originals\ Sep 27, 2011 at 3:57 pm

How TV Influences Video Games

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I always laugh when I hear a gamer say, “I don’t watch TV.” While those people clearly don’t understand that the best non-interactive content is on television, game developers most certainly do.

For several years now, television has had a growing influence on the game industry, which has begun to realize that the Nielsen leaders should be considered more than fodder for licensed gaming. The Lost, 24, Alias, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Files and Prison Break video games were, if nothing else, forgettable.

More specifically, Lost: Via Domus was a blasphemous disaster that featured lame voice acting, poorly constructed scenes, lousy gameplay, and only one interesting story element. 24’s game was a disgrace to a show that delivered more than one hundred breathtaking, on-the-edge-of-your-seat episodes. The gameplay was clunky, the story was funky, and the cinematics were anything but on par with the series. Alias gave us a glimmer of hope with its above-average voice acting (brought to you by the cast of the show, unlike Lost and 24, which only featured select cast members). But the gameplay was a muddled mix of mangled monotony; if the camera didn’t drive players crazy, the combat had no trouble chasing them away.

I could go on by explaining how the X-Files game failed to mirror the quality of the series, or describe the disappointment of playing Prison Break, or the majority of The Simpsons video games. But you get the idea. Games based on TV shows typically suck.

However, what about games that are inspired (in whole or in part) by TV? Those, my friend, are a whole other story. Let’s take a look at some of the things game developers have learned from TV.

One Cliffhanger Is Never Enough

Alone in the Dark may not have revitalized the survival/horror genre in the way that gamers had hoped, but it was the first console game to implement a full-scale TV-style presentation. No, this didn’t have anything to do with episodic gaming, a form of online distribution. Instead, Alone in the Dark featured an episodic storytelling format that was designed to mirror the arrangement of a weekly TV series. All of the missions were separated by “episodes” that started with TV-style recaps and concluded with a cliffhanger. The implementation wasn’t perfect, but the idea was very creative.

Remedy Entertainment, the development studio behind the Max Payne series, followed suit with its own TV presentation in the Xbox 360-exclusive Alan Wake.

Mini-Series Build Hype

Alan Wake may not be the commercial success that many anticipated, but it has earned a ton of praise for its unique take on the survival/horror genre. But when it came time to promote the game to the masses, Microsoft didn’t rely on the flashy trailers to get players excited. Instead, the publisher turned to another medium and produced a mini-series, Bright Falls, that would serve as a prequel to the game. Bright Falls combined live-action footage and CG effects to tell a story that was suitable for (and likely inspired by) cable TV networks like Syfy.

Bright Falls came less than one year after Ubisoft produced a live-action film/mini-series of its own to promote the long-awaited Assassin’s Creed 2. With more than three million views on YouTube alone, it has been very successful.

Anything Can Happen in a Split-Second

I’m not a fan of reality TV. Lately, I can’t say that I like the storylines that video games provide any better. But when Black Rock Studio put the two together for Split/Second, the developer hit on something that was both smart and exciting.

The game is about a fictitious TV series that encourages its contestants to take advantage of explosion-rigged courses. As you race through these artificial cities/TV sets, the action is recorded and replayed with a familiar, sometimes-shaky camera effect that reality TV shows (and too many dramas) are known for.

Donkey Wheels Are Cool

If you’ve never watched an episode of Lost before, you’ll probably think that BioShock was the only thing that inspired Singularity. But the truth is that the Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof-produced masterpiece had a profound effect on Raven Software, the developers of Singularity.

Lost (the TV series, not the lousy game) featured a donkey wheel that was stuck in what appeared to be some very large rocks. Singularity has one as well, though unlike the wheel on Lost, it doesn’t appear to do anything in this game.

Lost had a famous Dharma station called The Pearl. Singularity has a ship that goes by the same name (I suppose the developers thought that naming it the Black Rock would be too obvious). On Lost, Locke continually asked, “What if this was supposed to happen?” before finally believing that this (the plane crashing on the island) was his destiny. In Singularity, destiny is also questioned, albeit with a bit more subtlety. (However, the developers did include the Locke quote in the form of a message scribbled on the wall.) We also get a flashback that reveals something we didn’t know about Singularity’s main characters.

Could this all be a coincidence? Maybe. But Singularity also deals with the core issues of time travel: if you go back in time, can you really change the past? And if so, will there be any repercussions? Furthermore, the game takes place on an island where a crazy, power-hungry man spent his life conducting a series of atrocious experiments, which were led by people who were deceived into coming to the island. Sound familiar, Lost fans?

If not, then maybe you’re familiar with some of Raven’s other recent work. Though X-Men Origins: Wolverine is without a donkey wheel, it features a very familiar hatch.

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