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  1. Video Game Novels: Why Are They So Difficult to Get Right?

    #618102013-07-30 03:36:47 *DarkChaplain said:

    It is probably pointless to try and get this discussion to work, but I'll try anyway.

    Anybody who has read a few Video Game Novels, be they adaptions, prequels, sequels or spinoffs, should have noticed by now that they are very hit and miss.

    Some can be pretty solid, or even very satisfying, but most fall flat on their faces sooner or later, with amateurish writing, plot inconsistencies, inaccurate depection of game lore or established characters or simply making no sense at all when read on their own.

    And time and again I ask myself: WHY?! Why is it so god-damn difficult for authors to get the things right? Why feels the first chapter of a Splinter Cell novel so lackluster, like a very bad fanfiction retelling the game? Why are the Darksiders novel's action scenes feeling so... weak and sloppy? Why are the mass effect novels so full of lore errors and contradictions, despite representing similar events you can hear about in the games?
    The list goes on and on.

    There are also novels which can stand well on their own and have vision, like Deus Ex: Icarus Effect, which I have not read but heard very good things about from fellow reviewers. James Swallow was heavily involved in writing the Human Revolution game, and so he wrote a prequel novel to that, which now got a follow-up in the iOS game The Fall. His novel appears to be solid, doing its own thing while staying intertwined with things from the game.

    Bioshock's Rapture novel is written in a very interesting way, using a writing style fitting of the post-world war 2 setting, creating a somehow believable stage for the creation of the city under the sea.

    I'll propose a theory, I guess. One of the most frequent complaints about video game novels are inconsistencies with the game, the lore etc. I feel most of that could be avoided by a stronger bond between the game's writers and the author of the adaption. James Swallow did well with Deus Ex, John Shirley did well with Bioshock. The problem comes when the game receives a sequel which invalidates content from the first game(s), retcons things shown in the book, or when the books become too ambitious, trying to interpret things in a way the games never intended them to be interpreted.

    Now, we can't do shit about retcons. They happen, and they happen often. Some are subtle, others are more obvious. Especially since novels get mostly written to accompany a new game, and a lot of things can change throughout game development, those things happen. However, I feel that this could be very well avoided if the novel author and the game's writer were to work together more effectively.

    But what about the oftentimes shitty, amateurish writing? Why does Ubisoft put a huuuuge Tom Clancy's tag on their Splinter Cell novels, when Clancy hasn't done anything with the IP in forever, but letting his name outstrip the author, who the novel was outsourced to? Who do they think can they fool by drawing attention to Clancy, as a popular author, when the writing inside is so weak?
    We assign editors to authors for a good reason, but either they don't care, don't do their jobs properly or don't have any clue of the material being written about either - but why don't they consult the actual writers of the games for help and/or assistance? I honestly don't get it.


  2. #618122013-07-30 04:02:59--Jack-- said:

    I have read Halo:The Fall of Reach but not many other books that have been made after a video game. I thought it was a good book, but I enjoy the sci-fi genre of books already so that is a bit biased. I think the main problem is the fact that videogames can have a good story but the appreciation is not only the story, it's also the action and interactive nature coupled with it. I think it could be one of two things:

    • The writers of the story have played it and think they understand the story enough without going to the game developers and writers of the game. Lacking story experience and just gameplay used...bad move.

    or maybe...

    • The writers of the story hadn't played the game and went to the writers and developers, but continued to have no gaming experience. Lack of gaming experience and only the story used...bad move.
  3. #618152013-07-30 05:46:47MrTingles said:

    I have some experience with tie-in novels, namely a few of the Halo series a friend had back in high school, as well as some of the AssCreed novels and even one of the Starcraft ones.

    While they were entertaining to read, and did flesh out some of the characters and locales, (especially the Starcraft one I happened to read), they weren't always top-tier writing. Some of the Halo ones especially had a problem of having forced comedy bits that may have worked in-game, but fell somewhat flat in writing.

    However, this is just my opinion, and some people may find those same books to be pretty good, so...yeah.

  4. #618172013-07-30 07:56:05DarkChaplain said:

    Well, technically, Black Library's Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 novels are tie-in fiction, but they go far beyond what the tabletop game does, often disregarding rules in favor of telling a compelling story based on the fluff.
    They're also creating new lore, expanding on the grey areas, retelling events but adding more to them.

    The Horus Heresy series has expanded from being based on almost ancient lore bits which were reassembled into a cohesive whole for art/background books, to a steamtank of its own. 25 books out, countless short stories, event exclusive anthologies, special edition novellas, more than a dozen audio dramas, and they're only about halfway done.
    They've long since moved on from just representing the background that was known and are brainstorming a lot behind the scenes with the original creators, penning new twists and events, weaving them into the background. Heck, they've succeeded so well, they have spawned a separate tabletop ruleset based on the books!

