This article is from the original batch of Video Game Librarian articles I wrote for Gaming Target between 2005 and 2007. It was originally written on September 26, 2005.
During this past summer and all throughout the fall, an unprecedented number of licensed games based on television, film and comic properties will be released. And not a one high-profile title can be said to trace it’s source to a book. Although the case could be made that Shattered Union was inspired partly by Harry Turtledove’s alternate history series of Civil War novels. And I’m sure there’s a smaller publisher or two that’s putting out something.
And who can blame the publishers that decided this? Books do not have a good history of being turned into good games. Just look at the Fellowship of the Ring game from a few years ago, the Dragonriders of Pern game that appeared on the Dreamcast and Harlan Ellison’s PC misstep I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream (great title for a game though). But have no fear, a real time strategy title based on the Left Behind series is in the works for the PC. Scratch that, maybe you should be afraid.
But if publishers took a trip down to their local library they could find hundreds of titles that would translate into great games. However, at this point I should mention out that the great Guardian Gamesblog tackled the idea of literary games a few weeks back while this article was sitting half done on my hard drive. While our tastes in books and games differs slightly, feel free to check out their picks in addition to mine.
Stephen King’s The Stand is a modern American epic which has the makings of the ultimate battle between good and evil and enough symbolism to make an English teacher squeal with maniacal glee. It also has a huge cast that creates many opportunities for memorable characters.
The most obvious link The Stand has to video games is the very popular Fallout series. Fallout 1 & 2 were released to critical acclaim and extremely poor sales. But through word-of-mouth, constant awards and accolades in the enthusiast press and a cheap ten dollar two-pack that included both games, many gamers have been sucked into the world of Fallout. Personally, I think The Stand can go beyond this and create it’s own apocalyptic RPG style.
First of all, you have the two factions. Right there that doubles the size of your game to include both a “good” story and a “bad” story. The Stand also features many great moments that seem destined to become classic game scenes. While nothing could make the Lincoln Tunnel section scarier than it was in the book, done right, say like Torque’s visions in The Suffering, it could be suitably unnerving. The long walk to Las Vegas could also take on the feeling of a true survival test as the player would have to guide four men over several hundred miles of harsh terrain.
And who says that story only has to follow one character, be it Stu or the Walkin’ Dude or even the Trashcan Man? The Stand could jump from character to character filling in the chapters of the story all the while expanding the world of The Stand. 99.9% of the world’s population was decimated, but that still leaves millions of possible characters. Why, you could even take a trip halfway around the world and see what the Captain Tripps did to the rest of the world when the infection started.
My second pick is not quite as well known, but could easily fit into the “stealth action” movement that Splinter Cell is leading. Fear Nothing by Dean Koontz stars Christopher Snow as a man in his mid 20s who has a rare skin disease known as xeroderma pigmentosum (XP). XP is the “vampire disease” that makes the afflicted person allergic to sunlight. With the next generation of games promising ever more realistic lighting effects, this kind of character trait could have a huge impact on how you play the game. “Hugging the shadows” wouldn’t just be important, it would be necessary to your character’s health.
Going deeper into the story reveals a government conspiracy, genetic engineering, plans for chemical warfare, attempts at creating a race of super soldiers and friends who are a little more than meets the eye. Oh, and just for good measure, a virus that mutates each infected person’s body and mind in a different way. What can I say? I’ve got a thing for a good plague story.
But at it’s heart, Fear Nothing is also a pretty decent detective story and Chris and his friends follow the clues left by the conspiracy back to it’s source to discover the truth. That sounds not unlike The X-Files (which truly bombed as a survival horror game, but the detective sections were alright). It also sounds not unlike the recently released Indigo Prophecy, which is causing a small furor over it’s resurrection of the adventure genre. Detective games don’t have to be the linear graphical adventures they used to be and I really think there’s some untapped potential in creating a third person detective game where the focus is on the detecting.
And if nothing else, a game adaptation might spur Koontz on to finish the Christopher Snow trilogy that he has working on since the publication of the second Snow book, Seize the Night. It even has a title, Ride the Storm. A game could help further flesh out this world. The fans of the series (and there are a lot of us) would snap this game up in an instant.
These two (or three depending on if you count Seize the Night too) titles only scratch the surface of what some possible book-to-game ideas could look like. And with new consoles on the horizon it’s time to expand games beyond the stories they try to tell today. It would be wrong of me to suggest that today’s games don’t have stories to match a good book. Some do. But there are so many worlds out there that developers (and gamers) could be playing around in that are perfect for a new kind of gaming experience. Why limit that to TV, movies and comic books?