Games built with Hollywood in mind


In general, Scott Miller is no fan of movies based on video games, which isn't surprising given that so few have been successful. The "Tomb Raider" and "Resident Evil" franchises sold well, as did "Mortal Kombat" and "Silent Hill." But the remainder -- and there have been many -- mostly failed to capture the excitement of their source material.

Which is why, Miller says, he has a better idea. The co-founder and CEO of video game developer 3D Realms Entertainment -- home to such bestsellers as "Duke Nukem," "Max Payne," and "Wolfenstein 3D" -- intends to build games from the ground up with transition to movies and TV uppermost in mind. In other words, they are being created for convergence.

To do that, he and his partners have launched two sister companies -- Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Radar Group and Los Angeles-based Depth Entertainment -- with the former working the video game side of the equation and the latter producing the movies-from-games.

"It will all start at Radar with what I call the 'storyverse' -- or story universe -- which is a big bubble of story, character, and game play ideas," explains Miller, who functions as Radar's chief creative officer. "From that central hub, one spoke will go to game development, another will go to movie or TV production, and so forth."

Miller believes the three best "storyverses" in existence are "Harry Potter," "Lord of the Rings," and "Star Wars," which is why, he says, they have all generated such successful video games, movies, and other associated entertainment products.

The plan is to find existing independent game developers that haven't had their big break yet and, utilizing the storyverse, "work with them to create original IP in which they have some measure of ownership," adds Miller. "If the game is a hit, it will provide a financial windfall for them to become even more independent."

Simultaneously, the plan calls for another Scott -- Scott Faye, president of Depth Entertainment -- to shop the same storyverse around the movie and TV industries, with an eye towards a parallel big- or small-screen companion project.

"It would be unwise to throw all the media eggs into one basket and simply say that all of Radar's games are going to be films," says Faye. "I'm sure there are going to be IPs coming down the road from Radar to Depth that will be better suited for TV, and so that's the path we'll take with Depth serving as the production company."

Faye believes that adapting games to other media is a difficult process, regardless the media.

"Which is one reason why," he says, "filmmakers often disregard what made the video game so successful in the first place, something they wouldn't do if they were creating a movie from a John Grisham book or a revered graphic novel. Depth's role will be to guarantee the sanctity of the video game IP; we will insure that the valuable underpinnings will be preserved throughout the development process."

Currently, Depth is producing "Max Payne" for 20th Century Fox, the film version of the 2001 first-person shooter by Remedy Entertainment in association with 3D Realms. The movie, starring Mark Wahlberg, began filming last month, is expected to be completed mid-May, and is scheduled for an Oct. 17 release. Depth's next project, slowed a bit by the writer's strike, is "Alice," an adaptation of the 2000 video game hit "American McGee's Alice," itself a dark remake of Lewis Carroll's classic story. Set to star Sarah Michelle Gellar, no release date is yet known.

"When the movie adaptation is successful, it's usually because the game's storyverse is so rich that you can tell multiple stories from the same world," observes Faye. "That is why 'Star Wars' generated so many good films, graphic novels, and video games. Likewise, 'Harry Potter.' At Depth, we won't be retelling the story of the game in the movie because I don't think that is particularly interesting. But we will be using the game's universe to come up with different stories using the same characters, the ones that fans of the game liked so much."

Meanwhile, Radar is proceeding with three other games that will eventually find their way to other media -- "Earth No More," with an ensemble cast that must learn to work together to survive the threat of an environmental extinction event; "Prey 2," a follow-up to "Prey" in which a Native American saves the Earth from an alien invasion; and "Incarnate," which depicts the convergence on Chicago of the re-incarnated souls of history's most evil villains.

None of the games are expected to be released day-and-date with their film counterparts because, philosophically, the folks at Radar just don't believe in that marketing tool.

"We want each of our media to stand on its own," explains Miller. "In our opinion, when you try to release a game and a movie simultaneously, you compromise the quality of one or the other, and it's usually the game that gets the short end of the stick. Movies usually take 10-15 months to create while it's hard to make a good game so quickly."

Miller should know; his company, 3D Realms, is notoriously famous for releasing games "when they are ready." "Prey" took 4-1/2 years to build while "Duke Nukem Forever" was started in April 1997 and still isn't out. That was 11 years ago.

While Miller does anticipate Radar projects to move along more swiftly, he doesn't expect their quality to be sacrificed. Indeed, Radar's executive creative director, Raphael van Leirop, has been quoted as saying that he is "sick and tired" of seeing his favorite games butchered at the theaters, and that he would "never let anyone in the film industry take one of his beloved properties and spit out some B-movie garbage."

Ironically, Faye has been involved in his share of B-movies, including -- according to -- "Blonde Heaven," "Test Tube Teens From The Year 2000," and "Venom."

But, he says, despite his "earlier Roger Corman-like, low-budget experiences," he plans to turn Radar's games into "incredibly cool films.

"I promised Scott [Miller] that I would not let 'Max Payne' -- and the subsequent Radar-inspired movies -- be train wrecks like so many other game-to-film adaptations. That was my commitment to him. And I believe that the films we'll be producing represents an incredible opportunity to break through and have movies that stand alone and succeed based on their video game concepts. I really believe that."

Paul "The Game Master" Hyman is the former editor-in-chief of CMP Media's GamePower. He has covered the games industry for more than a dozen years. His columns for The Hollywood Reporter run exclusively on the Web site.