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What happened to all the video games based on movies?

Once upon a time, every major blockbuster was accompanied by a tie-in console game. What caused the Flipendo in their fortunes?

Wonder Woman is having an excellent week. The newly-released superhero blockbuster has earned $206.5m (£162.2m) in its first ten days in American theatres, and is now one of the highest-grossing movies ever made by a female director. There is no denying it: the film is a success.

Now imagine it’s 2002. After begging your mum to drive you to the local Blockbuster, you snatch the last rental copy of the DVD off the shelves and make your way to the counter, your blue and yellow membership card at the ready. But what do you see on your way? A brand new Wonder Woman video game, ready to get stuck into your PS2. With your popcorn-sticky fingers firmly wrapped around a rumbling controller, you were in for a pretty good night.

There was a time when every major movie had an accompanying tie-in game. After watching their counterparts on the silver screen, you were ten minutes of fiddling with some red, white, and yellow cables before you too could be Frodo battling for Middle Earth, James Bond sneaking past some Russians, or Harry Potter Flipendo-ing his way through the halls of Hogwarts.

Nowadays? Not so much. This month’s new reboots and releases The Mummy and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales will not be accompanied by the console games that followed their original counterparts. Wonder Woman, too, won’t have a big-budget video game to call her own (she is, however, now available as a character in the DC Legends mobile game!)

Via comicbookmovie.com

“There are a number of reasons for the change but it is a complicated topic,” says James TerKeurst, a computer games lecturer at Southampton Solent University. TerKeurst explains that the first generation of film-based games ended with a crash after the Atari game E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial flopped. Created in just six weeks, the game is widely cited as one of the worst of all time, with unsold copies rumoured to be buried en-masse in a New Mexico landfill site.

But that was 1982, and the Nineties and Noughties saw another boom in movie tie-in games, with TerKeurst explaining that the first-person shooter GoldenEye 007 actually made more money than the film. “Hollywood fell back in love with games,” he says. “This resulted in quite a few reasonable game tie ins like Lord of the Rings, Alien Isolation, Wolverine Origins, and Spiderman Two.

“But it’s always been difficult working to film industry timelines.”

It is an undeniable fact that many movie-based video games are bad. Like, very bad. This was often because deadlines were kept incredibly tight in order for games to coincide with a film’s release.

When this schedule was combined with licensing costs and the fact that many tie-in games are, at their heart, a cash grab, this meant low quality games were released. In turn, this meant falling sales, meaning smaller budgets, meaning more bad games. Nowadays, studios often prefer to avoid the risk by allowing LEGO to make a tried-and-tested video game of their movie. 

 Via adverts.ie

Yet movie tie-in games were and are, for the most part, still profitable. So why did they disappear? The answer is: maybe they didn’t.

There is, in actuality, a new Pirates of the Caribbean game. “THE OCEAN IS YOURS TO RULE,” barks the description of Pirates of the Caribbean: Tides of War, a free-to-download mobile game complete with in-app purchases.

If you’re a fan of Disney’s Frozen, it is now one of hundreds of puzzle games on the app store that are based on the action of swiping matching jewels. Rather than spending thousands of pounds and two years developing plot-based console games, movie studios can now simply add the characters and aesthetic of their movie to pre-existing games. Last year, Disney released its own version of the immensely successful mobile game Crossy Road, imaginatively named Disney Crossy Road.

There has also been another dramatic change. With the boom of the video game industry, it is now movies that look to profit from the good name of games, rather than vice versa. Den of Geek! reports there are 59 video game movies currently in development.

Last year alone, there were movie spin-offs of Ratchet & Clank, Angry Birds, World of Warcraft, and Assassin’s Creed. None of these, it’s safe to say, are particularly great movies. Can movies and games ever really work together?

“Both industries are hit and franchise driven and try to capture the current zeitgeist, but each has its own strengths,” says games expert TerKeurst. “Consequently when the industries can support each other from their unique strengths they do have potential.  However, when they have simply copied each other it hasn’t been particularly successful.”

Many, then, might not mourn the death of movie tie-in video games. The internet is full of “The Top Ten Worst Video Games Based on Movies” lists, with gamers lamenting Ghostbusters II (1990), Street Fighter: The Movie (1995), Robocop (2003) and Fight Club (2004).

Yet games based on films are, if nothing else, incredibly accessible – and can be the first foray into gaming for many young children. It might not technically have been good, but Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events on (what else?) the Nintendo GameCube, propelled an 11-year-old me towards a love of gaming. And, with ever-increasing snobbery about what makes a gamer “a gamer”, shouldn’t we celebrate accessible games? 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Oliver Stone on interviewing Vladimir Putin: "There are two sides to every story"

The director says his conversations with the Russian president, like all of his works, speak for themselves.

“You’re going to start with this blogging bullshit?” Oliver Stone raises his voice at a reporter, a look of fury on his face.

