Video game adaptations are a curious thing. We see films being made into games a dime a dozen, and games based on comic books have also been proving their weight in video game gold recently. Even the music industry has found its own niche, with Guitar Hero and Rock Band introducing a whole new breed of gamers to our beloved art form.
But what about novels? When you think about it, you’ll be quick to realise that only a select few have made the transition. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Golden Compass, and the Tom Clancy novels are some of the more well-known members of this exclusive club, but even these games are often based on their respective films rather than the pages of their original novel.
You might say it’s an issue of interpretation– how do you translate a novel into a game successfully? It’s a tricky balance of faithful homage and innovative, artistic expression, but one prime example of where this went completely wrong was EA’s Dante’s Inferno. While Visceral Games certainly showed that adapting epic poetry could be done (sort of), the end result was little more than a gratuitous God of War clone prancing around in the clothes of Dante Alighieri’s renowned visual imagery in order to justify the title. Yes, I’m a little bitter, but when you’ve spent a year and a half studying the original Italian text, you’d also think that this game should be banished to the ninth circle of Hell.
The real Dante’s probably rolling in his grave right now
Of course, some games have used literature in much subtler and sophisticated ways, borrowing themes and ideas to create an even more thought-provoking experience. For example, Bioshock might not have existed if Ayn Rand hadn’t written Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, and we all know how much the Castlevania series relies on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
But putting subtlety aside for a moment, there comes a time when we just want to play what’s on the page. So here are some of the books I’d like to see turned into proper, full-blown video game adaptations:
Lord of the Flies
By William Golding
Epic Mickey’s moral choice system meets Little King’s Story’s art style
You play as one of the surviving schoolboys and must decide whether to follow Jack or Ralph. The decisions you make on various tasks will affect how Jack, Ralph and the other boys perceive you and will determine whether you’ll be allowed to join one of the gangs. Each group will also have their own unique customisable appearances, clothes and crafted tools. But rather than simply have a choice of one gang or the other, you could be rejected by both and left to fend for yourself if the rest of the boys don’t like you either. It will be much harder to play alone, but more sympathetic group members might set you tasks to help you get back into their gang.
You’ll need to make expeditions into the jungle to find food, water and fuel for the fire, and the further you go the more you’ll be able to uncover about the mystery of the plane crash. Through the implementation of nightmare sequences you’ll gradually be introduced to the “beast”, and the art style will change to a darker and more disturbing aesthetic based on how far you descend into Jack’s acts of savagery. It will be up to you to decide whether you too will fall victim to the type of beast foretold by the Lord of the Flies.
By Charles Dickens
A stealth, sandbox and survival game all rolled into one grand adventure
Before Oliver makes his trip to London you need to keep him alive by creeping through the workhouse to find food and a way out of there. When Oliver makes his getaway and arrives in London, you’re thrown into a huge sandbox of nineteenth century London, picking pockets with the Artful Dodger and roaming the streets Assassin’s Creed style.
There will be lots of side-quests to get stuck into, supplementing the main story and giving Oliver power-ups for his life bar and stamina. While Oliver is in the care of the various families he encounters throughout the novel, you’ll also be able to control other protagonists like Nancy, Noah and Monks, and every narrative will gradually come together à la Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. As Nancy you’ll be working to protect Oliver from Fagin and Sikes, and depending on how well you play her character, Sikes may or may not get his just desserts. Noah’s quest will see you fulfilling Fagin’s demands and trying to undo the work of Nancy, while Monks will be doing anything it takes to see Oliver brought down.
The Wind Singer
By William Nicholson
A third-person action-adventure game with an team-based RPG twist
This book from the Wind on Fire trilogy might not be overly familiar to some of you, but this was one of my favourite books when I was younger. At the heart of the story was a grand adventure rivalling the revered narratives of Ōkami and The Legend of Zelda, and everything about it screamed ‘make me into a video game!’
A classic tale of good vs. evil, young Kestrel finds herself tasked with retrieving the fabled Wind Singer in order to save her home of Amaranth from the evil Morah. Accompanied by her twin brother, Bowman, and the clumsy Mumpo, her quest takes her and her party of friends across a myriad of lush environments, from underground sewers and blazing deserts to huge canyons to thick forests. Each of these environments would translate perfectly into different levels or areas of the game, perhaps using a type of interconnected landscape akin to Metroid Prime.
There would also be an intricate set of relationship values to choose from for each member of Kestrel’s party, and everyone would level up with their own unique set of skills and abilities. After the climatic final battle, the Morah would suddenly unleash its army of Zars, and in a tight and frantic escape sequence, Kestrel would have to race back to the city of Amaranth to restore the Wind Singer before they were caught. The only catch is that your route back will be determined by the strength of your relationship with your fellow party members, and you might lose someone along the way if you’re not careful.
By Mary Shelley
The creature turns SA-X on his creator in this edgy, mystery thriller
The game begins as a delusional Victor Frankenstein wakes up from a long period of illness. His young brother has been murdered and Victor is determined to find the killer. As he gathers clues, he suddenly catches sight of the monster he created before his illness and chases after him. Eventually Victor loses sight of him but finds himself at the abandoned De Lacey household. What follows is a tense stalking sequence and Victor must uncover the mystery of the house while trying to find where the monster has hidden himself through Resident Evil-esque gameplay mechanics. This would also be combined with Eternal Darkness’s sanity meter, and due to Victor’s fragile health he’ll begin to see more monsters and creatures which he must defeat in order to progress through the house. If the player is too slow then the monster will confront Victor in a boss battle before they’re able to explore the house fully.
While Victor seems to triumph at first, the monster bounces back and threatens to kill him and his family unless Victor creates a mate for it. This leads into the second part of the game where Victor must search out the right components to create a female monster. Victor will once again be stalked by the monster as he carries out his tasks, and with a whole load of side-quests to tempt the player off the main story path, the player must weigh up wanting to explore the other environments of the game with the consequences of the monster’s destructive wrath. The player will also have to choose whether they actually want to make the female monster or not once all the parts have been assembled-– if they don’t, then an additional act will unfold where the player must protect all that Victor holds dear as the monster unleashes his final act of revenge.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
By Louis de Bernières
A handheld puzzle RPG with the comic humour of Elite Beat Agents
One of my favourite novels of all time, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin holds a special place in my heart. As the narrative style is a winding, twisting puzzle in itself, this book would be ideal for a game where solving puzzles advances the plot. The player would be able to uncover certain segments of the story as they progressed and they would also be able to play as different characters, each of whom encompasses a different style of puzzle solving.
The puzzles would also be infused with the same Greek myths the book relies so heavily upon, giving the player the opportunity to make a deeper connection with the underlying themes and ideas. Similarly, given that music is one of the novel’s central themes, rhythm puzzles and musical minigames would also form an important part of the gameplay. The bonuses and items the player receives for completing the puzzles could also be used to affect the relationships of their various characters as well as the range of combos available between them.
So those are my top choices for books I’d like to be playing instead of reading, but what about your favourite books? Which ones would you like to see made into video games? Perhaps you think Frankenstein would be better if it followed in the footsteps of Dead Space rather than Resident Evil, or maybe you think I’m completely off my rocker for suggesting that Captain Corelli’s Mandolin would work as a puzzle game. Either way, be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below!