Destructoid Discusses: Media tie-ins to gaming

Lately, there have been more attempts to branch videogames out to other forms of media. I’m not talking about the (all-too-frequently horrible) adaptations of established properties, rather attempts to tie-in comic books (Prototype), films and complex web sites (Dead Space) with the intent of expanding a new property before the game itself is actually released.

Do you think this is wise? Will it help the industry to generate more hype for titles which may translate to additional sales from people who have digested these other forms of media? Are they best suited as strictly marketing tools for the games, or can game companies expect the revenue streams to operate in both directions? Where should the industry draw the line when attempting such things?

This week’s community guest is Pendleton21. Hit the jump to see what the gang has to say.

Jim Sterling: As with any medium, I think this is something that works on a case by case basis. Take, for example, Star Wars, which has had supplementary storylines woven into the universe from all corners — comics, books, videogames, whatever. In most cases, the supplementary stuff has surpassed the original work. I don’t really love any of the SW films, but I love the “expanded universe.”

With videogames, you need to establish what Lucas established — a universe people care about. I am highly interested in Prototype as a game, but until I see more, I don’t care about the world it’s set in. So far, the developer has not given me a reason to care. The main character looks a bit generic and the storyline doesn’t appear to be particularly mindbending. I am not going to spend money to acquire that comic book.

Silent Hill, that’s a universe I care about. That’s a universe I’d pay to see further media of. Unfortunately I did pay, and the comic books were fucking awful. However, Silent Hill has a mythos and a history good enough to make me take that chance. The Oddworld series has that same sense of history, that same sense of the games showing us only a small sample of a larger, living, breathing universe. Prototype doesn’t do that for me. Dead Space didn’t really do it for me either. However, I think supplementary media is damn fine idea for games with truly deep and intriguing histories buried within their backstories. Sadly, games that astoundingly entrancing are a rare commodity.

Jonathan Holmes: Jim makes some strong points (as usual). I agree with him 100% on the idea that a game needs to offer us an “astoundingly entrancing” world in order justify spin-offs into other media. More than that though, I think these spin-offs need to be made by people who truly love their source material. Too often, these spin-offs end up being made in-part because the creators of the games in question wished they had been working in another form of media in the first place. It’s no secret that a lot of Western developers (with the exception of Will Wright) have a tendency to try to make their games as much like movies as possible, because deep down they wish they worked in a different industry.

But I digress.

I love the Udon Street Fighter comics, not because the world of Street Fighter is all that compelling from a narrative perspective, but because thus far they have been comics made for fans, by fans. Udon loves the Street Fighter games for all the right reasons, and it shows. That’s probably why Capcom trusted them to do SSF2T:Remix. Each issue of their Street Fighter comics have felt like a tribute to the games, a tribute that only attempts to provide the reader the same feelings they get while they play a round of Street Fighter.

Before the Udon books came to be, there were awful, and I mean awful, Street Fighter comics that tried to adapt the source material into the kind of thing that worked to sell comic books at the time; Americanized art, “super hero vs super villain” cliche’ storylines, and absolutely no loyalty to the source material. Those comics failed, and rightfully so, because they attempted to make Street Fighter into something it’s not.

As long as the creators make a real attempt to stay true to their sources, these spin-offs are guarenteed to be fun. Even though it’s a crap movie, I actually love Resident Evil: Apocalypse, because they actually put some effort into staying true to Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Then there’s the Doom movie, with it’s ridiculous but thoroughly effective fan-service FPSs sequence. Then there’s the Animal Crossing anime movie; a movie with a story that consists of some mindless milling about, some odd jobs, followed by some more attempts to keep busy while doing nothing.Then, the movie ends. It’s a movie that makes you feel exactly like the Animal Crossing games do, and that’s why I love it.

