Some of the best adventure games are based on books, and two of the games from our Obscure Adventures Games We Want Sequels For, Blade Runner and I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, have literary roots. Even Mojo has a Kafkaesque inspiration. This got me thinking in turn about some of my favorite literary works that I would love to see as adventure games, the unique intersection between novels and gaming, narrative and puzzles. These are the books that I would love to see expanded on, visualized, and experienced (with creative license given), just in adventure game form.
Herman Melville's Moby Dick:
What is it about?
Some might call it a metaphysical exploration of the universe, and others, an overly detailed account of whale-hunting in the 19th century. Considered one of the great American novels, Melville tackled the injustices of an indifferent cosmos through Captain Ahab whose quest to avenge himself upon the eponymous whale leads them on an allegorical journey. Cetology becomes mythology while the nine "gams," or meetings with ship," form a dramatic structure for the story, presaging the grim climax. The book's descriptions of everything from brit to whale physiology always fired my imagination, and I'd love to experience it in game form to complement the incredible novel.
"With the charts of all four oceans before him, Ahab was threading a maze of currents and eddies, with a view to the more certain accomplishment of that monomaniac thought of his soul. Now, to anyone not fully acquainted with the ways of the leviathans, it might seem an absurdly hopeless task thus to seek out one solitary creature in the unhooped oceans of the planet. But not so did it seem to Ahab, who knew the sets of all tides and currents; and thereby calculating the driftings of the sperm whale's food; and, also, calling to mind the regular, ascertained seasons for hunting him in particular latitudes; could arrive at reasonable surmises."
Iain M. Banks Culture Series:
What is it about?
Banks does something extraordinary in the Culture; he creates a utopia that embraces human nature in full and veers away from being overly idealistic. This is an organization that accepts diversity to an extreme, a literal Culture that absorbs everyone while coupling genetic and economic freedoms with personal liberties. Key to this are the AI, or Minds, quirky and super intelligent computers with personalities of their own. They are the complete opposite of Terminators and the Matrix, being computers concerned with making humans happy, but also nearly perfect in their reasoning as a hive. They take pains to respect most cultures, even when conquering them, as in Player of Games when they defeat the Empire of Azad at their own literal "game." They also have a unique way of burning time.
Excerpt from Excession:
"They imagined entirely new universes with altered physical laws, and played with them, lived in them and tinkered with them, sometimes setting up the conditions for life, sometimes just letting things run to see if it would arise spontaneously, sometimes arranging things so that life was impossible but other kinds and types of bizarrely fabulous complication were enabled… Between those extremes lay an infinitude of universes of unutterable fascination, consummate joy and absolute enlightenment."
Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach Trilogy starting with Annihilation
What is it about?
A team of four women consisting of an anthropologist, surveyor, biologist, and psychologist, are sent on an expedition to a mysterious location called Area X. But Area X is as much a physical place as it is an emotional purgatory through the recesses of human nature. Like the expeditions before them, their journey becomes a chaotic tumble of curiosity, regret, and desire with tragic results. A mysterious spore is transmogrifying their humanity, and their world. The interactions, intensified by suspicion, and the strangely menacing milieu become the backdrop for a search for truth that has never been so compelling. Don't be surprised if the answers annihilate you.
"It was as if I traveled through the landscape with the sound of an expressive and intense aria playing in my ears. Everything was imbued with emotion, awash in it, and I was no longer a biologist but somehow the crest of a wave building and building but never crashing to shore."
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Death Gate Cycle
What is it about?
While this is the one game on the list that already has an old adventure game based on it, a completely new version with HD graphics is something I'd love as the world is so expansive and the original game left out some of the key characters. A heptalogy of fantasy novels, I used to secretly read this in trigonometry class in high school where I'd hide the books behind my textbook. I was addicted to the tale of a world torn asunder into different realms, ravaged by an ancient war between the two races, the Patryns and the Sartans. The Sartans won, splitting the world and creating a Labyrinth designed to reform the aggressive war-like behavior of the Patryns. But when the Sartans mysteriously disappeared, the Patryns were forced to brave the insanity of a prison with no overseers or rules. The crux of the story revolves around the relationship of Haplo (a Patryn) and Alfred (a Sartan). But it was also about the different realms, from Arianus, the world of air, to Chelestra, a world of water in which the Sartan rune magic is nullified, all connected by the Death Gate. This was the series that inspired me growing up and its incredible denouement still resonates with me all these years later.
