The Writer's Job: If Breaking Bad Became a Game...
Let It Go
Great! So much material to work with, right? Wrong.
Imagine a whiteboard. Divide it into two columns. Group your notes into two groups: Good Fit and Bad Fit. Decide which items on that list fall under Bad Fit -- for any number of reasons. For example, it's hard to create real stakes when the player can always restart the level; complex plotting is lost on gamers who leave the game for several weeks; you'll lose Bryan Cranston's onscreen charisma...
A lot of the items on your list will fall under the "tough" category.
"But wait!" You're saying. "I can think of a way to ______..." Yes. With a lot of hard work and clever tricks, theoretically anything is possible. But some parts of the show just lend themselves to a game -- and others don't.
As experienced gamers and game developers, you can trust your gut here. To keep your kickoff meeting moving, don't get bogged down in convoluted defenses of ideas. Just take a first pass at your Bad Fit list and (for now) set it aside. That leaves Good Fit. Later on in the process, you'll know which elements are worth fighting for.
Build It Back Up
At this point in the kickoff, the designers would be elbow-deep in ideas around agency, immersion, and multiplayer possibilities. This article is focused on what a writer, rather than a designer, would contribute to the kickoff, so brilliant design insights will have to appear in the comments.
But to touch on game mechanics: Choose your verbs. What will the player DO in this game? Let's say, for argument's sake, that the people who greenlit this game love Grand Theft Auto, so they want an open-world game. Now imagine the player is Walter White. Imagine him runing through the streets, gun in hand. Hold the image for a second. Doesn't seem right, does it? Walter's a smart guy, calculating. Will your game reward impulse behavior? Do game mechanics line up with personality? That leads us to the next question...
Who is the player character?
"Walter," someone says!
Are you sure?
Ask what personality traits a character would need to succeed in your game. Not the story: the game. Think about what the player's avatar will be doing when the player presses X; imagine those events taking happening in the real world, and then ask yourself what kind of person would be able to manage your demands.
Your man might need to be physically strong. Morally ruthless. Action-oriented. Impulsive. Scared of cats. Whatever! Come up with your list, compare it to the cast of characters from the show, and find out who you've been describing.
Walter is an indelible character with a complicated inner life. If the player took control of him, all of that nuance could be lost. It could make more sense to play with Walt -- as Jesse -- or against Walt -- as a competing drug lord. Even Hank is a contender. Ironically, Walt -- the heart of the show -- is the WORST candidate as a player character. That is just another example of how IP adaptations can be so counterintuitive.
Let's say for argument's sake that somebody in the room is hell-bent on using Walter. Okay, let's consider it. Walter doesn't have a lot of fun -- and when it comes to games, fun matters. He certainly doesn't DO nearly as much as he THINKS. Is your game a thinking game? Or an action game? (In AMC's graphic novel, you take on the role of twitchy Jesse instead of cerebral Walt.) And so much of Walt's early story is about not being in control. Will the player accept a low-status, weak avatar?
But of course, Walt isn't always a low-status guy on the show. More on that, later in the article.