the latest technology and applying it to its utmost potential in his movies. The possibilities of what he can do in his new adopted medium are really exciting.

It’s easy for someone to jump on a popular bandwagon in order to make a quick buck with a sub-par product. It is also easy for people with talent and a recognizable name to arrogantly involve themselves with something they have no knowledge of, and expect others to bow to their expertise. These are the possible—I’d say almost inevitable—negative side-effects of directors entering the world of video games. If there is one constant in the entertainment industry, it is that good ideas will be copied and run into the ground. But neither seems to be the case with the directors I’ve mentioned. These are men who have seen the potential of games as a means to tell stories, and are exploring them with respect and admiration. It’s a relationship that can only help solidify games as the new entertainment alternative. Maybe the competition will motivate filmmakers to step up their game and reclaim their throne as the masters of compelling, immersive entertainment. If not, it simply leaves the door open for more games with vision and ambition to fill the void. As long as games continue to be as breathtaking and enthralling as they are (and with this new crop of creative minds, how could they not?) that would be fine with me.



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