Free Radical Review

By Shamus Posted Monday Jun 15, 2009

Filed under: Personal 106 comments

I have just exited the grueling marathon of time-sucking misery known as this weekend. It was one of those times where everything I attempted to do turned to crap. I wrote code that didn’t work, jokes that weren’t funny, essays that were dull and unsalvageable. I also had to contend with some unrelated hate mail, and that’s never fun to get. Add a dash of dull real-life problems, broken stuff, and unexpected expenses. It was like a highlight reel of “America’s favorite home karmic sucker-punches.”

I will not make you endure an accounting of my miseries. Boo hoo. I’m sure everyone goes through a bad patch of random, unrelated misfortune at one time or another, so I will not weary your ears with the recap. The short version: It sucked, and I didn’t write anything worth posting.

So it was very encouraging to see this, a review of my book. Nice to be reminded that I do hit home runs once in a while, especially after striking out all weekend.

Thanks to Darius for reading the book, and more thanks for taking the time to write out his thoughts on it.

Topic for discussion: What videogame would you love to see adapted into a full-length novel? (Actually, I wonder how many games have enough story to fill a novel. Like movies, most games are short story material. Still, there must be a few.)


From The Archives:

106 thoughts on “Free Radical Review

  1. Randy Johnson says:

    Gonna start this one out with Half-Life. I would read the book, if only to find out what happens in episode 3.

  2. Zachariel says:

    Well, Planescape Torment would be a candidate for a novel. However, the game itself has already enough dialogue to fill a book, so there’s little to add…

    I’d like to see Half-Life (everything released up to date) rewritten to a novel, because I never got too much of the story while playing the games. For me there were only fragments which didn’t make any sense (or very little sense) and I was surprised, when I first saw a Half-Life story summary and was told, that all the information presented there could be found in the games…

  3. Dick Shaftoe says:

    Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. It would take a good deal of finagling, but the foundation is strong, and the character designs and plot twists give it more than enough substance. Give it over to Neil Gaiman and let him enjoy himself, see what pops up after a few years.

  4. Nostromo says:

    Max Payne.

  5. Ed says:

    FF VI would be mind blowingly awesome. Also, the music could pretty well stand as written.

  6. Doug Sundseth says:

    Since the 1980s, it has been my rule not to read books written from video games. Even otherwise competent authors seem to do a lousy job with video games as source material.

  7. Yamael says:

    The “Legacy of Kain” series would be good candidates, the story was always one of the strongest points in the series (if you managed to understand what was going on).

  8. Hal says:

    The Elder Scrolls would easily make for a series of fantasy novels. Rich setting, political intrigue, and enough unexplored history and landscape to produce a lot of material.

    Also, Tetris. But I’ll bet the movie would suck.

  9. Bob says:

    Soul Calibur. Of course, the game itself has a very little of story, but some of the character seem very interesting and I’d love to read more about them (and I mean not only epic fight scenes).

  10. Nick says:

    Deus Ex, anyone? Who’s up for a sci-fi mystery novel?

    Pretty much almost ANY game that is immortalized as a good game (fallout, Deus Ex, System Shock, etc) has a good story along with it, and tells it well. I wonder if that should tell these game developers something.

    A little aside, who wants to read a Dungeon Keeper novel? If anything, just to hear the contempt for heroes over many pages. I’d track down the guy who did the voice in the game and make him read the book to me.

  11. Jeremiah says:

    A good enough author could probably make a decent book from just about any game.

    Kind of like what Darius was talking about in his review of ‘Free Radical’. Here you have a game that doesn’t necessarily have a lot of characterization and some gaping plot-holes at points, but Shamus pulls it all together in a really interesting way.

    In a way, it might almost be best to do that sort of things for games that really don’t have really strong characters or stories. Otherwise the author may not have much to contribute in any meaningful way and risks alienating fans of the game if they take too much license with the material.

  12. Volatar says:

    I have tried writing several such stories myself.

    They don’t turn out so well…

    On a different note, Shamus, what the heck does “It was one of those times where I you attempted to do turns to crap.”

    I have very little clue what that sentance is supposed to mean :)

    ps: No I am not a grammar nazi, I just got stuck trying to understand the second sentence of your post. The second sentence is usually rather important.

