Product Tie-in Video Games 101: A Lesson in Love and Paychecks

EtvideogamecoverGood morning class. I’m your, like, instructor today in this important time in video gaming. Unlike your usual university fat cat professors, I’m gonna give you the REAL stuff, ‘cause I’ve been there, man. I’ve seen it all. You can just call me Ryan; I’m cool and informal like that. You can take your shoes off if you want and we’ll, like, rap about this learning thing. Seriously though, if I see you texting to your friends in class, I’m giving out detentions to ALL OF YOU. That’s rude, ya know?

Today we’re going to be discussing one of the biggest money makers for video game studios; Product Tie-ins. They are something that we’ve been accustomed to in video games, and all can form a general consensus when we hear their name said. From E.T. to Chronicles of Riddick, video games based on movies have been around for most of your brief gaming lives. When, though, did they start? Were they always bland and overpriced? We will also be looking at two of the newer movie tie-in games out right now, too, to see if these types of games have bettered themselves through the years – Danny, I’m serious, I will TAKE that phone away. Pay attention. Look at page 87 and we’ll discuss the most important theory in all of movie tie-in video gaming.

Awesomeness Transference (v) – Awesomeness Transference is the act of greedy corporate jerk burgers attempting to make the general Cheez-it eating public interested in a product by trying to transfer the awesomeness of another product onto it. The first product generally has an abundance of awesomeness, and corporate douche-cheeses attempt to take said awesomeness and apply it to something else with mixed results.

Awesomeness transference happens everyday; not just in video games. Did you ever call up a pizza place, and get asked if you wanted to buy a “limited time” Wolverine-themed pizza? Maybe you even got a pitch to say it was “angst-a-rifficly delicious!”. What does Wolverine have to do with pizza? Nothing! Through the magic of awesomeness transference, corporate caviar munchers make an effort to try and make you forget things like logic and reason!

When I was a child, I owned so much badly-made merchandise with the damn Ghostbusters logo on it. Man, I drank odious amounts of that ecto-cooler stuff, too. I remember there was a poorly constructed proton-blaster I got for one of the many “GIMMIE TOYS” day events. Instead of shooting out some sort of red and blue colored awesomeness, it plopped out these yellow nerf pellets. Those assholes didn’t even bother to paint the foam choke-hazards the right color! The little plastic toys were pretty lame, too. There was this purple monster-toy that had its one giant eye pop out at the Ghostbusters. That’s not scary, it’s biologically confusing. I mean, I’m no evolutionary biologist, but I have to think that using your only way of sight as a weapon has to be hard on the species numbers. That logo, however, made it all legit for my young mind to feel the product was worth nagging my parents over. So, this idea of awesomeness transference is especially targeted towards children. Why? Because they are stupid and can bug the hell out of their parents to buy stuff. Look at page 89 for the next term.

Children (n) – Stupid and easily manipulable. Sometimes they smell like peanut butter and jelly and feet.

The consensus of video game archaeologists seems to be that children were the targets of early video game product tie-ins. Children will play with anything if it makes lots of noises and is colorful. Before video games, kids pretended that rocks and stuff were fire engines or whatever in their play-time. When they got bored with that, they threw them at each other and cars to pass the time. That’s why your grandparents are so dumb and racist, class. They had the bejesus pelted out of them with rocks; they aren’t firing on all cylinders. Hell, they watched the Andy Griffith Show in abundance. Thank god for video games now, though. Through the magic of awesomeness transference, kids now learn valuable lessons like what extra things they can buy for games they’ve already purchased, and how to kill Japanese people effectively if there is ever a World War II again. It’s a good thing.

Because video game tie-ins in the past have been targeted to a half-wit audience, they were especially lame. They also seemed to seemed to be based on popular movies or cartoon series. Experts seem to believe that because the movies and cartoons were so epic and thrilling, corporate butt eaters thought that kids would transfer those emotions to a tiny video game cartridge without providing a bit of the whimsical experiences! After all, they had a corporation to run, and a dinner reservation with Patrick Batemen at Dorsia.

