Though still considered a relatively new art form, video games have been a major force in pop culture in the less than 50 years since they were first made available to the general public. They incorporated many elements from novels and comic books, and especially from cinema. Many great and visionary directors have left their stamp on the world of gaming, but there are few as influential as John Carpenter.
Carpenter is best known for the horror classic Halloween, but his career spans many other genres including action films like Escape From New York and Assault on Precinct 13, comedies like Big Trouble in Little China and Dark Star, and sci-fi like Starman and They Live.
The director's prime era was the '80s, when he turned out a seemingly unstoppable list of films now regarded as classics. This was also right around the time video games were evolving into a more complex medium, and Carpenter became a favorite filmmaker of many future game designers. They drew upon his cinematic look and feel, even on his characters. Here are some of the reasons John Carpenter may well be the ultimate film director for gamers.
Carpenter Influenced Many Classic Games
One of Carpenter's most memorable films was his dystopian action thriller Escape from New York, and the impact it had on the Metal Gear series is evident. Hideo Kojima often cites Kurt Russell's character of Snake Plissken as a major influence on Metal Gear's Solid Snake. Indeed, the video game designer even made a more direct nod to the character, when Solid Snake uses the alias "Pliskin" in Metal Gear Solid 2.
The resemblance was so uncanny, the studio that owned the rights to Escape from New York wanted to sue, but Carpenter talked them out of it, telling The Hollywood Reporter:
"[CanalPlus] wanted to also go after the video game Metal Gear Solid, which is kind of a rip-off of Escape From New York, too, but I told them not to do that. I know the director of those games, and he’s a nice guy, or at least he’s nice to me."
But Escape from New York is just scratching the surface of Carpenter's numerous influences on video games. The shapeshifting antagonist of The Thing birthed the villainous creatures in Half-Life and the Flood of the Halo series. Big Trouble in Little China was the direct inspiration for Mortal Kombat's Raiden, one of the most beloved video game characters of all time and one that still graces console screens to this day.
Even some of Carpenter's most unlikely films have had major impacts on video games. Duke Nukem's signature catch phrase from Duke Nukem 3D — "Kick ass and chew bubblegum" — was taken almost verbatim from Carpenter's satirical horror sci-fi They Live. As if that wasn't enough, They Live was given a sequel in the form of the hit video game Saints Row IV, in which Roddy Piper and Keith David team up to fight the alien menace once again.
Carpenter Is A Gamer
Not only is Carpenter's influence felt on video games, but the medium has in return influenced him. He is an avid fan of the art form, catching the bug from his son back in the early '90s. The 68-year-old's fascination with gaming began with a surprising source — a little blue hedgehog.
In 2013, Carpenter told Giant Bomb:
"The first game I remember playing obsessively was Sonic the Hedgehog. Man it was hard; no checkpoints. I kept dying over and over again.
Befitting that Carpenter would start there, considering the Sonic series basically became horror.
Ugh. Lets move on.
Even after Carpenter's son moved on, his gaming bug didn't end, telling Esquire:
"[My son] left and went off on his own and I kept playing. They're just so much fun. So I've kept abreast of everything over the years. I have four systems here in the house."
Carpenter has since broadened his horizons, taking a liking to games such as The Last of Us, BioShock, Far Cry, Dead Space and Silent Hill. In the same interview, he has that first-person shooters are his favorite:
"I'm not a big fantasy gamer, like Skyrim kind of games where you have to buy stuff and talk to people. I don't know, I like to shoot things."
I'd disagree with him on that point, as there's plenty of shooting in Skyrim, along with electrocution, incinerations, explosions. But I digress. Like so many of us, Carpenter pledges allegiance to that one special game, and in his case, that honor goes to Borderlands 2:
"There's no better game on the face of the earth."
But he doesn't just love video games; he is actively involved in the industry, and has been for a few years now.
Carpenter Has Worked On Video Games
He is one of the most vocal voices in Hollywood to champion video games as an art form, and over the last few years Carpenter has regularly posted his favorite games of the year, penning op eds for gaming magazines.
One of his biggest contributions to gaming came when he played a little game called F.E.A.R. After being impressed with the game, Carpenter offered to help promote it, becoming a spokesman for its sequel. His involvement deepened when he was offered a chance to work on F.E.A.R. 3. Carpenter accepted, and went on to direct some of the game's more complex and unsettling cutscenes.
The filmmaker has continued to be an ardent supporter of video games, helping to promote a game based on his horror classic The Thing, which unfortunately was released to mixed results. There were also talks of a video game based on Escape From New York entitled Snake Plissken's Escape. Ads for the game appeared online, in magazines, and even in some DVD extras for the film, but sadly has thus far failed to materialize.
But Carpenter's love of video games hasn't waned. He still plays them and has admitted his interest in making one of his very own, telling Giant Bomb:
"I'd love to work on an original video game. Maybe the opportunity will present itself."
Carpenter continues to share his art, touring the world to perform the music of his films in concert, and his influence in the world of cinema and video games remains profound. If the games based on his work are any indication, his cinematic output fits nicely into the language of interactive storytelling.
For those not familiar with Carpenter's work, all the films mentioned are worth seeing. This is a man with the eye of an artist, who has turned out many great films that are frightful, funny, action packed and thoughtful. The prospect of Carpenter creating a video game is a great one, and it would be a loss to the world if that never came to fruition.
Tell me about your favorite John Carpenter film in the comments section below.
[First image: John Carpenter on the set of Big Trouble in Little China, a movie that was heavily influential on the Mortal Kombat series.]