  13. Factoid says:

    Quit getting yourself worked up over hate mail. Feeding the trolls is a dangerous habit and just makes things worse. Don’t let them know that they’re getting to you by acknowledging so publicly. I know you already know this, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded.

    edit: Oh, and as for game-to-novel adaptations…I just started playing Red Faction: Guerrilla this weekend, and it’s surprisingly good. It falls into the category of “GTA…in space!” but the premise is a rich one. I’m sure someone has already written a book or two about it.

    There aren’t really any truly interesting characters yet, but there’s a lot of blank canvas to work from. It would lend itself very well to the sort of novel where every chapter is from a different character’s perspective. Maybe about a third of the book is from the protagonist’s POV and the rest is from the supporting cast.

    Maybe the story will bomb out, but the original Red Faction had a good hook. The evil Ultor corporation is running Mars pretty much like an indentured servant mining camp. They get too oppressive and the workers revolt. The protagonist fights his way to an orbital launch platform and eventually is able to signal the earth defense force to come in to save the day. Now in Guerrilla it’s 50 years later and the EDF has become the oppressors and it’s up to a newly re-formed Red Faction to free mars.

  14. Smileyfax says:

    @Hal: Actually, Elder Scrolls novels will be coming out pretty soon. Don’t know the details off-hand, though.

    My favorite video game novels are definitely the Doom novels, written so many years ago. (There are some newly-released novels based off Doom 3, but I haven’t read those). The books are quite fun, and the fourth book has pretty much the most hilarious WTF sequence ever, in which the main character essentially enters the Doom version of the Matrix and makes friends with all the monsters he used to gun down.

  15. krellen says:

    Free Radical is a very, very good novel, Shamus. Never really had an opportunity to tell you before without resurrecting an old post.

    No video games leap to my mind begging to be novelised, but I did run a campaign that I think would make a good novel. I think that’s a standard that should be used: you should be able to write down what you run.

  16. Sesoron says:

    Excellent, I found out last night that the girl I was courting had returned to her jerkass ex without so much as telling me not to bother, so awesome weekend five!

    Anyway, on topic, I would dearly like to see a novel based (necessarily loosely) on the Katamari series. I don’t know, it might be better as a graphic novel.

  17. CaroCogitatus says:

    Zachariel (#2),

    Your wish is granted. Partially anyway. You’ll still have to wait for Half-Life: The Novel.

    How about a novelization of the epic, most awesomest, world-changing game of all: Duke Nukem Forever.

  18. Simply Simon says:

    I would very much like to see a novelization of the first Baldur’s gate game. The game itself has an interesting plot, the narrators explaining of the plot would, with some rewriting, make for a good line of thought for the main character. The plot is exciting and the characters in your party shows a good bit of personality.
    The only thing that wouldn’t translate well into a book is the gameplay:
    “The protagonist went into the room and swinged his sword once at the enemy. He found that he hit, so he went through a door and saved.
    He went back in, attempting another run at them, but was hit with an arrow before he was able to deal any damage, so he loaded his previous save.”
    Or something along those lines. It doesn’t make for interesting reading.

  19. Graeme says:

    The best thing for days (or weekends as the case may be) where everything turns to utter shite is to read about how crappy other people’s lives are, enter in: FML.

    One hilarious *shudder* twitter feed I found is for Dr. McCoy, , if you’re a fan of the original Star Trek you will appreciate this.

    Otherwise, there’s always for a good laugh.

  20. Arnold says:

    slight SPOILER ALERT


    I too enjoyed reading Free Radical very much. Since I have not played System Shock (“SS”) (I tried the demo back in the day, but my computer was not up to snuff and it didn’t run very well. Hence I never got around to playing the full version…), and did not really know the story line, when I read your description on the website, I assumed that it was “fan fiction.”

    Normally I am not into “fan fiction,” as I have seen too much bad fan fiction to want to read any more (unless it comes highly recommended). I have just come across too much strange stuff to want to delve any further into that sub-species of literature. Granted, there are real gems of fan fiction out there, but I don’t have the time to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    I assumed that (with your excellent and high quality of writing), your “fan fiction” would not be the tripe that many other people generate, but I was still slightly weary. In my mind, I equated “fan-fiction” with stories set in the same universe as the original creation, but mixed with alternate storylines or having the characters do strange things, all without the same pizazz or consistency inherent in the original work.

    But since I enjoy reading your blog I decided to give it a shot.

    I was blown away.

