Concluding Lost in Translation‘s look a adapting tabletop setting is Shadowrun. Originally published in 1989 by FASA, Inc, the game is currently on its sixth edition, called Shadowrun Sixth World and published by Catalyst Game Labs. The game is a cross between cyberpunk and high fantasy, with elves, dwarves, orks, and trolls being subspecies of humanity and dragons control major corportations.
The core idea is that magic returned in 2011 in an event known as the Awakening, an event marking the shift from the Fifth World to the Sixth as per Mayan calendars. This Awakening of maigc leads to a year of chaos across the globe and the first dragon sighted on Mount Fuji in Japan. However, this is just the topping to other problems going on. In the US, the Shiawase decision of 2000 allows for corporations to claim extraterritoriality, where a properly demarked site is its own corporate sovereign nation. With a pandemic in 2010, the economy is strained and governments collapse. In North America, the First Nations take advantage of the chaos to reclaim land, forming the Native American Nations. Naturally, Canada and the US take umbridge with that and strike back. What the military forces weren’t expecting was the use of the Great Ghost Dance to be magically backed.
In short, the world is hosed, governments have no power over corporations, and the threat of a new pandemic makes living look bleak. Relevant to our times.
In the game, players are shadowrunners, the cut outs and go-betweens as corporations use every possible advantage to get an edge over the rest. Shadowrunners are freelance deniable expendable assets, dirty deeds done for reasonable rates, taking on corporate security to extract valuable information or personnel for a paycheque. Characters can be magically active or they can be cybered so much they vibrate while standing still. Hackers, called deckers, can tear through intrusion countermeasure, or IC, like tissue paper. Riggers are the getaway drivers becoming one with their vehicles and capable of commanding an army of drones. Corporations, though, get the same access to equipment as player characters, possible more as business has the budget and characters have to find someone willing to sell or out and out steal the gear.
The default approach for a campaign is that player characters are shadowrunners, being hired for a number of jobs. The characters can come up with their own ideas, either for payback or to assist someone, but the typical game session will follow the same standard format. However, there are other possibilities. Characters can work for the main medical provider, Doc Wagon, as a High Threat Response Team, and be on the lighter side of grey. Or the characters can be members of a gang trying to protect their turf. Perhaps they could be corporate troubleshooters with a steady salary and medical benefits. There’s room for variation.
Adapting the setting shouldn’t be difficult. The presented game play is perfect for a movie; a heist along the lines of Oceans Eleven, Leverage, or The Italian Job provides the scaffold to build from, then add elements from the game. One of the characters is one of the subspecies. The muscle of the team has cybernetics. Use one of the Triple-A corporations in the game as the victim. Add the cyberpunk in, mix with the fantasy elements.
For television, follow a team of shadowrunners. Leverage was able to present a heist movie in about forty-five minutes in every episode. The draw was the characters and how they’d execute a job. Of course, the setting has its darker side, as if being a corporate-run dystopia wasn’t enough. With magic came beings beyond humanity’s ken. Insect spirits looking for host bodies. Blood magic. Magically changed viruses that lead to vampirism. Adding an episode or two to focus on the magical side of the setting allows for horror to be added to the cyberpunk/fantasy mix.
The main drawback to adapting the game is the setting. Describing it to Marketing would be trying to explain cyberpunk, Tolkien fantasy, heist movies, and then combining them. High tech and magic tend to sit in separate worlds, with exceptions such as Star Wars. Even that movie, A New Hope took time and effort before being picked up by a studio.
Once past the hurdle called Marketing, the next problem is budget. The different realms of the setting will have a different look. Reality is going to have contrasts between clean, glistening corporate enclaves and the grimy streets the characters live in. The virtual world is going to need its own look, with icons for everything without necessarily looking like a clone of Tron. The magical realm should look appropriate, beckoning, waiting, eerie, and dangerous.
Even the mundane world will require work. To reflect the game setting, the core metahumans – elves, dwarves, orks, and trolls – need to be seen. With how metahumanity came about, it’s possible to have a Caucasian dwarf, a Black elf, an Indigenous ork, or an Asian troll. Diversity is going to be needed; everyone gets downtrodden except the one percent. That said, unlike BattleTech, there aren’t centuries of history to choose from. It’s easiest to take the world as per the current edition. Shadowrun is always in the now, whether the now is 2050 like in the first edition or the 2080s of Sixth World. It may be easier to hand wave the technology in the setting by using the later date.
Shadowrun would be a challenge for a studio to adapt, but the setting is rich enough to make the effort pay off. As with all adaptations, the success depends on the effort made by studios to recognize why a work is popular and to keep that the heart of the new work.
Apologies already. It has been too hot this past week to think without breaking a sweat. Today will be an overview of upcoming adaptations.
First, though, over at Anime, Brains, and Culture, Tamara looks at the translation issues when localizing anime, and has examples of Japanese localizations of American animated works. Well worth the listen.
