Top 10 Books That Should Be Made Into Games

Top 10 Books That Should Be Games

Say no to movie adaptations!

We see the leap from silver screen to TV screen and the hot little diodes of your PS3 or Xbox all the time… but why don’t we see more taken straight from literature? There’s been a few examples, but none have really stood the test of time, and far too many have simply been money-spinners aimed to tack the Greenback on to whatever other media is doing the rounds… **cough** Harry Potter **cough**.

Below are ten books that have had an impact on me, and I think would make superb games. Feel free to comment, agree, disagree, or lambaste me. Healthy debate is what life is all about!

Sabriel (book one of the Old Kingdom trilogy) by Garth Nix

This is the first book I ever read while thinking, “This would make a kickass game!” and is the reason that the idea for this Top 10 came to me. The premise for the trilogy lends itself extremely well to the medium and could be used to create a masterful adventure-fantasy RPG. There’s no movie adaptation of Sabriel or the sequels Lirael and Abhorsen yet, but I should imagine the rights belong to someone somewhere and that a screenplay has been considered. A game could be the next logical step, as we have seen with many other examples.

The Abhorsen is responsible for the control of the Dead. When the Dead break through from their world into the world of the Abhorsen (which is itself separated from a less magical world by a large wall) it is the Abhorsen’s responsibility to reign them in and send them back using one of a set of nine bells, each with their own names and personalities. This is just one part of the action – the ability to control the Dead with these bells: one bell sends the Dead to sleep, for example, while another is used to ‘bind’ them. Each bell could be obtained on a different character level, so the player could only control relatively weak “Deadhands” with the smallest (and most easily obtained) bell. The bells would need to be earned.

The Abhorsen also has a sword (what self-respecting fantasy RPG character doesn’t?). Carved on the blade are “Charter marks,” – text from the Charter that controls magic. Charter marks offer another angle, where they are drawn by the Abhorsen to perform certain tasks, as Nix describes. The Wii and DS would be great platforms for this functionality.

I really could just go on and on about this one… but I won’t.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Discworld games have already appeared for some platforms. Despite this, the Discworld is one literary creation begging to be more fully utilised in the games market. I’m seeing RPGs, of course, but more than that: SimCity-style Ankh-Morpork builders, real-time strategy games bringing Klatch against Ankh, Guild of Assassin-linked action adventure games…so much could be done. The Discworld and the lovingly designed Ankh-Morpork will look just gorgeous rendered in the powerful 3D engines now at the disposal of developers.

Guards! Guards! centres on Sam Vimes, captain of the City Watch. Central to the action is the breeding of dragons, and the appalling state of Ankh-Morporkian policing. Let’s see Sam Vimes or one of his small, incompetent team pull their socks up and get their finger on the grimy wrist of Ankh-Morpork to feel her pulse and clean things up.

Imagine a kind of reverse Grand Theft Auto. The crime that goes on in the Discworld is fantastic by nature, so the City Watch needs to respond in kind. This would make a superb action-adventure game and would provide a vehicle for some solid comedy. Throw in some magic and, yes, some dragons, and the Guards! Guards! game is one we’ll all want to get our hands on.

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

There was no way a list like this could be complete without including at least one from the master of horror. Stephen King’s output as an author is as inhuman as some of his best-known and most feared characters and among his work is a wealth of action that could be used in video games. The story of a town slowly being taken over by vampires and the fight-to-survive mentality of an out-of-town writer and a young boy (the only two who get out of the Lot alive) is ripe shoot-‘em-up material.

It’s a no brainer, really, and developers would need to tread carefully to avoid making a Resident Evil rip-off, but between the two playable characters – each with very different abilities (maybe a grown up can bust through a half-tumbled wall in an old barn, but a kid can crawl into a much smaller space) – and the town very slowly being won over by the vampires, I think there’s plenty to work with.

The slow creep of evil over the town is most of what makes ‘Salem’s Lot so scary, and this could be implemented in the game fairly easily: let the atmosphere drip like in Silent Hill and let the bodies come apart like so many first-person shooters before it.

Rocco by Sherryl Jordan

This tale of a boy transported into the post-apocalyptic future by Kiwi author Sherryl Jordan wouldn’t translate directly into a game storyline, but some of the conceptual stuff (his dreaming of it all before he finds himself there and his learning to live with a hunter-gatherer tribe) could make for some cool themes.

What would look great in a game adaptation is the lead up to Rocco’s transportation, in which he sees flashes of the world where he will soon live. Despite the fact he finds something to like in cave living and manages to hook up, Rocco still wants to get home. This is one of my all-time favourite New Zealand books and would relish the opportunity to help him on his way in a system where the world could really come to life. And Rocco is an accomplished archer, so there’s your original take on weaponry.

Tomorrow, When the War Began (book one of the Tomorrow series) by John Marsden

An epic series, involving two popular game themes: war and espionage. Six Australian kids living in a backcountry town, fighting an unknown enemy, is certainly uncut turf when it comes to video gaming.

Six main characters give a lot of scope for character playability, and the diary style of the Tomorrow series means that the story is linear enough to have a clear beginning and end. Game chapters could be introduced by cut scene or voice-over. This assumes a Goldeneye-cum-Metal Gear Solid fusion of gunplay and puzzle solving.