    I loved reading the book, and think that you did an excellent job. I had not understood that your story is less “fan fiction in an alternate setting” but rather a “re-telling” or “re-imagining” of the original SS story.

    You were able to draw me in, and I was not able to put the book down. When the story was over, I was longing for a continuation. A sequel. What would happen. How would life turn out for the characters. Was Shodan really dead, or merely merged with the Hacker? What would happen to the girl? etc. etc. etc.

    Granted, there are a few points which could be polished about the book, a few areas which would need to be tightened up prior to publication en masse , but on the whole it was really a GREAT book.

    I nominate Shamus to write a sequel to his book. Anybody in favor? Vote Aye!

    (I think I can safely predict in advance that the Ayes will carry the day…)

    Keep up the great work, and hopefully this review will help alleviate the effects of the weekend.



    P.S. What game would I love to see as a novel? Hmm. Let me think about that a bit longer. But just as an aside, I agree with the people who would like Tetris…. ;)

  21. Ergonomic Cat says:

    Dungeon Siege would probably make a great movie, amirite?

    KotOR and Dead Space as actual votes.

  22. Darius says:

    Thanks for the mention Shamus.

    I would love to read a novelization of Xenogears. I loved the game, and the story, but with an 80 hour Japanese game like that, it takes me months to get through, and I just can’t keep the whole plot in my head at once.

    It would be nice to have the plot available in a form that I could digest more quickly. Actually, now that I think of it, I think I saw a fan made novelization of that game a couple of years ago. I’ll have to go see if I can find it.

  23. Sempiternity says:


    …but that’s cheating, cause i’m pretty sure Adam is actually writing it. ;) (And he gets extra credit for having actually previously written & published a good novel.)

    I second the Baldur’s Gate series – it was actually my first thought – even if it might overlap more than a bit with all of the other Faerun novels…

  24. Spider Dave says:

    Okay, my first though (apparently like other people here) is for Baldur’s Gate. I know there are already Baldur’s Gate novels, but word on the Wiki is that they’re unfaithful to the games and could therefore use a complete rewrite. KotOR 1 and 2 would be nice too. Gothic could potentially make a good trilogy of novels.

    And Half Life. Definitely Half Life.

  25. Epizephyrii says:

    I’ve always wanted to see either a movie or book based off of 7th Guest. The plot was fairly interesting and I remember one of the early hint books had the original script planned for the game which was a fun read.

  26. Angie says:

    Morrowind. And actually, there’s so much to do there, and the game rewards different modes of play so well, you could write a decent ensemble novel, even though it’s technically a single-player game. Not necessarily a party-based approach, but have four or five characters get off the boat, maybe do some adventuring together early on, but then split up and take different paths. One to join each native house and go that route, one to join the guards, one to join the assassins. One of them can follow the spy plotline all the way up and become the messiah, while one of the others can fall to the dark side. Have them all work together (the good guys anyway) at the end, instead of having one character have to take over each house and each profession, etc., which would get dull for the reader if it was done by one character in sequence. It’d turn out a bit different from the game, sure, but it’d be a good story.


  27. Volatar says:

    Yay, Shamus fixed the grammar screwup I pointed out.

    I feel useful :D

    Personally, I have seen many attempts at writing novels based on games, only one was actually any good, and its gone from the internet now :(

    All of you seem to not realize that, novel or not, these stories based off someone elses existing universe are essentually fan fiction.

    Yes, fan fiction. That literary category that carries such a stigma, that even writers of fan fiction don’t refer to it was such.

    Yet, it exists.

    Here is your link to oblivion:

    See you in literary hell :P

  28. Miako says:

    The Dig? (Niven AND Lucas together at last! Using real authors gets you good story…)
    Star Control 2
    Anachronox! (becuase I want the REAL ending, dammit)

    The Piers Anthony book was better than the game…

  29. LintMan says:

    Star Control 2
    Half Life 1/2
    KOTOR 1/2

  30. JMcNeely says:

    Aye, for the sequel. Free Radical was the second piece of Shamus Young writing I ever read (after the D&D posts) and was easily worth the read. I myself never played System Shock and am currently waiting for Good Old Games to finally get themselves into gear and put it up on their website. If it’s better than Bioshock (which is what I’ve heard), I’m sure to like it.

    My vote for game adapted to novel format? Fallout. Maybe Fallout 2.

