Video games where the story unfolds like an Oscar-nominated film
From 'The Last of Us' to 'Mass Effect,' these titles focus on balancing action with rich, character-driven narratives.
"More and more, I’m seeing that games are mining good, old-fashioned human anxieties for their drama, and that’s really promising," American screenwriter Tom Bissell, who helped craft the story for the "Gears of War" gaming franchise, told the New Yorker. "Games, more and more, are not just about shooting and fighting, and for that reason I’m optimistic and heartened about where the medium is heading, because I think game designers are getting more interested in making games that explore what it means to be alive."
Below are just a handful of titles where story take precedence and characters are brought to life as well as any Hollywood drama.
'The Last of Us: Part II'
To help flesh out the human drama of "The Last of Us Part II," Israeli-American creative director Neil Druckmann recruited the talents of "Westworld" writer Halley Gross. "I believe storytelling in games has the opportunity to create an unmatched level of empathy," Gross told the New York Times. "You’re not just a spectator. You’re experiencing someone’s journey firsthand."
Druckmann, who grew up in Israel playing classic Sierra adventure games, credited Gross at the recent Playstation Experience in Anaheim, California, for inspiring a big chunk of the middle of the game. As with the previous title, the game will once more focus on the characters of Joel and Ellie and their movements through a post-apocalyptic America.
"We knew that it needed to be a story worth telling and, perhaps more importantly, a story worthy of Joel and Ellie," he said. "After spending years on different ideas (and almost giving up), we finally uncovered a story that felt special – a story that evolved into an epic journey."
According to Druckmann, who recently also wrapped up yet another award-winning entry in the "Uncharted" franchise, "The Last of Us Part II" is currently "50%-60%" complete. Fans eager to experience this highly anticipated next chapter in the zombie drama should expect a late 2018-early 2019 release.
When American screenwriters Graham Reznick and Larry Fessenden took on the enormous task of writing the script for an interactive horror title, they had little idea that they would end up with a final product totaling some 10,000 pages. Called "Until Dawn" and created by the U.K.-based Supermassive Games, the title is unique in how it places gamers in the middle of their very own horror film.
"It [Until Dawn] brings responsibility back to the player," Fessenden told Kotaku. "You’re no longer laughing at the choices the characters make, you’re actually making them. It almost subverts the subversion by making you responsible for the choices – you can’t just laugh at them in that safe place."
"Until Dawn" also sought to replicate the Hollywood horror scene by featuring the voices and likeness of Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek (who can next been seen as Freddie Mercury in Israeli producer Arnon Milchan's "Bohemian Rhapsody" biopic) and American actress (and former "Nashville" singing sensation) Hayden Panettiere.
'Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands'
"Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands," the largest action-adventure open world title ever created by French video game publisher Ubisoft, also features one of the franchise's most realistic and engrossing plot lines. To pull off the story of the threatening rise of drug cartel in Bolivia, the game's producers turned to author Don Winslow and veteran screenwriter Shane Salerno.
"I’ve been a Tom Clancy fan ever since I first read 'The Hunt For Red October,'" Salerno declared. "It was a real thrill to work on this game with the team at Ubisoft, who are incredibly passionate and committed to delivering the best gaming experience possible for fans."
In addition to helping American director James Cameron write the next four "Avatar" sequels, Salerno is also working on a film adaptation of the beloved video game franchise "Gears of War." Based on his success pairing with Winslow on "Wildlands" and other Tom Clancy thrillers, it's clear that players will benefit from their storytelling for years to come.
“As fans of their work, we knew that Don Winslow and Shane Salerno would be the perfect team to help us keep the game rooted in reality while keeping the game’s core entertainment experience," added "Wildlands" senior producer Nouredine Abboud.
'Game of Thrones' and 'The Walking Dead'
Whether you're interested in taking on the undead hordes in "Game of Thrones" or their shuffling, decaying equivalent from "The Walking Dead," California-based Telltale Games has you covered. The studio – which specializes in graphic adventure games based on licensed properties from television, comics and film – prides itself on creating engrossing, character-driven stories.
"When story defines the genre, the possibilities are limitless," Job Stauffer, Telltale Games’ head of creative communications, said in an interview. "The difficulty doesn’t lie in moving your character, or tapping a button to say certain things, the difficulty is in the decision making. That’s where our games are difficult, and living and breathing. That’s where the story comes alive, and the story really is our gameplay."
To make their games feel like worthy additions to the properties they're based on, Telltale regularly hires veteran screenwriters to craft the stories players experience. Examples include Oscar-nominated American screenwriter Bob Gale for a "Back to the Future" title, British screenwriter Gary Whitta ("Book of Eli," "Star Wars: Rogue One") for "The Walking Dead," and American science fiction writer Ty Franck, the former assistant to George R.R. Martin, as a story consultant for the studio's "Game of Thrones" franchise.
"We are figuring out how to tell better and more interesting stories in video games," Whitta, who is currently writing the third film in the "Sherlock Holmes" franchise, told GameInformer. "There are still a lot of people out there that still just want to shoot stuff and just want to hammer through the cutscenes, not look at any of that stuff and just play the game without any kind of narrative context. I think that eventually is going to die out and people are going to realize that everything is better when there’s a story attached."
Regarded as having one of the most cinematic narratives ever created, the "Mass Effect" franchise from Canadian publisher Bioware is a triumph in interactive storytelling. As the New York Times praised in its review of the third chapter in the series, even "Star Wars" fans should be compelled to pick up a controller and dive in.
"From its cinematic visual presentation; to the intimate characterizations of dozens of friends, allies and enemies; to the taut combat sequences, 'Mass Effect 3' draws players into a universe even George Lucas could appreciate," wrote critic Seth Schiesel.
As you might expect, Hollywood is eager to turn the franchise into a big screen hit all it's own. Avi Arad, the legendary Israeli producer behind such upcoming video game adaptations like "Uncharted" and "Metal Gear Solid," explained in a 2013 interview why "Mass Effect's" story is so intriguing. “It's a big idea, that we, humans, are the least developed, the least trusted, it's an interesting mirror image of our world, we are the aliens now," he said.
Like the sprawling adventure that has played out over four games, Arad expressed patience in delivering something worthy of what the franchise has accomplished. "Love the project, it's getting there, it's been a lot of work," he added. "Some movies take five, six years before they're ready."
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