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Ruminating on Blade Runner, One of Gaming's Greatest Influences

Ahead of the highly-anticipated sequel Blade Runner 2049, we look back on Blade Runner's influence on games.

Analysis by Caty McCarthy, .

Do you ever watch a movie, and automatically know it's your favorite movie? That's how I felt the first time I sat down to watch Blade Runner on a chunky CRT television. The quality was bad. It wasn't its best version. I was young at the time—who knows what age—but what I saw stuck with me.

We live in an age where because of technology, things seem to age all the quicker. Movies from the early 2000s with CGI look worse, where upon release they were maybe astounding. Years ago, the original Star Wars trilogy was tweaked for a modern re-release, inserting CGI alongside its practical effects (hello, ghost Hayden Christensen). Even as props age, at the very least, they don't look as phony as something generated on a computer. Computers always get better. Props stand the test of time.

The latter is part of what's made Ridley Scott's cyberpunk fever dream Blade Runner sorta timeless, and even prescient. Blade Runner's dizzying cityscapes, neo-noir mood lighting, and haunting Vangelis-composed score only seem to age better with time. The only thing about it that has aged is an uncomfortable "love" scene. As one of my favorite films, I've experienced Blade Runner in all its many forms—from versions that slot in unicorn-showing deleted scenes to a seemingly hungover Harrison Ford doling out narration. I've watched it in 35mm on the Big Screen. I've seen it on an old CRT television, enamored by it all the same. Most recently I watched it in 4K, astounded by how crisp and lifelike its sets still looked over three decades later. It felt like I was experiencing it for the first time.

A captivating image from the long-awaited sequel Blade Runner 2049, out today.

Even for a movie I've seen probably a hundred times, I manage to find new things to love about it with every viewing. The way the rain pours during Roy Batty's final monologue. The way the light perfectly shines through anti-hero Rick Deckard's blinds. The way his apartment is perfectly messy; illustrating what a slob he is in and out of his makeshift workplace. How sympathetic its "villains" are for daring to want to live their lives normally, and how they're hardly villains at all.

I think Blade Runner was a major tipping point for some of my favorite works of art—art with a sense of direction, authorship, tone, mood. Blade Runner made me love art that feels focused and singular, like no other person could dream it up. I was never alone in my pure love for the film, and boy, I never felt alone either. Growing up, it seemed like Blade Runner had a profound effect on everything else I enjoyed too. Video games especially.

There's a host of games (and series) that deliberately name check Blade Runner as an inspiration. Syndicate. Shadowrun. Deus Ex. Snatcher (from probable Ridley Scott-fanboy Hideo "Look at my Criterion Collection" Kojima). There are a few that are more subtle in their inspirational leanings, as seen in Mega Man X's replicant-like "Reploids." Blade Runner's influence has seeped into almost any game with science fiction leanings it sometimes feels, especially ones that live and die by the "cyberpunk" mantra. For those, Blade Runner is practically its bible.

Blade Runner was also adapted as a point-and-click adventure game in 1997.

When I set out to write this would-be cliched list of games with Blade Runner influences, I realised my list would be too long. Impossible to dwindle down. Titles from the LucasArts-like point-and-click adventure Beneath a Steel Sky to this year's brutal action-shooter Ruiner would find themselves slotted in, but they'd have to fight for their spots. I realized it'd be a fruitless effort; the comments section would be a nightmare of realizing the games I'd glossed over in the frenzy.

The problem is, there is no shortage of games that point to Blade Runner as an inspiration. You can see its neon-accentuated cityscapes in the likes of futuristic Paris in Remember Me. You see its very livelihood of a diverse city surviving in drab circumstances come to life in the bar simulator VA-11 Hall-A. Gemini Rue borrows thematic and tonal similarities from Blade Runner, almost wholesale.

Blade Runner expanded and breathed life into a genre that was once confined to only literature, giving it a visual beacon for others to look up to. Games rose to the challenge over the years. Some looking to Blade Runner's environments for inspiration, others its mood, others its characters.

Possessioner is an adult PC-98 game I stumbled upon in my research. Be careful when Googling it though—it earns its eroge genre title.

