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Now they’re releasing a game!?

It had to happen. It really did. They did it with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, so why not His Dark Materials? Happily, there is an answer, and that is why I’m here. The fact that New Line seem to have either not got into their collective heads, or just simply ignored- THE fact, is the fact that a film DOES NOT make a good game. A book DOES NOT make a good game. A good book does not necessarily make a good film, even, but I hope we’ve already established that with my last column, so lets stick with games for now.

Let’s look at Lord of the Rings, in fact. New Line- same cinema company. Fantasy/alternate reality adventure- same genre of story. Crap- probably the same reaction. I must come across cynical, eh? But let’s just look at it. The whole point of a game is to work from the start of the first level to the end of the final one. Then that’s it. That’s the end- there is nothing more to come. The same can be said for a film. The opening music signifies the start of the story, and the credits at the end signify that it is over. There is nothing before that music (except for those bloody copyright protection adverts) and there is nothing after the credits- that is it.

That is not what a book is. And this is where they are going wrong- every single time it is the same. A book is the relevant part of the story. It’s the part that the author wants to tell. There is always a huge backstory- how things came about, what will happen when things are over, where things may have gone if the story hadn’t happened, but with a game, there is nothing. There may be a tiny little introduction to the story, a sort of “just in case you didn’t know, here’s what happened”, and that’s it. Oh, you can talk about “the mystery of what happened to Mr Man ‘cos he’s got amnesia and woke up on a hospital bed and has a tattoo of a rabid hamster on his left middle finger”, but it’s still exactly the same. The game focuses on how it affects now. It’s such an elementary mistake, and yet nobody seems able to spot it.

But this is immaterial, really. A His Dark Materials game will either have a rave review because you can make Pantalaimon change from butterfly to slug in seven seconds, or it will have a terrible review because Lyra doesn’t blink like a real person. So let’s go back to my original point. A good book does not necessarily make a good film. Tom Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears, for instance. The book was good. The film was not. Another example could be Trainspotting. The book was an amazing in-depth look at the life of a drug addict. The film was just overly profane.

But just in case you can’t see where I’m going, here we are. Making a “film of the book” is bad enough. Something will always be lost in translation – everybody knows that not all of a book will make it into a film, it’s not cyninism, it’s fact. And we also know that if you’re making a “game of the film”, something will be lost there as well- you know that if you’re a protagonist, you will eventually win, if you know which button to press and when. But here it is. If both of those lose something, what do you think a “game of the film of the book” will be like?

I’ll tell you what it’d be like.

The Lord of the Rings.

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