A popular device used by Marsden is the kids’ nutting out a plan to blow something up and then following it through on the sly. Add to this a whole town deserted except for the enemy, and the end goal of saving an entire country whose land is girt by sea, and you’ve got a brand new mission-based covert-ops game on your hands.

Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury

When you saw this in cinemas (yes, it was a book first) you just know you were thinking about how boss it would be to grab a bat and join the fray down there on the Five Points. Well, the book goes into a lot more depth than the movie. This game could be a first person beat-‘em-up or an arcade style deal similar to the ancient but classic Double Dragon. Moving your forces around old New York could also look and play fantastically as a territorial strategy/war game in the same vein as the PC’s Close Combat series.

But it doesn’t stop at Plug Uglies and Dead Rabbits: Asbury’s work follows the evolution of the gangs right up until the early 1900s, just before the influx of Italian immigrants gave rise to the Mafia. This would be an interesting take on the gangster mythology that has sprung up around this very real, very scary base. We have our Italian mafia games already – let’s see the Irish have a go.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

A pint-sized criminal mastermind who manages to steal fairy magic is game fodder – plain and simple. But it’s imperative any developer who picks this up (and the film rights are sold, so a game might not be too far away) doesn’t fall into the trap as EA did with some of those woeful Harry Potter games. The reason I draw the comparison is that the books were hot tickets around the same time and both dealt with magic.

There are two decent avenues here: one, play as the LEP Recon agent Holly Short as she fights to re-secure the secrets of her kind or, two, play as Artemis Fowl as he seeks to subvert the power of the fairies to his own ends. This game would probably be aimed at a pretty young audience, but would look great as an action-adventure or 3D platformer. What I’m seeing in my head is a Banjo-Kazooie style, non-linear game, focusing on tricky little puzzles and cartoon battles.

The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King series) by T H White

The legend of King Arthur has appeared in many guises – variations on the classic story in books and film, as well as complicated and often unsuccessful allegories. The general idea of a hero being chosen by a divine force (here, a sword embedded in a rock that can only be drawn by a true leader) has been done over and over in video games, but what strikes me about this series isn’t this worn theme or even the main character.

Merlyn the magician, the young king’s tutor, lives his life backwards through time. The first time you meet Merlyn, he’s essentially saying goodbye to you. He can tell you what will happen to you tomorrow (he was just there the day before) but yesterday is still in his future. It’s a complicated sort of a story to get your head around, but the idea of a fantasy RPG in which you’re working back to the beginning of the plot to stop a tragic event is a fine one.

Cameos by Sir Pellinore and Glatistant the Questing Beast, and some grand old Arthurian swordplay, magic and rich forests and fields will add depth. And don’t forget the falconry!

Clave of the Cave Bear (book one of the Earth’s Children series) by Jean M. Auel

This was the only one in her epic six book series that was worth the time of day. The game would have to centre on Ayla, a Cro-Magnon girl who gets separated from her people following an earthquake and winds up living with a group of Neanderthals (Clan of the Cave Bear is set in the Upper Paleolithic era). This was a time of woolly mammoths and (according to Auel) deep superstitions.

The hunter-gatherer theme has been dealt with by Age of Empires, but a game based on this book would need to stick to one period in time, so a Clan of the Cave Bear game could go a lot deeper. An Oregon Trail-type survival game could work, with Ayla travelling with the Neanderthals as she seeks out her own family again. In the book, she becomes a dab hand with the sling, so there’s some interesting scope for little hunting interludes and protecting her caravan. The Shaman Creb would have to be included, and with today’s technology, the European Steppes of an Earth long given up to history could be incredibly detailed.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

Before a certain young wizard went to Hogwarts to learn all there was to know about making feathers float and stopping the world’s most evil wizard with a heady mix of friendship and love and cuddles, Le Guin had her characters attaching themselves to wizards as apprentices. This would actually be a much more effective way to learn about magic than a school with sentient trees and too many secret corridors to count.

A young apprentice unleashes a darkness into the world of Earthsea when he dabbles in matters well outside his minimum wage pay scale and has to set about putting it right. Le Guin is one of the world’s most widely read and greatly respected authors of fantasy and sci-fi and plenty of her books would only need a little bit of a fiddle before they could be translated to games. A Wizard of Earthsea, though, needs even less than most.

Photo used courtesy of Mary Pack


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Comments Comments (20)

Posted by bahamut_zero
On Saturday 19 Jul 2008 7:53 AM
Hmmm...I think I need to do more reading as I haven't read most of those books you mentioned. I have however read Salems Lot to come to think of it, that would make an awesome game. It could even be a cross between a RE game and Castlevania.