Everything culminated in 1997's own point-and-click adventure adaptation of the movie (and just a tiny bit, the Philip K. Dick novel the film is based on). It's game that doesn't star Deckard, but expertly renders the grimy city he calls home. Even by today's graphical standards, the game's strong art direction mirrors what made the film resonate with so many viewers. (If only there were an easy way to play it, without making a trip to Ebay.) With technology advancing, visions of Blade Runner's troublesome future have only come to life in grander ways. Eventually, the creators of one of the greatest open world games of all-time will offer their own vision of a cyberpunk society in Cyberpunk 2077, based on the tabletop series of the same name.

Last night, like so many others, I made my way to a pitch black theater to watch my most anticipated movie in forever, Blade Runner 2049. With Ridley Scott producing, the promising Denis Villeneuve directing (his other films Prisoners, Arrival, and Sicario are all solid), and excellent-brooder Ryan Gosling as another anti-hero, the stars aligned for the sequel we've waited decades for. I'm happy to report that it's as good as I hoped, and I'll leave it at that.

But no matter how Blade Runner 2049 is widely received, it changes nothing about the original and the hundreds of things that it's inspired in its wake. If there's any landmark piece of fiction that's inspired video games as a whole, I'd be hard-pressed to think of something more influential than Blade Runner. In many ways, Blade Runner feels like it's everywhere I look. In neon-lit alleyways in games; in science fiction with a neo-noir hinge; in android versus humans narratives. Blade Runner is a film that will never be lost in time, like Roy Batty's tears in the rain.

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Comments 15

  • Avatar for starride #1 starride A month ago
    Great write-up, however I think the extent of Blade Runner's influence in games speaks to the broader problem of video games taking too much inspiration from already existing works. I can't think of too many games off the top of my head where their influences can't be blatantly seen in a movie or read in a book. It's definitely one of the stumbling blocks to video games reaching their true potential.Edited 3 times. Last edited last month by starride
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #2 Kat.Bailey A month ago
    @starride This is completely accurate.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #3 SargeSmash A month ago
    I know this might not be a very popular sentiment, but other than some striking imagery (and some thought-provoking philosophy), I didn't find Blade Runner a very enjoyable movie. Maybe it's not supposed to be. Of course, those two things alone are certainly enough to inspire lots of game creators, so hey, that's cool.
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  • Avatar for otenko #4 otenko A month ago
    @starride It's very true, but at the same time most movies were inspired by movies, like Blade Runner. Everybody remembers the movie, but very few people seems to have read the book.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #5 SatelliteOfLove A month ago
    Thank you for Megaten, Mr. Scott!

    @SargeSmash

    It's from another time, before every second of film was scrutinized for maximum usage, so they made every second of film count.
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  • Avatar for discohospital #6 discohospital A month ago
    @starride I think it's more of a problem of the well of influences that video games tend to draw from being so shallow (and at this point, nearly dry). At some point, there's going to have to be a widespread willingness to step outside of the boundaries of what's become immediately recognizable as a point of reference or idiom of mainstream "nerd culture" (and pop culture in general).

    To quote Philip K. Dick himself:
    "There’s another facet as regards my particular work say compared to other science fiction writers. I grew up in Berkeley and my education was not limited at all to reading other science fiction novels preceding my own, such as van Vogt, or Heinlein, or people of that kind… Padgett, and so on…. Bradbury. What I read, because it’s a university city, was Flaubert, Stendhal, Balzac… Proust, and the Russian novelists influenced by the French. Turgenev. And I even read Japanese novels, modern Japanese novels, novelists who were influenced by the French realistic writers."

    Video games sorely need this very approach.

    EDIT: And on that note, I thought it was Hideo "I am a fan of Kobo Abe" Kojima.Edited last month by discohospital
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  • Avatar for LunarFlame17 #7 LunarFlame17 A month ago
    I really need to watch Blade Runner again. I took a film studies course in high school, and this was one of the movies we watched, and it made NO impression on me. I had been eagerly anticipating watching it for the first time, as even in 1998 people raved about it being one of best movies ever, and I remember being deeply disappointed by it. Other than that, I remember NOTHING about. So I need to watch it again, because I’m sure it really is great and my stupid teenage brain just couldn’t appreciate it.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #8 MetManMas A month ago
    Honestly, cyberpunk styles are something I wish we'd see more of in modern games. I know, there's plenty of 2D and 2.5D examples, but I mean the full 3D* kind. Polygons nail that sense of scale in a way that pixels and polygons could never hope to.

