Videogames owe a lot to Hollywood. And why shouldn’t they? Game development is an incredibly difficult task, and sometimes the easiest way to get your own creative juices flowing is to simply borrow somebody else’s ideas—to draw inspiration from the vast reservoir of popular culture and set out on making something new. But among the many different directors responsible for a lot of our favorite films, only a handful of names stand head and shoulders above the rest as being the most influential on our videogames industry. In crafting some of the most beloved movies ever to hit the silver screen, these people have inadvertently shaped the look, sound, and direction of hundreds of games both good and bad. Here are four film directors that inspired some of gaming’s best.
Cameron, James (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Titanic, Avatar)Director of the two biggest box office films of all time, James Francis Cameron, aged 60, is paradoxically one of the most popular filmmakers now working in Hollywood and one of the most despised. The reasons for this are varied (“both of them could have fit on that raft; I’ve already seen Pocahontas”), but whatever complaints people have about his films, James Cameron is unquestionably one of the most influential action directors of the last 30 years.
It’s no wonder, then, that Cameron’s films should be so popular among videogame developers. After all, most videogames involve some form of combat-oriented conflict (as opposed to, say, sports-oriented conflict) and action is by far the most successful videogame genre today—in 2013, 31.9% of all games sold were action games; in 2014, 28.2%.
So where do we see Cameron’s influence?
Snatcher (MSX 2, 1988)
Hideo Kojima loves movies. This much is obvious from even the most cursory glance at the Metal Gear series. It is for this reason that I’ve decided to limit myself to the graphic adventure game Snatcher, which was actually Kojima’s second project following the original Metal Gear. And while it would have been easy to list Snatcher under Ridley Scott for its many comparisons to Blade Runner, my favorite thing about Snatcher is its carbon-copy Terminator, which is actually meant to represent Snatcher’s version of Blade Runner’s Replicants. Yeah, it’s complicated.
DOOM (PC DOS, 1993)
With its futuristic setting and emphasis on “against-all-odds” first-person shooting, the original idea behind Doom was to make a licensed game based on James Cameron’s Aliens. Early negotiations with 20th Century Fox were scrapped after the team at id Software decided they didn’t want to relinquish creative control of the game that would eventually become DOOM. Some elements of the original Aliens-inspired design did make it past the negotiations breakdown, including a cast of player-friendly space marines that would have mirrored Aliens’ colonial marines (although this was ultimately removed from the game’s final release).
Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox, 2001)
Alien’s vision of future warfare has influenced countless space marine designs over the years, but few games are as acknowledging of that fact as Halo is—original series developer Bungie has on several occasions admitted to be being inspired by Cameron’s film. From loving homages to character armor designs and personality, to vehicles and even specific lines of dialogue, Halo is one big tribute to Aliens.
Carpenter, John (The Thing, Escape from New York, Halloween)John Howard Carpenter, aged 67, is a director whose films have met with very little success, at least initially. With a few exceptions, most of Carpenter’s movies have been critical and commercial failures, but that isn’t to say he hasn’t made any good ones. In fact, several of his works are now seen as cult classics, and among horror film aficionados two flicks are spoken about with the kind of hushed reverence that is unique to only the very best—these films are Halloween and The Thing.
And for good reason, too—Halloween and The Thing are scary as hell. Halloween for its low-budget “not-quite-right” small town setting, The Thing for its gore-filled, special effects driven visuals. Developers working in the horror genre are therefore sure to draw much inspiration from Carpenter, who is himself an avid gamer.
So where do we see Carpenter’s influence?
Silent Hill (PSX, 1999)
Silent Hill tells the story of a man in search of his missing adopted daughter within the eponymous town of Silent Hill. Beset by an unearthly fog and under siege from hellish ghouls of nightmare, Silent Hill’s setting draws inspiration from John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980), which is about a strange fog that moves into a coastal town in California and brings with it vengeful spirits and other horrors. Carpenter even has a street named after him in Silent Hill.
Resident Evil 4 (GCN, 2005)
The Thing’s delightfully gory creature effects—brought to you by special make-up effects genius, Rob Bottin—have disgusted fans of horror films for years. Resident Evil 4 pays tribute to The Thing with its equally delightful Las Plagas parasite. Shooting your enemies’ heads off will sometimes cause their necks to erupt in a fountain of blood, revealing the Plagas parasite, which bears a strong resemblance to one of The Thing creature’s many forms. Also, tentacled dogs.
