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Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Video Games into Books

A Brazilian magazine asked me to write a short article about turning video games into books. This is what I sent them:

Having labored to bring the video game ASSASSIN’S CREED from the game-screen into the world of novels, I have a few suggestions:

1) Note the basic image systems of the game’s world. Magic? Technology? Time? Place?
2) Note whatever can be determined about the personality of the lead character(s). What they do, especially in the cut scenes, is more important than the game play, which may reflect the personal choices of the gamer more than the intentions of the creators.
3) Consider that the game is limited by the need for continuous forward action. Take a look at some of the 007 games. How do they relate to the movies? How does the game play vary? More exposition and “down time” in the movies. More interstitial material, time for romance, etc. The game follows a movie’s action line, only.
4) Remember that the book can only simulate the action of a game to a degree. Don’t try to imitate a game’s constant action-action-action or you’ll create a terrible piece of work.
5) Write the book AS IF IT CAME FIRST. Think “they wrote this game based on my book” rather than the other way around.
6) Character and Situation and plot must all dovetail. Think of Character and plot as heads and tails of the same coin. Whatever you can determine about either, make them fit.
7) Use the game as visual reference. Get as much of the original research from the gaming company as possible.
8) Remember that your audience is BOTH gamers and readers. You are straddling a fine line.
9) Remember that from the perspective of the gaming company, you are just creating an advertisement for their game. You will have to make them happy, and simultaneously create something that furthers your career.
10) Make certain the game company has done their research. With ASSASSIN’S CREED, Ubisoft forgot to ask the actual descendants of the Hashashiyyin for permission. Oops. They got a very nervous-making visit from some polite Middle-Eastern gentlemen who lectured them on cultural misappropriation. As a result, the entire book project was cancelled.
11) A corollary to the above: get paid in advance. I was.
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And the Question of the day: how can one reconcile the requirements of Art and Commerce?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

"how can one reconcile the requirements of Art and Commerce?".

Burma Shave.

Think about it.

Sean said...

As a reader and gamer I loved 1-10

As a creator (although not a writer) I LOVED 11

:)

Mar said...

You are the guru on how can one reconcile the requirements of Art and Commerce! Get paid in advance.
I will be asking myself: What Would Steve Do? :-)

Anonymous said...

"Make certain the game company has done their research. With ASSASSIN’S CREED, Ubisoft forgot to ask the actual descendants of the Hashashiyyin for permission. Oops. They got a very nervous-making visit from some polite Middle-Eastern gentlemen who lectured them on cultural misappropriation. As a result, the entire book project was cancelled"

I'm confused. Why would anyone need permission from the descendants to make a game? Shouldn't that be fair use by now? If someone makes a game about Crusaders would they have to hunt down every last single Crusader descendant? That's a lot of folks.. =)

steve-vh said...

Well done on #11! Although I was looking forward to the book, good on your part.

Steven Barnes said...

Legally, you don't need it. The conversation made Ubisoft very nervous, no doubt having visions of Islamic extremists blowing up cars. There was NO overt threat, although the gentlemen did mention that, while THEY were reasonable, some of their followers were more...prickly. Ubisoft made their own decision, without direct outside pressure. I notice that ALL of the original people I dealt with at Ubisoft seem to have moved on to other jobs. There are multiple ways to look at this, but you have to factor in the fact that the country with the greatest propaganda machine the world has ever seen has felt perfectly sanguine depicting other cultures any way they want. Massive, gigantic, pervasive propaganda, often making moeny by playing to the prejudices of their audience. If members of another culture use implied pressure to modify some of this, I can only laugh. Good for them: I have no sympathy at all.

Sean said...

Steve -

would you ever consider seeing one of your creations brought to life as animation as opposed to live action?

just wondering

Steven Barnes said...

Sure. In fact, an old friend and master animation director has begun a line of conversation concerning just that.

Erik said...

Can you clarify where you see the requirements of commerce and art being mutually exclusive or at odds with each other? Or even different things?

What are the requirements of art and commerce? The more I look at the question I focus on "the requirements of" and question my understanding.

Also -- hi Steve, hi everyone!

Erik Wingren said...

Reading back through some older posts I see where you've said there is no conflict, and make some good comments about the nature of those things.. last July I think it was. Thanks!