Meanwhile, The Lone Ranger is not doing as well expected. It’s not even reaching the mind space of people on social networks, unlike the cheaply done Sharknado. The marketing department must be wondering what went wrong – the movie has Johnny Depp shirtless, in leather pants, and channelling a Western version of Captain Jack Sparrow. That last bit may be what is turning people off, though. Another possibility, raised by Canadian TV personality Ed the Sock*, is that the the movie may have been mis-marketed. In Mr. the Sock’s own words, “As a serious western, The Lone Ranger fails. But it’s a comedy. Did you get that feeling from promos?”
R.I.P.D. is opening to poor reviews. In a move that screams, “This is a bad movie,” reviewers received their review copies hours before opening. Reviews are not good. The movie is based on a comic published by Dark Horse Comics, and is not as well known as works from Marvel and DC. The trailer shows a concept that would work better as a TV series, not a 96 minute feature film.
Peter Suderman over at Slate has discovered why movies all feel the same. Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! inadvertently provided the formula Hollywood has been using to make movies, especially big budget adaptations., down to the number of pages needed. While the book wasn’t meant to be the foundation of a Hollywood script, that’s what it became.
In the tabletop world, Shadowrun‘s fifth edition was released in .pdf format, with hard copies coming later in the summer. Catalyst Game Labs is working with Topps (the license holder), Cliffhanger Productions (for the MMO) and Harebrained Schemes (for the console game) to deliver an update of a classic tabletop RPG that mixes cyberpunk with Tolkien-style fantasy.
Next week, the weather should cool off enough for me to give Firefox a review.
* Canada can’t afford real TV personalities.
Do not refresh the page. This is the page you are looking for. The expected column is delayed. In the meantime, enjoy the following filler-ing replacement.
Last week in Off Track, I listed several works that I felt shouldn’t be redone. This time, I look at shows that are possibly long overdue for a remake.
Starlost was one of the first Canadian science fiction TV series. It failed. At the time it was made, Canadian writers and directors had no idea of what to do with science fiction. Those who did tended to head to the US where there were publishers and studios with a semblance of clue. Glen-Warren Studios of Toronto, Ontario, however, did not. There’s a longer explanation of what happened in Harlan Ellison’s Phoenix Without Ashes on just how badly things went. Short version – the Canadians involved couldn’t see past the studio walls. The result was a low budget mess that had plot holes bigger than the Ark. However, it had potential.**
Since Starlost was first aired, many things have changed. Cameras have improved. Special effects have improved. Canadian studios have learned a lot about both making TV series and doing science fiction.*** The approach to writing TV scripts has gone from episodic with reset button to ongoing with development. And, people may have forgotten about the original. The only thing stopping a remake is Ellison himself – he may just want to wash his hands of the entire original mess and forget it ever happened.
A dystopia where televisions have no off button, where news channels run 24/7 and manipulate events for ratings. Turns out, today isn’t as smog-ridden as the original show expected. Doesn’t mean that biting commentary about how corporate news media works isn’t needed. Shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have demonstrated how broken news reporting has gotten. Turning the issue into a drama would bring the problems to light to a larger audience. Modern technology alone will let the titular character get to more places, and computer graphics have come a long way since Max Headroom first aired.
The question becomes, who would dare? A specialty channel, like HBO or A&E, could present the remake without question, but the show needs to be seen by a larger audience, something that the traditional broadcast networks could provide. One the other side of that coin, would Fox really air something that calls their news department’s behaviour into question? Would any of the traditional broadcasters give the show a chance to survive if ratings weren’t stellar out of the gate?
A lot of the hard work in developing a series, beyond selling it, is creating the setting. Shadowrun, a tabletop RPG that crosses cyberpunk with Tolkein-style fantasy, has a lot of the setting creation already done, across four editions and multiple setting books. Many of the setting books, past and present, have minimal game mechanics and focus on the flavour of the game world. All that a creative team would need to do is come up with the characters while being mindful of the setting. What could make the series difficult to make is the cost of special effects. Between the various subspecies of humanity and the effects of magic, the production budget would have to either work around limitations (the mage needs to hold back on spellcasting and conjuring) or plan ahead (no trolls or dwarves in the core cast). Still, the setting is broad enough to allow numerous style of campaigns; there should be plenty of room for a creative team to get at least a mini-series out of the game.
So, what do you suggest? What do you think is overdue to be remade?
Next time, something may be here.****
* That rumbling sound you hear? Harlan Ellison just exploded in a rage.
** I watched the show as a pre-teen. I could tell it was a cheap Canadian show, despite not having seen that much to compare the show with. But, elements were still chilling, including the computer counting down the time before the Ark was destroyed.
*** Ever wonder why many planets look like British Columbia? 🙂
**** It’ll be a surprise!