9 video games that need to be adapted for TV

9 video games that need to be adapted for TV

With the The Last Of Us premiering Sunday on HBO, here are more beloved games that deserve the prestige-television treatment

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Pedro Pascal in The Last Of Us
Pedro Pascal in The Last Of Us
Photo: Liane Hentscher/HBO

Although TV shows based on video games have become more common in recent years—the last 12 months have seen adaptations of Halo, Cyberpunk, League Of Legends, Resident Evil, and more on the small screen—they’re still typically viewed as a rarity in comparison to the more common move from games to film. Gaming’s credibility in Network Land is likely to get a strong boost in a couple of days, though, when HBO deploys The Last Of Us, Craig Mazin’s pricey adaptation of Naughty Dog’s prestigious interactive zombie epic of the same name.

Because while The Last Of Us isn’t necessarily groundbreaking in terms of adapting a popular video game to TV, it is a major step forward in networks treating the end product like more than a shoddily produced afterthought. And that embrace by HBO opens the door for many of gaming’s other biggest franchises to get a similar treatment.

So we have to ask: Which beloved games could become TV’s next big things?

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Among Us

Among Us

Among Us - Launch Trailer - Nintendo Switch

Sure, you could adapt the massively popular secret space murderer game Among Us as a sort of prestige drama, pitting a dwindling crew of survivors against the Thing-esque alien mimicking their former friends. It’d be tense, if a bit generic—which is actually a pretty good descriptor for Among Us games in the first place.

But Among Us could also make one hell of a game show, for the same reasons it makes for a great game on phones and consoles: That same sense of tension, confusion, and fear that rapidly builds as you realize more and more of your friends have vanished. Bring in a “crew” of 12 contestants, build a massive spaceship for them to run around in, give the “alien” a way to “murder” their victims, and you’ve basically cooked up a recipe for the same mixture of paranoia, accusations, and desperate deductive work that makes Among Us such a treat. All you really need to do is throw some money at it, and it’s an easy summer unscripted hit. [William Hughes]

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Death Stranding

Death Stranding

Death Stranding – E3 2016 Reveal Trailer | PS4

Original Death Stranding developer Kojima Productions recently announced some kind of movie adaptation, but let’s be clear: The game is absolutely not suited to being a movie. It would be possible to tell a completely different story set in that world as a movie, but if we’re talking about adapting the actual story beats of Death Stranding, then only a TV show would make sense. (Actually, only a video game makes sense, because making you an active participant in the loneliness that pervades the experience is important, but that’s not the exercise here.)

Starring Norman Reedus as Sam Porter Bridges, a post-apocalyptic deliveryman, Death Stranding takes place after a cataclysmic event that definitively proved the existence of an afterlife, released ghosts from that afterlife that try to kill people, created deadly rain that makes everything it touches rapidly age, and forced most of humanity to move to underground bunkers. The actual plot is about Sam traveling around the United States, convincing people to sign up for what is basically a government-backed wi-fi network, so the federal government can reestablish some kind of control. Everyone thinks that’s a stupid idea, though, so Sam’s actual goal is convincing people (and learning for himself) that human connection is good and worthwhile.

Also, yes, you kill the ghosts with grenades made of pee and guns that shoot blood, okay? And there are terrorists trying to trigger an extinction event that will wipe out all of humanity, which is scary. But also there are other bad guys who are former deliverymen who became obsessed with collecting packages and will try to kill Sam to steal his packages, which is silly. It’s a lot. There’s a lot going on. Too much for a movie. [Sam Barsanti]

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Deus Ex

Deus Ex

Deus Ex - 15th Anniversary Animated Trailer

Imagine a political thriller in which one man slowly uncovers a far-reaching conspiracy that touches every corner of human civilization, with a shadowy cabal of powerful people pulling the strings of anything and everything while thinking of themselves as immortal and infallible. Sounds interesting, right? Now imagine that the man is mostly a robot. He has robot powers, but also he’s a man … but he kind of acts like a robot.

That’s the world of Deus Ex, a smarty-pants thinking-man’s shooting game where sometimes you don’t want to shoot people and should instead be clever and find smarter ways around an obstacle. A TV show version could be like Homeland with robots. Or 24 with robots. Plus, the cyberpunk aesthetic is always cool, even if Cyberpunk 2077 was a mess, and it’s rare that we get much of that kind of thing in live-action TV. Westworld did a bit of it in its later seasons, but nobody appreciated that at the time and now it’s too late, so how about Deus Ex instead? [Sam Barsanti]

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Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem Engage — The Divine Dragon Awakens! — Nintendo Switch

Every streamer and network is always looking for the next Game Of Thrones, and while Nintendo’s Fire Emblem is definitely not Game Of Thrones … we won’t tell anyone if you don’t. It has swords, it has magic, it has dragons, it even has political intrigue and important interpersonal relationships between the characters. Just do that, give everybody some wild anime-style hair, and most people won’t know the difference between Fire Emblem and Game Of Thrones.

