Machinimagic! The Top Fan-Made Films Based on Video Games, And Why Hollywood Should Pay Attention

Prince of Persia: machinima movies based on video games

Movies adapted from video games are usually like video-game zombies: shambling brainless wrecks. Thanks, in part, to the vacant movie adaptation of Prince of Persia, Jake Gyllenhaal is doing theater now; the adaptation of Max Payne should have been spelled Max Pain, and the Resident Evil franchise continues to stupefy. And judging from the latest delay in the making of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Hollywood still struggles mightily with how to turn good games into good movies.

Sadly, unlike video-game zombies, these adaptations are impossible to kill. They exist in perpetuity and will be playing on Cinemax long after your corpse resembles a rotting zombie. The best you can do is ignore them, which is increasingly easy thanks to some inspired and inspiring gamers who are solving the problem the way they've been trained — through countless hours of play — to solve all problems. They're taking the controls and doing it themselves. They're winning, too. Here are four fan-made movies inspired by video games that should have the movie industry's total attention:

1. Dead Fantasy: Give the Gamers What They Want — Action!

Video games should feature more pure action than a Terminator  T-800 UFC match, so it’s weird that most game-inspired movies feature more pointless explanation than you'd find in a manual for some old-school Bond villain's Death Laser. If someone’s going to see Street Fighter — and they really shouldn’t — they don’t need an hour of set-up explaining why people are fighting. The gamers already know the back story, and even if the filmmakers have strayed from the game to develop the plot line, the less said the better. Monty Oum, the creator of Dead Fantasy understands this principle better than most and packs more kickass per minute into Dead Fantasy than you'll find in the entire Thai film industry.

For the uninitiated, Dead Fantasy depicts a battle between the ladies of Dead or Alive and Final Fantasy, two of the most popular gaming series in existence. And while this abundance of X chromosomes might make you think it's all about titillating fan boys, this clip is all about eye-popping choreography, not anatomy. If this video starred rotting mummies you'd still watch it five times.

Dead Fantasy is able to pile on the action because it rightly trusts the intelligence of its audience. For example, the girl in blue arrives by teleport, so you know she can teleport, and it’s used in several awesome and original moments of fight choreography. In a theatrical movie there’d be an entire expository scene explaining her teleportation skills ad nauseam, and at no point would she be thrown off a collapsing bridge to save a falling gunslinger. The film-industry should be stalking this guy.

2. Escape from City 17: Make a Movie That Honors the Game

The Purchase Brothers — David and Ian — embarrassed the producers of every video game movie ever made with just $500. They filmed part 1 of Escape from City 17 — which is set in the universe of the Half-Life video game franchise — with less money than most film productions spend on mineral water. Their genius was realizing that you don’t need to design sets, clothing and a plot for a video game because that’s already been done by the video game publisher. The brothers matched the costumes of their original characters to the ones worn in Half-Life 2 and even extracted special effects directly from the game code. What you see on the screen really is in the world of the game — which is what gamers have always wanted from movies, and what video game movie directors have never understood.

Escape from City 17  isn’t your typical movie inspired by a video game, which usually amounts to a film that has very little connection to the actual game except for a few key words and characters that get thrown around. (See the Resident Evil series.) It's a live-action movie made by people who actually played and loved the game — and it's a first in that respect. The brothers then made a sequel that was triple the length for half the budget in their spare time. Given their level of proficiency, if they had a real movie budget, they wouldn't just make the best parallel-universe alien-invasion game movie ever: they’d probably be able to stage one for real.

3. Freeman's Mind:  You Don't Always Have to Appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator

The blanding of movies has a lot to do with the minimization of risk in the name of profit-making, which is a weird strategy when you're making a movie that's essentially about cops blowing up terrorists. The biggest budget movies need to convince everyone on the planet to watch it, and,  if at all possible, sell tickets to a few alien planets as well. Small creators don't have that problem: if they want to make something they’re already halfway there. Ross Scott's Freeman's Mind is genius, but its entire target market is "People who've played through Half-Life." If you have, you'll love it. If you haven’t, you might not even have read this far.