    There are authors that build up the world with their original characters, and those who interpret characters from the tabletop game, building on their existing background material (which may reach up to 25+ years back and has developed over time) and expanding on them.

    While there are novels which are utter dreck, like Battle for the Abyss in the Horus Heresy series, or C.S.Goto's... everything, the quality standards have risen steadily over the years, and new talents are being brought in. Authors who are PASSIONATE about the background, the game and the universe. Those are the people who will go out of their way to try and write something great for the universe they love.

    I don't feel like video game novels are written by the same kind of passionate people in most cases...

  5. #618182013-07-30 08:03:51Kirn said:

    Let's see... I guess, my experience with those books would be unimpressive, cause I usually won't read books like that. Still, when I was a huge Halo fan, I red three Halo books. Those were the prequel to Halo 1, the book that pretty much described the game events and the third one was about things between Halo 1 and Halo 2.

    In my opinion... well, the books did serve their purpose. They expanded the Halo world and they were a good enough read for a fan. But that's it. In sci-fi genre there are, naturally, way better books, and if you wanna read about soldiers in fancy armor, you would first turn to Robert A. Heinlein, and not to any game book.

    My opinion - those books work best if you are already fan of the games they describe or refer to. Otherwise... might be a pretty big miss, I guess.

  6. #618192013-07-30 08:32:49hellstorm901 said:

    I liked the Halo novels as Kirn put. They explained what happened before the games. During the games. Between the games and currently the new couple of books are explaining what is happening after the games events. They also don't just show the protagonist of the games. The books give you average Marines. Civilians. Naval personnel. Spartan II's and spartan III's and the Covenant who given a very interesting point of view. The game sets the Covenant up as enemies with no hearts but the book makes clear they respect Humanity and admire them even if they have to kill them.

    A book that I did find a bit off was the Command and Conquer novel. That was a mixed bag that helped to open up the C&C Tiberium Wars universe more but also suffered from trying to turn an RTS into an action novel. The parts of brilliance you get in that novel are the parts featuring a civilian reporter who shows us a "Blue zone" and a "Yellow zone" and how things are different between them which help to explain why more people are joining Nod and hating the GDI.

  7. #618672013-08-01 09:34:47DarkChaplain said:

    Yes. Calling tie-in fiction "fanfics" is factually wrong.

    There's a huge difference between "Sasuke put his wiener into Naruto's behind" and a paid, licensed author who writes stories based on games or movies, and goes through editors and license holders before being published.

    You may try publishing a fanfic-novel, go ahead. You won't get far, though, as you don't even have the legal rights to release it. And don't be deceived - the original creators/rights holders won't simply nod off every piece of shit story.

    So yes, I expect those licensed novels to be good. The authors are not complete novices in most cases, and they've got professional tools at their disposal.

  8. #619322013-08-02 16:10:35hellstorm901 said:

    I guess the real issue with the quality and even quantity of Video Game novels actually comes from the jack arses in the board room. When they have a winning game that's gaining mass support they have a couple options in front of them on how they next proceeed and in what order they do and usually rather than say something like "Lets have a novel made" and trying to expand on what they've got going or even as in the case of Halo. Decide to expand their universe into prequels they instead look at the Game with big dollar eyes and just say "DLC" or ""Expansion pack" and send everyone off to go and make pointless addons to the game which somehow still makes them more money even when they're shit. Few gaming companies look at their successful title and say "Before we do anything else lets get a novel made of this."

    Another reason for this is the whole apparent decline of literature in the modern society. People apparently (Seriously companies and the government claim this but I've never seen fucking statistics) are reading less but watching more which is a giant factor in companies not putting much effort into their Video Game novels when they see it as a dying industry and instead just making more content that can be stuck in a PC, Xbox or PS3 etc.

    There's also the issue that writers. even if they claim so in the authors notes. May not actually be harden fans of what they are writing for which could explain things like continuity errors. There's no real way to measure how in touch a writer is with a Video Game they are writing about when the qualifications of writers are measured on what they've written in the past and any wall dressing diplomas and so on they might have in Literature. There's no qualification for how big a fan you are...Only T-Shirts.

    And finally I assume a reason for companies not getting their novels based on games right is trying to reflect what you've seen in the game into literature form which sometimes can be quite difficult my example of the Command and Conquer novel is one. But this is difficult to really prove. I mean the X - Series tie in novels (Including many fan-fiction which have been including as bonus content in the official Super Box) are based on a time sync space simulator where for real life hours nothing might happen of interest yet writers (Again who are elevated fans) have managed to accurately transform that into interesting written stories that arguably might surpass some things written by actual writers brought in to make official game novels.

    So It's really hard to say where the fault for the quality of Video Game novels lies.