ISSUE #8 FEB 06

Will

Small Screen, Big Ideas

Like a young snotty-nosed boy staring up at his impossibly mature older brother, videogames have always wanted to be like films. Ever since Nintendo made their pixilated, donkey-monikered homage to King Kong, games have been borrowing style and substance, content and delivery from the cinema. And that borrowing seems to have brought with it no small amount of kudos: from Space Invaders to San Andreas, games have grown to become a major entertainment industry.

These days a game needs one of two things in order to be successful: fun or money. Original, unique games like Katamari Damacy or Wario Ware survive on their talents and word-of-mouth alone, while more run-of-the-mill genre games (FPS, racing, extreme sports) need huge ad campaigns, celebrity voice artists or Hollywood licenses to compete. This two-tier culture is much the same as the film industry, albeit much less stable. Obviously, in both game and film the blockbuster approach is more popular, but at least art-house films can be made without their creators going into debt.

In the last couple of months we've been treated to two of the most cinematic videogames in recent memory: Fahrenheit and The Warriors. Approaching from two different angles, both games have had mixed success. Fahrenheit's slick presentation and innovative gameplay felt at first like the shock of the new, and I sincerely hope Quantic Dream continue to push - and even license - their system, as it's the best solution games have come up with for making conversations and plot exposition into compelling gameplay. However, the game fell down on its storyline. Beginning as a tense psychological horror, about halfway through it descended into badly-written sci-fi mush - like many games i suppose, but here it was all the more jarring. Fahrenheit deserved better.

The Warriors took a different route: rather than try to be a film, it presented a normal game dressed up in cinema's glad rags. It's essentially an updated Double Dragon, but the whole package is so dripping with the atmosphere of the Warriors movie that it's hard not to love. Rockstar are a company known for their attention to detail, especially in presentation, and that's no different here.

While The Warriors is the more enjoyable game, it's hard to believe that film licenses such as this are the way forward for videogaming. Even Quantic Dream's refreshingly unusual game is still aspiring to be a movie. If developers keep relying on the reflected glory of Hollywood then gaming will never outgrow its current status as the baby of the entertainment industry. Gaming needs uniqueness, thrills which no other medium can provide.

Which is why it's heartening to see that the emergence of stylised games - kickstarted by Jet Set Radio's hyperactive cel-shading - has not been a fad. From Rez, Viewtiful Joe, and The Wind Waker, to the recently-announced Exit and Loco Roco for PSP, and of course Okami, certain developers are still willing to explore gaming's aesthetic potential. If games like these can find a wide enough audience, then the future looks bright.