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Gaming and Movie Convergence: a retrospective timeline

convergenceA good story is timeless, crossing between different medium, living and breathing it runs in an often unending circle.  Books and comic books become TV shows and movies.  Movies and TV programs spin off and beget novels and video games. Games too, sometimes start their own traditions or evolve from other tales already known.   It’s a natural co-existence; a cycle that’s evolving with each change in communication mediums.

Among the different medium, video games and movies in particular share a common ground.  They are often similar in storyline and visual style.  That makes for a natural companionship where, on one level, they co-exist by sharing franchises as appropriate to the different technologies and methods of storytelling; watch Star Wars, the movie; play Star Wars, the video game.  On another level, however, the mediums themselves almost converge. There, games become a dynamic, interactive, choose-your-own-adventure equivalent to the static, but rich, three act Hollywood movie experience.

From Spiderman, to the Matrix, from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars, from James Bond, to The Simpsons and CSI: games built around existing TV and movie franchises increasingly dot the lists of popular games for current generation consoles.  And in reverse,  with titles like Prince of Persia, Halo, and Metal Gear Solid coming soon to theaters near you, movies are increasingly borrowing from gaming for new storylines and concepts to adapt and expand.

Since the mid 1990s the overlapping relationships have grown closer.  Bottom line revenues on the business side (The opening weekend sales of an anticipated game will often now out gross the first weekend, or even week of box office draw for a similarly hot movie.  Halo 3, as an example, sold more than $170m worth of software in its first 24hours.  The franchise has sold well upwards of 20m games so far) and evolving animation and digital effects technologies on the development side have bridged the differences. 

In mid December, the gaming and Hollywood worlds embraced further with the announcement that they would share the attention and production skills of Hollywood heavyweight Jerry Bruckheimer.

The deal announced December 18th was light on publicly revealed details but in overview format: Viacom’s MTV Networks announced the producer credited with films from Top Gun, to Beverly Hills Cop, to Black Hawk Down and Pirates of the Caribbean and TV shows including CSI , Cold Case and Without a Trace will join them in launching a co-owned gaming studio. MTV will own the titles, and Jerry Bruckheimer will feature prominently in their marketing and production.

With the deal,  Bruckheimer joined not just a new endeavor but also an elite group of crossover movie makers who’ve embraced video gaming. It’s a group that includes legends Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and John Woo. 

Bruckheimer’s deal is old news. But this being the slow news season that marks the end of one calendar year and the start of another,  the tradition in the press is to fill the void with articles that make forecasts about what’s to come, or  lists recapping what has passed. This Metue version is a retrospective inspired by Bruckheimer’s deal. It’s a look back at the converging paths of gaming and film making as they’ve been defined by games and movies themselves.  What follows is a detailed timeline.

 ••• A Timeline History of Convergence ••• 

• 1983: Star Wars
Just as the movie pushed barriers when it was released, so too did the game.  In 1983, an arcade game based on the movie was released.  Digitized voice samples from Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), James Earl Jones (Darth Vadar), and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) were incorporated.  Over the next few years, new titles followed with home games released for the Atari 2600, ColecoVision and early Apple computers. Over the next two decades, dozens of titles evolved for each generation of PC and console making Star Wars, the game, a franchise to rival its movie roots.

• 1987: Final Fantasy
The game series Final Fantasy was first launched in 1987 by Square Enix.  Through 2007, developers have spawned 28 games in the franchise.   Combined the title is currently the 4th best selling game franchise of all time according to Wikipedia’s list.  By any account, it’s in the top ten.  The series has sold more than 80m games.  The games in turn have led to three animated productions, two full length CGI films and piles of comic and manga books.

• 1993: Super Mario Brothers
Spun off from a bit character in Donkey Kong, the Mario Brother’s have become the biggest character name in gaming.  The first major movie release based on the world’s biggest selling console video game franchise, Super Mario Brother’s, tested waters that weren’t yet ready for a swim.  The campy movie suffered critical and commercial failure.  With a production budget of $48m it grossed only $20.9m at the domestic box office.  The game, however, lived on unphased.  Through various releases across the Nintendo platforms it has sold more than 200m titles since the Mario character’s 1981 debut. In 1999, Guinness issued Mario a world record.

