At a time when video games were mainly concerned with shooting space invaders, Adventure games were developed to provide a platform for creative people to tell stories in engaging and interactive ways. Two decades later and whilst the majority of video games are still concerned with shooting things (this time Russians), adventure games are still spinning yarns to a loyal, albeit niche audience. They may be largely traditional in structure, but during the recent quiet renaissance of the genre they have learnt to accept their shortcomings and embrace their strengths. After all, novels have been around for hundreds of years and their storytelling power is still quite apparent (not to mention universally accepted), and whilst most point and clicks aren’t going to win any awards for revolutionising the genre (though there are many exceptions), they can certainly still tell a cracking story and exercise the grey matter with a carefully composed puzzle or twelve.
A new project by Glasgow based The Story Mechanics, the gaming division of Scottish-indie Tern TV, a ‘digital adaptation’ of John Buchan’s 1915 novel The 39 Steps, will be released in June for PC, Mac, and iPad2, and looks set to further test the boundaries between literature and interactive media. The executive producer of The Story Mechanics, Simon Meek, was amazed that with our current technology our best attempts to digitise novels have taken the form of simply turning ink into pixels to be statically displayed on e-readers, and has set about to do something a little more ambitious. The Story Mechanics website boasts that: “The entire story of The Thirty Nine Steps [will be] brought to life with incredible HD paintings, real-time visual effects, hand-crafted audio beds and original musical score.”
It’s only natural that the end product looks most similar to the adventure game, which is not only arguably the most literary of genres, but also provides the perfect structure with which to guide the reader/player’s experience of the world in the text. Of course this isn’t the first time that someone has experimented in this fashion: the experimental filmmaker Chris Marker CD ROM Immemory was an attempt to bring together artistic narrative and modern technology, and ‘Hypertext fiction’ has been a niche literary fad on the net for the best part of two decades now, but this could well be the first time a project such as this will be pitched at a mainstream audience. Little wonder such institutions as the BFI and The Times are supporting the project by providing archival material to flesh out the novel’s world, providing a true level of multi-media immersion. An exciting project indeed, and one that might help change the way we experience fiction if it lives up to expectations.