  31. MintSkittle says:

    I’d also like to see a Half-Life novel. KOTOR is also a good choice.

    As for stuff that’s already been published, the Blizzard IPs have more than a few entries. Most of the Warcraft novels are good. Starcraft is hit-or-miss. I didn’t like the two Diablo novels I read, but I didn’t like the game, either, so take what you will from that.

  32. RPharazon says:

    I’d like to see novels of games adapted from novels.
    Ideally, they would be written by people who had no idea that the game was adapted from a novel. As such, the result would be hilarious.

    Wait, I think I’m onto something here.

  33. Felblood says:

    The Ur-Quan Masters.

    Captain Fwippo could be more fleshed out, without losing those traits that make him so funny.

  34. AlfieUK says:

    Somebody mentioned Dungeon Siege, it was already made into a film called In The Name Of The King – directed by Uwe Boll, who is known for making bad videogame-based movies (such as Bloodrayne) :)

    I would like to see someone make Thief 1 & 2 or Deus Ex, their back stories were quite deep, but a movie that ran like the gameplay wouldn’t really work.

    A good sci-fi movie based upon Elite and the original novella that came with it might be nice to watch.

    And someone else mentioned Morrowind, and a collaborative novel. I read that and was imagining something like Thieves’ World (Robert Asprin, ’78) – it would be epic!

  35. Neil Polenske says:

    Making a clear distinction of what COULD be novelized and what I WOULD want novelized: Ico and Silent Hill 2, which I’m surprised hasn’t been mentioned yet, at least in regards to SH2.

    Ico I don’t think can be novelized for obvious reasons, at least that is to say I think those who would attempt it would be those who aren’t skilled enough to do it right. But in that magical realm of fantasy where the perfect Ico novel HAD been made, that’d be one I’d grab.

    SH2, would be much easier to see as a real novel. Don’t know any current horror authors would could fit writing it though.

  36. Vladius says:

    The problem with books based on games is that you would have to incorporate game mechanics as part of the story.

    “John picked up the ammo clip effortlessly, as if he didn’t need to touch it. He reloaded the same way he had always known – two seconds at a time, fumble a little, nice finish – and prepared to mow down three hundred more zombies.”

    It’s like the disconnect between “You need to go kill Darth Vader,” and “Darth Vader is the final boss after killing hundreds of stormtroopers.” The stormtroopers are people too, but it matters in a novel a lot more than it does in a game.

    KOTOR 2 kind of did this in reverse, and made the mechanics of an RPG into parts of the story. The Exile gains “influence” really easily because they form Force bonds with people – you woke with amnesia because you cut yourself off. The Exile gets experience points, level ups, more force powers, and phat lewt like in any RPG – but then gets called on murdering so many people to get there. You hardly notice that you killed entire bars, academies, and organizations worth of people, and so does the Exile. It’s part of the genius of that game that I think people overlook.

  37. Ell Jay says:

    KOTOR would be an OK novel, but it’s already a game arguably about story first– or at least intended to be, before the second game underwent a botched circumcision to meet a launch date. Half-Life would be a fun read just to find out a single thought in your protagonist’s head (“Freeman’s Mind” notwithstanding). I think Half-Life 2 (or, relatedly, Portal) is the best vote I can think of, because although the story told in the games is obviously nuanced and well-presented, a different POV (and some friggin’ context) could add a lot as well.

    EDIT: I also wanted to point out how ironic I found it that the image “tag” for this post was a big, happy smiling face. :)

  38. Carra says:

    I just finished Jade Empire and it makes a nice setting. Any of the Bioware games does actually.

  39. Sho says:

    Seconding (thirding?) Baldur’s Gate novels. At least the sequel game, I never had much care for the first game (I suffered muchly trying to play through it and gave up) and the final part (an expansion?) was fun for me but not really that good.

    What, there already are Baldur’s Gate novels? Lies! Lies and slander! There certainly are no lousy attempts at novelizing that wonderful series, wherein the protagonist is some jerk fighter with a dodgy name, they skip loads of good bits and muck with the characters too much! Bah…

  40. MintSkittle says:


    The Dig actually did get made into a novel.

    Taken from the Wiki:

    The Dig is a graphical adventure game developed by LucasArts and released in 1995, and a novel based on the game written by Alan Dean Foster.

