Welcome to Lost in Translation‘s quick series about the ins and outs of adapting games to television and film.* As seen since the first post, if something is popular, someone else will want to adapt it to a different medium. Today, 2013, the most likely medium to adapt from elsewhere is the Hollywood film.
Part I – Video Games
Part II – Boardgames
Part III – Tabletop Role-Playing Games
Part IV – Adapting Games to Games
Adapting Games to Games
So far, I’ve looked at adapting games as movies and television. There is still one more way for a game to be adapted – as another game. Already, a questions appears; “Why? What’s the point?” A popular game, though, is ripe to be exploited.
Starting with boardgames, what usually happens is the game gets adapted as a video game. The main advantage is that the player can get a computer opponent when there is no one else available to play with. Another advantage is having an impartial judge, the computer or console, make sure that the game is played fair. With the integration of the Internet into day to day lives, updates to the game, in the form of new content, is easy to get. Trivia games, such as Trivial Pursuit, can add new questions and fix wrong answers with a patch instead of waiting for the next expansion pack to be published. A successful adaptation of a boardgame has to keep the gameplay the same in the video game; otherwise, why play the video game when the boardgame is within reach. Most boardgames have simple mechanics, relatively speaking. The rules have to be easily interpreted by the players to keep the game flowing and keep the number of arguments to a minimum. The computer opponent needs to be challenging but not impossible to beat. The experience has to be similar to the original game, though added details like animation are a plus.
Video games, usually ones that have become household names, do get adapted as board games. Sometimes, it’s a brand applied to another existing game, typically Monopoly**. Other times, there’s an effort to bring the feel of the video game to the board; the Frogger adaptation involves trying to cross a highway and the Pac-Man board game was a multi-player version of the video game. World of Warcraft has spawned boardgames, a trading card game, and a miniatures game. HeroClix, a miniatures game, has sets for Assassin’s Creed, BioShock, Gears of War, Halo, and Street Fighter. Again, the experience the players have must be similar to the original video game. Pac-Man‘s board is set out like the video game’s, with the players’ tokens looking like Pac-Man himself. There will be cases where it will be difficult to bring the video game experience to the table; first-person shooters will lose that perspective. The HeroClix examples, however, add a new dimension; all HeroClix sets are compatible. It is possible to find out if a team up of Master Chief from Halo and Chun Li from Street Fighter can win against Batman and Robin.
Video games have also been adapted as tabletop rpgs. Not many, the market for a tabletop RPG is already a niche, and the cost of licensing a title may be more than the game can bring in. That said, the three adaptations that come to mind are Dragon Age: Origins (adapted by Green Ronin), Street Fighter II (adapted by White Wolf; currently out of print], and Everquest (adapted by Sword & Sorcery Studio, an imprint of White Wolf; print status unknown). Adapting a video game to a tabletop RPG means that the coding used to play the game, especially determining success with tasks, needs to be made available to the players in a way that is understandable by a human, not a machine. As with the case of the Street Fighter II and Everquest games, a tabletop game company may use its house rules and try to fit the video game’s setting around those. White Wolf used its Storytelling system with Street Fighter; the fit wasn’t ideal; the Everquest tabletop RPG used the third edition Dungeons & Dragons Open Gaming License as a base, recreating the classes from the video game to fit. Green Ronin, however, created a new system for the Dragon Age RPG, one that reflects what happens during gameplay. The key for a successful adaptation is to have the tabletop RPG feel like the video game while still being approachable by both people new to the tabletop hobby and people new to the video game’s setting. Characters should be capable of doing what their counterparts in the video game do; Street Fighter didn’t manage to do this while Everquest presented the same type of character that a new player just starting the video game would get.
As for tabletop RPGs, the adaptation of those spans the history of video games and will be dealt with in Part V
* And theatre, though I’d be surprised if someone made that leap.
** When the Monopoly movie comes out, will there be a Monopoly Monopoly?