Thoughts on Adapting Disney’s Gargoyles as a Sandbox Video Game


There are few television shows that truly appeal to people of all ages, but Disney’s Gargoyles was just such a series—and that it was a cartoon made it all the more exceptional. It had strong stories for kids that gave a “message” without trying to instill a certain morality, but those very stories also appealed to adults. It was also a fun adventure tale, as a group of individuals found themselves in a land truly alien to them, surrounded by people who mustn’t know of them. It would make for a grand video game. Also, as consoles and computers become more powerful, the potential depth of video games only increases. It’s with that potential in mind that we look at the ways an interesting game could be made out of the Disney’s Gargoyles license.

The show lasted only three seasons (technically; for reasons outside the scope of today’s article, let’s just say that there’s a strong consensus amongst fans and the creator that only the first two seasons are “canon”), ending in early ‘Ninety-Seven, but fourteen years later, it’s still retained its devoted fan-base (a convention was hosted annually until recently, solely at the expense of the fans who organized the thing). The series can be found on YouTube here, and Greg Weisman, the creator, still talks with fans about the show (and other projects he’s worked on) here.

The Manhattan Clan.

Now, before we go on, it should be mentioned that there’s been a video game based on the license, but it was very loosely based on the license. It was a solid platformer, though the combat was a bit of a chore. It was also strictly two-dimensional side-scrolling, with the player controlling Goliath and trying to figure out how to get to the end of the level via some interesting platforming and light puzzle elements. Still, it didn’t really capture the feel of the series, much less what it meant to be a gargoyle as the series defined the term, so we look to how such a game might be made today.

As for what kind of game it should be, I have to say that an open-world/sandbox game would suit it best. The license would be perfect for a sandbox setting—the show primarily took place in Manhattan, New York, and it’s not like there haven’t been a million games set there, so it would be familiar enough to gamers. Where it would be a different experience would be the fact that it would take place at night, as the gargoyles turn to stone for the day. There would be other differences, of course, which we’ll get to today.

From the player’s perspective, the first thing to address would be the characters. Now, you could do the canonical characters of the Manhattan Clan (gargoyles tend to organize in familial-ish groups, or “clans”), but because gargoyles really come in all shapes and sizes, there could be a rather robust character-creation system, allowing for all sorts of ways to customize the character—from wing style, to face configuration, to whether they have horns or not and what time, skin coloration, and a whole host of other things.

Elisa and Goliath.

It’s actually a bit of a toss-up which is a better idea—sticking to canonical characters can let the player feel like they’re really a part of the Manhattan Clan, to weave stories that can almost feel like a continuation of the original show. On the other hand, having original characters would allow for different stories to be told, and allow for an interesting “outsider” perspective, of both the Manhattan Clan and Manhattan itself.

One of the next things that should “grab” players about an open-world/sandbox game is the world of that game, the geographical location. If the game, like the show, took place in Manhattan, it would again be comfortable for gamers—provided there were plenty of interesting landmarks relevant to the series. The Eyrie Building and Clock Tower would be as necessary as the Empire State Building and Central Park. It would also have to be a large Manhattan, since you’ll be gliding over a lot of it. Both of those are easily doable, though; look at the size of Prototype‘s Manhattan.

You’d also need to be able to enter buildings, though—Xanatos’ Eyrie Building would be nicely filled with intricate—and deadly—puzzles that the player would have to deal with, as they unlock his secrets. Or there’s MacBeth’s hideaway, sure to be filled with traps more dangerous than puzzling.

The clock tower above the police station.

That leads to another aspect of any game that needs to be solid—the Rogues Gallery. There need to be antagonists that are more than mustache-twirling cacklers who wax poetic about their Evil Organization of Evil. A good antagonist—in any fiction, not just video games, but since the player will be interacting with their schemes more it’s just as important for video game antagonists—must be a fully-realized character in their own right, with no less the motivation or a protagonist. It helps when they really think they’re right, that they’re doing what’s best even if they. themself, agree that the actions taken are extreme.

Disney’s Gargoyles had good antagonists in spades. Take David Xanatos, for example. The absolute master of having plans on top of plans on top of plans on top of plans—with every single known outcome benefiting him in some fashion or another. Everything you did—he planned for it. Seriously. Probably years before even even knew of your existence.

Yet for all of that, he never really felt too “unreal”. He could be surprised, and was also just as masterful at coming up with back-up plans on the fly. He accepted defeat gracefully, if because he could turn his defeat into a win, one way or another.

Then you had MacBeth (who, incidentally, actually is that MacBeth, who existed somewhere between Types IV and V on the sliding scale of anti-heroes, where he isn’t really a “good” guy, with motives to “help” much of anyone but himself, but—he’s not really evil, either. For example, there’s an episode where MacBeth and King Arthur vie for Excalibur. When Arthur gets it MacBeth actually concedes defeat, that Arthur really is the rightful King. A true, full-on “villain” wouldn’t do that.

