The Last of Us boss gives advice to the next wave of video game adaptations

The Last of Us Episode 8
The Last of Us Episode 8 /

The Last of Us made huge waves when it premiered on HBO earlier this year. It brought in some of the highest viewership numbers for the network since Game of Thrones, besting even the new Westeros prequel series House of the Dragon. It was also notable for being HBO’s first attempt at adapting a video game, and an outstanding one at that. A few months later, The Super Mario Bros. Movie stormed into theaters and set box office records.

The writing is on the wall: video game adaptations are on the rise. There’s a long list of new contenders on the way, such as the God of War and Fallout series at Amazon, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Gears of War at Netflix, and Twisted Metal at Peacock, just for a start.

The Last of Us co-creator Craig Mazin has opinions of this shift. Mazin and The Last of Us video game creator Neil Druckmann did a bang up job creating the HBO series, in large part because they stuck very closely to the game it’s based on. How does Mazin feel about the rise of game adaptations?

Craig Mazin: “There have been good adaptations of video games” before The Last of Us

First off, Mazin pushes back against the idea that The Last of Us and Super Mario Bros. were the first “good” game adaptations. “I always like to point this out, there have been good adaptations of video games,” he said on Josh Horowitz’s Happy Sad Confused podcast. “Every time someone says this, Arcane fans lose their shit and rightfully so… Castlevania fans, as do Detective Pikachu fans.”

In Mazin’s opinion, part of what made The Last of Us such a tremendous success was that the game itself was so well-suited to adaptation. The Last of Us is a cinematic, character-driven game, which made it much easier to explore on TV:

"But in terms of like a live-action television series or just live-action adaptation, we’re definitely up there, and I gotta tell you, I’m a little nervous, because we were working with, I think, what is, in my opinion, right, the best story told in video games. And I think for others certainly, people would have to admit it’s in the top ten.There are a lot of video games that are great because of the gameplay and not necessarily, I think, ready for adaptation, or ready for an adaptation that’s going to work. So, look, best possible outcome is that we’re in for a lot of awesome adaptations. Worst possible outcome is there’s going to be a wave of bad adaptations."

Video games can’t be adapted by “people that don’t give a shit about the video game”

Considering how many video game adaptations are currently in development, it definitely feels like we’re at the tipping point Mazin describes. Are we about to enter a new golden age of game adaptations, or be inundated by studios looking to make a quick buck by trading in on popular names? And what advice would Mazin give to the new generation of contenders?

"It’s really especially in games where… either there’s so much convoluted plot, you get buried under it, or the main character is a faceless, voiceless cipher, or there’s a lack of a relationship in the story that is important, or the gameplay itself is based on high fantasy or high science-fiction to the point where it becomes a little bit disconnected from reality and and [isn’t] about the human condition.These are the things that, if I were advising other people, I would be saying, ‘These are the things you have to be thinking about.’ And that doesn’t mean that you can’t make great high fantasy adaptations. You can. Some of the best adaptations are high fantasy and same for science-fiction. But the adaptation process is tricky and I think it’s very tricky for video games."

So far as Mazin is concerned, it comes back around to one central idea: the people making the adaptations have to really love the source material. This was no problem for The Last of Us; Mazin was a longtime fan of the series who had been hoping to make it for years, and Druckmann is the original creator of the video game.

“The one thing I think we have definitely shaken, I hope, is the scourge of video games being adapted by people that don’t give a shit about the video game,” Mazin said. “I think that’s over. And if it’s not then, I don’t know what’s going on, because if there’s one thing I hope people can take away from what Neil [Druckmann] and I did with The Last of Us is that you need to obsessively love the source material. You can’t just go, ‘It’s an IP.’ I hate IP. IP is a term that only lawyers should use… A beloved story with beloved characters; that’s what’s important, so people can love these things into existence. Then, I think there’s every chance for success.”

The Last of Us season 1 is available to stream on Max. Production on season 2 is currently on hold due to the writers’ strike; here’s hoping the studios come back to the table soon so that Mazin, Druckmann and all the rest can get back to work on the next chapter of their hit series.

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h/t Movieweb,The Direct