Video games attaining a greater literary bent

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Gaming

There is an unequal alliance between movies, books and video games.

Best-selling books frequently have been made into movies, and popular video games increasingly are turning into Hollywood fare.

But finding a connection between books and video games is far less common, although not unprecedented.

"The stuff that makes a book work is that it has the authority of `this is what actually happened,'" said science-fiction author Orson Scott Card. "What makes a game work is that the player is the guy who decides what happens. Of course, the actions are completely guided by the game's designers, but the player has the illusion that he is making choices.

"That is the opposite of what goes on in fiction," said Card, who is best known for his "Ender's Game" series of novels.

At the end of May, Card began messing with those illusions with the release of "Advent Rising," an action/adventure game published by Majesco Entertainment Corp. for Xbox game consoles and PC computers.

Card is not the only popular novelist to become involved in game creation. Though author participation is unusual, it is a growing trend.

Gamemakers "are looking for experienced and talented authors and script writers to move the art forward," said Andrew McNamara, editor in chief of Game Informer Magazine.

To date, games have been created based on the works of such science-fiction and fantasy novelists as Piers Anthony, Terry Brookes and Terry Pratchett.

More recently, Atari Games worked with author Dale Brown to create "Act of War," which was released simultaneously as a game and a novel.

But the most popular author involved in games is Tom Clancy, who founded Red Storm Studios. The development house has created such games as "Rainbow Six," "Splinter Cell" and "Ghost Recon," which are inspired by Clancy's work.

Ubisoft Entertainment SA, the French gamemaker that publishes the Clancy titles, has sold more than 8 million games in the "Ghost Recon" series, more than 10 million games from the "Splinter Cell" series and 8 million "Rainbow Six" games.

"Advent Rising" is not based on a novel by Card. The concept was created by Utah-based GlyphX Games, the development house for the game. Though it is interactive entertainment, the people creating "Advent Rising" see it as a serious work of science fiction. They asked Card to join the project hoping that he would bring novel-writing sensibilities to their game.

According to Card, the differences between the process of writing a book and creating a computer game are enormous.

"I can do a book alone," said Card. "I have an unlimited effects budget, don't need an art department and whatever I say, goes. I get suggestions from editors, but if I don't decide to take them, I don't take them.

"In a game, you just can't do that. Nobody has that kind of authority, not even Donald Mustard [director of `Advent Rising']. He still has to adapt his story to fit what is possible and what can be done in a reasonable amount of time. That is just the reality of game production."

"Advent Rising" takes place in a futuristic universe in which the human race is all but extinct. In this universe, humans are seen as legendary creatures with mythic powers. When an outpost of humans is discovered, chaos erupts, as different races react to the news with emotions ranging from fear to awe.

The main character in "Advent Rising" is Gideon Wyeth, a human who begins to discover psychic abilities and powers that lie dormant within the human mind. Though players begin the game using guns and weapons, they eventually develop psychic abilities that are far more powerful.

Card, who helped develop the story, wrote the dialog and directed voice-recording sessions for "Advent Rising," has been involved in computer games since their beginnings.

"I've been dabbling in the field for a long time, as far back as the Atari and Commodore 64 days," said Card. "I wrote a column about game programming for Ahoy Magazine, but this was back when you were doing it in Atari Basic or Commodore 64 Basic.

"When the IBM PC took over, and the Atari and Commodore 64 died, that was it for me. So I was out, but I kept my hand in reviewing."

Card did not leave the computer-game industry entirely. He continued to work with Lucasfilm Games, where he consulted or helped with several games, including such classics as "Loom" and "Monkey Island."

Card believes that book and game writing are acts of co-creation between the author and his audience.

"When I write books, the reader is actually constructing all of my sets, casting the movie in their mind, putting faces on people, doing all kinds of participation. The difference is that the one thing they do not get to do is decide what happens and why," said Card.

"In games, all of the milieu is presented for the player. It's all there, but the decisions [that the player makes] about what happens and why is in flux."

By Steven L. Kent
Chicago Tribune