Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Games Entertainment

Turning Classic Literary Works Into Games 93

Posted by Soulskill
from the meet-william,-my-level-80-bard dept.
Adventure Classic Gaming is running an interview with Chris Tolworthy, an indie game designer who is working on a project to make video games out of various literary classics. His decision to develop these kinds of games was sparked by a desire to reach out to gamers who want more "serious" subject matter, as well as finding an audience among people you would find in a book store, rather than a game store. Tolworthy has already released one game, an adaptation of Les Misérables, and has almost finished Dante's Divine Comedy. After that is done, he'll move on to other works, including Theogeny, by Hesiod, and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, aiming for two or three releases a year. He said, "I try to keep as close as possible to the original text. When I create a game I simply go through the book and adapt it chapter by chapter. As far as possible all my puzzles are based on ideas in the original book. So my Dante's Inferno is a lot closer to the book than EA Games' Dante's Inferno that changes Dante into a warrior with a giant scythe! Although I stick closely to the story, I would find it boring to only give the straight text, so my games always give a different twist. For example, I show Les Miserables from the point of view of a minor character who dies early on. In my Divine Comedy I show other points of view as well as Dante's, and they don't see things the same way. Really, what I'm doing is what theater directors do when they put a Shakespeare play into a modern setting. It's the exact same story, but presented in a new way."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Turning Classic Literary Works Into Games

Comments Filter:
  • Adapting stories from other media for videogames isn't a new idea. It's just that films have been the usual source, perhaps because they're culturally/commercially closer, especially if you compare the AAA game title to the blockbuster Hollywood film. Films also come with a built-in visual style to adapt, which helps with the recognition. The practice has become prominent enough that the only major general study of adaptation [amazon.com] between mediums that I know of actually spends a decent amount of time discussing videogame adaptations of films, film adaptations of videogames, and so on (usually videogames get ignored in these sorts of media-study analyses).

    But... they're mostly not that good. I think this could be said even if we try to look at things sympathetically. The aforementioned book argues that adaptations often get a bad critical rap, because there's a certain mystique around "the original", and assumption that a mere adaptation is always a bastardization of the original that can't possibly capture it. But let's accept that argument, and treat adaptations as interesting and legitimate in their own right, trying not to start out with an assumption that all adaptations are bad. Even then, can you really say that adapting films has been a successful way to make videogames? The only ones that come out even reasonably okay imo are sort of "adaptation light"--- where you borrow some visual elements and general setting/characters from the film, but otherwise mostly ignore it. This works best in big-universe films, like Star Wars, where you're not really adapting an actual film so much as a set of ideas.

    Will this all fare better for literature? I can see adapting the general setting of a book as plausible. In fact, that's been done successfully in a few interactive fictions [wikipedia.org], which share with books the text medium (perhaps like graphical videogames share the visual medium with film). I've played some good Lovecraft-mythos IFs, for example, like Anchorhead [wikipedia.org] (this book [amazon.com] on IF discusses the issue of IFs being adapted from literature a bit further). But adapting the book itself? Perhaps as the storyline for a linear RPG-style game? Or something more fundamental than that?

    I guess what I'm saying with all this in a roundabout way might be something like: yes, interesting idea, but how? Not asking that as a purely skeptical question; I think there may be ways it'd work. There might even be multiple different kind of adaptations that would work. But I think there are a lot of pitfalls. In particular, a sure pitfall is making "this game is an adaptation of 'real literature'" be the selling point for the game.

    Proposing to adapt literature to videogames is the starting point, and you need a vision beyond that for why or how. Why is it interesting to adapt literature to a videogame? Why aren't you just writing a novel on the one hand, or making a non-adaptation videogame on the other? I think there might be good answers for why, but I don't see them here, at least not yet--- I don't think the mere idea of making games tackle "serious" subject matter is enough of an answer.

  • The Divine Comedy? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:30AM (#28925531)
    The plot can be summarised thus: Hero goes for a trip through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, all of which are stuffed with Florentines or other Italians. There is a lot of talking, mostly about politics or philosophy. Nothing actually happens. The moment anything looks like being problematic, an angelic messenger arrives and sorts it out without intervention of the hero.

    I mean, I am genuinely puzzled. I know the Commedia fairly well, and I've read most of it in the original. And I simply cannot imagine how you turn it into a game.

    Unless of course the author has merely nicked the characters?

