Board game cafés opening up across nation.
No wi-fi here. Snakes and Lattes in Toronto was the first, but more board game cafés are opening across Canada, including Monopolatte in Ottawa and Krowns in Calgary.
DC Comics launching Justice League Canada.
Canadian writer Jeff Lemire slated to helm the series. The title is due out in 2014, with the team roster still unrevealed.
Bureaucracy becomes a nail-biting video game.
Processing as an immigration border officer adds in complex situations and requires the player to make difficult decisions. Not the usual approach to a video game, but compelling.
Toronto Fan Expo becoming cosplay highlight.
Half of Fan Expo’s attendance will be in costume. Last year’s attendance reached 91 000. That’s a lot of costumes and hours to create them.
Project for Gamercamp turns video game heroines into fashion statements.
The Double Flawless project brings together video games and fashion as five iconic heroines – Princess Zelda, Commander Shepard, Lara Croft, Chun-Li, and Mileena – get makeovers. See the initial designs here.
Welcome to Lost in Translation‘s quick – wait, not so quick – series of adapting games to television and film. The series grew, but now it’s time to wrap up.
The core through the series kept going back to the key to adapting anything: respect for the original. In the case of games, there just happened to be a few elements that don’t exist in other media. Game mechanics do create a feel for a game; a game of Battleship should be different from a game of Parcheesi while a game of Clue should be different from a session of Vampire: The Requiem*. Video game adaptations also have to factor in that many viewpoint characters are there to represent the player and have no pre-determined personality. Tabletop RPGs allow the players to create their own characters. Boardgames may not even have a being beyond a marker.
Game adaptations have ranged from successful (Mortal Kombat, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), failures (Dungeons & Dragons, The Legend of Chun Li), and the in between (Battleship**, Street Fighter). When an adaptation works, the new work captures the feel of the original. The failures, though, seem to miss the point completely or have no respect for the fans of the original. Warner Bros. is developing a new movie based on D&D, with the project originally working on adapting the RPG’s predecessor Chainmail. With luck, the scriptwriter has played the game and can bring the feel through to appease fans while still not alienating the audience that doesn’t play.
This series barely scratched the surface. I focused on television and movies, but skipped past books. Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October began with the Games Designer Workshop wargame Harpoon. Red October would go on to be adapted as a movie, which then got adapted as a wargame by TSR. The Wild Cards series of books got its beginnings in a Superworld campaign with George R.R. Martin as the GM; in 2007, Green Ronin picked up the license for an RPG based on the setting. Works get adapted, then the adaptations are adapted. Pull one thread and the next thing you know, you have half of a different medium following like cats chasing a laser dot.*** With the proliferation of gaming, whether board, role-playing, card, or video, more and more creators are going to find inspiration in what they play. Amazon’s foray into publishing fanfiction (see Steve’s thoughts, parts one and two for more), we could be seeing more game adaptations in a few years.
Next week, an adaptation by any other name.
* Less blood drinking in Clue, ideally.
** Battleship wasn’t a bad movie in and of itself. It didn’t live up to expectations or to the budget it had.
*** There was a metaphor here, but it got lost.
Welcome to Lost in Translation‘s quick series about the ins and outs of adapting games to television and film.* As seen since the first post, if something is popular, someone else will want to adapt it to a different medium. Today, 2013, the most likely medium to adapt from elsewhere is the Hollywood film.
Part I – Video Games
Part II – Boardgames
Part III – Tabletop Role-Playing Games
Part IV – Adapting Games to Games
Boardgames and card games are the oldest form of gaming, found in all cultures throughout history. From mere diversions to gambling to war preparations, boardgaming has spread far and wide. While there are some games designed for just one person, such as the various solitaire games for cards, the vast majority of games require at least two people. And, yet, there are few projects based on a boardgame. There are many movies that feature a game or are centred on a game, but very few that bring the game to the screen. Part of the reason is that the conflict is between the players. The musical Chess** features the drama between two chess players during the Cold War. Poker is a fixture in many movies, from Maverick to God of Gamblers where, again, the conflict between the poker players is the focus. Battleship became part of the plot in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.
As for boardgame movies, there is Clue and there is Battleship. Jumanji, for all its appearances of being based on a boardgame, is based on a short story. The boardgame came out after the movie. Hasbro does have some movies in the works based on their game lines, detailed earlier.
Last week, I listed key elements that needed to be dealt with to adapt well: plot, setting, characters, and gameplay. Unlike video games where the game needs an icon for the player***, boardgames might just have a coloured token that has no backstory at all. Game bits may include money equivalents, miniatures to represent items, tokens for keeping score, and parts to add to the board. In a few games, the players’ pieces are identified by colour, with the shape of the tokens representing in-game elements.
