Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hemingway In HD - "The Sun Also Rises" Videogame

It's always been a trend for Hollywood to turn books into movies and make more cash, but these days doing it to comic books makes a good donation to the "buy us a tiger" fund.  Another trend is to turn those same comic book movies into poor tie-in video games.  I never got the point myself.  Movie tie-in games are always savaged by critics - do these guys really think they're going to make back on the game what they dumped into it?  Though judging by how cheap they look, "a penny for your thoughts" sounds like their ideal profit margin.

Of course, movie tie-in games sell because of the movie.  And the book sells because of the movie as well.  So why don't we skip the middle man?  Let's turn a book into a video game.  A novel, not a comic.  Even better - let's go with a book that, at first glance, doesn't seem like it'd make a very good game at all.  Can we change that?  More importantly...can we sell it?

I'll prove we can with The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway.  (Which isn't as patronizing of a title as Leaves of Grass Are Green, by the Walt Whitman of an alternate jackass universe.)

I'm pretty sure this is how Hemingway saw the world every time he left Sloppy Joe's Bar.

Now, can this game sell in a mainstream market?  No.  God no.  But since we're bypassing the marketing vehicle of a feature film, a niche audience is the best we can do anyway.  But can we sell enough to get gas money for the entire station?  With the right marketing, plus the advent of downloadable gaming, I think it's possible.

We'd obviously need solid game design to make this work, but a strong script is also key.  It needs to be strong because we're going to flesh out the world beyond the book, so we need writers who can ape Hemingway's style (and hopefully knows to stop before aping his four-drink minimum).  Since games are a visual medium, we can also get away with Hemingway's "iceberg theory", where layers of subtext are implied in subtle cues and words.

And, of course, we need a smidge of totally neccessary ass-kicking montages.

Good thing The Sun Also Rises provides characters for both ends.  The narrator, Jake Barnes, is a journalist working in Paris after World War II.  Since we find out he did a biographical sketch of his friend Robert Cohn, we've got a gameplay goal all set - complete the profiles of every character and location in the game.  By speaking to characters, uncovering clues, and even solving some puzzles, Jake Barnes's story is definitely not inspired by Professor Layton in any way, and don't try saying otherwise - one call and he'll unearth the skeletons in your closet, after which they'll be buried again on Yahoo News.

...didn't I play this on Newgrounds once?

Speaking of brutal violence, that Robert Cohn character I mentioned is perfect for the role.  In the novel he beats the tar out of a few people, so I foresee his story being one of choice.  You can either have Robert give in to his beliefs like he does in the novel or have him ignore the transgressions on his "honor".  That might be hard when confronting some characters, though.  They might antagonize you, or move on your woman, or in the case of Mike Campbell, just be cursed to act Scottish.

And that's what would make this kind of game stand out.  In The Sun Also Rises, everyone kinda meanders everywhere.  The book's about being aimless, insecure.  You can definitely play the game like that if you want, or you can take charge and change the outcome of the tale.  This wouldn't be a major selling point - people came here for a game, not some artsy Cannes Film Festival B-roll - but it'd be a neat little bonus.

Of course, the fact that The Sun Also Rises has an aimless narrative thrust might not work well in a game structure.  There's usually one last big puzzle to solve, one big health bar to wear down.  But this game could have that - a tough final profile for Jake, an imposing "Punch-me-for-prizes" figure for Robert to box.  Adaptations don't have to be spot on - there's a goal here to work towards like in all games.  The point is the presentation.

And we all know this is exactly how the Pedro Romero fight needs to be done.

But at the end of the day...could you sell The Sun Also Rises, The Game?  With the right emphasis, sure.  The closest genre this game fits in is the adventure game genre, so emphasize the unique environment, the characters, and the two gameplay styles.  Don't rely on the book's name to sell copies.  Dante's Inferno hilariously included the book on the game CD, when the only people who bought it just wanted God of War: Dirge of The Squandered Paycheck.  You're not selling to the mainstream here.  You can't.  Find who would like this game, and play to them.

It'd take a bold game company to move ahead with this kind of idea.  Fair enough.  But do it strategically and it won't bust.  That requires the creativity the video game industry is known for.

(NOTE: Every day, thousands of people are cursed to be Scottish.  With your help, we can help these people resume normal, un-Scottish lives.  Donate now so we can find a cure for being Scottish as well as other unfortunate conditions, like how I live in Florida.)


  1. Yeah, I hate how little effort seems to go into book-movies and book-movie-games. I'm still waiting and praying the Hunger Games movie is good, and not the usual trash. If it is good, I'd be overjoyed to see a game of it.

  2. If Watchmen could cut it, I bet the Hunger Games could.

  3. I just hope that if they do make a game, you get to play Katniss in the Hunger Games, and not some "Let's bake with Peeta!" bullshit. I would stab so many people.

  4. I would like to see the bullfights to become a full-fleshed fight. Maybe have Jake punch out bulls as they approach him? Or a quick time event as he leaps from bull to bull to reach for that last beer?

  5. My God. Bull punching. Why did I not think of this before.