Most of the early examples of video game movie tie-ins will go down in history as some of the least imaginative gaming thus far. ET: The Video Game was responsible for a rise in Reese’s Pieces sales, and children trying to poke their own eyes out with Atari joysticks. The first Ghostbusters games for the Atari and NES substituted the amazingness of the movie with the frustration of a rushed game. Here, they questionably added the use of vacuums to catch ghosts, and kids around the world attempted to murder a television screen when they realized their dreams of ghost busting wouldn’t be fulfilled. Did you think that Wayne’s World was a great movie? Did you ever play the bland half-assed platforming game based off of it? It made you want to puke something out that looked a bit like Dana Carvey. With Wayne’s World, sound chips were becoming more advanced yet cartridges held as little information as ever, so two or three select movie quotes got heard over and over and over! Excellent! Because it was an era before the internet, kids had to pick a new video game based on superficial things like the game cover, or maybe how awesome it smelled. This led to some very cool surprises (River City Ransom smelled great), but even more soul-crushing birthday money-blowing let downs.

Movie tie-in video games, however, have still been profitable enough for companies to keep churning them out. There have been a few good examples here and there, but most of the gaming done has been pretty forgettable. They usually usurp a profit-making formula from another video game, and add in characters you already know. Let’s take the winning formula of Trauma Center, and add, say, the characters from True Blood. There, we’ll call it “Vampire Surgeons: Out for Blood.” We’ve just become as legit as 3D Realms.


First, we will look at a recent highly anticipated release of a video game based off of a movie license. I can’t lie, I could never discuss a game like Ghostbusters without a large dosage of bias. The cartoon series filled the void in my young childhood between the G.I. Joe phase, and my Ninja Turtles era. If you asked me what movie game they’d hopefully re-make someday, I’d say Ghostbusters. This is just a nervous tick of mine, actually, as I answer “Ghostbusters” to most questions. I’m comfortable with it now, but it did make me really unpopular in the eighth grade. The cartoon series based off of the movie was a pretty bad show looking back (although I’m glad Arsenio was gettin’ the work), but I think it taught children an important lesson: Yes, really crazy evil things will come out of your closet at night, and they are personally hoping to drain the blood of your fickle child-parts. The Ghostbusters, however, will save you in a couple hours or so. Sleep tight, ya little jerks!

With Ghostbusters, I literally haven’t evolved since my five year-old mindset, it seems. I’m still willing to buy anything with that little logo on it. Awesomeness transference, class, seems to be very potent with products that sell nostalgia to big children in their mid-twenties. With the news that all of the voice actors would be a part of it – including the guy who was in that wacky elephant adventure Larger than Life – I was ready to gnaw my own face off (and possibly yours) in anticipation. I’ve been neglecting most of my duties this past week in a wide-eyed stupor at finally having the disc spinning up in my drive. This is our example, class, of a movie tie-in done well. From the second you begin the game until the end boss battle, you can tell Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis still love the world they’ve created, and it’s a win for all of us fans that this isn’t just a cash-in (although they are bound to make a damn mint on it).

Ghostbusters: The Video Game does nearly everything right when it comes to making a memorable experience. The story begins back in 1991 with a disturbance happening at the local museum’s Gozer exhibit. Since its still 1991, our jump-suited pals are still years away from joining the AARP. The ‘busters are called in to investigate various strange happenings in the city, and quickly things get bad for our friends. Before you know it, Mr. Stay Puft is inches away from crushing you with his deliciously marshmallow feet….somehow, you love every minute of it. The action begins almost instantaneously, and paces itself really well until the end. I never felt that video game “lull” that so many games get after a certain amount of hours played, but it could be a fanboy reaction. Terminal Reality recreated the world wonderfully. Slide down the fire pole. Chase Slimer through that old creepy hotel. Hey, there’s… Vigo? I though we blasted the crap out of him already?!

The second you are called to chase down a baddie with Ray and get to unleash that proton pack on a dismembered soul, you’ll thank the gaming gods for letting this game get made. Although you eventually get access to other types of ghost-stopping weapons, the proton pack stays useful throughout. The game makes some obvious “video game decisions” that some may disagree with (did we really need another video game with generic spider bad guys?), but it strikes a fair balance between a good story told and a good video game played. More importantly, the game would be fun whether it had the Ghostbusters license on it or, it was named “Jim’s Parapsychology Blast ‘Em!”

