Hollywood has a habit of adapting books into feature-length films and horribly massacring the source material in the process. Yeah, sure, it boils down to budget constraints — a book series has to be really popular and extraordinarily lucrative for it to be given big-screen justice, like “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings” —– but sometimes, you watch a film based on a book and wonder why they even tried, knowing ahead of time there was no conceivable way to put together a coherent tribute to the source material.
Video games, on the other hand, can really put you into the storyline — and the average length for action-adventure and RPGs is around 30+ hours. Which means that video games are a far more suitable platform for adapting from novels. In fact, some very successful video games were based on books — like “Metro 2033,” “Assassin’s Creed,” and “The Witcher,” just to name a few.
So without further ado, let’s examine some books that would make great video games.
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
Stephen King hailed the above sentence as one of his best opening lines ever written, and I’m inclined to agree — for all of its simplicity, it set the stage of the epic novel series that followed. The Dark Tower series is filled with not just the superb character-development King is known for but an incredibly gripping storyline with plenty of time-and-alternate-universe travel that connects so much of his other works.
An absolutely horrible film adaption was released in 2017 that paid almost no credible service to the novels — falling back on the age-old Hollywood excuse, “There’s no way we could’ve crammed five novels into a two-hour film, so we just threw all the source material out the window”. Thus, the film was missing about 99 percent of the source material — which means there were no lobstrosities chanting “dad-a-chum, dad-a-chee”, no 40-foot robot bear, no half-human half-spider Mordred Deschain … hell, two of the novel’s main characters weren’t even in the film.
All of the above is something a video game adaptation could remedy. Play as Roland Deschain, pursuing Walter O’Dim/Randall Flagg across the desert in the opening level. Blow lobstrosities to smithereens with your sandalwood revolvers, and shoot the satellite dish off the top of Shardik’s monstrous head. Protect the village of Calla Bryn Sturgis from the Wolves of Thunderclap invasion. There are so many awesome action scenes from the books that even a 14-hour game length, considered relatively short by today’s standards, would do the source material a fair bit of justice. Bonus points if we get an online multiplayer shooter mode with other players taking the roles of Eddie, Susannah, and Jake. Another option I’d love to see is a sandbox-style game based on this story, or even a simple browser multiplayer style game like Surviv.io, but with character names and locations.
The Outlander series of novels, which was adapted into a Starz network television series that still runs today, is a funny sort of pick for this list. The novels are a combination of time travel, medieval violence, and borderline-erotica love scenes.
The gist of the storyline is basically thus: Claire Randall, a former World War 2 nurse, accidentally steps through a cairn-stone time portal in Scotland and finds herself in 1743. She meets Jamie Fraser, a Highland warrior who, by the author’s descriptions, is basically the red-haired version of Hercules; Claire marries him and tries to use her futuristic knowledge of Scottish history to change the events of the Battle of Culloden, where Britain basically curb-stomped Scotland into submission. This is all in just the first novel, by the way, and there are eight of them total with a ninth being currently written.
The books, as I mentioned, are a fairly equal mixture of medieval violence and Claire making love with her Hercules-esque Highland warrior — the author is a female, after all — but as an adventure novel series with plenty of political plot and intrigue, it would make for an interesting video game adaption. While reading through the first novel, I kept thinking of the Stormcloak Rebellion from “The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim” — men in kilts trying to win independence from the foreign empire. If nothing else, Outlander would make a cool medieval RTS game.
“Shogun” is part of the Asian Saga by James Clavell, but each novel focuses on a different time period, although many characters between the books are connected by bloodline or political ties. “Shogun” takes place in 1600s feudal Japan and is really a fictionalized account of real-life sailor William Adams, the first English sailor to “discover” Japan, and the rise of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan from 1600 until 1868.
The book is filled with awesome samurai action, in-depth political intrigue, and great character development as John Blackthorne slowly adjusts to being pretty much the only white dude in feudal Japan. There was a television series based on the books back in the ’80s, and it actually stayed fairly loyal to the source material.
As a video game, it would certainly be interesting as an action-adventure RPG: exploring the remote regions of Japan, interacting with NPCs who treat you like a complete outsider, and just all of the fascinating history about that era in Japan.
Okay, we can’t say Hollywood exactly butchered this one — “Interview with a Vampire” was a great movie with superb performances by Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Antonio Banderas, although the sequel, “Queen of the Damned,” relied a bit heavily on Gothic nu-metal marketing (did we really need the lead singer of Korn to do the vocals for Lestat’s vampire-rock anthem?).
There is such a shortage of good vampire-based video games. The most prominent one that comes to mind is “Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines,” which was released in 2004. So a video game adaption of The Vampire Chronicles would ideally be the masterpiece that Bloodlines could’ve been if the project wasn’t mired in financial and deadline woes. I’m envisioning a first-person action-adventure RPG where you play as either Louis de Pointe du Lac, or Lestat de Lioncourt and basically just explore the vampire universe that Anne Rice put together throughout the series’ 12 novels.
This would basically be a combination of “Thief” and “Skyrim” — an open-world exploration game where you complete quests, join clans, and rise to the top of the vampire food-chain. Just please, no soundtrack by Korn.
“The Hellbound Heart” by Clive Barker
If you weren’t aware, the popular horror-film “Hellraiser” and its nine sequels were based on “The Hellbound Heart.” It’s kind of unfair to include this book on this list, because Hollywood hasn’t butchered the books — Clive Barker did a wonderful job directing the movies, since he was the original author. But this book really deserves a video game nonetheless, based sheerly on the creep-factor of the book’s premise.
In any case, Barker already has his name attached to two videogames — “Undying” and “Jericho” — but both of these video games were completely original scripts written by Barker for the sole purpose of the games. With the “Hellraiser” lore already being established and the book (and films) being as certifiably screwed up and freaky as they are, it’s hard to deny that “The Hellbound Heart” would make for a truly interesting video game adaption.
You’ve got a puzzle box. You’ve got grotesquely mutilated demons with a flair for sadomasochism. You’ve got interdimensional travel between our world and theirs. This seriously has “video game material!” slapped all over it. I’m imagining a linear-style survival horror where you basically get stalked by the Cenobites, travel to (and escape from) their hellish dimension, and trap them in the puzzle box. Short, sweet, to the point, and ultra-scary. Something halfway between the original “Silent Hill” series and “Amnesia: The Dark Descent,” gameplay-wise.