• 1994: Street Fighter  & 1995’s Mortal Kombat
Picking up where Super Mario Brother’s left off, movies built around both popular arcade and console fighting  games drifted into theaters to little applause.  Street fighter was a critical bomb but did reasonably well at the box office. 

Released in December for the holiday period , Street Fighter grossed $99.4m worldwide on a production budget of $35m. (via Box Office Mojo)

Mortal Kombat, released as a game in 1992.  It hit theaters in August 1995 and grossed $122m worldwide.   The box office result pales next to the more than 26m units of the game sold so far.

• 1996: Resident Evil
Taking zombies to a new level, the Resident Evil game franchise includes 14 games and has sold more than 33m copies (via Capcom) since premiering for the PlayStation in 1996. That sell thru ranks it in the top 20 of all time best sellers (via Wikipedia).   In 2002, the game crossed over. The first movie starring Mila Jovovich was critically panned but popular enough to lead to two more sequels. 

At the box office:  Resident Evil 1 released March 15, 2002.  It had a production budget of $33m.  Its worldwide box office gross was $102.4m (Box Office Mojo).  Resident Evil Apocalypse released September 2004.  It had a production budget of $45m and grossed $129.4m worldwide.  The third installment, Resident Evil: Apocalypse grossed $147m worldwide.

• 1997: Tomb Raider
Burned with the past failures, Hollywood wasn’t anxious to try again with gaming movies.  As a result, Tomb Raider was at first rejected by the studios. After an aggressive marketing campaign and a hard sales pitch, Paramount Pictures decided to gamble and bought the rights for Tomb Raider from Eidos Interactive in December. 

The first movie in the Tomb Raider series was released in 2001.   Featuring a solid cast with stars including Angelina Jolie and future James Bond, Daniel Craig, the movie grossed more than $274m on a production budget of $115m.  The sequel Lara Croft: Cradle of Life was released in 2003.  It didn’t do as well but it grossed $156.5m at the box office (data via Box Office Mojo). 

Taking into account DVD’s, Merchandising and toy sales, the brand has been a phenomenal success.

Since the game was first released in 1996 there have been 7 titles released in the Tomb Raider game series (more if special editions are counted.) An 8th title is due in 2008.

• June 1997: Harry Potter
The first title of J.K. Rowling’s 7 Book series finds its way to bookstores and introduces the world to the boy wizard in June.  The books have gone on to sell more than 325m copies and made their creator a billionaire. 

In 1999, in one of the greater investments in Hollywood history Warner Brothers bought the film rights. The first film released in 2001.  It and the four releases that followed are all currently amongthe top 20 grossing films of all time (Box Office Mojo).

Games based on the franchise sold more than 20 million titles as of 2004.  Speculation hints at a current total upwards of 30m.

• 2001:  Halo
The first edition of the game Halo released on the Xbox in November.  Halo 2, followed in 2004 and Halo 3, this past September.   The series was the first game exclusive to the Xbox platform and it, arguably, was pivotal in the console’s adoption.   It became a huge hit and has sold upwards of 20m games so far. Halo 3, was so popular that it sold more than $170m worth of software in its first 24hours. 

A movie based on the franchise has been in and out of the rumor mills, at times “a dead project” and others in various stages of production.  Peter Jackson, famed director of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, is the executive producer.  The film is largely expected to be ready by 2009.

• Dec, 2001: Lord of the Rings
Peter Jackson brings the first installment of his Lord of the Rings adaptation to the screen.  Evolved from Tolkien’s often adapted 1950’s novels (4 radio shows, 3 films etc),  Jackson’s version grosses $871m in worldwide box office. The sequel, the Two Towers, draws $926m. The Return of the King closes the trilogy by besting them both breaking the billion dollar barrier with returns of $1.12b at the box office alone.   Games based on the series have become substantial sellers. There are both console and online multiplayer variations licensed and on the market.

• 2005: Stranglehold
Midway Games began working with action director John Woo in 2005. Their collaborative effort led to the creation of Stranglehold, a gaming sequel to Woo’s critically acclaimed 1992 movie: Hard Boiled.  An Xbox 360 version of the title hit store shelves in September 2007.  After some delays, a PC and PS3 version followed over the next two months. Actor Chow Yun Fat lends his likeness to the lead character in the game, reprising the role he played in the movie. 