    But that said, I know the likely reason why they're mostly kept to smaller scale productions (counting Deus Ex and its smaller sandboxes in this) is because hi-tech future cities like Blade Runner's would be stupid expensive to duplicate in full-on 3D.

    Curious how CD Projekt Red's new cyberpunk thing will turn out.

    * Not interested in the latest David Cage vehicle, though. I want to play a more fleshed out game with a big world to get lost in, not a linear sequence of set pieces with Q.T.E.s emulating movies.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #9 Funny_Colour_Blue A month ago
    @LunarFlame17 I think the defining moment, at least for me anyways, was when Rick Deckard gives Rachel the Voight-Kampff test and her eyes glows, along with the owls.
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  • Avatar for nicsolarfield01 #10 nicsolarfield01 A month ago
    Great article!
    Just watched the original Blade Runner after at least ten years and what amazed me was how fast those two hours went by because of how captivating the whole experience is. Even though the slow pace and not a lot happens it felt like an hour.

    Still such a striking film but I'm sure there is some weird subliminal messages malarkey going on as you watch it. Maybe it's the atmosphere combined with the Vangelis soundtrack.
    Also you will notice the entire script is spoken at a hypnotic offbeat/syncopated rhythm.
    I think everyone must be a replicant.
    Going to see 2049 now, cannot wait!
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  • Avatar for thereal-Neolit #11 thereal-Neolit A month ago
    Great article.


    I am one of those lucky "kids" who saw the original two years after it's release, but still in a theater. I was still too young too watch it, but heh, we grew up free in the 80s. I never stopped watching it. I have all the cuts, westwood's game and all CDs, DVDs and Blurays I could lay my hands on. I watched the movie more than 200 times over last 33 years.

    But I digress. One side note re. "The only thing about it that has aged is an uncomfortable "love" scene."

    The love scene is not awkward because it badly aged. No. It is still as awkward as it always was. No one in their right mind enjoyed it back then and no one in their right mind enjoys it now.

    There is an explanation though: Deckard seeing that Rachael's world broke down, and sensing that she lost her anchor, also feeling the attraction between them from before, pushes her to trust her emotions. In a very rapy way, but that was the idea behind that scene. They could have done it better, but alas.
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  • Avatar for thereal-Neolit #12 thereal-Neolit A month ago
    Great article.


    I am one of those lucky "kids" who saw the original two years after it's release, but still in a theater. I was still too young too watch it, but heh, we grew up free in the 80s. I never stopped watching it. I have all the cuts, westwood's game and all CDs, DVDs and Blurays I could lay my hands on. I watched the movie more than 200 times over last 33 years.

    But I digress. One side note re. "The only thing about it that has aged is an uncomfortable "love" scene."

    The love scene is not awkward because it badly aged. No. It is still as awkward as it always was. No one in their right mind enjoyed it back then and no one in their right mind enjoys it now.

    There is an explanation though: Deckard seeing that Rachael's world broke down, and sensing that she lost her anchor, also feeling the attraction between them from before, pushes her to trust her emotions. In a very rapy way, but that was the idea behind that scene. They could have done it better, but alas.
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  • Avatar for LunarFlame17 #13 LunarFlame17 A month ago
    @Funny_Colour_Blue Yep. Nooooo recollection of that. Couldn’t even tell you who those characters are. Like, that movie made so little impact on me that I’m starting to question whether or not we actually watched it in that class or not. Maybe I’m just remembering wrong. After all, I couldn’t even tell you what other movies we watched. Except the Shining. I do remember watching the Shining.
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  • Avatar for BaltimoreJones #14 BaltimoreJones A month ago
    @discohospital A-fricken-men about game players and designers (and everyone else this applies to) needing to watch/read/experience things outside of geek culture for once. Like, instead of watching every single mediocre/bad superhero film that comes down the pike, start going through a list of the classics.
    @SargeSmash It took me literally around 2 decades and ~4-6 viewings for Blade Runner to finally "click" with me (I was same as you). One morning just recently I woke up with one of the sad themes (Memories of Green) in my head because of a temporary sad event in life that had happened, and all of a sudden the entire movie started rapidly clicking into place.
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  • Avatar for RushDawg #15 RushDawg A month ago
    The opening level of Einhander (anyone else remember that game?) feels like it was plucked straight out of the original Blade Runner.
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