The LA Times sparked debate online recently when columnist Nicole LaPorter claimed games have weak narratives, which I'm inclined to agree with after looking at the evidence.
For the most part, game stories are a bit rubbish. Last year, the much praised Bioshock managed to tell the story of you journeying through an underground city to kill a man, and then you journeying on to kill another man. Its setting, back-story and dialogue were all of the highest calibre. Shame about the plot.
Games have been known to tell some wonderful stories - Planescape: Torment or Grim Fadango spring immediately to mind - but they're not made to tell them, in the same way that movies aren't made to make you feel like you're dropping freefall at 20,000 feet, even though they can.
If anything, games are more like television. They are immeasurably longer than two hours, at best they concentrate on characters, settings and situations, and they bring a bunch of ideas to a story that is relatively easy to follow when broken up into different sessions.
A game with a strong story would be the dullest thing I'd ever played. There would be no levels, as whimsically trundling around shooting things or jumping on platforms would be superfluous to the plot. I couldn't explore the world because that would get in the way of the narrative. And all game characters would have to be vampires, as you can't have the protagonist in a story suddenly drop down dead.
In my mind, Half-Life 2 has taken the cross-pollination of movies and games about as far as it can go. It has some interesting characters, a story that keeps you moving, and slyly refers to the story as you actually play the thing. If you strip away the gun-play and set-pieces though, you're left with a plot worse than The Bill.
That's not to damn games or suggest they're any less relevant than books and movies. They're just different.
Games are great at making worlds for you to play in. The best of them are more detailed and realised than any movie could dream of being. Games can also create sympathetic and strong characters that get right underneath your skin, because you're constantly interacting with them.
It's time the moneyhats that run Hollywood realised what the strengths of games are and jettison their weaknesses in their adaptations. Or simply put, actually remember you're 'adapting', not 'copying'. The movie industry just doesn't seem to get it.
In the same LA Times article that declared games have weak narrative, Halo scribe Josh Olson was quoted as saying, "[games] have aimless cycles. You go to A, shoot some monsters, then go to B, then start over and do it again."
Josh Olsen strikes me as the type of guy who would open a cluttered office drawer to put a notebook in and complain that there wasn't enough room instead of tidying it up to make room for it.
Halo has a wonderful setting, some excellent cinematic set pieces and two groups of fairly interesting enemies. True, the plot is hardly Oscar winning material, but then great movies have worked on less.
Take Aliens for example, a film that Halo owes more than a nod of acknowledgement to. A group of marines land on a planet and encounter an alien force that they need to eradicate whilst escaping the planet. Sound familiar?
To get a decent Halo movie into shape, you'd merely need to spice up the supporting marines and simplify the plot to just to the crash of the Pillar of Autumn, regrouping in the Halo control centre, the discovery of the flood and the battle against 343 Guilty Spark to send the Pillar of Autumn nuclear.