Graphically the game is inconsistent. The CGI scenes are consistently wonderful, though. You always seem to find yourself laughing, and every scene seems to be shot in the same vein as the movies. Venkman is still the lovable smart-ass, and Ray is the heart of the group. His enthusiasm for minutiae is still damn lovable, too. Most of the environments are destructible; hilarity ensues again when you destroy the ballroom while trying to re-catch Slimer. The game stumbles in the occasional lame low res texture, but it seems to make up for it with the creative and colorful character designs. The world designs outside of the city blocks can be generic. There is a mission in the game which requires you to capture a spider-lady ghost. I felt this entire section was poorly executed throughout. Caves, in general, are tough to make exciting because the color palette is made of grays and blacks, and the enemy fight itself was predictably time-consuming. Yet, some of the other levels outside of the New York Skyline were exceptional. There was one mission in which you are drawn into an alternate universe from the library; it was a blast. The level design was unique, and the boss battle was interesting. There are too many times, though, that the characters act like mannequins; It’s a very hit and miss this way.

Sound is amazing; perhaps one of the best executions I’ve ever seen. The voice acting, obviously, is done completely by professional actors who love the world they are in… well, almost. Bill seems to be phoning it in a bit, but he’s still passable as Dr. Venkman again. It’s clear that they didn’t get as much voice-acting time with Ernie Hudson or Murray; you’ll occasionally hear the same looped lines by these two. Still, the excitement in Ray’s voice is as welcome as Egon’s weird scientific rants. As the game seems to give us plenty of missions with each and every Ghostbuster, you have plenty of time to catch up with them. The proton streams make the crazy sounds you used to emulate while playing as a kid (hopefully not with rocks), and the music is taken right from the films. Everything is there that you’d hope to be there. It’s very satisfying.

This game does nearly everything right for a movie tie-in. You can take the game online, and have lots of fun with fellow Ghostbusters fans, too. It successfully transfers the awesomeness from the movie into your video game console, and there is much rejoicing. So, with that said, are advancements in awesomeness transference here to stay? Let’s take a look at Terminator: Salvation, a game based on the entire series of awesomely explosion-filled movies. We all remember and love these movies. I take that back, there was a movie released called Terminator 3, but the cool robot from Terminator 2 got replaced by a fatter robot. Don’t bother seeing it. Speaking of robots, turn to page 93 for your next term.

Robots (n) – Mechanical and awesome. If they add the word “pleasure” to their name, do NOT pass that offer up.

Terminator Salvation

Terminator: Salvation begins a few years before the movie with the same name. Guess Skynet was still built, and all those kid tears I made after Arnie got melted in the big pit of burning were for nothing: Thanks a lot, jerks. The game begins with an up-and-coming resistance fighter named John Connor being called to help his friends re-capture Skynet. First, a very obvious flaw comes in the very beginning cut-scene: No Christian Bale as John Connor?! Get me someone whose been involved in the Terminator movies, at least! You couldn’t get the kid who dated Punky Brewster?! Hell, get me Claire Danes impersonating John Connor…that’d be more satisfying to be than nameless actor #35. From the beginning of this game, you can tell it was plagued by a corporate shill rushing them at every moment, at least, that’s the benefit of the doubt I want to give them. If it was high-fives all around after this one was plopped out, well, maybe they should look into some other areas of expertise. I hear tupperware is making a comeback.

The story itself is promising enough. We haven’t seen John Connor at this stage in his life before, and it’s an interesting idea for him to be just another lackey. The gameplay feels a lot like Gears of War, actually. You rely on cover much of the time to keep the meanie robot-faces, not to, you know, eat you and stuff. Actually, the cover system is better than Gears of War. There, I said it.

This game’s action is pretty fun at times, to be honest. The duck and cover fights with the big metal destruct-o-bots could be cinematic and amazing. There’s times where you have to think about flanking in order to get past the firefights. Neat. Our character sometimes has trouble sticking to the wall you are covering with, it doesn’t seem to be too annoying overall. You are given a decent amount of weaponry to blast those baddies back to robot hell. It’s not that, actually, I found most of the gaming part of things to be bad. The game seemed to be filled with enough variety in its levels to be satisfying. It’s just that the satisfaction is short-lived… because the game is. I don’t know how they can expect to charge a full sixty dollars for this game; it took around three hours to beat. It made Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty seem like friggin’ Final Fantasy VII. I really thought that it was some sort of glitch when the credits started to roll. The in-tar-nets however, seemed to confirm that this game was this short. That’s inexcusable to ask anyone to pay that much for any product. Completely inexcusable. There’s not even an online mode to add replayability. Perhaps you could argue that you can replay the game with a friend locally through split-screen, but, I’d call you an ass if you actually argued that.