The director has been asked about the veracity of a video shown to him by the Russian president in his recent Showtime series, The Putin Interviews. The hapless Norwegian journalist who is asking the question notes that bloggers have taken exception to the footage’s true provenance.

What bloggers think of Stone's work, however, is clearly of no consequence to him. When another journalist asks if he’s afraid to be seen as Vladimir Putin’s "PR guy", though, he erupts. 

“Do you really think I’m going to go and spend two years of my life doing a tourist guide book? You really think I’m that kind of a filmmaker? Do you have no respect for my work?”

Stone is on fiery form at Starmus science and music festival in Trondheim, Norway. His series on Putin was filmed over two years. The final four hours of footage were cut from an original 19 of recorded interviews, which covered such diverse topics as “Russia in the 1990s and the 2000s, the American expansion of Nato, the American support of terrorism in Central Asia, Syria from his point of view, Ukraine, nuclear arms…”

Critics, however, have termed it a hagiography, and argued it offers Putin a deferential platform to share his view. Others have dismissed Stone as a propaganda poodle. 

Stone counters the criticism: “I researched it, I did the best I could, and I think it proves the old adage that there are two sides to every story.”

Whether because of naivety or professional courtesy, on the face of it, in the interview series the 70-year-old appears to buy into everything Putin tells him. "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar," is all he'll say at the conference.

Later on, in the calm after the storm, we speak alone. “This was a special deal,” he tells me. “He was very congenial and articulate and willing to talk. He grabbed the moment.

“People need to keep something in mind. They said I was soft on him - that’s nonsense.

“You can’t have an interview where you’re asking hostile questions. He would have just tolerated it and said what he did, and then after that first interview he would have not have done a second or a third.

“I was interested in the long view. Nobody in the West has gone that far with him that I have seen.”

The long view is a speciality of Stone’s, as he reveals with his address at Starmus to a packed auditorium. As befits a science festival, he addresses the development of the atomic bomb and the modern digital arms race of cyber warfare.

In his view, “politics invariably gets a stranglehold on science and takes it in the wrong way”. He cites J Robert Oppenheimer, known as the father of the nuclear bomb, and computer analyst Edward Snowden’s life following his decision to turn whistleblower. 

Stone directed the film Snowden, a task which involved navigating numerous obstacles, including gaining access to the real Snowden, by then in Russia, himself. 

“Science gets slaughtered by politics,” he tells me.

In the shadow of the criticism on the Putin front, he admits that from an American perspective, for him to become involved with Snowden was, well… “beyond the pale". 

But despite – or perhaps because of – the Academy Award-winning director’s commitment to the truth, he’s not letting go of various facts as he sees them.

“There is no evidence as far as I’m concerned for the Russian hacking allegations,” he says, adding that this was an “assessment” from the US security services which turned into a “farce”.

He has read the detail for himself, he says – and he also appears on film looking like he believes Putin when the president says it’s nothing to do with him.

Back at home, the American domestic political situation has him as appalled as ever. He is critical, not only of Donald Trump, but the system the US president operates in. 

“It seems that the president does not have the power he thinks he has," he says. "You get elected, you think it’s a democracy, but there is this mechanism inside, this Deep State – intelligence agencies, military industrial, the generals, the Pentagon, CIA combined with other intel – which seems to have some kind of inner lock.”

Although Stone places characters at the heart of many of his films, he finds Trump hard to figure out.

“I don’t know what Trump’s mind is like, I think so few people do," he muses. "He says super-patriotic things suddenly like 'I love the CIA, I’m going to really support you, I love the military, I love generals, I love all that beautiful new equipment' – that he sold to Saudi Arabia.

“He also said, and it’s very disturbing, ‘the next war, we’re going to win’. As if you can win a war where you use cyber and nuclear and various weapons. He’s thinking this is a game like a child.

“The purpose of war is not to have one.”

Stone believes – as Trump initially seemed to profess – that Russia will be the chief ally in future for the United States: “They can be great partners in every walk of life, it’s crazy to have them as an enemy."

Nevertheless, he is not as slavish to the official Russian line as many have countenanced.

“I was able to shoot this documentary because of my reputation," he says. Some people say he pulled his punches, I counter.

“Gloves off, gloves on – the truth is, he sees things his way," Stone says. "I’m not there to change his mind, I’m there to show his mind.”

In his view, an observant watcher will learn about Putin just by watching him. "The camera doesn’t lie – the camera tells you things, body language, eyes – you can get a feel sometimes," he says. "I think if you watch all four hours you’ll see that we got an enormous amount of information."

Perhaps those who sit through those four hours will be satisfied that they know more about Putin – or about Stone himself. After all, if the camera doesn't lie, it doesn't lie for anyone.

As I leave the room, Stone raises his voice after me: “Don’t change my words.” He’s smiling broadly as he speaks.

Kirstie McCrum is a freelance journalist. Follow her @kirstiemccrum.

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