"Truth wasn't something you went out and found. It was wide and vast and deep and unending, and all you could hope to see was a tiny part of it. And to see that part and to mistake it for the whole was to make of Truth a lie."
Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber (Hong Lou Meng)
What is it about?
Of the four Chinese classics, three have inspired or been made into games; Romance of the Three Kingdoms with its eponymous strategy games and Dynasty Warriors; Water Margin/Outlaws of the Marsh and Suikoden; Journey to the West with all sorts of games about the Monkey King, including Enslaved. But the one that hasn't received the same attention is Hong Lou Meng, or Dream of the Red Chamber. Understandably so as it's about a rich family in decline, the complexities of social structure in China, and the whimsies of relationships. Written by Cao Xueqin and published in 1791, it's long, epic, and a marvel of lyrical prose that has inspired a whole scholarly movement in China called Hongxue (Redology). Poetry games abound and in a language where a change in tone can render the same word in a completely different meaning, the book bursts with creativity, merging genres so that it is just as much fantasy as historical drama. Red Mansion could easily be a life simulator (a la Persona 4 or Danganronpa), though an adventure game would be pretty awesome. It was one brief dialogue that opened my eyes to the depths of Chinese culture, ironically through an exploration of food. Granny Liu, a poor old woman who lives in the countryside, visits her affluent relatives. After a drinking game, she tastes a dish of eggplant that is unlike anything she's eaten before and asks how it was made:
"It's a simple dish. Pick some eggplant and peel it, keeping only the best part, which must be cut into small pieces and fried with chicken fat. Then get some chicken breast, fresh mushrooms, bamboo shoots, dried mushrooms, spiced dried beancurd and various kinds of preserved fruit. Dice these too and boil them with the eggplant in chicken soup, then add some sesame oil and pickles and store it in a tightly-sealed porcelain jar. That's all."
Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States
What is it about?
This is probably the oddest selection on the list. People's History revisits history, not from the perspective of the conquerors, but from that of its victims. It's like Sid Meier's Civilization in reverse. You don't play as one of the leaders, but of the slaves working under brutal conditions to build a world wonder. At the same time, it's the personalization that makes each chapter of the book so compelling (versus the God view of most RTS's) and an adventure game exploring each of the chapters would recontextualize history in a completely new light.
"I don't want to invent victories for people's movements. But to think that history-writing must aim simply to recapitulate the failures that dominate the past is to make histories collaborators in an endless cycle of defeat. If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win."
Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood:
What is it about?
When Lilith awakens and finds out humans have wiped themselves out in an internecine war, the last thing she expects is salvation in the form of Medusa-faced aliens called the Oankali. They identify what they view as the inherent human flaw; the irreconcilable dichotomy between intelligence and hierarchical thinking. Lilith feels helpless, subjected to both physical and cultural revelations that are shocking to her as the Oankali have the ability to genetically modify humans. Humanity in its old form is extinct and she has to prepare for an exchange with the Oankali in their next step in evolution. Those who refuse will be sterilized and weeded out. And the key to the melding? Cancer. But with the waking of other humans in preparation for this new world order, the most disturbing realization of all is the fact that other humans are much scarier and deadlier than the aliens.
"My relative is not male- or female. The name for its sex is ooloi. It understood your body because it is ooloi. On your world there were vast numbers of dead and dying humans to study. Our ooloi came to understand what would be normal or abnormal, possible or impossible for the human body." And a little later: "Your Earth is still your Earth, but between the efforts of your people to destroy it and ours to restore it, it has changed."
Peter Tieryas is a VFX artist who has worked on Guardians of the Galaxy and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. His novel, Bald New World, was recently nominated for one of UK's most prestigious literary award, the Folio Prize, and listed as one of Buzzfeed's 15 Highly Anticipated Books as well as Publisher Weekly's Best Science Fiction Books of Summer 2014. He also likes talking about dystopias and baldies.