I have an overactive imagination. When I read books, I imagine myself as being in the book’s world, as sharing the experience with the characters themselves. Video games are cool because they actually bring that experience to life; with The Witcher, for instance, fans of the books finally got to be the witcher Geralt, hunting down monsters and saving kingdoms. Recently, I’ve been thinking about what other books might make great video game adaptations, and I have a few ideas.
It’s worth noting that The Witcher games aren’t a direct adaptation of the novels, but rather the world and characters in them. This gives the developers the freedom to try new things and create memorable quests like the Bloody Baron.
Since I can’t screenshot books, have some lovely The Witcher 3 screenshots instead.
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Heists are perfect, even when they go wrong. I can’t think of a story about con men I don’t love, and if I love any protagonist in fiction, Locke Lamora is the one I love the most. He’s flawed and human and interesting, but most importantly, more than anyone else, he wants things. As Locke and his best friend Jean perform cons in the city of Camorr, I couldn’t help but want to be a part of their crew. Every member of The Gentlemen Bastards, Locke’s crew, has their own unique skills. Camorr itself is quite clearly Venice; a hybrid of Assassin’s Creed II and Hitman that explores Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s more in-depth conversation would be the perfect seed for an interesting game.
Chasm City by Alistair Reynolds
If you’re a fan of the Mass Effect universe, you’re a fan of the Revelation Space world, you just don’t know it yet. Everything Mass Effect did, Revelation Space did better, and I say this as a huge fan of both series. Chasm City is my favorite novel in Reynolds’ fantastic hard sci-fi universe; most of the story is about a bodyguard, Tanner Mirable, who is on a quest for revenge against the murderer who took out the woman he was assigned to protect. It’s a cat and mouse story with some of the coolest twists I’ve ever experienced in the novel. Imagine the gameplay of Deus Ex mixed with the aesthetic of the Mass Effect universe, but you’re trapped in a city that’s become infected with an alien plague that mutates technology.
The Scar by China Mieville
China Mieville’s Bas Lag is one of my favorite fictional worlds, but instead of the city of New Crobuzon, I’d like to see a game set in Armada. Unlike traditional nations, Armada is a nation made up of boats tied together. Its nine boroughs are ruled by different factions, all quietly vying for control over Armada itself. Personally, I think it would be fun to play as an agent of the Brucolac, my favorite of Armada’s rulers, skulking around like Corvo Attano in the Dishonored games. As Armada sails around the world, players would have opportunity to explore some of the stranger locales in Mieville’s world. Plus, hey, being able to play as a living cactus instead of a human would be pretty cool.
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
Somewhere along the way, I forgot that sci-fi could be exciting. Reading Consider Phlebas was like watching Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time. Horza, a shapeshifting mercenary, is tasked by some religious space zealot aliens to go find a Mind. What follows is a mad rush through some of the coolest, most inventive locales in science fiction. Consider Phlebas is screaming to be made into an action game; every moment in the book is something new. I know it’s hard, but imagine something with the flawless level and encounter design of Gears of War 3 and the mobility of Uncharted 2, but set in the far future and starring a mess of cannibals, artificial intelligences, and clones.
The Ankh-Morpork City Watch Novels by Terry Pratchett
I can’t pick any one Terry Pratchett novel, but I can pick one character, and that’s Sam Vimes, the Clint Eastwood-esque chief of the City Watch in Ankh-Morpork. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels have always been great, but the City Watch novels have always had his best mysteries. Imagine trying to solve crimes in a comical open-world city while putting up with some of the most inept, well-meaning comrades you could imagine. It would basically be The Witcher 3, except instead of hunting monsters, you solve crimes, and instead of cool loot, all you ask people for is a new kettle and a dart board.
The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer
I was introduced to Jeff VanderMeer’s work through Finch, a bizarre, beautiful noir novel about a city where a race of mushroom people took over after the events of a civil war and a human detective assigned to investigate a double murder, but I think his Southern Reach books are even better. An unnamed biologist and a team of scientists are sent to a place called Area X, where reality appears to be breaking down. Area X itself appears to be expanding, and it gets worse from there. It’s hard to summarize three books in a single paragraph without spoiling them, so I’ll just say that I want another S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game, but with some of the haunting mystery of the Metro novels.
Thinking about adaptation as I’ve done here is always a fun academic exercise. For me, the real fun of it all is taking what’s there and trying to turn it into game mechanics. How does this story moment work? Can it be made into compelling gameplay? Sometimes, doing this has resulted in some pretty interesting gameplay ideas, some of which I’m hoping to implement in my own game within the next year or two.
Hundreds of novels could make fantastic video games, I think. Gene Wolfe’s enigmatic Shadow of the Torturer is always a treat. Altered Carbon’s cyberpunk noir city, where wealthy murder victims have their minds backed up on storage drives, could provide a wealth of great gameplay adventures.
The process of adaptation is always a fascinating one; some might suggest that we read the original novels and leave it at that, but adaptation is fascinating because it lets us recontextualize works. Dune’s video game adaptation became the precursor to the real-time strategy genre. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is based on the novella Roadside Picnic, by the Strugatsky brothers, and its film adaptation, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Personally, I think The Witcher 3 is one of the best video games of all time, a true classic if there ever was one.
So, yeah, admittedly this is a pretty idle post, if ever there was one, but it’s Saturday morning and nobody else is awake. What novels would you like to see adapted into games? I’m always interesting in knowing what people are reading!