Inside the burgeoning world of Netflix animated video game adaptations

Video games have a long history of adapting to animation for TV. It’s a trend that can be traced back to 1989, the year that saw previews of Dragon Quest, Kool Kartoons by King Koopa, The Legend of Zelda, And The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! And in recent years, Netflix’s animation division has quietly continued this often overlooked subgenre, including this week’s premiere of Cyberpunk: Edgerunner. In a time when video game adaptations are still often a source of eye-rolling and animation no longer feels as stable as it once did, Netflix has quietly done the incredible and turned these adaptations into must-see TVs.

It started with Castlevania. Produced by Frederator Studios, the series was technically the second video game adaptation from Netflix to be marketed as an original behind the Spyro-centric film. Skylander Academy. However, it was the first of its highly specific kind to generate critical attention. Led by Adi Shankar, a longtime fan of the series, Castlevania mediated 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes – an impressive number in itself, but it is even more so when you take into account the frequency with which video game adaptations and animation in general are overlooked.

“To this day, I have people coming back to Castlevania [and saying] it’s just a great Dracula story, “John Derderian, the head of Netflix’s animated series, told Decider. Derderian was there since Castlevania’s first launch.” They don’t even know what Castlevania is that you’re like ‘Wow, that’s a real win’ ”.

Photo: Netflix

Asked what Netflix is ​​looking for when thinking of creating or distributing a video game adaptation, Derderian stressed “a story with many great characters, a great journey, a lot of heart.

“You look at a lot of the failures, and they were films that just couldn’t quite understand the game. It was as if the IP had left the hands of the game company, and it was someone who didn’t really understand the game’s authors who assumed they didn’t really understand the game. You will only find success if it blends with the spirit and soul of the game. And being close to the gaming company is a good cheat code. It helps us get a little closer and a little faster. “

This is especially true for Arcanethe Riot Games series based on the tradition of League of Legends. Of the show’s five 2022 Emmy nominations, Arcane brought home four

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. That round of victory included an Emmy for Best Animated Program, an award Arcane took over a two-time winner Rick and Morty. Rather than an anomaly, Arcane ‘The win is proof of Netflix’s longtime dedication to video game adaptations.

Derderian revealed that Netflix often uses the term “undeniable” to describe particularly strong programming. This was the word used to describe Arcane from his first image. Created by Christian Linke and Alex Yee, the series was produced by the then French animation studio Fortiche under the supervision of Riot Games and was distributed by Netflix. A passion project for the duo, the series took six years to develop. It is the long lead times and care that have contributed to how video game adaptations have changed, especially in the world of animation.

“I think we’re getting to this point where people in the professional world are skilled enough to even do something like really adapt games. We can really have people who grew up with it, now we’re experienced enough to really tackle something like that. ” Linke said in an interview with Metro. “I mean, I think the reason why you get something like thisand The Lord of the Rings or so is it because Peter Jackson liked that shit.

Arcane
Photo: Netflix

This creator and fan-first approach to creating adaptations is part of a larger trend that Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, creators of the game Cuphead and executive producers of The Cuphead Show !, they noticed. About three months after the two released their game in 2017, Netflix reached out to them about a possible TV adaptation. When the series finally premiered in 2022, it spent at least three weeks on Netflix’s top 10 TV shows and watched for around 11 million hours, according to the streaming giant.

“I think it was a real rebirth from Netflix. Just compared to what came out of the mid to early 1990s, it was crazy, “Chad Moldenhauer told Decider.” I think it’s just people growing up – that’s my guess – people growing up in those ages. , and then they become writers and showrunners and all these different things. And they say, ‘Listen, we have to do something amazing with these IPs instead of just shoveling something out the door quickly.’ “

“I also assume it’s more to be in the know,” added Jarrod Moldenhauer. “AIf video games become a bigger business, then there are more people who understand what these games are or what they are building from, which makes the studios more interested in using the source material or referring to the creators or other things to get a ‘ better idea of ​​where it might go ”.

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Cuphead and Mugman in The Cuphead Show!
Photo: Netflix

When searching for adaptations to create or distribute, Netflix prioritizes games with universal themes and identifiable characters. This focus ensures that the new series can be enjoyed by both diehard fans and people who may not even be familiar with these games. The company is also aware that animation, especially animation based on complex source material, takes time. Derderian pointed out that it was more important to make sure these series felt tonally in line with their games than to rush anything.

“[Fans] spend hundreds of hours playing these games. This is also a reward and a risk, ”Derderian explained. “If you’re really wrong, it’ll come back to you too. For us, he is infusing himself with that passion of the game fan, while also keeping an eye on the truly exceptional universal storytelling. “

These collaborations between Netflix and the gaming companies have allowed for some interesting connections. For example, Riot Games’ valiant offered a collectible weapon companion based on Arcane. Similarly, season 1 of The Cuphead Show! introduced the audience to Mrs. Chalice, a playable character who later appeared in Cuphead DLC, The ultimate delicious dish. Details like these have contributed greatly to making these universes feel connected and showing that these series are more than what they once called this subgenre.

It’s clear how these thoughtful adaptations benefit Netflix. The popularity of a show like Arcane it has led to more people watching Netflix, which is almost always the goal in the streaming era. But these collaborations also benefit game creators. After the first season of The Cuphead Show! was released on Netflix in June, the Moldenhauer brothers noted there was an increase in sales prior to the release of their DLC.

“We noticed little bumps when it first came out and it tended towards something more than usual, but it’s not something we’d both be like, ‘Wow! This is like a hundred times different, ‘”Chad said. “But it definitely shows that more people are playing and maybe people have already played the game and rekindled to go back to maybe win some of the challenges of expert mode, that sort of thing.”

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When you look at Netflix’s next list, it seems like we’re only in the early stages of this trend. This August saw the premiere of the third season of DOTA: Dragon’s blood, Season 2 of The Cuphead Show !, and previews of Tekken: Bloodline And Angry Birds: Summer Madness. September will mark the premiere of Cyberpunk: Edgerunner. This is without mentioning the upcoming Castlevania: Night spin-off or the next tomb Raider show, Splinter Cell, Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix by Adi Shankar, il Far cry series, and Sonic Prime. This is a big investment in animation at a time when it’s not necessarily the norm.

Netflix’s support for these shows seems particularly important when it comes to the current state of the animation industry. In August, Warner Bros. Discovery made headlines when 36 titles were removed from HBO Max. Many of those shows were animated and had previously been ordered animated films like it Driftwood They have been deleted. Not only has Warner Bros. been a longtime home for animated content, it’s also the parent company of Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, two of the largest animation markets around.

Netflix also had its own animation scandal this year. Back in AprilIt has been revealed that several high-profile animated projects have not been renewed or canceled, including the eagerly awaited adaptation of Jeff Smith’s Bone. Most of these projects were part of Netflix’s children’s and family entertainment division, which typically doesn’t include Netflix’s adult video game adaptations. But the long list of upcoming shows indicates that Netflix is ​​still interested in pursuing this subgenre.

“The world is spending more time with games. I think it’s great. Those worlds are richer and more important, so there is probably a lot more to be mined there. It is exciting. But again, it has to be an idea that can work and really thrive in our format, “Derderian said.” We’ll continue to see it as a great place to build shows, but again we do it with great game authenticity. Something which captures the spirit of the game, but is also just out of the game a great universal story that many people can understand. “

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