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Video Games Vs Hollywood

hollywood vs video gaming
hollywood vs video gaming

The Hollywood TV adaptation of The Last of Us has reached our screens to critical plaudits and follows on from last year's long-anticipated Halo show. With big budgets and A-list talent attached to these ‘event’ productions it seems the games industry is finally getting its due from other creative sectors.

It wasn't always so: Dennis Hopper told Conan O'Brian his six year old son asked why he took on the role of King Koopa in 1993's infamous 'Super Mario Bros', Hopper told him "Well Henry, I did that so you could have shoes."

Henry's response? "Dad, I don’t need shoes that badly."

Another Super Mario Bros. Movie releases this April from Illumination Entertainment, the creators of bone fide hits like Despicable Me and Sing. It’s tipped to be the most successful video game movie yet.

So what changed? There are two factors at play, first the games industry has matured alongside its audience; the second is the fact there’s an awful lot of money to be made - we are often reminded that gaming is now more valuable than the film and music industries combined!

A Long History

The games sector has been profiting from film tie-ins for at least as long as there have been Star Wars films – and I've looked at the very many titles inspired by the Alien universe in a previous post. Games based on Hollywood hits had their heyday in the 1980s thanks to publishers such as Ocean Software, but they are still very much with us.

Hollywood's finest have been providing voice performances ever since CD-ROMs came onto the scene. Acting for games has since become a lucrative career option. I'm sure a great many gamers will recognise Nolan North's voice - he's possibly the busiest man in video games and will be remembered as the real Nathan Drake (sorry Tom Holland!)

The first Hollywood A-lister to also be billed with a leading role in a game was a fully digitised, motion-captured Bruce Willis in 1998’s Apocalypse for PS1. Bruce still makes the most of his digital visage, including ‘appearing’ in a Russian ad courtesy of a deepfake company.

Since Willis opened the floodgates in the Playstation era a host of Hollywood talent, from Gary Coleman to Gary Oldman (and many non-Garies besides) have since brought their star power to the gaming world.

Perhaps the most astute celebrity performer - and gamer - is Vin Diesel. Mr. Diesel recognised the commercial potential of putting his likeness in licensed games and founded Tigon Studios 20 years ago. Highlights include (the excellent) Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, and original property, The Wheelman.

Rockstar Games?

Musicians have long embraced gaming too. Scouse morality botherers Frankie Goes To Hollywood released a licensed game for 8-bit computers in 1985. Other notable oddities since then have included an Aerosmith light gun game, Revolution X, and a mission built around protecting Phil Collins in GTA: Vice City Stories.

David Bowie and Peter Gabriel were keen to explore the artistic potential of gaming. Gabriel was one of the first to embrace the multi-media opportunities offered by new CD formats in the first half of the 1990s. However, for my money Bowie's collaboration on Quantic Dream's first game, the unfortunately named Omikron: The Nomad Soul, was more interesting.

Bowie would contribute 10 original songs to the game's soundtrack, which were featured in in-game concerts. He also played a motion captured character, Boz. Yep, Boz...

The game itself was an early open world games when it launched for the PC and the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast in 1999. It looks and plays a bit janky now, imagine Cyberpunk 2077 but made with the PS1 Resident Evil engine, but there was no faulting the ambition. Moreover, the casting of Bowie was inspired for a game that was one part Blade Runner to another metaphysical, interdimensional weirdness.

I'd be intrigued to see what a reimagining could look like, but Cyberpunk itself is probably the closest we'll get. To say CD Project Red's follow-up to The Witcher 3 was highly anticipated is an understatement. The game was a decade in the making but when Keanu Reeves appeared at the end in the 2019 E3 cinematic trailer, hype for the game went into over-drive. Star power works.

Without wishing to give away too many spoilers, the role seems made for Reeves, trading off a long heritage starring in cyberpunk movies, most notably as saviour figure Neo in the Matrix films. But arguably there's also a nod to Ted Theodore Logan, co-founder of Wyld Stallyns, history's most significant rock n roll band...

What Comes Next

It seems a starring role in a video game is something A-listers now want to get on their resume, and are prepared to go further than phoning in a performance in for the paycheck. To date, Mark Hamill is the only Hollywood name to have won a Performer award at the BAFTA Games Awards, but no doubt we'll see a growing number of film actors committing their voices - and faces - to video games in the years to come.

Perhaps the bigger question is when (and if) we'll ever get to see an Oscar winning Best Picture based on a gaming property? It's not inconceivable given games offer equally fertile ground as novels to inspire movies.

It’s time for the games industry to finally step out of the film industry’s shadow? With an endless stream of remakes, reboots and reimaginings it seems Hollywood would benefit from mining the gaming more deeply for fresh inspiration. And no, this isn’t a pitch for a Minecraft movie!

Games will continue to benefit from recognisable faces, but they won’t make or break a title. Perhaps Hollywood now needs games more than video games need Hollywood?