This week, Microsoft outlined its big plans for Xbox Originals, which will provide brand-new content across multiple genres for viewers across a variety of platforms. One of the company's most exciting announcements was that it plans to adapt some of its biggest video game franchises into TV shows. Some are in the works and some are still just conceptual, but Microsoft is sitting on some extremely promising properties — if it can make smart use of them.
Microsoft has its eye on six games for adaptation: "Age of Empires," "Fable," "Forza Motorsport," "Gears of War," "Halo" and "State of Decay." These games cover a lot of territory, from historical simulation to fantasy epic to sci-fi shooter, but each one could probably make a good TV show.
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Of those franchises, only "Halo" has a definitive show in the works; the rest are just potential candidates that Microsoft hasn't provided any details on. First, let's check out what we know about "Halo," then examine possible avenues for the remaining five shows.
Xbox Originals plans to air a live-action television series based on the best-selling "Halo" franchise, executive produced by Steven Spielberg himself. Amblin Television and 343 Studios are promising that the "Halo" series is not only interesting television, but also adds something substantial to the ongoing video game storyline.
While "Halo" spans a variety of formats and genres, from first-person shooter to real-time strategy, and from video games to novels, the tone has been very consistent: mildly thoughtful sci-fi action. The TV show will probably follow very similar ground. Whether or not series protagonist Master Chief is involved, there's plenty of room in the "Halo" universe for additional stories in an episodic format.
Since the galaxy is under threat by the religious alien Covenant and the mindless alien Flood at regular intervals, the story pretty much writes itself, focusing on a squad of human soldiers undertaking new, action-packed missions each week. From open firefights with the Covenant to eerie encounters with the Flood to exploring character backstories, there should be enough variety in both tone and subject matter to make this show work. Think of it as the "Halo" version of a show like "Battlestar Galactica."
Fable presents a unique opportunity for Microsoft to do something kid-friendly. "Fable" is a series of role-playing games intended for a teenage audience, but its humor and aesthetic make it a perfect fit for a younger crowd. With its colorful protagonists, arch villains and slapstick approach to comedy, "Fable" could turn into the fantasy series kids didn't even know they wanted to watch.
Imagine something in the vein of the "Dungeons and Dragons" cartoon from the '80s or "Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders" from the '90s: a traditional swords-and-sorcery adventure with stand-alone episodes and an emphasis on making kids laugh rather than bogging them down with the dour intrigue or blood-soaked combat of most medieval fantasy stories.
Gears of War
"Gears of War" might actually be the most difficult of the existing Microsoft franchises to adapt into a TV show. At first blush, the prospect may sound like a no-brainer: a team of soldiers fights an alien menace on the post-apocalyptic planet Sera. The challenge would be differentiating "Gears of War" from the "Halo" TV series. One show about a group of futuristic soldiers fighting aliens with enormous guns is usually enough for any given network.
One possible solution would be to give "Gears of War" a drastically different tone from the "Halo" show without changing the basic plot structure. The first "Gears of War" game was originally conceived as a gritty, character-driven war drama, even though it ended up as something akin to a more violent version of "Halo." This could be a great opportunity to get back to the roots of the series and appeal to older fans.
Age of Empires
Of all the Microsoft video game franchises, "Age of Empires" is possibly the best fit for a TV adaptation. At first, this may not make much sense, as "Age of Empires" is about a bird's-eye view of military history, without a unifying, cohesive narrative. However, this could be the perfect setup for a historical drama that varies from season to season.
Over the course of the series, "Age of Empires" has dealt with history's greatest military minds, including Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Attila the Hun, George Washington and Crazy Horse. Consider a show that devoted one season to each conqueror in a pulpy "Game of Thrones"-style setup. The cast would remain the same across multiple seasons, in the vein of "American Horror Story." This would allow fans to see a broad swath of history's greatest personalities, and actors to rotate in and out of the spotlight.
"Forza Motorsport" has a reputation for being one of the most realistic racing game series on the market, so why muddy its reputation by making a fictional show? Instead, a "Forza Motorsport" show could take inspiration from a program like "Top Gear." Since the games pride themselves on accurate, realistic depictions of cars and racing techniques, each episode could examine a few different cars from start to finish.
A car that's racetrack-ready offers more than just a way to drive very fast. From an engineer's original conception, to producing the parts, to assembling the finished product, to pairing a car with a driver, to actually burning rubber on the racetrack, a "Forza Motorsport" show could show just how much work goes into a single vehicle.
State of Decay
When it comes to zombie survival games, "State of Decay" fills a very particular niche in the gaming world: an intense, realistic simulation that doesn't sacrifice fun combat. Adapting it for TV would be difficult, though, because there's already a show exactly like that on the air: namely, "The Walking Dead." A "State of Decay" show would have to do something pretty drastic to differentiate itself.
The best tack for "State of Decay" might be to adopt one of the game's unique strengths: the ability to play as multiple heroes with varying skill sets. Instead of a zombie apocalypse show about a single group of survivors, a "State of Decay" TV show could adopt a vignette approach. By focusing on a different cast of characters each week, the show could cover many different tones, including action, comedy, drama and survival. Tying the stories together somehow would be the tricky part, of course.