The Intersection of Filmmaking and Video Games: Part I
What is the nature of the relationship between the video game and film industries? The media landscape has changed incredibly since the early days of Atari and Nintendo. As video games have increased in number, quality, and audience, the lines dividing games and films has blurred. Today, the video gaming and film markets feed off of each other, and often work in tandem as part of multimedia, cross-platform marketing.
This blog is the first in a two part series examining the relationship between film and video game production. Part I provides a history of video game design, while Part II examines the current relationship between film and video game production.
Part I: A Historical Examination
Early Failures: As the Los Angeles Times notes in this article, the relationship between film companies and video gaming began when well-known companies like Warner Communications and Lucasfilms began their own interactive media branches. In the 1970s, Warner Communications bought Atari, while companies like Lucasfilm, Walt Disney Co., and DreamWorks branched out into interactive gaming in the ’80s and ’90s. These early forays into video game production were ill-fated, however, in part because film production companies didn’t understand the medias’ inherent production and narrative structure differences.
Many film companies underestimated video game production time lines, and thus released less-than stellar games like the infamous “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”, which was created in just 5 weeks. Overproduction, coupled with poor graphics and repetitive game play led to Atari’s loss of a whooping $100million. The game’s failure is considered one of the contributing factors to the “video game crash of 1983.”
Video Game Resurgence:
The 1990s saw a rebirth of video game technologies, with the introduction of 3D environments and optical disc storage, which were able to store larger amounts of data cheaply. The 1990s also witnessed the creation of the ‘interactive movie,’ a video game format that utilized “full-motion video of either animated or live-action footage.” This genre–which utilized Laserdisc technologies–followed a ‘cinematic’ storyline, and featured either animated characters or real actors. Gamers were prompted to decide the actions of the main characters, and their decisions would trigger the playback of particular film clips. In 1982, the video game “Rollercoaster” was released; it included playback of scenes from the film of the same name. A year later Cinematronics released “Dragon’s Lair,” a game so successful it inspired two sequels and additional platform releases, including a recent re-release on BluRay.