Why aren’t we adapting more games into comic books?

Telltale Games just embarked on a series of Guardians of the Galaxy episodes based around the galactic adventures of betraying all your friends via an unending line of complicated choices. As the first episode hit, TellTale announced that there would be a comic book tie-in to the series; not just a prequel, but an actual adaptation of some of the series translated into brightly colored comic pages. Which, sure, absolutely if you’re going to take on an IP of this magnitude and hire good-ass writers to develop it, make it available to as many people as possible. But for a developer which prides itself on games that “remember” your choices and adapt to make an individualized story, is this perhaps the worst possible game adaptation for comics to take on?

But maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe what matters is that comics and games have a lot of unexplored crossover potential which could serve them both in the long run — and no one is taking advantage of it.

Tie-in comics for games are nothing new. Halo has made a world of it, as has Overwatch. There’s been a number of great one-offs too, including some spectacular work in Arkham and even the Prototype series. But why not do entire games in the comic format?

Again: Why not do entire games in the comic format?

Akira Himekawa's manga adaptation of Zelda: Twilight Princess which was advertised for Free Comic Book Day.

Akira Himekawa’s manga adaptation of Zelda: Twilight Princess which was advertised for Free Comic Book Day.

I got caught on this a bit when I saw photos of some of 2017’s Free Comic Book Day releases, including a one-off based on Zelda: Twilight Princess; a game I never played. (Yes, I can hear your boos and hisses through my screen right now. There’s only so many hours in a human life.) Over the last few years, I’ve gone out of my way to try to finally catch up on the big games I’ve missed, usually by enduring ten hour long let’s plays and the like. This applies equally to older games I’ve never owned the systems for and to modern games (think Dark Souls) that I just know I don’t have either the patience or skill for. But hell yeah, I want to see what those worlds look like and experience the whole story.

So why aren’t we making games, especially older games, more accessible?

A big part of my year is dedicated to tearing apart all the new video game adaptation movies, because they always fail us on every level. But you know what might not? Long arcs of comic book adaptations, exploring the same (or similar) art styles across several issues, maybe as short as a miniseries and in some cases much longer. This may involve some compromises to fit with a comic business model, but maybe game studios off-setting that cost to engage in an experiment like this is worth it? Are new stories worth the investment, or do they have the potential, to sell better than the same story for a new audience?

Sure, maybe a Zelda isn’t the best place for getting started here, but think of all the games you’ve ever enjoyed and wanted to share with others, but they don’t have either the desktop setup required to engage or the three-hundred dollar buy-in price-point to get a console. Or even the 20 to 80+ hours needed to plow through some of the bigger titles. Games keep a lot of great stories locked away from an expanded audience — gatekept by technical and financial limitations.

So why not a 12 issue arc that would let people take the entire journey in the world of Andrew Ryan’s Rapture? Bioshock’s different environments and moral quandaries would play out well on this kind of scale, keeping the visual elements, audio over-dubbing, and horrific abominations all intact. The twists and turns would keep a comic book audience enthralled, and no one would ever have to suffer through a god-awful hacking mini-game.

Or, on even an indie scale, what about Gone Home told over four issues of a limited run? That game is mostly voice over while you look at various things with much an overwhelming sense of atmosphere — and the occasional flash of lightning or bad paperback book notes from an editor. With some creative interpretation, the core game experience would translate directly to the pages of a comic book without losing much (outside of some excellent soundtrack choices) and it would reach folks who are probably already primed to real dig this kind of text.

Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Games themselves have been heading in a direction that makes this kind of adaptation seem like a welcome invitation. Mass Effect: Andromeda is just the latest game to offer a difficulty option for “Story Mode” that basically removes combat and most other gaming conventions from the game. And if what you have left is lore and short stories and attractive images, what separates that from a comic adaptation of the same material?

“A great deal,” I hear you shout at me. OK, granted.

So there’s reinvention required because there’s a reason these stories had to be games, but it doesn’t mean they are stories which are confined to being games. Whether they need to expand beyond that or can merely rehash / reinvent is the question — and, because we’ve yet to destroy capitalism, whether these are economically viable situations? Do game stories only get to exist because of the multi-hundred dollar gatekeeping inherent in the platforms? Would we need to charge an outrageous amount per issue to compensate writers and artists for their work on the original IP? Is there a better version of this that mixes expansion of game worlds with telling their core stories?

Probably. Still.

It seems like an opportunity to give both players and non-players a chance to dive into stories in an easily available format, it just seems like a missed opportunity that more developers and comic imprints could be exploring. And I’m not sure why we aren’t seeing this everywhere. But oh boy do I want it.