For the vast majority of movies centred around games, the game shows up as itself within the work. The plot comes from the drama and conflict between the players as they play the game. Gambling games tend to be the focus of this type of movie. It isn’t the poker tournament that is the focus, but the players in it. The setting is where the game is played, whether it’s a saloon on the American frontier, a high class casino in Europe, or a back room in a seedy neighbourhood pool hall. The gameplay is on screen, performed by the characters.
Lately, though, as Lost in Translation previewed last year, boardgames are now being adapted as movies. Monopoly, Risk, Candyland, and a remake of Clue have all been announced. Risk and the similar in scope Axis and Allies involve a world at war, the former set in the late 19th and early 20th Century, the latter during World War II. Typically, movies set during wars of those times would focus on a particular historical element or figure and not need the game at all. Boardgames like Monopoly are about trading and getting rich, again, plots that can be handled easily without the baggage that a boardgame would bring. Monopoly, however, does bring with it a setting, Atlantic City.
For traditional boardgames, the plot can be pulled from the game itself, based on what the winning condition is. Some games, such as The Game of Life and Redneck Life, fit the bill poorly, covering the lifespan of the player’s token. Others, like Battleship, handwave away why there is a conflict between the players, assuming that if the players didn’t want to play the game, they wouldn’t. This leads to the writing staff having to create the reason for the conflict.
In terms of characters, again, few boardgames name their tokens, with Clue being the main exception. Some characters may be named, such as Monopoly‘s Rich Uncle Pennybags and Redneck Life‘s Uncle Clem, but they’re not playable. Typically, the players aren’t placed into a role. They just play the game. To adapt a game, characters will have to be created and cast; few people will pay to see a giant dog token hop down the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
Boardgames do give the adapters a break on setting. The board itself can be turned into the setting. The movie Clue adapted the game’s board well, including the secret passageways and the relative locations of all the rooms. Battleship was set on the Pacific Ocean, providing the nice rich blue sea the game’s boards represent. The exceptions are games similar to Life and Redneck Life, where the boards represent a metaphorical journey instead of a physical one.
Gameplay is going to be the hardest part to adapt properly. Unlike games, people don’t walk a number of steps based on a die roll and don’t move one at a time in order. Games that have inter-player negotiation, such as Monopoly and Diplomacy**** fare a little better here, as players interact with each other in a dramatic conflict, as dramatic as the players want to get.+ In a work of fiction, the desires of both sides of the negotiations can be played up and the movement on the board can be downplayed.
Boardgames will take a deft hand to adapt properly, to keep the feel of the game while still producing characters and a plot that works within the constraints of the original work. The difficulties explain why few boardgames have been adapted directly. Clue managed to keep the feel of the game and worked with the existing characters to produce an entertaining movie. Battleship tried, hard, but might have been a better movie without the name attached.
Next week, part III looks at adapting tabletop role-playing games and wargames.
* And theatre, though I’d be surprised if someone made that leap.
** Someone made the leap.
*** Yes, there are exceptions like Duck Hunt, but the player still is represented by the crosshairs.
**** Diplomacy and, to a lesser degree, Risk and Axis & Allies could also be covered next week as wargames.
+ “Hey, want Reading and B&O for Illinois and Oriental?” “Only if you toss in Boardwalk.”
[Note: This is not the column I hinted at last week. That review is still coming.]
Nineteen forty-four was not a kind year to British citizens. World War II was still going on, and people living within airstrike distance of Germany had to deal with lengthy air raid drills. To help pass the time spent underground and take minds off the worry about what was happening on the surface, Anthony Pratt created a board game based on a murder mystery. After the war, he presented the game to Waddington’s, a British game publisher. Once the wartime shortages were dealt with, the game Cluedo*, known as Clue in North America on its release by Parker Brothers, was released.
The game millions have played since then involves trying to determine who killed Mr. Boddy with what and where by examining evidence at his mansion by going room to room. The murderer, location, and weapon are determined by dealing one of each type of card and setting them aside unseen. Players then move through the mansion, making suggestions in each room. Once a player is sure of who the murderer is, an accusation can be made. Murder weapons include a revolver, a candlestick, a lead pipe, a length of rope, a knife, or a wrench.
