Game developers crib from movies. That's a given. But what boggles my mind is that there is a huge gap in this pattern. One of the most popular genres of film — and an action tentpole since the days of the Old Testament — is conspicuously absent. Where are all the disaster games?
Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, volcanoes, hurricanes, blizzards: You name it. These concepts are rarely even used as individual set pieces — let alone as the basis for an entire game. Sure, some titles start you off in a world ravaged by disasters — usually nuclear war — but how often have you run around in the midst of a catastrophe? I can think of one: a mediocre PlayStation 2 game called Disaster Report. Or maybe SimCity, but that’s not really what I’m looking for.
Developers have stolen ideas from films since the '70s. The 1976 title Death Race didn't even bother to change its name, and it has nothing to do with the movie. Everything from Space Quest to Tomb Raider has some sort of silver-screen inspiration behind it. It wasn’t until the '80s that movies would start borrowing from games.
Games continue to take inspiration from films, either in the form of movie tie-ins or titles like Uncharted, which pay homage to classics. Mafia 2 is another great example. Beloved mafia films such as Goodfellas and The Godfather informed its development — even to the point of taking some names and scenarios straight from those films.
That’s why Nintendo's 2006 announcement about Disaster: Day of Crisis excited me so much. It looked like just what I'd been waiting for: a game where you’re a character trying to survive through some kind of environmental calamity. In some ways, it delivers: You endure floods, lava, and more.
Unfortunately, the game is unlikely to reach North America. It didn't sell well in Japan or Europe, and since Nintendo published the game, it’s pretty much a certainty that it won’t ever see the light of day. Nintendo doesn't make a habit of publishing known failures in America.
It doesn’t seem like all hope is lost, though. In 2008, shortly before Disaster: Day of Crisis' Japanese and European releases, Ubisoft announced I Am Alive. In it, you play as man caught in a fictional Chicago that's just suffered a major earthquake. Rescue teams have given up on finding survivors, and you have to find your missing girlfriend while keeping hydrated and avoiding confrontations with riotous mobs. This has probably been the most reassuring sign that we might see some games in the nearly nonexistant disaster genre. The idea offers such a huge wealth of possibilities, and developers are missing out on them.
In a world where publishers strive for games that can meet or beat the “blockbuster” status of films, it’s shocking to see the basis for hundreds of Hollywood successes so thoroughly ignored. You might say it's something of a disaster.