Writing Talk: Half Life – the movie

Sometime next year a movie should release based upon a little game called Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (if you don’t know what that is, THEN GTFO MY BLOG AND COME BACK ONCE YOU’VE PLAYED IT).  Now I loved the PoP:SoT trilogy and admit that it has a rich story that could be well suited for a movie.  However it seems that Disney loves to toy with me as each time I get a glimmer of hope, something else is revealed that tarnishes it with dread.  Why do video game movies have such a horrible track record?

One of my Christmas gifts this year was finally the Orange Box for PC and I’ve finally gotten the chance to play Half-life 2. (I am ashamed to have taken this long)  Having just finished it, I got to thinking: What would it take to turn this into a movie?  Perhaps we can get some ideas on transitioning games to movies in the first place…

(spoilers ahead)

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The first decision should always be: what’s going to be the plot?  Do we recreate the game wholesale or invent something new?  Perhaps instead of following Gordon Freeman around, we look at the lives of some new characters as they deal with the combine take over of earth and Freeman’s later arrival.  This would allow us a lot of freedom in crafting the story and would not detract or ruin the plot of the game.

However, let’s say we’re just going with the game’s plot…

Step 1: What are the must-have characters?
The final showdown at the citadel should be clue enough: Freeman, Alex, her Dad, Dr Mossman and Dr Breen.  Beyond that, all other characters are secondary or cameos.  Even then we should always be on the lookout for trimming and possible combinations.  For instance, could we replace Barney with one of the mains undercover? (perhaps Alex?)  Can we use Mossman instead of  Dr Kleiner?  Of course there must be a G-man.

Step 2: What are the must-have plot points?
The intro and exit for Half-life 2 are perfect and should be recreated for the big screen wholesale, but what goes in between?  And do we want to start with HL2 or should we start a movie series with HL1?  We should keep in mind that a lot of game segments only exist to extend the game’s running time.  A prime example is the first transporter malfunction.  Remove Lamarr and have the transport go smoothly – we open up a lot of time we can use in the movie.  But along with this we also need to examine the chapters skipped over and see if there’s any important details to be shuffled elsewhere.  Without the hover-boat levels, we might not learn about the vortigaunt and their aid so let’s add a scene in where Freeman learns the details.

Step 3: Only use necessary action.
Remembered that action, without plot, is boring if you’re not playing it.  Thus, vehicle sections, gun fights, etc should not be in the movie unless they serve a purpose for the plot or characters.  Sneaking around the citadel for an hour with a modified gravity gun was awesome as a player… but run that scene for 30 minutes and the audience will grow bored.

Step 4: Create a budget hierarchy.
We don’t have unlimited money.  So we should prioritize where money for production and special effects go.  The setting and climatic explosion are a must have.  And although it might be fun to see antlions on screen, we should be ready to sacrifice them first (make Nova Prospekt more subterfuge than assault).

The rest are all movie making basics that (hopefully) everyone making a movie knows about (casting, sets, etc).  If a Half-life movie were to be made… I think it would be best to start with HL2.  Gordon would be a perfect protagonist as his learning about this world would aid the audience in experiencing it.  And let’s face it, if we got Hugh Laurie to play Gordon Freeman than we have to have him talk.  So let the story of HL1 be filled in for the viewers.

“Gordon, after being awoken, is shocked to find the world is conquered by aliens.  Was this not what he fought to prevent at Black Mesa?  Sobered by his failure, Dr Freeman resolves to defeat the Combine and rectify his mistake.”

After a first half of atmosphere, character and world-building, we put on an action-pack ending of Dr Freeman leading humanity to victory and *poof* easy blockbuster.

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So why does Hollywood keep screwing these things up?

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3 thoughts on “Writing Talk: Half Life – the movie

  1. Just curious if you’ve finished Ep1 and Ep2 yet. While Half-Life 2 was a great game, it was far from the end of the story, and I can’t see a movie ending at that point without the audience getting pissed. Of course, it may be better to wait until Ep3 comes out, so we have the full story to work with.

    As for HL1, ya, there really isn’t much to it. It was a decent video game story, but HL2 is definitely better movie material. Maybe start by having the first chapter of HL1 be the intro to the movie, and then skip ahead 20 years and let G-man fill in the gap?

    As for Hugh Laurie, the more I think about it, he’s rapidly getting too old to play that role. Do you think Yahtzee from ZP can do an American accent?

    • Just recently finished HL2:1 and am trying to get through Episode 2.

      Of course, I figured HL2 would be part of a film franchise with 2-4 movies a part of it. Originally I thought each episode would be a movie but now I see that once you adjust them for movie format, you’d have to put all 3 into 1 film. So maybe just 2 movies.

      Yahtzee might be near a look, but I doubt he’ll be any good at acting. Freeman should be likable, not Dr House with a gun.

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