I have also read a series of books called the Last Rune which would make a good RPG.
Posted by Geng1s
On Saturday 19 Jul 2008 9:15 AM
i havent read a book since i started playing videogames :( that was a long long time ago. I wouldnt mind seeing some stephen king adapted games. A zombie game for the ps3 wouldnt go a miss.
Posted by ojanzi
On Saturday 19 Jul 2008 5:38 PM
Dragon Drums by Anne Maccfrey ,
Console -Playstation3, need the extra power as story is very indepth

You play as a young vocal student at the master harper hall whose life one day falls apart when his voice breaks weeks before a majour gather(fair),facing the fact that he may be sent back to his poor family in shame, it is only his quick wits & resourcefulness that lead you to realise that what you thought was a education facility, is a front for a national inteligence organisation into which you are willingly absorbed
Think medieval Canis Canem>MIB> with dragons & fire lizards instead of aliens, best as a strategy/fantasy/rpg game with the ability to upgrade character details towards becoming the new Masterharper of pern
Grunt of God
Posted by Grunt of God
On Sunday 20 Jul 2008 1:15 PM
Yeah, The Old Kingdom Trilogy would make a great game! Ofcourse you could have hours of fun using that bell that makes people dance, simple pleasures.
Posted by Genocide
On Sunday 20 Jul 2008 5:45 PM
I can see them killing the Tomorrow series though.
Posted by Araeyla
On Sunday 20 Jul 2008 9:36 PM
Guards! Guards! would be phenomenal. I didn't like him much for Discworld Noir. Seeing as his daughter works in game design maybe we should mention it...haha. Last thing I heard she was working on a Prince of Persia game.
Posted by ImBillPardy
On Monday 21 Jul 2008 12:37 AM
Stpehen King < Dean Knootz < Clive Baker (Jericho had a solid story, its not his fault)
Posted by Chris Redfield
On Tuesday 22 Jul 2008 9:17 AM
Posted by plaugeman
On Tuesday 22 Jul 2008 10:40 AM
excellent article!!
I belive the entire clan of the cave bear series could be adapted - just leave out the boring bits. I also noticed that there are no Sci-Fi titles in the article?
Posted by gaaarry
On Wednesday 23 Jul 2008 2:06 PM
K is for Killing by Daniel Easterman would great action game.
Posted by Mriceguy
On Wednesday 23 Jul 2008 2:19 PM
I really wanted a Tomorrow When The War Began movie but John Marsden didn't buy into it as he thought it wouldn't do the novel justice...
Posted by Ysolla
On Wednesday 23 Jul 2008 2:20 PM
So I've just added several books to the 'Must Read' list.
I've often thought Monster Blood Tattoo would be a good one. Again, without the boring bits. Like growing up etc. RPG, Diablo II style. Pick from two types of manipulated warrior and fight bogles of all descriptions. Discover said bogles are actually pretty dense and not vicious, uncover sinister plot by bogle-killing institution. Fix sinister plot. Kill people. Hmmm.
Posted by McPhisto
On Wednesday 23 Jul 2008 2:30 PM
I still feel the Wheel of Time could be made into something interesting. I never did play the game they made of it with the Unreal engine - does anyone know if it was actually any good?
Posted by Koopa18
On Wednesday 23 Jul 2008 3:57 PM
I think that the "Tonorrow" series could be really good if they made the game play through actual days.

So that search patrols come out at certain times, you are more likely to be spotted in the day, certain missions at night, etc.

Not like Animal Crossing days, though. Harvest Moon days.
Posted by dragnew
On Wednesday 23 Jul 2008 4:21 PM
I think that A Song of Ice and Fire would make an excellent strategy game in the vein of the Total War series. Epic battles, bloodlines and diplomacy, what more could you want from a Medieval RTS?
Posted by mac
On Thursday 24 Jul 2008 9:04 PM
It would be pretty interesting to have Artemis Fowl as a gaming character!!
Posted by BlackRetina
On Friday 15 Aug 2008 2:02 PM
Tomorrow when the War Began, Clave of the Cave Bear and Gangs of New York all sound sweet. Tomorrow series of books was win!
Posted by renegade230
On Thursday 23 Oct 2008 8:25 PM
or what about eragon. i know its already a game but it was crap. im thinking like a oblivion style game. That would be SICK!
Posted by K1500
On Friday 23 Jan 2009 2:20 PM
Interesting idea but really most book to game conversions are abject failures. The main reason is simple, "story", which is what books are generally about, and which games have yet to quite grip how too deliver.

Look at what was lauded as the height of story telling in the last couple of years releases - particulary GTA IV and Mass Effect. Both were praised for their strong stories but in reality the stories were only strong in comparrison to other games - as opposed to other story telling formats. Mass Effects story wouldn't be touched by a publisher if it hadn't been a game (pretty second rate sci-fi) and GTAIV's supposed story was delivered in such a disjointed way that you couldn't really empathise with it. Certainly the characters in GTA IV were some of the most realistic (not graphically) characters we've seen in a game, but they still failed to actually string those characters together into something coherent and memorable.

The other point is that by their nature, books are a linear experience - and the current trends in gaming are definatley moving away from the linear designs. This is great from a gaming point of view, but from a story telling perspective it makes it very difficult to actually drive the story and maintain the targets interest.

Interesting column either way - would have expected more Sci-Fi to be honest though.
Posted by simcharles
On Saturday 9 May 2009 6:06 PM
I once read Artemis Fowl.

I think it should be made into a movie.