In 1985, Paramount released the movie Clue, based on the board game. The movie took the game play, then expanded it to provide motives for each of the characters. Each character was given the name of a token from the board game as well, explicitly called out as pseudonyms. With the movie set in 1954, Communism was a possible motive for several of the characters. Once the murder occurs, both the characters and the audience set off to figure out who killed Mr. Boddy. The clues are there, but the audience needs to pay attention and not get distracted by the double entendres, single entendres and puns. The cast worked well together, with comedic actors Martin Mull (Col. Mustard), Eileen Brennan (Mrs. Peacock), Madeleine Kahn (Mrs. White), Christopher Lloyd (Prof. Plum), and Michael McKean (Mr. Green), and other greats Lesley Ann Warren (Miss Scarlet) and Tim Curry (Wadsworth, the butler**). The movie was released with a gimmick – three endings were filmed, each to be sent to different theatres in the same city. The release didn’t help in the box office, with the movie underperforming and not making up the initial budget.
The movie did go to lengths to adapt the Clue‘s board as the setting. The rooms were laid out just like the board game, with the secret passages still available. The murder weapons, for the most part, resembled their counterparts in the game. The exception was the revolver, which was played by a modern era weapon instead of the pepperbox design in the game. As mentioned, all the suspects took on the names of the token in the game. One of the endings included the traditional line used when suggesting and accusing in game***.
As an adaptation, it works. The mansion has the right layout. The tokens are all there and now given personalities and motives for killing Mr. Boddy. Wadsworth keeps the “game play” moving, suggesting the characters split into pairs to investigate the mansion. Each of the murder weapons are used. Unfortunately, the gimmick may have led people to avoid the movie. Audiences tend to prefer a definite ending instead of a random one.
The movie is worth watching, especially since it did portray the game well. The writing is tight, with a cinematic nod to Edward Bulwer-Lytton****. Tim Curry is on top of his game, and the rest of the cast keeps up with him. Pay attention to the scenes and the lines. Just remember, like in two of the endings, that Communism is just a Red herring.
Next week, adaptation as a way to expand a setting.
* A play on words of the Latin “ludo”, meaning “I play”.
** He buttles.
*** To avoid spoilers, the form is “[Mr.|Miss|Mrs.] X, in the [room], with the [weapon].”
**** It was, indeed, a dark and stormy night.
The game Battleship is a venerable one, dating back to a pad-and-paper release by Milton Bradley in 1931, and even that game may have just been a codification of a game that existed before then. Milton Bradley released Battleship again in 1967, this time as a board game with plastic representation of ships and pegs to track hits and misses. The game was simple enough, hide your ships well enough on your board while still trying to find your opponent’s vessel. Last person to still have an un-sunk ship won. Nice, simple, not even a backstory involved. Just two evenly matched fleets, each with a battleship, aircraft carrier, destroyer, submarine, and patrol boat, trading shots.
In 1984, Hasbro bought out Milton Bradley and maintained it as its own subsidiary. This gave Hasbro access to a large number of popular games, such as Battleship. Hasbro has also been developing live-action movies of various toy lines over the past few years. Naturally, Battleship would be turned into a movie.
The movie Battleship had some problems. It had a $200 million budget, but, unlike Thor, the money wasn’t spent well. Actors were wasted in roles. The script had several eye-rolling errors, including an alien ship with materials “not found on the periodic table of elements”.* The movie plays out as a by-the-numbers action movie, with the lead character being such a screw up that his family still takes care of him in his mid-twenties, a love interest whose father is in charge of the screw up, a sacrificial family member, a rival the screw up has to work with for the greater good. The plot is telegraphed; twists are seen coming.
A judicious editor should have had a go at the script before it reached the filming stage. The first half hour sets up subplots and could have been done better and shorter. There are elements of the game poking in and out of the movie, but the titular battleship (played by the USS Missouri) is a Chekov’s gun and not the main stage. The board game’s grid appears after radar is useless to track the alien vessels; tsunami trackers allow the heroes to detect the aliens’ movements. The shots are even called the same way – “G-4”.
Obviously, an entire movie of grid-calling would get tedious. At the same time, that same grid-calling is the essence of Battleship. Games tend to abstract details; in real naval battles, ships keep moving so that they’re harder to hit, and the movie reflects that. There are several shots of five-ship groupings, and there’s an attempt at getting the game’s ships in, with the aircraft carrier, the battleship, and the destroyer.** The aliens’ shells even look like the pegs from the game.
With all that, though, the movie really can’t do much more with the Battleship title. It would be a far better movie under a different name. Stunt casting didn’t help. Liam Neeson is wasted with what little screen time he has. Rhianna didn’t bring much to her role, though she also didn’t take away from it; an experienced actor could have done more with the role of Raikes, the weapons specialist.*** With the addition of invaders from space, the movie was really Battleship in name only and another, a video game, would’ve fit the plot better.
