Television

Fallout Shows the Importance of Technique to Game Adaptations

The overwhelming praise for Prime Video’s Fallout has demonstrated that inspired and absurd video game shows can appeal to modern audiences.

While we’re accustomed darker and more serious adaptations, Fallout proves there is room on the schedule for many thematic differences from the gaming world to move to TV. But not all attempts are equal.

Many video game adaptations come across as dark and grim as the show creators try to make their show seem edgy and aggressive, even if the game itself was not.

Sometimes, that backfires on them. But how did that become the prevailing tone in the first place?

We can look at Halo as an example. The Paramount+ series tried to bring a more serious note when all the fans really wanted to see was The Masterchief beat the covenant — without ever seeing his face. Tying a leading man to the helmet, though, was a giveaway that change was ahead.

If Halo has widely been considered somewhat of a disaster both in terms of gamers who had high hopes for it and viewers who found their way to the series without any knowledge of the game, Fallout has managed to appease gamers and welcome new fans.

Why Adaptations Work

The rise of video game adaptations in the last few years shows how well this untapped resource of creative storytelling can work on the big screen. But it takes a deft hand to do it right.

Fallout worked well because the creators did not add any unnecessary grimness or darkness to the show; the source material had enough of that already baked into the sprawling world.

Sure, the wasteland in the Fallout universe is full of mutant abominations that want to kill everything in their path, but the lighthearted setting makes for a nice change of pace when you compare it to The Witcher or the Dota: Dragon’s Blood TV series.

By not adding over-the-top and unnecessary misfortune for the Fallout characters, they managed to keep the game fans happy and impress the average TV viewer. Making a fun show appeals to all sides.

There is still a lot of violence and feelings of helplessness in Fallout. After all, the plot revolves around characters carrying sawed-off heads. This isn’t a beautiful world in which our characters exist.

Leveraging the game content for adaptation can be tricky. A level of understanding is needed regarding what a viewing audience can take vs. how players engage with a game. It’s not entirely different, but it’s hardly the same, either.

Many fans will be unimpressed with a show for failing to stick to its source material, but in this case, Fallout exceeds expectations by keeping things lighthearted amidst the craziness of the ravaged world.

Why Sticking to the Source Material is Important

Adaptations will always need to modify the source material for a new medium. That’s expected, and if it’s done well, celebrated. See The Last of Us, which created deeper storytelling by accepting the parameters of the game and expanding them.

Creators of an adapted work have to respect the source. When they don’t respect or, at the very least, try to comprehend and retain the lore behind the story, it can lead to disaster.

You can see this with the Halo series; fans are upset with how John 117, The Masterchief, acts and how he always seems to be removing his helmet. Many fans of the game consider this a big problem.

That’s because the series has failed to explain adequately why the adaptation differs from the source. The show producers are making a point between the man and the idea behind the helmet, but they didn’t do it well enough for gamers to appreciate it.

Additionally, Halo changed much of the story and the lore, leading to a veritable disaster for a show that had so many excited for it to air.

The opposite is true of the Fallout premiere, and we can’t help but point out that part of that might be due to how it was released. Even if they wanted to complain about one feature of the adaption, the propulsion to the next episode in a binge drop and how it recovered worked to the creator’s benefit.

Fallout’s creators are fans of the games; you can see that the whimsical, strange, and weird side of the source material shines through the production, such as when Snip-Snip (Matt Berry) tries to kill Lucy (Ella Purnell). He is both evil and hugely entertaining, which can be tracked right back to the game.

What Can Go Wrong?

Grim and dark themes can work when doing an adaption of a video game, but not every game leached from a gaming console for a larger screen adaption needs to be without humor, either.

Arcane chose to honor the feel of the game without transferring a plot from the game to the small screen. Some people took issue with that, while others celebrated its ingenuity.

Yet the success of Fallout may be the final piece of the puzzle needed to prove that sticking to the lore of the story is what audiences like best.

The show draws in fans of the games, but it also appeals to a broader demographic, which in turn captivates viewers who have never heard of the game franchise.

An excellent example of little details that can make a supreme difference in the success of an adaption would be how Fallout incorporated the Power Armor suits from the game into the show.

Fallout showed how easy it is to stick to the source when they utilized game-accurate T60 Power Armor suits in the show. The bonus? They weren’t even CGI! Hitting the sweet spot can be as simple as relying on your costuming department.

In contrast, The Witcher series had many gamers up in arms when they changed the appearance of the Nilfgaardian Empire’s soldiers. Sure, those who never played the game had no idea, but the pervasive negativity could have been avoided by remaining true to the source material.

Fallout is a huge success because they stuck to the “script,” so to speak, and expanded on the lore to create a one-of-a-kind viewing experience for both gamers and non-gamers.

Sure, it would have been entertaining as some elements of the Fallout lore can be dark, such as some of the Vault-Tec company’s experiments, but even in the games, there was a humorous side to the more horrid ideas running throughout.

Fallout relies on whacky and slightly out-of-this-world ideas, like giant lizards called Deathclaws, mutants, and strange cults.

To dive into more morose territory would have robbed the fans of the joy of playing Fallout.

That’s not to say that more nightmarish adaptations, like the hugely successful The Last of Us, don’t make great television. They most certainly do. But it does prove that there’s room for more game-to-TV adaptions in this vast landscape of gaming and TV.

Who knows what else can come from your gaming platform to TV next?

If you have an idea, we’re open to hearing it!

Jason Collins was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow him on X.

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