As silly as these movies are, they are a lot more “legit” that than the Van Damme Street Fighter movie or those Silent Hill comics that Jim mentioned. Sadly, we’re still in an era when producers of non-game based media still think of videogames as a second class art form, if they are willing to admit that it’s an art form at all. As long as that’s the case, we can expect most videogame spin-offs into other media to be hilariously bad self-paordies at best, god awful bastardizations of the games we love at worst.

Joseph Leray: For me, these external forms of media stink of lazy writing. They act more as a crutch than anything else.

For example, like Jim, I’m no fan of Mass Effect. I had a lot of people tell me to read the books, that I’ll fall in love with the universe and that it’ll make me want to play the game. But I shouldn’t have to rely on a book to suck me into the universe — the game itself should do that. If it can’t, then I’m not interested. Same goes for the Halo books, the Prototype comics, and the Dead Space anime.

If the game’s good enough to warrant these forays into other media, that’s a different story. But the notion that a game can’t stand on its own narrative feet is a fallacy. Furthermore, even if a game is good enough for a spin-off, I’d be afraid of cheapening the game’s legacy. The UDON Street Fighter comics are badass and aren’t detrimental to the game’s legacy. The same can’t be said for the Halo books.

Also, I already had this typed up before Tron sent his in, so I’m totally not stealing my UDON argument from him.

Hamza Aziz: The Halo books (except for the latest one) are all fantastic and tell you so much more about the universe. You’ll actually give a shit about the story thanks to the books. Sadly, the story in the games are horrible. Halo 1 did a good job for the most part, but the other games failed.

I feel this is mostly to do with Microsoft. They realized they had a cash cow with Halo so they tried to milk the series as fast as possible making Bungie focus on the gameplay and not the story. Wow, you got real actors in the games? That’s so great. Oh wait, there’s no story? Fuck you.

Colette Bennett: I tend to agree with Orcist on supplemental content– I want it to be good, but I feel for the most part it rarely matches up to the quality of the games. If it did, I’d be all about it. As Jim said, Silent Hill is an incredible universe I want more of, and I can think of a few other games I would love to see supplemental content for. In the case of a title like Valkryria Chronicles, I expect the anime will be as good as the source material if not better.

Dyson: I agree with all the points made, but I differ in the opinions of some of the games mentioned. I truly liked the Dead Space comic and also thought that the supplemental movie was a great precursor to the game. I feel that it was really well done and made me get more from the game’s experience when playing it. I borrowed the Mass Effect book from a coworker and it was well written enough to the point that it made me psyched for the game, too. I never got around to playing it much, but I think the book did a good job.

The American style SF books were terrible, which Is why I have the super old manga style ones somewhere. Those stories were great and didn’t fuck up the canon at all. I do agree that spin off stuff needs to be really good to make it worth the value. I now Legendary had a graphic novel that went with it that wasn’t very good, so the idea of quality needs to be mentioned again.

One thing, though, is you can take the media spin offs from games and look at how the type of media games use – books, shows, whatever – and see that worlds created in those other medias spin off into video games, too. Star Trek games, anyone? Creating fictional worlds, whether they begin in books or games, always seem to bleed out to other mediums. And, as stated by y’all before, need to be good on a case per case basis.

Personally, if I like something enough to sit in front of it for multiple hours, having something to stare at or read that extends it doesn’t sound like a bad idea, at long as it’s well done.

Joseph Leray: But wouldn’t it have been better if Dead Space and Mass Effect had sucked you in because they were well-written games with their own well-developed histories and universes? I mean, it’s great that you enjoyed the anime and the books, but it’s an easy excuse for devs to skimp out on the actual game itself. I want to get anime- and literature-quality writing in my games, not game-quality universes in spin-off books.

Jonathan Ross: I’m not going to have much to contribute, because I typically ignore all that extra marketing crap because, from what I’ve heard, it usually sucks.  I think the closest thing I’ve gotten to participating in any of that was when I was like 9 and got a VHS from Nintendo about Donkey Kong Country, and that isn’t really even similar to what we’re talking about.

