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Limitations Of Game Licenses Probed

simoniker posted more than 11 years ago | from the square-peg-in-round-hole? dept.

Games 14

Thanks to an anonymous reader for pointing to game designer Mark Barrett's page, where he has an opinion piece discussing the gameplay limitations of videogame licenses. He references earlier discussions on the subject from the likes of Warren Spector and Greg Costikyan, and says his Enter The Matrix play sessions revealed "..most of what I was doing and seeing had been forced not by design decisions, but rather by the promise of the license itself... [which was] encumbered by filmic conventions and film-related audience expectations, some of which were unrelated (or even antithetical) to a meaningful interactive experience." Do developers just have to rely on luck when it comes to how game-translatable a license is, or can they beat the odds by being smart?

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I can think of only a few that worked. (4, Interesting)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 11 years ago | (#6450690)

Star Trek, 25th aniversery. An excellent adventure set in the original and best series. Worked because it was just a good adventure that did something very new. Instead of one long story they had a bunch of shorter unrelated ones, this allowed them to have a lot of possible outcomes for each mission/episode. Every thing about it just acted and looked like you where in an episode. Most importantly as captain kirk you used the same tools as in a series, spock for analysis, the red shirt to get killed and youreselve to talk to alien babes.

The other is X-wing. It perfectly emulated the feel of being in an x-wing. Later on the series watered down in my opinion as they added to many missles being fired at you (can you remember a single fighter targetted missle in the films?)

What made these games great? They took something that was essentialy part of the series. X-wing was dogfighting in space and star trek is basically an adventure story. (Observe problem, let spock think of a solution, let McCoy apply the solution while complaning he is not x, kirk sleeps with green alien babe, go to next problem)

What was also great is that the designers had to really be creative to create the feel of the game as the hardware was then way to limited to just chuck high definition movies and soundtracks on it. (these two games came out on floppies)

If I think about the most recent licensed game I played, Elite Force II, I just don't get the same feeling as when I played those other games. Sure the voices where exactly like in the series. The feeling just wasn't. The ship looked well, empty, the bridge to small. and the constant killing spree seems a bit untrekky to me. In both of the installments you even kill off a shitload of humans.

Perhaps a license can only really succeed as a critically aclaimed game when it is just a good game regard less of the license. Then the license can be used to add something a little bit extra. Where do rather launch from, a stardestoyer or the tiger claw?

Re:I can think of only a few that worked. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6451230)

Golden Eye by UK codeshop Rare is also an game one of the most inovative FPS's, there's a real sense of tension and suspense missing from so many titles. I gree that a licence ads almost nothing to gameplay but as you hint it can help player imersion by providing a rich context in within which the interaction takes place

Rushing. (2, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 11 years ago | (#6451296)

Rushing a game out of the door WILL ruin it, as some very 'minor' issues can screw gameplay very badly. Lucasfilm(arts) has mostly gotten things right, in couple of indiana jones's too. Pirates of caribbean is one of these rushed titles, promising but...

Re:I can think of only a few that worked. (1)

Winterblink (575267) | more than 11 years ago | (#6451898)

I played the EF2 demo and was completely turned off by what amounted to a phaser shotgun. At that point I realized I'd completely been drawn out of anything resembling immersion. Suddenly it dawned on me that the license was just a skin on an otherwise standard-fare first person shooter. Been there, done that, bored with it.

I totally agree with you though, about how X-Wing (and the followup, Tie Fighter) were GREAT games. They nailed Star Wars space combat down pat. Wing Commander was something of an oddity in my opinion. It's a FANTASTIC series of games, don't get me wrong there. But most game series' that aren't based on a license don't see the number of sequels as it had, and by far don't see the increase in production values it saw. Wing Commander games ended up being movies in and of themselves long before it actually hit theaters.

Re:I can think of only a few that worked. (1)

Hamster Lover (558288) | more than 11 years ago | (#6455541)

I concur completely (no Star Trek joke intended). I have a Gamecube and Rogue Squadron and while the graphics are phenomenal the gameplay is pretty iffy, it's just too hard and bears little relation to the gameplay in Xwing or Tie Fighter, both superb games.

As for adventure games, Indiana Jones and Atlantis was another adventure game I devoured besides the Star Trek series; excellent music, characters and story. Dune II was also an fantastic game that was really the predecesor to Warcraft and Command and Conquer, I don't know if it was licensed, but it seemed to follow the theme of the book thoroughly.