• October, 2005: Spielberg
After coming up with the concept for the popular Medal of Honor game franchise in the late 90’s and then selling DreamWorks Interactive, the gaming division of DreamWorks SKG,  to Electronic Arts in 2000, Steven Spielberg faded from the gaming world.  In October 2005, he returned to sign a deal with Electronic Arts for the development of three titles.  The first game in the series, a puzzle concept for the Wii called Boom Blox, is expected to be released later this year.  The second game, an action adventure title for the PS3 and Xbox 360, has been described as a hybrid that crosses North by Northwest with ET and features an alien-like Lara Croft (tomb raider) heroine at its center.

In a statement issued with the press announcement, he validates the format by characterizing the gaming industry as  " a major creative force in entertainment.”

• November, 2005: King Kong
Following the movie release, Ubisoft releases King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie. Developed in collaboration with Peter Jackson, the game offers an “alternate ending” for the movie.   Jackson says at the time that he sees “the role of the video games as one that will continue to command respect and attention.” He adds “”most video games, and virtually all movies, do one basic thing: tell stories.”  Ubisoft retains the rights to make more Kong based games in the future.

• 2005:  Castlevania
The vampire driven storyline debuted from Konami as a video game in 1986.  In 2005, the film rights were purchased.  For the next couple years they were lost moving around between studios, eventually settling with Rogue Films.  Now, subject to production delays, and possible adjustments for the writer’s strike, a movie version is expected by 2009.   The series remains so popular that a Google search on the name yields 7.2m results.  The game had sold more than 20m units as of 2006.

• May, 2006:  James Bond 
Activision acquired gaming rights for the úber-spy franchise to run through 2014. At the time of the license agreement, more than 30m units of Bond games had been sold.  The films had grossed more than $3.6b at the box office.

• May 2006: World of Warcraft
Legendary Pictures acquires the rights to adapt the incredibly popular World of Warcraft series for the big screen in association with game developer Blizzard Entertainment.  The movie is expected for 2009 and estimated to have a production budget well over $100m.

• September, 2006:  Peter Jackson
Already on board as executive producer for the movie version of Bungie Studios best selling Halo game franchise, Jackson and Microsoft jointly announce they’ll collaborate on Wingnut Interactive, a branch of Jackson’s production company that will focus on a crossover gaming (or interactive movie) projects.  A futuristic Sci-Fi title based in the Halo universe is the first slated title. 

• February, 2007: Metal Gear Solid
Sony and Konami strike a deal to bring the hit video game franchise to the big screen.  The game, which has sold more than 20m units since being first released in 1998 as Metal Gear Solid (it was available in an earlier version beginning in 1987).

• February, 2007 Wheelman
Struggling game developer Midway games announces one of their upcoming games, Wheelman, which is due in 2008, is being developed as a prequel for a movie which is also in development. The joint production was made possible through strong ties to Viacom, it’s MTV Gaming group and its Paramount Pictures studio (thanks to Sumner Redstone’s substantial stake in Midway.)

The driving game and the movie will star Vin Diesel. The game will be the second of three titles under a strategic relationship between MTV Networks and Midway to market, jointly sell in-game advertising and collaborate on soundtrack development.

• November, 2007: Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer announce they’re negotiating to hire Mike Newell to direct a live action movie version of the Prince of Persia gaming franchise. Newell’s past high profile directing projects have included Mona Lisa Smile (with Julia Roberts) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005).

Jordan Mechner, the creator of the original game is writing the script.

Launched originally in 1989 by Broderbund. The game series was bought and expanded on by Ubisoft in 2003.  It was voted IGN’s game of the year in 2003.  The game has sold more than 10m copies.

• December, 2007: Jerry Bruckheimer
MTV Networks and Jerry Bruckheimer sign a deal to jointly develop a new gaming studio.  Details are largely withheld but it’s expected to be a co-production deal.


[Editors Note: This timeline is by no means comprehensive. It is merely a snapshot and it largely excludes many animation and child friendly titles that have been wildly cross developed in recent years. In the coming weeks Metue will publish another similar timeline that addresses solely these other crossover titles that range from Disney's recent Enchanted and Pixar's Cars to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all in between.]


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