  41. Viktor says:

    There will be Elder Scrolls novels?!? That’s the first series that came to mind reading this. Awesome.

    I also think it doesn’t matter which game the book is based on, what matters is who writes it and how much freedom they have. After all, there are decent Halo novels, and those games had no story.

  42. briatx says:

    I don’t think I would be interested in any adaptation that is just a faithful re-hashing of the existing story in a different medium. This is why I didn’t like Watchmen. It was so faithful it felt unnecessary, and pacing and structure that worked in an episodic book didn’t work in movie form. (It’s possible it would have made an interesting mini-series. I don’t know.)

    So even though I love the Half Life story, I think that games are already the perfect medium for telling it. For one thing, there’s a big difference between *being* Gordon Freeman and *reading about* Gordon Freeman.

    But to actually answer the question: I would be interested in a novel set in the Bioshock universe (set before the game).

  43. Eric says:

    The only game that I think has enough story and would work as a novel is Final Fantasy Tactics. Most games have very little story to work with (even if the story is good), but Final Fantasy Tactics is big enough and cohesive enough, I think, to require a novel.

  44. Vladius says:

    Final Fantasy VI comes closest in my opinion to a novel-like story, but you would still have to describe hours of killing nonsensical creatures, going on subquests, picking up additional characters, and walking everywhere.

    Part of the reason that video game stories work well, like in Metroid, Portal, Half Life 2 etc. is that they wouldn’t fit anywhere other than in a video game. You, personally, have to play as somebody who slaughters thousands or beats countless levels or traverses miles and gets away with it – because it’s unimportant to the story for the most part.

    It would get really boring in specific genres of games, especially FPSs. Every game requires you to do at least a few repetitive tasks – using one bullet to kill your ex-lover is much more suited to a drama than a video game adaptation, particularly if you only feel guilty about killing your ex-lover and not the times when you used guns, swords, magic etc. to kill a bajilion dogs, bugs, sentient robots, Nazis, or even innocent civilians.

    I’m not optimistic for the Prince of Persia movie for this reason, which, being designed by Disney, and being a Prince of Persia movie, will be hilariously bad in its execution. “Running on walls and sliding down pillars hundreds of times without stop” is not a plot. They will be hard pressed to make a movie out of the Prince, the Farah stand-in, and the Vizier stand-in.

    Prequels or sequels are something else, and could potentially work if they don’t make very much reference to their source material, which sort of defeats the point.

  45. WWWebb says:

    The Longest Journey probably has enough material to fill a novel, but it’s in a similar boat as Half-Life…I just want the 3rd episode dangit.

    You’ve got to be careful with real game adaptions though. For example, there’s a whole series of books based on the Halo franchise. Most of them, especially the Eric Nylund ones, are pretty good space romps. However, the one based on the actual game, The Flood, is as bad as you’d imagine on the parts that the game covers.

    William Dietz (bless him) tried his best, filling out what was going on “off camera” with other characters, but the parts that are actually in the game read like he just watched someone play and wrote down what he saw. There’s only so much you can do with running down corridor after corridor shooting aliens.

    In general, I think most RPG’s of the 90’s could probably be adapted if they weren’t based on a novel in the first place. Even skipping over all the rat killing, there’s at least a few hours of content in those 80+ hours of gameplay.

  46. Kristin says:

    KotOR for sure. Maybe a novel would have less pressure to get the damn thing finished and released in time for Christmas, so the author could actually finish the story…
    Novelization/graphic novelization would be nice for filling in the years between Revan and the Exile.

    I’d also like to see novels based on Guild Wars. They even built in a decent protagonist party – Devona, Aidan, Cynn, Mhenlo, and Eve.

  47. Telas says:

    I don’t think that games and literature have as much crossover space as we would like to think, but then again, I tend to think of PnP RPGs, where the character freedom is critical to the game, but deadly to the novel.

    BTW, back when I was relatively skinny and in shape, I did some rock climbing. We referred to days like that as “high gravity”. As in, “Dude, it sounds like you totally had a high gravity weekend.”

  48. Zanfib says:

    Bad Volatar!

    If you’re going to send people looking for fanfiction, send them here.

    Throwing them into the vole pit like that is just cruel.

  49. Jeremiah says:

    I’m confused why a few people seem to think writing a novel of a game REQUIRES fitting the gameplay in, somehow. That’s just silly and I don’t know where that idea came from.