For a world of super awesome evil robots, the cut-scenes are quite dull and ugly. It almost seems like the cut-scenes are rendered worse than the in-game engine. Weird. Why did the acting have to be so bad, too? I was expecting some of the same acting talents to be involved with the game; I heard none. I know that video games have some leeway when it comes to voice talent, but, when you base a game off of a huge-budget movie, you’d expect some level of quality. The graphics themselves aren’t much better. The over-abundance of bland colors in the backgrounds seem to only add to the already bland metal look to the robots. There’s not a whole lot of variety when it comes to these robots, either; there only seems like there’s a handful of them to fight. You quickly figure out how to beat these jerk-bots efficiently, that is, you’d be able to if it weren’t for your ass-dumb teammates. Seriously, we’re talking Larry the Cable guy dumb. This is remedied somewhat when you play split-screen, but, you really shouldn’t be that malicious towards your own friends. Actually, the biggest problem I have with the game is the graphics engine itself. Shadows seem to flicker white for no reason, and it hurts your eyes to even play it, at times. That’s right, the game is so buggy it is literally painful to play. I’m sure the unreal engine is pretty cheap these days, you couldn’t just buy someone else’s?

As video game archeologists are still piecing together the psychological damage that McKids: The Video Game has done to youth, video game astrophysicists are trying to see if the universe will be expanding with more of these games; the current formulas seem to calculate so. Ghostbusters: The Video Game succeeded in creating a fun and unique adventure with the added bonus of having characters we already love. Bonus!

Video games still need to be fun, game makers, no matter who the stories are about. You can’t just slap Chester Cheetah onto a generic platformer and expect the average Cheetos eater to go, “Ma, that there food kitty is in my Game-makin’ Box! I’m sooo happy!” Unfortunately, we still get many terrible experiences like Terminator: Salvation. It was an action game doomed by too many decision makers, and not enough creative minds. You should be ashamed of trying to charge sixty bucks for a three hour game. If you enjoy throwing rocks for fun with your gran-pappy, maybe you should make your way down to the feed lot and ask about purchasifyin’ this there robot-game. If you, however, have ever exclaimed the phrase, “God, I can’t wait to read a book!”, look elsewhere for entertainment. For those of you with friends who say your mom is hot, I’ll be here for parent-teacher conference night. For everyone else, class dismissed.


  1. … will this be on the test?

  2. You forgot Catwoman…

    ET will always be the benchmark for bad film tie-ins, it seems. It was a product of its time though; the rumour goes that it was built in five weeks, but some argue six. Six weeks? Modern games take 18 months or more, so to manage that in six weeks is still kind of an achievement.

    To my mind, film licences are not all bad – Lucasarts made some very good film tie-in games like Labyrinth (Douglas Adams helped though) and about half of the Star-Wars games (like, for instance, the ones not directly based on the films).

    I have been teaching prospective game designers all about games history (which is how I ended up knowing so much pointless trivia) and am forming a hypothesis about the best tie-ins being book tie-ins for licences without films by studios who nobody has heard of. The Witcher, for instance…

    And if you think games of films are bad, just take a look at films of games. It is fashionable to blame Uwe Boll, but he is just one example among many.
    .-= Prince of Cats´s last blog ..gender roles =-.

  3. Noumenon says:

    You’re funny — make more. Actually if you make one more and split it up you’ll have posts every day for a week.

  4. This post gives me a headache. I think I need some Nuprin. Little. Yellow. Different.

  5. It’s like people only do these things because they get paid, and that’s just really sad.

  6. My molars would be in much better shape had I not purchased the NES Ghostbusters 2. While it wasnt as craptastic as its progenator, it still caused much gnashing of teeth.

    My only beef here is the lack of Yo Noid!
    .-= Keith´s last blog ..Michael Vick Returns to Professional Sports =-.