Believe it or not, the biggest gaming event in the world happened this week. But San Francisco didn’t see any more traffic than usual and New York barely saw an extra gamer enter the city — no, the biggest event in the world was in GamesCom in Germany, which offered an abundance of crisp beer and enough swag to make customs raise an eyebrow upon re-entry. Everything from massive triple-A titles to indie games strutted their stuff in front of the international press to get a little attention and a few more clicks from loyal gamers.
One of the games that stood out was a horror title named “T.P.”: If you happened to have a PS4, you could play through the teaser to find that the game was in fact the newest iteration of the “Silent Hill” series, this one co-created by Guillermo del Toro, the director of such films as “Pacific Rim” and “Hellboy” (as well as Hideo Kojima, the man behind the “Metal Gear” series). The new game, named “Silent Hills,” stars a very life-like Norman Reedus from “The Walking Dead” in the lead role. Highly anticipated doesn’t begin to describe the ravenous fan base at the moment, as a beloved series teams one of the biggest names in games with one of the biggest directors in film.
But this is not Guillermo del Toro’s first try at gaming. Back in 2006, news broke of the famed director working on a zombie title called “Sundown” with the company Terminal Reality, most noted for the “BloodRayne” series. Described as a slice of life story smeared with blood and flesh-hungry zombies, the developers would retain rights to the video game license while Del Toro ran with the story in both TV and film. Alas, the famed director dropped out soon after the announcement of the series, quoting “bad experiences” as a reason for leaving.
The famed director tried a second time with a new idea and a new developer, but “inSane” stumbled out of the gate from the very beginning. There’s very little information to go on the project other than its Lovecraftian nature and that it was to be a trilogy of games. The publishing company folded and the game with a sick name was lost in time. Rumors have been circulating that Del Toro found another development studio recently to continue working on the project, but little has come of these rumors.
Other directors such as Michael Bay and Zack Snyder have faced similar hardships when it comes to getting games off the ground. For every one that makes it to the stores, there are dozens that never make it out of development hell, and of the ones that do make it, the results are often mixed. Steven Spielberg managed to create his vision of World War II in “Medal of Honor,” which proved to be a rather strong showing for the director. Spielberg also helped develop “Boom Blox,” one of the most criminally underrated games for the Wii — while it might not have had dramatic scenes reminiscent of “Saving Private Ryan,” you could send a virtual castle crashing to the ground with a couple of Wii-mote swings.
Peter Jackson and The Wachowskis tried to bring their movies to the gaming world with “King Kong” and “Enter The Matrix” respectively, but these titles would turn out to be unable to capture the same fan base that drove their blockbusters in the theaters. But when George Lucas started the LucasArts Game Studio, it boasted some of the biggest games of its time — not just thanks to anything with the words “Star Wars” emblazoned upon the cover, but also thanks to original titles such as “The Curse of Money Island” and “Day of the Tentacle.”
Moving from movies to games is not the easiest of transitions — imagine having your star run around the set like a madman, poking or shooting everything in sight, as you hold your breath in hopes that they do the right thing. The most successful directors to make the jump know that it takes working on multiple games to understand storytelling in gaming, and unfortunately, with high costs and years between the start and time you finish production, it becomes a big gamble. Well – unless we’re talking about indie games.
Last year, a little indie title blasted onto the scene from out of nowhere — “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” puts you in control of two boys trying to save their dying father. I remember meeting with Starbreeze Studio and Josef Fares, the Swedish award-winning film director, about the game. They showed me that you controlled one brother with one stick on the controller and the other brother with the other stick on the controller. Josef pointed out how he wanted places throughout the game where you could sit and watch the world you just worked you way through. I could see like a film, he wanted to set the scene for the player, to give them a moment to reflect and really be in the world. A couple of months later, “Brothers” came out on Xbox 360 to critical acclaim.
With indie developers now possessing more tools to create the kinds of images that movie directors dream about, I can see an industry starting to turn towards games again to tell unique stories that put the audience at the center of the action. Already, writers like Neil Gaiman have used the power of indie developers to tell unique stories like “Wayward Manor,” an original tale about a ghost looking to scare the residents out of his house. Animators, artists, writers, and now directors are starting to see the barrier between movies and games starting to dissolve, so who knows? The next great indie developer may not know anything about coding, but thanks to film expertise, know what it takes to tell an amazing story.