After finishing up Matthew Bailey's article on what games deserved to be turned into TV series, I was struck by two thoughts. When he's right, he's right. When he's wrong, he is shockingly wrong. I'm not going to argue the merits of translating Alan Wake or Heavy Rain into a TV series because both of those games are very well suited to the format. They might only run for a single season, but they could be one of the best examples of a TV season ever produced. I could spend hours detailing how much of a bad idea it would be to try and turn Rainbow Six into a series (as a fan of the original novel and the early games, the casting choices alone are way off base, but I digress) or why Red Dead Redemption would work better as the sort of cinematic homage to Same Peckinpah and Sergio Leone it executed as a game.
Instead, I figured I'd offer up five games (or, in a couple cases, game series) which would be a better fit for small screen adaptation. I'm going to avoid casting choices, since those are always going to be fraught with biases and arguments. Rather, I'll offer up the logistical side of things, the pros and the cons, and why they can make as much of an impact on TV viewers as they can on gamers. I'll also avoid the preference for Netflix being the sole source of production. It's open season, and anybody could theoretically do these if they were to commit the right resources.
As a game, Watch_Dogs suffered from a sense that it wasn't quite sure what it wanted to be. Was it an open world crime story critique akin to Grand Theft Auto? Or was it a dystopian action adventure like Deus Ex? There were too many things that it was trying to explore as a game, such as the rise of omnipresent surveillance, the corporatization and decay of American cities, and personal themes such as duty to family and revenge. For people who complained that the story was entirely too linear, a TV series solves that problem very neatly.
On the positive side of production, it'd be relatively cheap since it's essentially a contemporary setting and centered around a single city. However, the city in question is Chicago, and they might not appreciate being portrayed as somehow more corrupt and crime-ridden than they are in real life. At the very least, it would made for a good single season series. Where it went after that is entirely up to how well received it was with both fans of the game and the general viewing public.
4. Alpha Centauri
Going back into the archives, you'll find that some of the best beloved games have the name "Sid Meier" pre-pending the title. Of those myriad titles, few can conjure the sort of drooling fanboy reaction most people are semi-ashamed of like Alpha Centauri. What started out as an unofficial sequel to the Civilization series of strategy games, Alpha Centauri posited the first interstellar colony humanity establishes, and all of the headaches that come with it. Hostile native flora and fauna, human factionalism, and (in the expansion) first contact with an intelligent species, all part of the race to not only keep Mankind alive but to bring it across the threshold of the next evolutionary step.
Sci-fi, particularly on TV, has a rich tradition of holding up a mirror to let us see ourselves in a different light. An Alpha Centauri series could very easily go from the macro scale of planetary politics to the micro scale of individual citizens and how their lives differ from one faction's territory to the next. There's a lot of rich material that can be mined. The big sticking point would be the production budget. While CGI and practical effects have both advanced considerably over the years, it's still going to be a major undertaking and one that some studios or networks might find terribly daunting.
3. The Last of Us
This one's a tough call, because it could legitimately be argued to be either a TV series or a movie. A movie could hit most of the high points of the game, but a TV series could give the cast room to explore their characters in more detail. For those who haven't played the game (shame on you): two characters, Joel and Ellie, must travel across a post-apocalyptic America decimated by a fungal epidemic in the hope that they can derive a cure from Ellie's unique immune system. If you had to deliver the high concept in a pitch meeting, it'd be "The Odd Couple meets The Walking Dead."
Despite happening in the near future, the end of the world as most people know it means that you can keep a lot of contemporary touches, which certainly helps ease up on the production budgets and design work. On the other hand, there's a potential for viewer fatigue owing to the current runs of The Walking Dead and Z Nation. The practical effects would be just as challenging and some viewers might dismiss it as "just another zombie series."
2. Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic
With Disney working harder than George Lucas could have possibly imagined trying to monetize everything Star Wars related while at the same time getting rid of a lot of the cruff that made up the "Expanded Universe," there were a few side stories and spinoffs that were killed which could still provide a lot of space opera goodness. Knights of The Old Republic took place some four thousand years before the events of A New Hope, showing us a Republic which was only recently recovering from an invasion by the Mandalorians and smack in the middle of what would later be called "The Jedi Civil War." It gave gamers a broad cast of characters from virtuous soldiers to homicidal robots, and those were just your allies.
Given the resources of Disney, and the tone set by J.J. Abrams for the new movies, it's not inconceivable that a KOTOR series could be made, and done well in the process. It would give Disney the chance to break away clean from the continuing travails of the Skywalker clan while keeping a lot of similar elements to help cut down on production costs. The biggest danger would be if Disney chooses to recreate the storylines from the two KOTOR games and create definitive versions of the main characters, and irritating fans whose personal experiences do not follow those of the writers for the series.
1. The Elder Scrolls
If there was one game series that has the potential to make people say, "What's Game of Thrones?", the best bet would be The Elder Scrolls games. There is a density of material that George R.R. Martin can't even begin to touch and a scope that almost boggles the mind. Admittedly, the first four games deal with a massive empire headed by the most staggeringly incompetent Emperor you've ever met, but when it comes to rich storytelling opportunities, the world of Tamriel has all manner of possibilities. And that doesn't even count the side stories laid out in the spinoff games. Multiple different races, demons, demigods, and an expansive amount of background material to work with could keep an Elder Scrolls series potentially rolling for years.
So much has been done already through the five main games in terms of design work that bringing it all to life would be comparatively easy. It could become an iconic fantasy series that sets a new benchmark for genre television. While it potentially faces a similar problem of divergence with player experience as a KOTOR series would, it also has the major issue of scope to contend with. While some elements, props, and sets could theoretically be recycled between seasons, you're still looking at a tremendous amount of work in terms of props, makeup, and practical effects, with a price tag that might make anybody cringe.
Think I missed something? Sound off in the comments.