A few months ago I started a feature series that put a spotlight on games from independent studios that I felt had the potential to make worthwhile cinematic experiences. This was in response to seeing Hollywood, an industry who have historically butchered their past films based on known gaming quantities, finally churn out at the very least digestible summer blockbusters with a reasonable amount of respect for their source material. Blockbusters that have taken box offices by storm, which obviously have the suits over at every big-name studio perk up with dollar signs for pupils, leading to a plethora of announcements being made about the many more films based on gaming properties that are currently in the making.
Seriously, a quick look at IGN’s list of upcoming movies either announced or rumoured shows nearly fifty titles potentially making their way to the big screen. Fifty. Five-Zero. Everything from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and The Legend of Zelda, to Call of Duty and Half-Life. As mentioned in my previous pieces, however, the vast majority of these titles are based on games from the AAA side of things. Though many of these games have terrific narratives that one can easily see being made into a big-budget movie, it’s on the indie side of things where I personally believe some of the greatest, most vibrant video game stories are told. And so, kindly venture with me for a third time as I tell you about three more titles that I believe could make wonderful films, if done right.
This War of Mine – A Harrowing War Drama
This War of Mine is a game where you take control of a group of civilians trying to survive in the besieged fictional city of Pogoren, Graznavia. Players must use each of the civilian’s skills to cook, build tools, scavenge, and sneak past military forces all with the goal to survive until the country declares a ceasefire. As you might imagine, this is a grim, heart-wrenching, and harrowing game that tells its story through realistic characters, each of whom are intimately written and showcase the horrors and human costs of war.
When it comes to war films, particularly those made in the West, we often don’t see the stories being told from the perspectives of the civilians. As such, a story like this—especially when considering the atrocities currently taking place in our real world—needs to be done with the utmost of care. Ensuring to not shy away from the gut-wrenching realities of the situation, while also not uncouthly revelling in the spectacle of horrors. This is a character-driven story that sees the bullets and explosions exist in the background. So, a film adaptation should respect that and trust that a talented cast with a strong script, which focuses on the lives of these characters, is enough to bring the needed emotion to impact audiences.
Neo Cab — Simple, Somber Sci-Fi
Neo Cab is one of Apple Arcade’s hidden gems, and is published by one of my favorite indie publishers, Fellow Traveller. It’s a sci-fi visual novel that puts players in the shoes of Lina, the last human cab driver in an automated world. While driving through the streets of Los Ojos, you’ll pick up eccentric passengers and through conversations will get to know the city’s dark secrets, all the while trying to find your recently missing best friend. It’s an intriguing and scary look into a future run by automation, and developer Chance Agency do a commendable job in building the world and telling the story from an emotional, contemplative place that puts their characters, particularly Lina, front and center.
There are elements of the game that remind me of the Steven Knight movie Locke, starring Tom Hardy. Much like Neo Cab, the entire film takes place in a car and through the perspective of Tom Hardy’s troubled character. Aesthetically, I can see a film adaptation of Neo Cab going a similar route with a bunch of medium-closeups through the windshield that puts Lina in the foreground and her carousel of passengers in the back. This allows for most of the budget to go to the vibrant costumes of characters, which is important to not only distinguish each of them, but allow for some world-building seeing as we’ll be stuck within the confines of the cab. Such a hyper-focus on characters means, once again, acting and dialogue writing are going to be what make or break this movie. That being said, cinematography and color-grading can go a long way in setting the tone for the film. I think about Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, which is sparse on dialogue yet manages to convey a certain emotion through its dream-like cinematography and music that perfectly establishes its neo-noir aesthetic; one that I think would go quite well for Neo Cab as well.
What Remains of Edith Finch — An Intimate Family Saga
Considered one of the best walking simulators ever made, What Remains of Edith Finch puts you in the shoes of Edith Finch, who discovers the history of her family as she traverses through an immaculately designed and mind-bending-ly intricate house where each corner tells a story. It’s a game that showcases the stories of the Finch family, giving each member life through their possessions and the things they’ve left behind. These members are written with care, and with each step throughout this absurdly crafted home I felt as if I were traveling through time, slowly unwrapping the mysteries that laid secretly within each person that carried the Finch name.
Turning a game like this into a movie is tough. Sure, one could easily rely on a bouquet of flash-back sequences each time Edith picks up some trinket or other that belonged to one of her ancestors, but something about that feels…lazy. Especially when considering that the Finch house exists as a living, breathing entity in and of itself. One that, as you walk through it, feel as if it’s playing tricks on you. It’s a winding maze with secret passages, filled to the brim with books and baubles galore. So if a film adaptation spends most of its time on cheap flash-backs, even if done well with actors that can carry their weight, it dilutes what makes the game special. The “chopping fish heads” sequence during Lewis’ story, for instance, is a prime example of how stories can be told in such unique ways through video games, and translating that to the medium of film can prove to be a challenge. It’s why I think some supernatural, genre-bending tactics need to be used to bring out the “magic” of what makes this game special. Tactics that can visually transport audiences into this wondrous house, but doing so with a well-written script that keeps the emotional integrity of the game’s cast of endearing characters.
What are some indie games that you think would make a great film adaption? Let us know in the comments below!