The latest game that stands out for me is Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb, for the same reasons as every other licensed game- immersion. You really feel like Indiana Jones, or Luke Skywalker or whomever -- these are the licensed games that deliver gameplay that allows for complete immersion. After all, that's what the player wants, to be the character they see in movies, books, or TV.

Developing license property (4, Insightful)

Jouni (178730) | more than 11 years ago | (#6451401)

In most cases, brand owners are very protective of their cash cow licenses. The characters should act like the originals would, they should be recognizable and they should not involve anything inappropriate. What is appropriate is deemed by the brand owner and not the game developer, and this often introduces snags into the development process.

The degree of hand-holding by the brand owner varies, in some cases a developer is allowed to run and get quite creative with a character-based license (like the earlier mentioned Goldeneye with James Bond) while in the case of Enter the Matrix the game was apparently co-directed by the Wachowski brothers themselves. And truly, it is a fitting story in the Matrix universe.

One of the major differences in games vs. movies is the ownership of the experience; games try to give you some illusion of free will to allow you feel like it is you choosing to fight the bad guys and you on the screen kicking ass.

Enter the Matrix was built to tell the Wachowski story, and while an interesting one in the multi-threaded Matrix universe (like the great Animatrix [] shorts) and tied to the rest of the legacy, it does not leave many open-ended choices to the player. While not the basis for very deep or varied gameplay, this ironically fits with the Matrix universe and the question of free will in human life. You are ultimately on rails, and you will either ride to the finish, or you will perish along the way. That has not stopped the game from selling more than 2.5 million copies, which means they must have done something right.

Chris Crawford [] and many others have debated the depth of the story tree and mechanisms to create interesting and playable content inside multi-threaded story trees. I have yet to find a massively multiplayer game that was able to carry a coherent story (except about the story of the player himself exploiting a strange world full of rats and squirrels to get "exp" and "eq") and have grown too jaded to enjoy pseudo-random generator worlds like Morrowind [] . However, I find a lot of pleasure in visiting the grandfathers of 16- and 32-bit roleplaying, Chrono Trigger [] and Chrono Cross [] , with a dozen or more possible endings each.

An ideal game gives you a strong illusion of ownership over the evolution and direction of the story while filling all the possible branches of gameplay with interesting content. Spector's Deus Ex 2 is very ambitious in this aspect, and everyone is hoping it turns out as good or better as the first one. However, like The Sims have shown you can also create enjoyable environments with no story at all besides the one you create in your head. Even the Sim-speak is an abstraction that allows you to fill in your own words.

Interestingly for those of us in the business of making games, the financial details of Larry Wachowski's involvement in The Matrix are detailed on The Smoking Gun [] archives because of his divorce battle with his ex-wife. Fair? I don't know, but educational to the rest of us. Life is a game too, the ultimate license property [] ... :-)


Re:Developing license property (1)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 11 years ago | (#6451698)

games try to give you some illusion of free will to allow you feel like it is you choosing

And some licensed games utterly fail. I recently played Star Trek Bridge Commander all the way through. It's an older game, so I can forgive some of the weird looking lip sync and human models.

The real problem was you had very little opportunity to make any decisions that affected the outcome of the game. Any "wrong" decision, and it was game over.

It felt like a poorly written "choose your own adventure book", one where you start to recognize the page number of the "death page" that is referred to on nearly every decision page.

I find it hard to believe that game was given such good reviews, it's really a pretty terrible game, with pretty good 3D combat as its only saving grace.

Re:Developing license property (2, Interesting)

Fareq (688769) | more than 11 years ago | (#6454331)

I think here you've hit the nail on the head.

Brand owners are very protective. Some will hold the game dev's hand, some will be truly destructive, and others will trust the developer to do what is right for the game.

It is always hard to tell in advance what kind of brand owner you are dealing with, but I believe that the more freedom hte developer has, the better the game could be. Unfortunately, it could be much worse, as well...

So... when deciding whether or not to pick up the license, spend a lot of time looking at the terms of the license, as well as the track record of the brand owner

Not all of them suck! (2, Funny)

Tom7 (102298) | more than 11 years ago | (#6451895)

Man, I thought "Super Mario Bros." was pretty good, and that was based on a movie [] .

No (0)

Knightmare+1 (660327) | more than 11 years ago | (#6452186)

The movie was based from the Mario Bros games. Super Mario Bros was NOT based on the movie.

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6454445)

Man, you are dumb.

Re:Not all of them suck! (2, Funny)

rafa (491) | more than 11 years ago | (#6452260)

Well, come to think of it - a game based on the Mortal Combat films might be really good. Hey, what about the Street Fighter game? Lots of potential there. Then again, Van Damme in a computer game? Naaah.

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