The majority of the games in this series tell their own stories with no connections to the other games beyond aesthetic similarities and some fan-service cameos, but what matters is that they all take place in an epic fantasy world full of cool heroes and scary villains. Plus, with no single canon storyline to follow, whoever makes the Fire Emblem show could kind of do their own thing with no worries about alienating old fans or scaring off new ones. The only catch is that they’d have to strictly adhere to the classic Fire Emblem “Weapon Triangle”—swords beat axes, axes beat lances, lances beat swords—but that would be easy. Just have a scene before every battle where someone says, like, “The enemy has a lot of axe guys, so let’s make sure we bring our best sword guys.” [Sam Barsanti]

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Firewatch

Firewatch

Firewatch - September 2016 Trailer

Campo Santo’s Firewatch is a relatively low-stakes experience, close to the video game equivalent of a character study. There’s a plot and a central mystery of sorts, but what really matters is the emotional journey of player character Henry, a man who takes a job as a fire lookout at Shoshone National Forest so he can get away from a tragic event in his personal life. A feature film has been in development for a few years, but a TV show would arguably be a better way to capture the deceptively quiet nature of the game.

You know something is going to happen in a movie, because that’s how movies work, but each episode of a hypothetical Firewatch TV show could hang on little developments—Will Henry find clues to the missing girls? Will that smoke off in the distance end up being a problem? Will he open up to his coworker Delilah? Or will that happen next week?—and give each story beat a bigger impact. Also, Rich Sommer from Mad Men did the voice of Henry in the game, and he could definitely reprise that role for a TV show. [Sam Barsanti]

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Hitman

Hitman

Hitman 3 - Official Launch Trailer

Although there have actually been two Hitman movies made in the past 20 years—Timothy Olyphant’s initial effort in 2007, followed by a Rupert Friend-starring reboot in 2015—neither of those low-budget action riffs grasped the core comedy that IOI’s most recent versions of Agent 47’s exploits (rebooted with the 2016 Hitman) have achieved. To wit: Watching the world’s most competent (and deadpan) man engineer elaborate Rube Goldberg machines designed to kill off a huge swathe of the planet’s richest and most obnoxious assholes.

It’s a premise that screams TV, with each episode plucking out one of the games’ beautiful, detail-rich sandboxes as its setting, dropping 47 into it in some innocuous place, and letting the chaos flow. If you wanted to get really ambitious (and budget-conscious) you could even adopt the structure of the recent games, which encourage players to replay levels using different methods and pursuing different outcomes. Imagine it: a short, six-episode season revealing six takes on a single assassination, with each installment showing another way 47 lures his target big-money sociopath into the crosshairs. [William Hughes]

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Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain | Gamescom Trailer | PS4

If Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima pops up repeatedly on this list, it’s only because he’s spent so much of his career actively pining to be embraced by Hollywood. This is, after all, a guy who basically asked his artists, way back in the ’90s, to insert anime Mel Gibson into his early games, so desperate was he to give them some authentic action-movie feel.

So be it: Metal Gear Solid is Hideo Kojima’s opus and—despite efforts to shove the whole thing into a movie from time to time, which never go anywhere because it’s a terrible idea—there’s absolutely no reason it couldn’t work as a TV show. Tough as nails super-soldier with a sensitive side? Check. A series of action-heavy infiltration missions telling a complex and elaborate story about Kojima’s pet themes of honor and war? Check. Colorful cast of villains with weird quirks and gimmicks for audiences to obsess over? Check and a half—just wait until the non-game-playing portions of the show’s audience get to gas-mask-wearing psychic troll Psycho Mantis. The structure’s not hard to figure out, either, with each game functioning roughly as a season: the fairly straightforward spy action of Metal Gear Solid giving way to the mindscrewery of Metal Gear Solid 2, before ducking back in time for the prequel Metal Gear Solid 3. The real trick would be ensuring that enough of the series’ goofball DNA made it into the final product, since Metal Gear Solid without Kojima’s weirdness is … just a pretty generic spy thriller. [William Hughes]

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Psychonauts

Psychonauts

Psychonauts 2 Launch Trailer

This one almost feels like cheating, since Double Fine’s 2005 breakout hit Psychonauts already feels ready-made for the Saturday morning cartoon treatment: a bright, distinctive animation style; a solidly hilarious set of scripts; and a killer premise (psychic kids at psychic summer camp, learning to save the world … psychically). Heck, the games already have cartoon royalty in their main cast, with Richard “Invader Zim” Horvitz as heroic would-be Psychonaut Razputin “Raz” Aquato. The meanest thing you can say about the original Psychonauts (especially the first game, since the sequel corrected some of these defects) is that it’s better to watch and listen to than it is to play. A cartoon series would serve that purpose perfectly and still allow Double Fine’s writers and designers to crank out the elaborate, hilarious, scary mindscapes that make all of the Psychonauts games such a head-tripping treat. [William Hughes]

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Quantum Break

Quantum Break

Quantum Break Official Launch Trailer

Remedy Entertainment is a video game studio that loves to reach beyond its means, which usually results in some shockingly ambitious projects for a relatively small company in Finland. Arguably the most shocking ambitious project in their catalog was Quantum Break, a game that was really only half-video game, with the other half being a big-budget sci-fi TV show with a star-studded cast that included Aidan Gillen, Lance Reddick, Shawn Ashmore, and Dominic Monaghan. After each level of the video game, in which you play as Ashmore’s character as he tries to avert a time travel-based apocalypse, you watch an episode of the TV show about what the antagonists of the video game are doing while you’re playing.

It was all weirdly good, illustrating the inexplicable magic that Remedy has, but the problem is that doing something like that ever again would be enormously complicated and expensive … unless you cut out the video game part of this video game. Someone could take this world and maybe even these specific actors and tell a continuation of the story without needing to make a video game at all. [Sam Barsanti]

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