Worse, there were elements in the plot that had so much more potential. The subplot of Mick****, a double amputee US Army colonel acting as an impromptu resistance against the aliens, could have been its own movie. The idea of using an older warship against an alien invasion because modern electronics are too easily hacked could have been done.***** There were bright spots throughout the movie. The aliens show tactical intelligence, wanting to get communications back up while disrupting infrastructure and military resources. They also don’t just attack in rushes to get killed; at the end of the movie, the aliens still had the higher number of kills.
Overall, the movie Battleship was disappointing. Although it had little to work from, it squandered what it brought together.
Next week, on adapting games to the big screen.
* All metals, even alloys, can be found on periodic table of elements. The table even leaves room for elements not found or created under lab conditions, just based on atomic structure.
** For all we know, there was a submarine, too, but we couldn’t see it under the water.
*** This is a risk whenever bringing in a singer as an actress; see also Kylie Minogue in Street Fighter.
**** Played by Colonel Gregory D. Gadson, who lost both legs above the knee in Iraq and is still on active duty. Sure, not much of a stretch in the role, but he knows the role well.
***** And has, though it was called a Battlestar instead.
Board game adaptations aren’t new, but we’re going to see more coming over the next few years. How successful the coming movies are as adaptations will depend on how well they depict game play. Not necessarily the mechanics of the game, but what the game represents. Take, for example, the movie Clue, based on the game of the same name. The game Clue had players go from room to room, checking clues to discover who killed Mr. Boddy; essentially, a murder mystery given game mechanics. The movie Clue, while being light comedy, kept to the essence of the game, with a murder to be solved with the iconic characters from the game in the movie. The Week has an overview of board ganes we can look forward to seeing on the big screen. Let’s take a closer look at the titles to figure out if an adaptation is possible.
The classic game of buying, selling, and bankrupting the other players for the whole family. Ridley Scott has been tagged to direct the movie, described as a group of Trump-like greedy wannabe real estate titans. Given the trigger for the 2008 Crash, the popping of the housing bubble caused by real estate speculation, the movie just might work. However, some elements, such as auctions, might fall by the wayside. With Ridley Scott directing, the movie may be well worth seeing, even if the Monopoly name is being used to bring people into the theatre.
This is an odd one. The original game had players marshalling armies across the globe, trying to achieve total world domination. The illustrations on the cards showed infantry, horseback cavalry*, and cannon artillery more appropriate for a pre-World War I conflict, possibly even pre-US Civil War.** Updating the setting to the modern era would introduce elements that aren’t in the game – air and naval assets. Cavalry can be updated to the modern equivalent, since the game abstracts battles for playability. But that leaves the question of the story itself. Will it tell the tale of the men in the trenches or on the front lines? Or will it be about the men at headquarters, having to make hard choices? And will the story focus on battles of key locations, like Indonesia, gateway to Australia, and Argentina, the last line of defense against North America?***
Candyland is usually most people’s first board game. It was designed so that very young children could play it and learn their colours. No dice are involved. The only skill needed is to recognize the different colours. Game play involves drawing a card and moving to the next instances of the colour on the card. First player to the end of the board wins. Other than being in a land made of candy, there’s not much to the game. Wikipedia has the current attempt as being an Adam Sandler project without details of what’s happening in it. The best adaptation for the game, though, seems to point towards a Wacky Races -style race through a land made of candy. Really, there’s not much to the game to hang a plot from.
Jumanji is the odd one out, the thing that’s not like the others in this entry. Originally, Jumanji, the movie, was based on a short story with the same name by Chris Van Allburg. The titular game never existed beyond the fiction of the story. Part of the charm of the movie was not knowing what was happening until the revelation. A remake will lose some of that charm, but strong writing could work around that. However, the original story was published in 1981 with the movie being made in 1995. The movie performed well at the box office and will still be remembered by the general public. And, with the film coming after the popularity of home movies through first VHS and later DVD, people who loved the movie will have a copy and can just pop it into their home entertainment system. The new movie’s crew will have to work hard to improve on the original just to be considered as good due to nostalgia.
As Steve mentioned, Hollywood’s current risk-adverse craze for adaptations is going to run out of major works and will need to find new sources. Games, from classic board games to tabletop RPGs to video games, won’t be ignored. What games would you like to see adapted and how?
Next week, a breather as I prepare a new batch of columns.
* As opposed to modern cavalry (i.e., tanks, APCs) and what the horseback guys became in WWI (pilots).
** My guess of the era – the War of 1812.
*** What players find critical on the board may not reflect what is critical in a real war.