Sleeping Dogs (Ps3/360/PC, 2012)
Okay, so this one is just a little bit misleading, but hear me out—Nightmare in North Point (Sleeping Dogs’ first story-driven expansion) is basically Big Trouble in Little China, which stars Kurt Russell fighting demons and an ancient sorcerer underneath San Francisco’s Chinatown. If that sounds awesome to you, its because it is. In honor of the movie, Nightmare in North Point sees Sleeping Dogs protagonist Wei Shen battle against Chinese demons and in an even more specific homage to the film, the Retro Triad Pack features clothing similar to those worn by a gang member in Big Trouble in Little China.
Scott, Ridley (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator)English film director Sir Ridley Scott, aged 77, is known for having a very distinguished visual style. Making heavy use of light, smoke, and other atmospheric elements, films such as Alien, Blade Runner, and Legend have stunned audiences with their painterly compositions and detail-oriented production design. An outspoken proponent of storyboarding, Scott is an accomplished illustrator in his own right, with many of his “Ridleygrams” defining the strong look of his films.
This would explain why Scott’s movies are so interwoven with the visual dialogue of games. A frequent collaborator with some of Hollywood’s best graphic designers, he can make things look good and videogames are in the business of looking good.
So where do we see Scott’s influence?
Metroid (FDS, 1986)
In issue 65 of Retro Gamer magazine, Metroid artist Yoshio Sakamoto admitted to being heavily influenced by Scott’s Alien, with particular emphasis placed on the designs of Swiss surrealist artist Hans Rudolf Giger, creator of the series’ “xenomorph.” Many elements of the Metroid series appear to have borrowed from Alien or its James Cameron sequel including the Metroid itself, which attaches itself to a host in a manner reminiscent of the facehugger.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998)
This one is a bit difficult to substantiate because of a lack of hard evidence but the similarities between Ocarina of Time and Ridley Scott’s Legend are just too many to ignore for this list. In that film, Jack (played by Tom Cruise) is a young forest boy clad in green who is accompanied by a fairy on his quest to save a beautiful young princess from the nefarious Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry). For years rumors have abounded concerning what inspirations—if any—Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto may have taken from Legend. It would obviously be very difficult to argue that Legend inspired the original Legend of Zelda (as they were released only one year apart), but we’re on firmer ground by the time Ocarina comes out.
Whilst not immediately noticeable, Final Fantasy VII’s Midgar setting is as much Los Angeles, 2019 as it is Akira’s Neo-Tokyo (which, curiously enough, also takes place in the year 2019). From its dilapidated “old world” slums haphazardly retrofitted with modern machinery, to its smoking towers and dreary atmosphere of hopelessness, Midgar is the logical extension of Ridley Scott’s vision of a post-human future.
Spielberg, Steven (Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones series)
Unquestionably one of the most influential directors in the history of film and perhaps its best-known personality, Steven Allen Spielberg, aged 68, has over four decades worth of films to his name. They cover so many different themes and genres that it’s almost impossible to say you haven’t seen at least one of his movies, and the same goes for videogame developers.
A good friend of Star Wars creator George Lucas, Spielberg was involved—if only tangentially—with many of the old LucasArts adventure games of the late 80s/early 90s, although he did write The Dig, a point-and-click adventure game released in 1995. A big fan of videogames, Spielberg has lent his name and creative talents to several games over the years; most recently, he was attached to produce a live-action Halo TV series for Microsoft and 343 Industries.
So where do we see Spielberg’s influence?
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (PS3, 2007)
This one was unavoidable. Part Indiana Jones, part Tomb Raider, Nathan Drake is the perfect combination of both with just enough character differences to be completely unique. Having endeared itself to millions of gamers around the world, The Uncharted trilogy is about as close as we’ll ever get to a complete digital reinterpretation of Indiana Jones.
Every WWII shooter released after Saving Private Ryan (1998–present)
Personally involved with the development of Medal of Honor for the original PlayStation, Spielberg’s 1998 release of Saving Private Ryan would prove to be a watershed moment for games—the film’s harrowing depiction of the Normandy landings would set in motion the great WWII shooter craze of the late 90s and early 2000s. But above all, it would help legitimize the epic, war-themed shooter that persists to this day with titles such as the latest Call of Duty or Battlefield.
Of course, there are many other games and directors that could be included in an article such as this one. Videogames and film are engaged in an intricate dance of give-and-take; game developers watch movies, and movie makers play games. This trend will only continue as games reach bigger and bigger audiences. Don’t feel distressed if I failed to mention more movie-inspired games (of which there are many), and don’t be outraged it appears as though I have distilled a game into one single film connection. Games and film have their own strengths and weaknesses, their own creative ideas and talents, but its always interesting to see where the two overlap.