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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."
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Turning Classic Literary Works Into Games

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  • Spoiler? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tygerstripes (832644) on Monday August 03, 2009 @06:26AM (#28924833)

    Kinda ruins the game, already knowing the ending and major plot-devices, doesn't it?

    Anyway, it'd be great to see games dominate the popular iconographic imagery of literary classics in the same way that films have. Will Frankenstein be perceived as a beautiful artifice once again, I wonder...?

  • Re:Spoiler? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by noundi (1044080) on Monday August 03, 2009 @06:37AM (#28924885)

    Kinda ruins the game, already knowing the ending and major plot-devices, doesn't it?

    "No, but I've seen the movie" becomes "No but I've played the game" when "Read a book" becomes "Watch a movie". Strange times we live in.

  • by MosesJones (55544) on Monday August 03, 2009 @06:38AM (#28924895) Homepage

    Now apart from the obvious point of "errr so we know where this is going" which just means its a directed rather than open-ended game this is really just like using the standard film adaptation approach and applying it to games.

    Its not that it is really new, Infocom's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy did something similar many moons ago. Playing on throw away lines to drive the puzzles (tea and no tea) in some cases but generally following the plot of the book.

    Really not a new idea either in concept or application.

  • Re:Spoiler? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Swizec (978239) on Monday August 03, 2009 @06:56AM (#28924991) Homepage

    Kinda ruins the game, already knowing the ending and major plot-devices, doesn't it?

    Anyway, it'd be great to see games dominate the popular iconographic imagery of literary classics in the same way that films have. Will Frankenstein be perceived as a beautiful artifice once again, I wonder...?

    Why would it ruin the game? Were the LOTR films ruined by the previous publication of the book? And many other examples. If the game is made well and interesting, knowing hte story won't ruin it, knowing the story will make you more immersed and will let you experience the story in a whole new perspective.

    I think it's brilliant, just imagine what fun it'd be to experience the chilling effect of The Pit And The Pendulum in something as immersive as a game, or, I dunno, fighting lobstrosities on a forgotten beach yourself instead of just reading about it.

  • by Targon (17348) on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:05AM (#28925037)

    Back in the days of adventure games, there was a bit of focus on the older gamers as well as the younger players. So you could have games with a lot of material that WOULD appeal to the crowd Chris Tolworthy is targeting. The problem is that in those days, you didn't see enough marketing to try to draw in that sort of customer.

    Take a look at Gabriel Knight 3, which came out well before Da vinci Code even was written(1999 for GK3, 2003 for Da Vinci Code). Yes, the 3D engine wasn't very good, and there were things that could have been done better, but the writing was very good, the puzzles were pretty solid, and if it were to get a face lift(using a new 3D engine), it would appeal to those who prefer books to most games.

    After the death of Sierra and Interplay, there has been a shortage of publishers willing to back games targeted at an older audience. It seems like the focus is the teen market, and if you are older than 25 years old and prefer something other than a first person shooter, your choices are more and more limited.

    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. People grow up, and want things that THEY find entertaining. If the movie industry can have a wide variety of movie types, from the really bad formula action adventure movies, to the highly artistic types, to romance, comedy, and drama, then why has the computer and console game industries focused primarily on first person shooters that only appeal to one type of game player?

  • Re:Spoiler? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:06AM (#28925045)
    This. I really don't understand the (fairly recent, I think) pop culture obsessive fear of "spoilers", as if knowing the plot beforehand utterly invalidates the experience of seeing the film or reading the book or whatever. Only cheap mystery stories and Dan Brown-style trash work that way. Most everything else, anything with lasting value, is enjoyable regardless of prior knowledge.
  • by jcr (53032) <jcr@mac.cEINSTEINom minus physicist> on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:30AM (#28925167) Journal

    A video game of The Old Man and the Sea would suck even worse than the book.

    -jcr

  • Re:Spoiler? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Canazza (1428553) on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:39AM (#28925207)

    It's because many films released nowadays have no substance besides the plot and big explosions. Once you know the plot and seen the explosions there's no reason to watch it again. No moral lessons to mull over, no questions left unanswered, no bits you might have missed that require a second watch, no scenes that rocked you to the core that you just *have* to see again.

    Movies with twist would normally require more than one viewing just to 'get' everything - revealing the twist would ruin the film if all the film was relied on the twist. You'll get one viewing out of it (if that) and it'll basically be your second viewing, having missed out on that Raw viewing you have when you don't know what's going to happen. The fun of guessing to yourself through your first viewing. Even KNOWING there's a twist at the end may spoil a truely Raw viewing. I remember watching the Usual Suspects for the first time, years after it came out on DVD, expecting a crime thriller like The Untouchables, but got something truley exceptional - which is why it's one of my favourite films, and one I can watch again and again. Once you have watched that film, and got the twist, even after the second viewing, when you're watching it for the third time, it's still an excellent Crime Thriller.

