NOTE: This article first appeared in issue 3 of LUC’s randomly periodical journal of film, Underclass.
The relationship between video games and movies has never been a particularly happy one. For every successful adaptation of a beloved film into pixel form, there are dozens of absolutely wretched examples. Some fail so profoundly, that even the most ardent gamers are probably not aware that they ever existed. Here are the ten most appalling efforts that our crack team of researchers could find…
One – Watership Down (1979)
Created by a little known arcade machine company, Happy Player Inc., this simple vector game seemed only tangentially connected to the novel and movie of the same name. The player was tasked with using a rollerball controller to aim and shoot at crowds of rabbits that moved across the screen at increasing speed.
As no legal rights rights had been sought or secured to licence the Watership Down name, the developers quickly found themselves on the wrong end of all manner of legal action. The game was hastily re-badged and the few units that found their way to the US were adorned with the title ‘Heroic Pest Saga’.
Two – Gandhi (1982)
Many know about the infamous failure of the ET Atari game that ended up with thousands of copies buried in the desert. Less well known is the other Atari project based on a 1982 blockbuster film. After a catastrophic press preview ‘Gandhi’ was never released and never mentioned again.
The few scraps of information that leaked out detailed two different levels, firstly a scene set on a beach where the player has to collect piles of salt while avoiding British soldiers. Then secondly, a level which involved running along the top of a train, jumping over bridges. One of the journalists that actually experienced the game remarked many years later that it was ‘Thematically troubling, even by 1982 standards’.
Three – Kramer vs Kramer (1984)
As Atari went through all manner of commercial troubles, one division hit upon the idea of creating interactive entertainment for a more mature and sophisticated audience. To this end, they licensed a whole bunch of classic novels and serious, oscar-winning movies to somehow be developed into games, including a console version of Robert Benton’s 1979 weepy divorce drama.
Perhaps inevitably, what seemed like a clever marketing gambit floundered when the development arm of Atari struggled to come up with a game that would stay true to the source material and appeal to grown up gamers. The project was quickly cancelled and resources channelled towards the more commercially secure Pitfall 2.
All that remains in the public domain is the incredibly incongruous draft box art.
Four – F For Fake (1985)
The uk home computer explosion of the 80’s provided fertile ground for developers to experiment with new types of games and interactive experiences. None more so than Stafford based Singular Systems whose output for the ZX Spectrum consistently tested the boundaries of what could be considered a ‘game’. Following the surprise success of their highly politicised platform game satire ‘Manically Depressed Miner’, SS ploughed the profits into a highly ambitious multi-media project based on Orson Welles’ 1974 tricksy documentary.
Due to packaging and pricing issues, retailers refused to stock the game, which came on three individual cassettes and also included a VCR tape which included specially shot footage and voice recordings of Welles designed to be played on a separate screen as part of the overall experience.
Costing an unprecedented £25 and requiring two TV’s and an addition VCR player – the game sold in miniscule numbers. Reviews reported that it took the form of a number of individual games themed around art forgery and a number of Welles unmade film projects. Each level had to be loaded individually and played through according to exacting timings to fit in with the VCR elements. Your Sinclair described it as ‘unplayable and confusing’, while Crash magazine refused to review it on the basis that they didn’t ‘consider it to be a game in any way at all’.
Five – Wings Of The Apache (1990)
A vertically scrolling shoot ‘em up arcade machine to tie in with the release of the Nicolas Cage helicopter movie. Legendary for the huge ‘sit-in’ cabinet with working plastic rotor blades on top and heavy use of Cage’s digitised image and voice, most notably yelling “I AM THE GREATEST”, at the completion of each level. Unfortunately, the failure of the film to perform at the box office led to few orders. Coupled with the high cost of manufacture, only a few units ever reached the arcades and none are currently known to be in working order.
Six – Boxing Helena (1993)
FlyFire studios of California had spent 6 months building a state of the art (by early 1990s standards) digital model of Kim Basinger as the basis of their innovative adaptation of Jennifer Lynch’s debut feature.
The game was based around a complex conversation based mechanic in which the player (as Helena) tried to explore the tortured psyche of the surgeon Nick Cavanaugh in order to stop him cutting more bits off you.
Groundbreaking for both its approach and the use of a female protagonist, the game suffered a similar fate to the movie when Basinger controversially left the project. While the producers of the film eventually recouped millions from Basinger in court, the game developers couldn’t afford any type of litigation. Desperate to recoup their extensive development costs without too much further expense FlyFire quickly knocked up a bog-standard platform game in which Helena has to collect golden coins while dodging flying surgical equipment. Somehow it managed to get worse reviews than the film. It sold 84 copies.
Seven – Falling Down (1994)
Although you can question of taste of turning the ‘Michael Douglas going postal’ movie into a light-gun shooting game – this title was actually well received by the gaming press at the time. Reviewers praised the intensity of the experience and noted that the game left the player questioning their morals and actions.
The game was developed exclusively for the 3DO console, to help show off its (at the time) ground-breaking full motion video capabilities and featured extra footage shot by Joel Schumacher. The hugely expensive console tanked in the hugely competitive mid-90s game market and was discontinued in 1995. Very few people ever got to play the game and the costs of porting it to the forthcoming Sony Playstation were deemed prohibitive. Rumour has it that Michael Douglas maintains a working 3DO and wheels the game out to entertain guests at at parties.
Eight – Pearl Harbor (2001)
California’s PinPoint Games were confident of a delivering a major hit with their adaptation of the infamous film about the day of infamy. They’d tied up a deal for the game rights and secured use of the prototype Unreal Engine v2 to help them build a spectacular 3D blockbuster war game.
During early design discussions, it transpired that although they had a licence for the film, they didn’t have the rights to use the likenesses, character names, voices or performances of any of the main cast characters – with the exception of Kate Beckinsale’s Nurse Johnson.
A number of proposals and prototypes were put together before the project was eventually cancelled and the costs written off. The most intriguing of which was what can only be described a first person ‘inject ‘em up’ in which you, as Nurse Johnson have to run around a hospital ward injecting wounded soldiers with the right medicine.
Which, to be honest, would probably have been better than the film.
Nine – Battle Royale 2 (2003)
Small time Tokyo based developers Joy Simulation couldn’t believe their luck when Nintendo snagged their prototype flower-themed strategy title Petal Rivals, to be developed as a high profile Gameboy Advance title.
Their excitement was short-lived when after the contracts were signed they were told that their game had to be re-skinned into an adaptation of the violently militaristic sequel to Battle Royale.
The graphics department who had spent months working on making cute anthropomorphic flowers that swayed gently in the breeze, had to suddenly switch them out for school age terrorists with explosive death animations. The whole thing was a rush job and completely failed in the market due to the underperformance of the film and the subject matter being a terrible fit with Nintendo’s Mario loving fanbase.
Ten – The Raid (2011)
The Uk distributors commissioned Hoxton ‘boutique development house’ BooomK@ M3dia to create a web based game to promote the theatrical release of this martial arts adventure. They were less than impressed when with less than 2 weeks to go, BooomK@ presented them with an old school, text adventure game.
A source revealed:
“They just sat there in the presentation looking smug and pleased with themselves. They said it was ironic and that we didn’t understand new media strategy. They stopped smiling pretty fucking quickly when I said we weren’t paying them”
Although the game was swiftly canned and not used, it was later leaked onto an interactive fiction web site, where it was derided on the community forum as ‘repetitive’ and ‘not as clever as it thinks’.