#55: Adapted from screen

Over the weekend, gel-slicked Naughty Dog co-president Neil Druckmann tweeted a still from the forthcoming HBO adaptation of The Last Of Us. At first glance, I thought it was a screenshot from Part II. They have absolutely nailed the aesthetic, but I doubt I’ll watch it. I find playing The Last Of Us exhausting enough as it is; I can’t imagine I’ll much enjoy a passive, linear version of it where I don’t get to defuse the tension by rummaging around in drawers for crafting mats or looking at things on shelves.

These are fertile times for videogame adaptations — Sonic and Mario and The Witcher and Uncharted and, and, and — but I’m rarely that excited by the prospect of them. There is a difference between liking a game and being interested in a cinematic adaptation of it. I learned that one the hard way, having grown up in the era of the Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros movies, and being aware of the work, nay existence, of Uwe Boll.

I should note that I do not think too critically, or even that deeply, about movies or TV shows. I save that for the important things in life, such as videogames, late-’90s DJ mixes and US hotel Eggs Benedicts (I really must start that blog). I greatly value having a form of entertainment that I can simply enjoy, or not enjoy, without having to critically dissect its every facet.

This weekend the wife and I wangled a rare evening out and I somehow persuaded her to see Free Guy, which I’d been looking forward to. I like videogames, after all, and I like Ryan Reynolds — cast here as an NPC in a GTA Online-style MMO who becomes self-aware — almost as much. It turns out I liked Free Guy too. It is not a film about, or based on, a specific videogame; rather it is a film about videogames, and at times I thought it was frightfully well observed. At one point an extra, in the role of another player of the MMO, bunny-hopped down the street in the background. I thought about all those times I have jump-walked between mission markers in GTAV, or sproinged around the Tower in Destiny 2. I realised that, yes, the people who made this thing know games, and understand how they are played.

After we’d got back home and my wife had turned in for the night, I stuck on Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, the Apple TV+ show about a fictional MMO and the band of (mostly) idiots who make it. I have struggled with this show. It is neither particularly funny nor especially insightful. It is certainly no Silicon Valley, perhaps its closest comparison, which doubles me over with laughter while also having a lot to say about startups, VCs and tech-bro culture. But on Saturday night I finally reached the fifth episode, A Dark Quiet Death, which abandons the modern-day MMO studio and tells instead of a former occupant of its HQ. I thought it was exceptional.

In just over half an hour it tells a story spanning 20 years, beginning with an idealistic young couple who find success with an innovative, nonviolent horror game, then watch as its innovations are slowly stripped away in sequels and — oho! — movie adaptations, until it is essentially the same as all the other games they set out not to make in the first place. They find success, sure, but it comes bundled with misery. By the time the credits roll they are separated, the game they made a footnote in history, the good times they shared a distant memory.

I know from industry pals that, when A Dark Quiet Death aired, it was widely discussed. I know, but sadly cannot name, one very well-known developer who related so deeply to its tale of a frog slowly boiled by corporate concerns, focus groups and marketing departments that they considered it effectively autobiographical. I just thought it was brilliant. Like Free Guy, it succeeds not because it is about videogames, but because it gets them. To me that is far more appealing a prospect than a straight-up adaptation — no matter the talent involved,  my love for the game on which it is based, or how faithfully the former has recreated the latter. Games and cinema can, and should, intersect in far more interesting ways than that.


  • A quick follow-up on Friday’s Hit Points, which seemed to strike a chord with a few of you — though more for its Tom Hardy love than its central point about the metaverse. My wife objected rather strongly to my description of her, and wishes me to clarify that Tom Hardy does not make her ‘simper’. Rather, she would describe her reaction as a sort of ‘melt’. Hit Points regrets the error, and has appointed a new readers’ editor to ensure any future complaints are properly eaten.
  • UK regulator the Committee of Advertising Practice has issued new guidelines for in-game purchasing, insisting that, when items are sold through a virtual currency, the real-money cost is displayed alongside the virtual one.
  • I’m greatly enjoying Rami Ismail’s newsletter, Levelling The Playing Field, not least because it employs the correct spelling of ‘levelling’. His latest post, Responsibility, hits on something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, particularly when considering topics for Hit Points’ forthcoming subscriber-exclusive interview series. A lot of what we think of as game-industry problems are really just challenges that all sorts of businesses face:
“A majority of really difficult problems at games studios aren't technical problems or design problems, or even financial problems, but people problems - issues of motivation, ownership, accountability, communication, alignment, boundaries, and trust”
  • Sony says it has “interesting, exciting, fantastic ideas” for future PS5 system updates. You wouldn’t know them, though, because they go to a different school.
  • Some remarkable footage doing the rounds of PS5 motorbike game Ride 4. Is this actually as photorealistic as I think it is, or is my mind being tricked by its staggeringly accurate recreation of England at its most grey and wet and shit?

That’s your lot! I hope you had an excellent weekend. As ever, if you’ve enjoyed today’s Hit Points, do give it a share, whether on socials or by simply forwarding the email to a pal. As for paid subscriptions, I have started doing a little dance when one comes in. You won’t get to see it, but knowing it exists would be nice, no? Making people dance is fun, I think. Have a good couple of days, and I’ll see you all on Wednesday.