Books to Games: There Should Be More

Books are great. Video games are great. Most book-based video games aren't so great. Let's change that.

Why is it that most games based on books suck? Over the course of video game history, quite a few games have taken to books for source material. Very few have actually been highly successful. I think, with the talent and technology available today, that more excellent books can become great games. Let's first take a look at a series that is out that are great books, but terrible games, then I will assess a great series based on books, and lastly I will try and discern ways in which future titles can be made great with books as the source material, and I'll give an example.

The Bad: Harry Potter Series

Some can argue that these games are based on the movies, and not the books. This is true in some cases but they do take parts of the books that the movies leave out and add them into the games. While each game follows the main plot, there hasn't quite been a great game in the series. The highest rated on metacritic, not counting the LEGO games mind you, has a 77. The rest are below 70. The one that received a 77 was the second game in the series. It's the most explorable. You actually feel as though you are at Hogwarts, attending classes, playing Quidditch, and trying to figure out the mystery behind the mysterious voice in your head. It got things right.

Unfortunately the rest of the games did not hold up. They somehow got worse as the years went on. It's too bad because they had the potential to explode like the movies and books of the same names, but fell flat due to uninspired gameplay and too much of a focus on getting through the main plot than actually making a fun wizarding game.

The Good: The Witcher Series

Here's where things get interesting. While I haven't yet read the few books that have been translated to english, those that have enjoy them. CD Projekt Red has done an excellent job of making a great game with the source material. I don't know how closely they follow it but, from what I've read, the game Geralt has similar mannerisms and attitudes as his book counterpart. The two games that have been released have been very successful, with the second in the series being one of the best RPGs of all time. This May, the Witcher 3 comes out and is very high on my list of games I'm excited about. Hopefully this will prove to developers that if you are dedicated to representing a book, or series of books, in video game format that you can do a great job as long as you take the time to get to know the material and try to be as faithful to the core of the books, as opposed to simply making a game with the same name and not caring how good it is. 

The Future

Now that you've seen one example of each, here is my advice to developers on how a great game can come from a book series.

  1. Read. The simplest of the ways is to read the source material and get to know the universe on a personal level. Read everything you can and get to know the characters who may be the stars of the game, or just have cameos.
  2. Talk to the Author. This one is obvious as you need to obtain the rights to make a game from the property. However, a way to make the game great is to get even more insight into the world from none other than the source itself. It's a bonus if the author is a fan of video games as they will have a vested interest in making sure that the game is of similar quality to the books they have penned. 
  3. Make it your own. After learning as much as you can about the universe and the characters in it, then decide how you want to proceed. What type of game will fit the universe. Strategy? RPG? Action/Adventure? Take the time to plan out how the universe feels and the tone of the game. This plays into the art style, the music, and the gameplay. Once that's figured out, find a way to make it yours. Don't just go by what the author has said, find a way to make it a unique experience that the books can't offer. Make the story compelling, but don't just remake the book. I think that pure adaptations, while mostly impossible to pull off in a game, also makes for a boring game. If I wanted the same exact story, I would just read the book(s). As a consumer I want an experience and story that I can't get anywhere else. It's even better if the author helps pen a new story so that it can be considered canon, making it so that the most die-hard of fans will have to play it in order to get all the knowledge the universe has to offer. But don't let that destroy the vision.

An Example: The Lightbringer Series

A lot of you reading this may not be familiar with Brent Weeks and his works, but I am. In fact, he's my favorite author, and I've read all of his books, some multiple times(which is rare for me). His latest series is based in a world where colors are made into magic. If you're a fan of epic fantasy novels look into it. This would make for a gorgeous open-world, third-person, action/adventure RPG. There would be some difficulty in the combat system as there is a freeness in some of the magic that can be done, but there's also a set structure.

If executed correctly it could make for a very engaging RPG. Selecting which colors the player has access to, or having them participate in the test to determine that, would make for a very interesting way to create a custom character in such a unique way. There's even a card game that could be implemented via a Red Dead Redemption betting thing. Plenty of potential storylines that could have the player join in with the main characters of the books to be at pivotal moments in the storyline, or in moments the author had to cut. Maybe it's a prequel or a sequel in terms of timeline of events too. There's limitless potential for a game based in the Lightbringer universe, as well as countless other book series.

Hopefully we will see more games in the future that are made by developers who care about the actual material of the book as opposed to trying to sell based on the name. Let me know what books you'd like to see become games or other ways that developers could improve upon book-based games in the comments.

Featured Contributor

I have two goals in life. 1)Publish a novel and 2) write a questline in a core Elder Scrolls game. Until then, I spend my 9-5 performing IT support. The rest of my time is spent: playing games, going on hikes with my Wife and our Corgi, or planning D&D sessions that will never happen.

Published Jan. 17th 2015
  • Elijah Beahm
    Featured Columnist
    Another good example: Metro 2033. Unlike its sequel Last Light, 2033 so -gets- what being a novel is about, in game form. It has that exact same kind of pacing, narrative, and tone, all while being an excellent survival game on top of that.
  • Pierre Fouquet
    Featured Correspondent
    Brent Weeks also write the The Night Angel Trilogy, which actually reminds be a lot of Dishonoured and Thief, but with a lot less power than Durzo Blint or Kylar Stern. Would love to see that world as an open world RPG, not played as a named character but you get to pick a faction, and so where you start. From Guild Rats to Nobles you then get dragged into the Durzo/Kylar fight from any of those sides and end up fighting with them for whatever reason.
  • Zach Long
    Featured Contributor
    I enjoyed that series as well. I think something after the trilogy would be cool. Maybe even being able to choose to start as a noble and have Logan as your mentor or starting as a guild rat and working under Kylar, or joining the Sho'cendi or something. Definitely cool options for any of his works.
  • Stan Rezaee
    Featured Contributor
    This actually sounds like a good idea since too many games are based on movies while little are based on books. The formula has worked so well for book to game adaptations like Metro: Last Light and Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six. I would love to see a video game adaptation of The Dogs of War or Starship Troopers (while having nothing to do with the movie).
  • Zach Long
    Featured Contributor
    Yeah, I personally thing that most Sci-fi and Fantasy series would make for great worlds to explore in a game, especially without playing through the plot of the book.
  • Venisia Gonzalez
    Featured Columnist
    Nice piece!
  • Zach Long
    Featured Contributor
    Thank you.

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