The Internet connects niche productions with their perfect audience, while machinima — using video game graphics engines for filmmaking — gives them an incredibly powerful set of actors and cameras. This kind of production is popping up everywhere, as fans driven by pure love and enabled by awesome technology turn a hobby into entertainment for others. The most famous example is Red vs Blue, who turned Halo into an entire film studio, and are now building a real film studio based on that success.

4. Thousand Pounds Action Company: You Don't Need No Stinkin' Fancy Graphics

While the Purchase Brothers showed how easy it was to match a game's look and feel, the Thousand Pounds Action Company demonstrated that it's possible to be true to a game without all the fancy visuals. (The company name is also much cooler.) Their three Ultra Combos clips perfectly match the feel of Street Fighter IV (with the help of some of the games smackdown sound effects) using original characters who wouldn't exactly be welcome in an American Apparel store.

Street Fighter was the only game with a more disappointing movie than Mario Bros, and its 2009 sequel of sorts, The Legend of Chun Li  only made things more disappointing. These videos show what could be done with the franchise, and we’ll soon see more. Because these fan-made videos are not only fun for other fans who get to enjoy them, they're drawing attention to skilled creators who should be working in a film industry that seems eager to make movies based on video games but then doesn't seem to know how to go about it properly.  That brings us to the fifth and final lesson;

5. Get Your Act Together Hollywood, Because Gamers Are Realizing They Don't Need You.

Dead Fantasy producer Oum has been hired by Red vs Blue. The Purchase Brothers, who are represented by William Morris Endeavor, are beavering away on a “secret feature film project”, and the Thousand Pounds Action Co are turning their fame into their future right now with a LINK Kickstarter campaign to  fund their first original series.

Stay tuned.

Luke McKinney loves the real world, but only because it has movies and video games in it. He responds to every tweet.

Follow Luke McKinney on Twitter. 

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  • SD says:

    Can I add one to the list?

    Dan Trachtenberg's Portal short was pretty damned cool:

    • I'll defer to Luke as to whether the clip should be included, but damn, I'm impressed. The ending is pretty devastating, and Danielle Rayne rocks.

    • Luke says:

      We always welcome people adding things, that's how the internet works!

      No Escape was amazing. Don't worry, this won't be the only Machinimagic feature - there are more being made every day, and we'll be sure to feature Mr Trachtenberg before long.

  • Olivia says:

    I liked the short clip from the Purchase Brothers' "Half-Life" film but was very disappointed by the longer 14 minute one on youtube.

    I thought the scene-setting was excellent, 🙂 and the first clip, the one in the article, really had me gripped, 😀 but I think they need a much better screenwriter and/or director because the longer clip suffers from poor/repeated loss of momentum, dreadful characterisation, ( the woman is a feeble piece of cliched fantasy ... making that character a man, and the man who meets her into a woman, would already be an improvement ), and a lot of wasted screen-time eg. the many seconds/minutes? spent on the fuzzy white light around the woman while she has a crab-head on her ... ( which should have left her head half-eaten/horribly mangled not perfectly intact when it came off, at the very least ). ... Rather like a great many big-studio efforts at making films out of video-games it was ( relatively ) strong on special effects but weak at almost everything else.

  • kaly says:

    I think they need a much better screenwriter and/or director because the longer clip suffers from poor/repeated loss of momentum, dreadful characterisation, ( the woman is a feeble piece of cliched fantasy ----Wealthyloves.c0m--- to meet rich friends in the world.... making that character a man, and the man who meets her into a woman, would already be an improvement ), and a lot of wasted screen-time eg. the many seconds/minutes? spent on the fuzzy white light around the woman while she has a crab-head on her ...

  • With Street Fighter Joey Ansah and Christian Howard are making the series for TV or web series