In regards to the actual question, I think it’s rather simplistic (which probably isn’t good for discussion, but oh well).  If the material they put out is actually GOOD, then yeah, it’s good for the industry.  If they churn out crap, then it’s going to be bad.  I do think ARGs are kind of neat, but that’s probably because they’re free.

Hamza Aziz: With some games, specifically Dead Space and Halo, were dropped in right during a major event/conflict. I think it was more interesting to be dropped in not completely understanding what was going on. It builds up suspense and keeps the player going as they play through.

This also helps from keeping the game way too long. But that didn’t stop Dead Space and Halo being longer than they should have with more mundane fetch quests and recycled levels. Plus, they can hopefully elaborate what the fuck is going on in the sequels. Hopefully Dead Space can pull that off.

What I do really find annoying is with Dead Space and BioShock having additional back stories that you have to find within the game (the recordings). Most of the time they’re easy to find, but the really juicy ones are always hidden.

Pendleton21: Well, Jim, the thing is, one of my favorite pieces of supplemental media came from a game with almost no story. Sonic The Hedgehog, which had (and still has) an extensive comic and Saturday morning cartoon franchise to bulk up it’s story. What’s strange about it, though, is that none of these things have anything to do with the actual Sonic games. In none of the games do you have the amazing Freedom Fighters, the great backstory with Sonic’s parents dying, and his uncle being changed into a robot. Some of my favorite moments in the Sonic franchise came from Sonic media, not a Sonic game.

The biggest problem with supplemental media is that it’s not aimed to further the story of anything; it’s just expensive advertising. That horrible Dead Space movie wasn’t really made to give backstory to the former residents of the USG Ishimura, it was meant to get people to spend $20, which might THEN make them want them to spend another $60 on their game. As Jim said, it’s great when the media is created to expand on an already-established franchises/games with interesting stories. I still love Advent Children, even through all the hate it gets, because it gives me more Final Fantasy 7 story to chew on.

Colette Bennett: See Hamza, I love the fact that those additional story bits were
well-hidden. That way, the gamer that is thorough and explores his or her surroundings completely reaps the reward of all the extra details. If you aren’t in it for the story, you can blast through and ignore it, which is cool in that it opens the game up to more different types of gamers.

I forgot to mention the strange virtues of game tie-ins that are not really good, but you find yourself attracted to them anyway. For instance, I bought all the Myst books, and while I knew they were light years away from being good literature, I have to admit to enjoying them all.

Jim Sterling: I’m with Colette on hiding the story snippets. A little digging to uncover more of what happened is definitely a good thing.

On the subject of Dead Space, I’m not saying the comic and movie and stuff were bad, per se. Downfall was fun in a rather silly way, while the comic booke tie-in that I read was pretty decent. However, I simply don’t care enough about Dead Space to want to spend money on that stuff. I actually really liked how several forms of media tied together to make Dead Space more interesting. I wouldn’t call what Dead Space did lazy writing as Orcist does, but I do agree that, such as with Mass Effect, reading a book to make the game appealing is a bit shit.

A truly good tie-in should stand on its own as a solo piece, while adding a lot of flavor if taken in with the game as well. This is where Dead Space stood out. The comics, the movie and the game were all relatively enjoyable on their own (though I got bored of the game) and didn’t rely on each other to be understood or appreciated. However, those who read the comic, watched the movie AND played the game got to enjoy an extra layer of entertainment. That’s how a good tie-in should be done.

Hamza Aziz: I love story and hate the fact that I’m missing something because it’s so well damn hidden. I understand the feeling of finding something hidden, but hate knowing that I’m missing a chunk of the plot.

Dyson: Well, I was lucky enough to not have to pay for anything Dead Space related, so that aspect can factor in. I also don’t think I needed to read the Mass Effect book to get me into the game, but by reading it on my own it increased my interest.

This reminds me that I have to pull out my comic boxes to see exactly what it is that I own.

Conrad Zimmerman