GuestBloggerMania’10: It came from the late late late show: 5 reasons why B movies make the best games

Spinks blogs on MMOs at Welcome to Spinksville. She also bakes pies.  Very good pies.  Like, you’d kill your own mother just to have a slice, they’re that good.  But today she is branching out ….

It came from the late late late show: 5 reasons why B movies make the best games by Spinks

There was a time when I was deep into pen and paper roleplaying games, and had high and arty aspirations for my gaming. My players would be challenged to express deep, three-dimensional characters and together we would tell epic stories. There would be character development. There would be drama.

But why was it that players always seemed to have more fun just running up and down corridors and shooting each other monsters?

Slowly I came to a realisation. Never mind the Oscars or Booker prizes, it’s the B movies and page turners, not the high art, which make for the best games. When I shared this revelation with other GMs, they nodded wisely. Over drinks at gaming conventions, we shared stories of the stupid or crazy things our players had done in games. And damn if some of those games wouldn’t have made the greatest B movies of all time!

Bo Hodges: You realize who goes to see movies. Eighty percent of them are between the ages of 12 and 22. And you know what the kids like?
Michael Burgess: What?
Bo Hodges: Well, this may sound silly to you, but kids go completely ape if you do three things in a picture: defy authority, destroy property, and take people’s clothes off.

– Sweet Liberty

According to wikipedia, a B movie is a low budget commercial film which isn’t either arthouse or porn. It’s often genre material – pulp, horror, fantasy, western. Corners are cut with plots, actors, and effects in order to save the budget.

So why do B movies have so much in common with good games?

1. That guy in the film was so stupid! Why didn’t he just ‘…’. You remember the famous  scene in Indiana Jones, where he brings a gun to a sword fight? That is every player character you ever saw in any game ever. Remember, the object of a game is to win and that means ignoring genre rules whenever they get in the way. B Movies, being rather fast and loose with their genre rules too, use similar tricks to stay under budget.

Can you imagine a player seriously putting away her BFG because an opponent was unarmed? Not in any game I’ve ever played – blow that sucker away!

2. B Movie heroes don’t care about dying. No player ever seriously cares about the notion that their character might die. It’s only a game. If a player does die (probably because of stupidly charging into the monster that everyone for the last hour has told them will instantly kill players) well … like The Terminator, they’ll be back.

Knowing this, they will often pull crazy plot related stunts that no sane person would do if this was a real life situation. This tends to give them a lot in common with pulp action heroes who also have plot immunity. And in single player games, the game really is over if the character dies.

Other appealing sides to B movie heroes are that the film is written around them and designed to make them look cool. Think of Mass Effect, for an example in games. Shepherd (ie. you) is the big damn hero. That’s the entire point of the game. Every NPC in that game is there to make you feel like the hero. And players love it.

3. But we gotta have a tentacle, man. I found one in props! Gamers don’t care about the logic behind anything they do in a game, as long as the action sequences are fun. Maybe that’s a little unfair – they care, but even the craziest and most illogical explanation will be enough to keep them going. We don’t even expect our game worlds to make sense.

Not only that but writers are often brought into the game design process very late on. By this time, many of the levels and action scenes have already been coded, and artwork is all ready to go. So if the game director looks at the script and says, “It’s good … but we gotta have a bit with a tentacle…” then the writer has to swallow their pride and get on with it.

And if the development team have a soft spot for totally crazy and over the top action scenes, then that’s will have to somehow be fitted in too. I played through the demo of God of War 3 recently – it is pure over the top craziness, lots of fun, and if any B movie had ever had the budget for it (which is impossible), it would have been great fun at the late show.

4. We’ve been standing here for at least 2 minutes, when can I shoot some orcs? Now I’m not saying that gamers are impatient but if you leave a player in a room (in a game) with a gun in their hand (in a game) they will shoot something. They will in fact shoot EVERYTHING.

Action gameplay is fun. Standing around in rooms talking is … well, it may be fun if well written but it isn’t the reason that people play games.

B Movies also like to keep the action sequences coming. The plot and script are just there to provide shallow links between the fights and/ or scary scenes (depending on genre). And that’s just how viewers like it. Character development is all well and good but it better not take a player away for too long from the shooty bits.

5. Comedy, love, and a bit with a dog. There’s a famous quote from Shakespeare in Love (which is not a B movie) which explains that these three things are what the audience wants. And B movies have taken this to heart. They will often have slapstick scenes, or buddy humour, a brief love interest and/ or a bit with a dog. And then on to the next action sequence before viewers get bored.

Just like the films, the best games will occasionally amuse players. It won’t be highbrow humour either. You can’t go wrong with fart jokes or pies in the face (ie. all the various pop culture jokes in WoW – I find it gets old fast but players love it). Not only that but a lot of B movies lovingly mock the genres which spawned them. To viewers who have seen the films being sent up, that’s an extra bonus.


5 thoughts on “GuestBloggerMania’10: It came from the late late late show: 5 reasons why B movies make the best games

  1. Stabs July 7, 2010 / 11:55 pm

    Super analysis!

  2. Ratshag July 8, 2010 / 8:57 am

    I guess is why I never got nowheres tryin’ ta sell “Diner: The Game”

  3. Void July 8, 2010 / 1:37 pm

    That’s a really interesting way to look at game design. It makes a lot of sense too. It’s interesting to see videogames talked about from someone with pen and paper RPG experience. It’s something that I’ve never gotten into, but reading things from that perspective is cool.

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