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Last Updated: Monday, 9 August, 2004, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Gaming breathes new life into tired sequels
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

Hollywood has an uneven record when it comes to taking their films from the cinema to the games console.

Toby Maguire as Spider-Man
Spider-Man 2 has proved a hit with cinema-goers and gamers
Yet no blockbuster movie nowadays is complete without a game spin-off.

So not only can you go and see the latest adventures of Spider-Man, you can also be Spidey in the game.

Or maybe you would rather play the role of Halle Berry in the Catwoman game.

It is easy to see why film studios are interested in games. They already have a story, a character and can piggy-back on the free publicity generated by the movie.

A game seems a natural extension of the brand.

But the history of games inspired by films is littered with titles that seemed to be little more than attempts by the movie industry to cash in on the success of their celluloid product.

'Dream equation'

Enter the Matrix, released last year to tie in with the Matrix sequels, was one of the most expensive video games ever made.

Screenshot from Enter the Matrix game
Enter the Matrix disappointed many gamers
Publishers Atari pumped $20m into developing and marketing the title. Even though it went on to sell millions, critical reaction to the game was largely negative.

"The Matrix game was the dream equation," says Margaret Robertson, games editor at Edge magazine.

"The game was built into the production cycle and into the narrative and should have been an absolute triumph."

But the thrill of watching amazing stunts in bullet-time on screen simply did not translate into a game.

Games and porn

Part of the problem is that films and games are very different products. Watching a movie is a passive experience, while playing a game is an active one.

And for many gamers, there is nothing worse than a game with lots of long bits of video when you are not doing anything.

Screenshot from Chronicles of Riddick
Fancy putting yourself into the shoes of Vin Diesel?
"Games from films are a bit like bad porn," said Ms Robertson, "most people fast forward to the action pieces."

But sometimes game developers can do something the film makers fail to do - create a product that is head and shoulders above its big screen relation.

Enter the sci-fi blockbuster The Chronicles of Riddick, due to hit cinemas in the UK on Friday.

The film, a sequel to the cult hit Pitch Black, has received muted reviews in the US. The New York Times described it as an overmuscled sequel which was all bulk and no definition.

By contrast reviews of the game spin-off, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, also out on Friday, have been absolutely gushing.

It has been praised for the combining of visual style and gameplay, with one reviewer saying it is destined to be remembered as the most inspiring collaboration between Hollywood and the gaming industry yet.

In this case, the Riddick game bears no relationship to the film and was not intended to. Instead of regurgitating the movie plot, it is set in an earlier time, so is a prequel to both Chronicles and Pitch Black.

Be someone else

The plot of the game is deceptively simple. Riddick escapes from prison. Three times. The end.

Instead the appeal of the game is playing the character of Richard B Riddick, an anti-hero on the edges of the law, played by Vin Diesel, who lends his voice and likeness.

Screenshot from Chronicles of Riddick
Riddick game creates a claustrophobic prison setting
Diesel, an avid gamer with his own game development studios, Tigon, is credited as having contributed to the game's script.

"I was involved closely in the story creation, writing of dialogue, cinematic direction, character design, and overseeing the game development from a creative standpoint as a whole," said Diesel in a recent interview.

Perhaps this is why the Riddick game is so believable. In it, you get to be Vin Diesel. In the Spider-Man 2 game, you get to be Peter Parker, swinging from building to building in New York.

The story takes second place to becoming someone else, at least in the virtual world.

"If you wrote script from a game, it would be the most banal gruesome thing, but that is not the focus of the experience," says Ms Robertson.

"Rather than put you into the world of the film, a game should put you into the shoes of the character."

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