    Or take a film like Watchmen, something that's so layered with plot that you might come out of the cinema underwhelmed and confused. But underneath it is some hard truths about our own society, more than enough morality moments, every plot thread within it having it's own twist revealed was something brilliant.
    Even if people say 'it wasnt as good as the comic' - it was still excellent for a movie.

    A film that's enjoyable with prior knowledge is a rare and fantastic thing. Films like that are also usually more enjoyable that first time round, when everything is a surprise.

  • Re:Spoiler? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thisnamestoolong (1584383) on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:57AM (#28925287)
    Agreed -- I would just like to expound on you argument here and state that a properly executed plot twist (Memento, Usual Suspects, etc.) will often encourage repeat viewings, especially when you were blindsided by it the first time, to see what sort of clues are left to the viewer as to the eventual twist. I know the Usual Suspects in particular demands many repeat viewings to pick up on all the subtleties.
  • Re:Spoiler? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jurily (900488) <jurily.gmail@com> on Monday August 03, 2009 @08:15AM (#28925401)

    "No, but I've seen the movie" becomes "No but I've played the game" when "Read a book" becomes "Watch a movie". Strange times we live in.

    If you really want to appreciate some literary work, try translating it into another language while giving back the full literal meaning, the full meaning in context, and preserving the author's style. You'll know it's a good book if you give up on page one, or after the second line in a poem.

    That's something no movie or video game could ever give back. Examples: The Count of Monte Christo, The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, and pretty much everything Endre Ady ever wrote.

  • by dazedNconfuzed (154242) on Monday August 03, 2009 @08:18AM (#28925437)

    Methinks the biggest problem with translating a book to a game is: with a book, the main characters usually make some grand mistakes (very specific ones) and then spend the rest of the tale trying to recover, while with a game the emphasis is NOT making mistakes - any mistakes. Readers want to see characters fail and overcome; players ARE the characters, and don't want the hit on their ego. We're fascinated by characters in books, but rarely would want to _be_ that character.

  • by Bones3D_mac (324952) on Monday August 03, 2009 @08:40AM (#28925625)

    All of these great literary works were never intended to be interactive... as in "something that changes the outcome of the story based entirely on the audience itself".

    These writers didn't leave much in the way of "what if..." contingencies involving their characters and plots. If they had, there never would've been a market for all those "choose your own adventure" books they used to hock on us during school book drives when we were still growing up.

    That said, wouldn't a series of adult-themed "choose your own adventure" style books be kind of interesting? But, instead of simple "turn to page x" instructions, you'd have to solve various puzzles to know where to go next. Oh, and maybe a mechanism to slice off fingers for wimps who can't commit to their choices...

  • Apples and Oranges (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Voyager529 (1363959) <`voyager529' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Monday August 03, 2009 @08:53AM (#28925737)

    this youtube video is spot on and makes about 99% of the points that apply to this discussion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jdG2LHair0 [youtube.com]

    Ultimately I hope you'll all forgive my skepticism. The classics are required reading in most high schools for a reason - there is some degree of cultural significance to the works. Still, written classics have the problem of being written stories designed to be passively consumed by the viewer, while video games require a world in which the audience participates. Linear stories don't work extremely well for this. If what I do doesn't "matter", why would I bother doing it? I remember playing "Deadly Tide" a few years back, and it sucked because it was basically a rail shooter. There was no real point to it except to get through the game without dying and take down as many enemies as possible in the process. I was bored with it in about half an hour. Conversely, take Mass Effect, a game where choices you make throughout the game will always have some sort of affect on what happens. I played through that game twice, and am working on a third.

    If one were to make a video grame out of "Pride and Prejudice" for example, it would take some serious ingenuity to figure out a way of designing it such that the game stays true to the book and gives the player something to do besides just running around and talking to everyone (which essentially makes it an interactive movie, and very minimally so at that), has the player participating in the story whereby they have some sort of effect on the outcome, yet can stay true to the book. If it stays too true to the book then everything is predetermined and it doesn't make for much of a game, and if it doesn't then there is little point in tying it to a piece of classic literature.

  • by tepples (727027) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [selppet]> on Monday August 03, 2009 @10:26AM (#28927045) Homepage Journal

    I can't wait for the game of Pride & Prejudice

    Might it be the first dating sim in quite a while to become a hit on this side of the Pacific Ocean?

  • Re:Spoiler? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thisnamestoolong (1584383) on Monday August 03, 2009 @11:29AM (#28928055)
    "At the end, if the interrogating officer is left looking like a fool for falling for it, what does that make the audience?"

    Strange, this is not the impression I walked away with at all... I was impressed by the Spacey character's ingenuity in fooling his captors, I never felt that his captors were fools for believing him. And I think that knowing the ending makes it more enjoyable to watch the film again through the lens of knowing the ending. It does not seem that there were that many clues left as to the actual identity of Keiser Soze, but it does seem very clear through the telling of the story that all is not as it seems, due to various inconsistencies. Not sure if this was intentional or not, but it is definitely fun to try to pick it apart.

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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