  • Re:Spoiler? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ksempac (934247) on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:41AM (#28925635)
    Sorry but that depends on people. I've been a book lover since the age of six, but if you tell me the end of a book before i finish it, you almost kill the book for me. It will be hard for me to finish reading the book.
    What i like in the book is to see things unravel one by one in a process that leads you from a starting situation till the unknown final situation. I like to ask myself "hmm this will probably ends like this", "will that character survives ? I'm not sure", or "can the character get out of this pinch ?". It doesn't need to be a major plot twist, it happens for every book from great classics to cheap moderns thrillers. Sure you have violent deaths, plot twists in any spy book, but you also have character/relationship evolutions in War and Peace.
    If you tell me the final situation before hand, I won't care anymore about what happens, because I don't think "I'm at instant X with the main character, what happens next ?" anymore, I'm already at the final moment, instant X is past and no longer relevant.
    That's also why i can't read the same book twice, or why i hate flashback books (Dark Tower IV, i'm looking at you).
  • by RogueyWon (735973) * on Monday August 03, 2009 @08:57AM (#28926637) Journal

    I was wondering the same thing. Certainly, for the "big budget" EA adaptation of the Inferno, I think that we're just going to get a God of War clone which lifts the names of its levels from Inferno.

    I suspect you may be familiar with it already, but others reading this thread might not be, so I'm going to give a quick plug here to Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's 1976 adaptation of Inferno. It distorts or subverts some of the key theological conceits of the original, but it's a fun and thought provoking read (which populates Hell with a more up-to-date cast). There's a more recent 2009 sequel to it, which, despite being rather luridly titled "Escape from Hell" is also pretty good. The amusing thing is that both books contain sections which will challenge/offend (depending on sensitivity) Christians and atheists alike.

    Like I say, they're not perfect, but they're still a damned sight more faithful to the spirit of the Divine Comedy than what will inevitably turn out to be some action game where you press X, Circle, X, Square, X, Triangle in sequence during a quick-time event to make Dante decapitate the big Demon and springboard off the body onto a motorbike.

  • Hays Code (Score:3, Informative)

    by tepples (727027) <tepples AT gmail DOT com> on Monday August 03, 2009 @09:29AM (#28927083) Homepage Journal

    If every movie were rated PG, with the content of a PG movie, it wouldn't be long before the majority of adults would just stop watching movies.

    You mean like Hollywood under the Hays Code [wikipedia.org]?

  • Re:Spoiler? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 03, 2009 @09:52AM (#28927457)

    If I may offer a few counter-points:

    1) The idea with Rorschach is that his moral core has become so messed up from all of his experiences that he is almost a tragic character. His journal is supposed to be the ravings of a shattered psyche; those who compare it to Heath Ledger's Joker are really missing the point. On a side-note, it is interesting that you brought him up as your first point, because Watchmen as a whole (whether the movie or the comic book mini-series on which it is based) is a Rorschach test for the viewer/reader. If you go in thinking it's going to be like Batman or X-Men, you will be disappointed.

    2) Keep in mind that the directors are attempting to fit as much of a 12-issue comic book series as possible into a movie. If you think of the comic books as a storyboard for a movie, a shot-for-shot recreation would be about 5 or 6 hours, maybe more. That they condensed it into a nearly 3 hour movie is remarkable in itself. If you also consider that most of the comic is dialog, and the action scenes are few and far between, it can seem to drag on for a while.

    3) Unfortunately, the plot was distilled to a point that, if you had no familiarity with the source material, you would be lost. I can only assume that you hadn't read the comic book or even heard of it before you watched the movie. I was able to enjoy the movie without having seen the original work, but I had a passing knowledge of the back-story without knowing the reveals at the end. That back-story is what the opening montage (the one with The Times They Are a-Changin' playing over it) was trying to convey, and I admit that going into the movie completely raw, the significance of that montage is lost.

    4) I am not going to argue taste, because there really isn't a right or a wrong here. However, I think you might be doing yourself a disservice by watching that movie with the expectation of the other comic book movies released over the past 5 to 6 years. Watchmen is available in graphic novel form, and I would suggest familiarizing yourself with the overall concept of the work, reading the novel, and then re-watching the movie. If your opinion has not changed, or you were so turned off by the experience that you don't want to try, then I can understand your hatred of the movie. However, I personally thought it was brilliant.

  • by The Moof (859402) on Monday August 03, 2009 @09:56AM (#28927493)
    Honestly, they butchered it. The only things the game and the poem have in common is they both take place in Hell, and they both have a guy named Dante. The game looks more like "God of War: Kratos Goes to Hell." They used some of the descriptions of Hell from the poem for concept, but I'm fairly certain I don't remember the part where Dante tears a bloody path through Hell with a giant scythe killing everything to save his love.

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]

Working...