There are many craptastic video games out there that have spun off from films. Big game franchises will also usually spin off into books, again, often with craptastic results. There’s much more cross-over between films and games, but good books that get turned into games? They’re rare.
That said, the past few years have seen some cracking games come from literary origins. The Witcher and Metro series come to mind as exemplars of the process, and it’s rather telling, I think, that both come from Eastern Europe, where the status of game making is subtly different from the Western world. We have our own scattered examples, but they tend to be... odd ones. Like Dune, for instance.
Dune, if you’ve not read it, is a sci-fi classic, telling a tale of religion, war, and the coming of age of a young man against a backdrop of giant fucking worms and mad obese people. So, of course, it got turned into an RTS.
The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy got turned into a rather good game, but aside from that, all I can really easily think of are various Tom Clancy crossovers, and they almost don’t count.
Nonetheless, there are many books, old and new, that I think could make for really stunning game adaptations, either through bringing the setting to life for players to explore, or a more direct co-opting of plot and character. So, without further ado, here’s Atomic’s not even close to exhaustive list of books we’d gladly kill a random reader to see turned into a video game.
The Honor Harrington novels
Ho, boy, does David Weber’s series about, basically Horatio Hornblower in space deserve a deep, engaging space sim.
The Honor Harrington series (which features dozens of novels, short story collections and spin-offs) charts humanity in the year 4000-something. There are a lot of personal stories in the setting, but the series’ first claim is as dashing military fiction. Weber’s managed to create a setting where broadsides, naval tactics, and other apparent anachronisms make perfect sense, and it’s a fantastic piece of world-building. Even better, the main conflicts in the setting are between vast star-nations, battling over worlds and resources with fleets of stupendous size and power.
As a game, it’s begging to be made into something with the deep resource management of an RTS, and the epic space battles of Homeworld. Alternately, you could go the sim spaceship route: Weber’s starship’s are complex vessels with arrays of gravitic stress bands, sidewall shields, sensors... you could just control one vessel and have an amazing amount of stuff you could do in a game.
And it would look amazing, kilometres-long starships, firing massive missile broadsides at one another, fusion bottles failing, lifepods spraying everywhere... damn. I would pre-order that in a heartbeat.
There is a wargame, but... it’s just not the same.
Saying “Man, I’d love to see a Culture video game” is an alarmingly vague statement. Mainly because Iain M. Banks’ novels cover so much stuff. You could do almost anything – strategy, sim, RPG... the sky’s really the limit. Bank’s novels in the setting are just as eclectic, though war is often somewhere in the background.
But I think an RPG would be ideal, something with the kind of scope for character and travel as Mass Effect, but more open. The Culture setting is so fascinating because it’s so very trans-humanist; there are ship-sized AI (with the most hilarious names in SF), everyone has a drug-gland (because that just makes sense, right), and people are functionally immortal, post-scarcity, and can even back up their personalities or swap genders by taking a pill.
Imagine gaming in that setting, where your character is fluid, where respawning isn’t a game mechanic, but part of the world... and with stupendously mature and fascinating stories. Yeah, a Culture RPG would be mindblowing.
Games set in some kind of ravaged post-apocalypse seem to never go out of style. From Fallout to Rage and many points in between, games where you can explore what’s left after it all falls apart are fertile ground for some amazing stories. That’s why I think Australian writer John Birmingham’s After America has the makings of a pretty neat game.
Birmingham’s tale has a simple twist, right at the beginning – something, called ‘the singularity’, pops into place over most of North America, and within its wavy borders every human, well... turns into a pile of goo. It disappears pretty early on, too, but the implications are massive. The loss of the premier world super power sends every other country into a spin. Isreal glasses most of the Middle East, France topples into civil war and even Australia has some hard decisions to make, as it has possibly the largest ex-pat American population.
But it’s America itself that’s really interesting. Planes crash across the USA, dams and other infrastructure fail, and wildfires burn out of control. In the aftermath, you have this eerily deserted landmass, scarred by random fires and destruction, but empty.
Until the bandits and salvage type turn up. Then it just gets nasty.
After America (and the two other novels that make up the trilogy) would make an epic action RPG. Or we could wait for The Last of Us, which looks even more grim. In fact, let’s skip that and just turn Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in to a game.
World War Z
Yes, it could be argued that DayZ is pretty much already World War Z, but nonetheless, there are some great set-piece stories in Max Brooks’ tale of global zombie outbreak, and the rebuilding that follows.
And hey, everyone loves zombies (even if the film that Brad Pitt’s working on is meant to be a monumental mess).
The challenge here is what kind of game do you make? You could go open world, and make the player a survivor in a city slowly being taken over; DayZ, really. Or you could go all the way to something like XCOM, and make it a grand strategy game as you try and rally to fight back against the dead hordes. You could even just make it a simple shooter, or a fantastic adventure game.
In the same way the book covers such wide ground, from the zompacalypse as seen through the eyes of astronauts on the ISS, to a survivor post-clean-up making sure the dead don’t rise again during the Alaskan thaw, a World War Z game could be almost anything.
But it would definitely be amazing.
I can safely say, without hyperbole, that every time I re-read Neuromancer I get something new out of it.
And I reread it pretty regularly.
To many, William Gibson’s sprawling SF noir heralds the rise of the entire cyberpunk movement, not to mention the invention of the internet. Large claims, maybe, but yeah, the book’s that good. And yes, it’s already had the game treatment – in 1988. So maybe it could be time for another look back at this classic of street-samurai, hired-gun hackers, and AIs gone rogue.
I mean, it could certainly look better than this:
Sure, you could argue that it would basically be remake of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but I think there are some subtle and important differences. It would need a wholly different, vaguely 80s aesthetic for one thing, and theres' need a much grittier setting. Whole levels/missions would also be set in cyberspace, making for some wildly different gameplay elements.
Plus it would have Molly Millions. I'd buy it just for that.
Any books I've missed?