MacBeth

That’s not to say he was nice. He put the gargoyles through seven kinds of strife and frustration whenever he was around, and though he was never the master-planner that Xanatos was, he could keep the gargoyles busy while he was off after his real objective.

Those are just two antagonists out of the large number of people who have given the gargoyles a run for their money over the years. Almost any kind of story could be crafted without having to change anyone’s character. A story of redemption mixed with henchmen out the wazoo? Demona in her C.E.O. guise is perfect for. Or to tip the hat at Spider-Man 2 and its boss arena, the Pack would be great as an optional sort of “try and survive” thing, especially if one goes through the various differences in the Pack’s structure over the years.

Right, so you have any sort of antagonist you want to tell any story you want—so you have to deal with the game world and things like physics. Gargoyles glide (rather than actually flap their wings for true flight), and you could make it slow enough to not whiz from Battery Park to Columbia University in seconds, but quick enough to make it faster than running. That’s already been done in games before, so it has precedent.

One of the more interesting aspects would be that the gargoyles turn to stone during the daylight—so one way to go about it is to cheat it and just have it be perpetual night, never really addressing the issue save for cut scenes. That would certainly work well enough, though what would be more interesting, if more coding-intensive, would be to have an actual day/night cycle in effect. Plenty of games have that, too.

Goliath "asleep" during the day.

Say around twenty to thirty minutes is a game night, and when the sun comes up, a small cut-scene plays of the character turning to stone. Do it in the wrong spot, like in the middle of a battle, and the enemies smash the protagonist to bits—thus meaning the character dies. Flit away to a safe rooftop and you’re safe for the day. Now, there are two ways to handle what happens next. Either there’s a longer cut-scene where they turn to stone, the sun speeds through the sky, and they break from their stony shells at night—or the game play could switch to another character.

Here’s where it could get tricky, as games where the player controls completely different characters aren’t always handled all that well. The advantage of controlling a human character, like ally and Goliath‘s kind-of, sort-of love-interest Elisa Maza, is that she can go where the gargoyles can’t—with her police ties, she could gather evidence on where this or that group of thugs might be hiding, she can use subtlety and subterfuge where the gargoyles, by nature of their very appearance (and general distaste for such things, coming from a more warrior-centered period in history as they do) couldn’t. Of course, another option would be to have such things be part of a between-mission cut-scene or the like, too.

Then you have the side-missions. Like a surprisingly large number of not-really-human inhabitants of any fictional version of Manhattan, the gargoyles have a thing for protecting innocent people—even though most citizens, if they know of the gargoyles’ existence, see them as monsters. So you could have the usual “save the person” side-missions—though with the interesting difference of, unlike most other games with not-fully-human protagonists, the people you save wouldn’t necessarily thank you. Imagine the protagonist risking their tuchus only to have the person they rescue shriek and call them all kinds of names before running off. It’d make Spider-Man’s worst press seem like glowing praise, and as such make what could be a tired element be rather refreshed.

Lord Oberon and Lady Titania, rulers of the Fae.

Hopefully by now we’ve revealed ways that quite an interesting game could be made from the Disney’s Gargoyles license. There really aren’t many games that feature protagonists other than humans in a deep, rich story that allows, or encourages, the player to actually explore this truly fantastic world that’s so little like anything we know in real life. That’s something that could make it outshine things like Prototype or Assassin’s Creed or nearly any other sandbox game you could name—the culture involved is more alien than one simply removed through time, and in looking at it, there’s an interesting chance to look at our own culture through truly alien eyes.

It would be a chance to bring something different to the hobby, but with certain elements that have been tried and proven before. It would also be a wonderful homage to a license that discussed mature ideas without talking down to kids or pandering to adults. It was entertaining without being mindless, and a sandbox game based on it could be the same. This hobby of ours, like other hobbies, could use more stories that are entertaining without being mindless.

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2 Responses to “Thoughts on Adapting Disney’s Gargoyles as a Sandbox Video Game”

  1. WhiteWolf Says:

    It would be nice to see more stories that are entertaining without being mindless. The sad part is with games based off cartoons they are almost always put out for kids with few adults in mind to play them. Kung Fu Panda comes to mind. The movie did a great job of entertaining while at the same time having deep morals and not beating you over the head with them. Yet when it came to the game, it was go here do this and listen to Jack Black be Jack Black. I was disappointed by this, they could have added some of that in there and made the game much more. These days if it’s not a huge block buster for adults it’s considered a kids game and it seems the kids lose out on the adult side of the game, like the morals or deeper plots. It would be nice if they did a game like you suggested.

    • I would agree, it’s all too difficult, I think, to craft a game that does that—and I’d add that sometimes whatever interesting story there is gets lost in the game play itself. Take Prototype, the Web of Intrigue was an interesting mechanic, sure, but it was a right pain in the butt to “consume” everyone. That turned an interesting mechanic—and a large amount of depth to the story&mdashland turned it into an aggravating chore.

      A balance would have to be struck. It wouldn’t be easy, and admittedly there isn’t a lot of precedent—but hopefully it can happen. Fingers crossed!

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