    Case in point: Shamus’ ‘Free Radical’. At no point in the story did he describe anything that made it sound like it was taking place in a video game.

  50. Rosseloh says:

    Well, I can’t really think of any games that would fit too well in book form…..

    But I will say, I just finished Free Radical the other day, and I enjoyed it immensely. I never played SS, so it was all new information to me.

  51. RedClyde says:

    I think practically any BioWare game would make a good novel, though Fallout 3 was the one that most inspired me in this regard. In fact, I’m thinking about using my character and her adventures for my NaNoWriMo novel this year.

  52. fefe says:

    I’d like a novelisation of Thief, albite it’d be hard to realise because these games were narrated elliptically, so the story would actually have to be a collection of short stories not neccessarily adding to a direct flow of story. Yet the world is alluring with its complex political system, the many orders, and dare I say pagan GODS and STEAMPUNK? Mad science, cynic characters and the dark age, what else could one want?

  53. Alex says:

    I don’t know if I agree with the “games might be too short to be books” observation. It’s all in the description. 10 seconds of a movie or game can be twelve pages in a book. It all depends on how much detail and pacing the author wants.

    Even the genre might not matter as much(although one might have trouble adapting Tetris into literature). I remember when I was a youngin’, I wrote a 50 page adaptation of Phantasy Star Online, an MMO. Story usually ain’t at the top of the list of priorities for those. If I attempted that now, I could probably be long-winded enough to triple that length at least. Now imagine what a talented writer could do.

    Hell, even Halo has a book series!

    I enjoyed the dialogue in Final Fantasy XII so much that I wish Square Enix had just made a novel and left it at that. Without the awful acting, or the four billion hours of hands-free level-grinding they had the audacity to call a video game.

    Just the words. Those crazy, brain-tickling descriptions. It’s not Shakespeare, but it gets pretty close sometimes. I mean, when was the last time you heard the word “prestidigitator” in Killzone? That’s the kind of stuff I would consume in book-form. That would be a noble sacrifice of trees, I think.

  54. Volatar says:


    I threw them there to mock the subject. I had no clue myself how to find good fan fiction. Thank you for that link.

  55. Johe says:

    The game that I think needs to be made into a book is MGS4. I have a copy, and while the game is fun, it is weighed down by a bloated story that took up probably half of my 20 hour play time. It just seems like a game that dialogue heavy could benefit from being made into a book, regardless of how good/bad the story is.

  56. Sam says:

    To me, writing a game adapted into a book is like making a comic book superhero into a movie. It’s blasphemy. Though I have yet to read your novel, so maybe you’ll be the exception that proves the rule.

    As far as which games would be best adapted into a novel, all the best storylines have been told well enough within the game that they don’t need expanding upon. Unless one were to go farther into a character’s life, to see what happens after the game ends. I still probably wouldn’t care for someone else’s opinion of what they think happened to this or that character, because I’d much prefer to make up my own life for said character after the game has ended. All that being said (and no, I did not read everyone’s comments before writing this), about the only characters I might be interested in hearing about would be those in the Mother series. Ness and the like. That was one of the best story-driven in the history of gaming, and though I haven’t finished Mother 3 yet (thanks, Nintendo for not releasing an English translation forcing me to go into piracy to play your awesome game), it has the best story of any game I’ve played in my life. At least, it has so far. I’m probably 3/4 through it. I know you’re not an advocate of piracy, but if you want to know what we’re missing out on, I’d highly recommend finding a ROM of Mother 3 and getting the official English translation patch at Because it’s a highly inspiring, emotional game that’s also reminiscent of EarthBound but not the same as EarthBound. I love it.

    Apparently I cast Wall of Text before writing this comment…

  57. People seriously over-value “story” in games.

    As a fan of games and science fiction, there are a few games I’m partial to which might make good movies. As a fan of good movies, and especially of good writing, I feel that no game would make a good movie, just on its face. Stories in games are exaggerated and silly when taken out of context. Most characters are flat and heavily driven by cliché (if not stolen more-or-less outright from other media).

    Games, no matter how important the story seems to be, are not really as story-driven as everyone thinks. In fact, much of the story even in narrative-heavy games is pieced together in the player’s mind not from continuous narratives, but from loosely (or un-) connected scraps and vignettes. The story, more often than not, is a matter of setting and mood.

    What would be better is to invent a new story told within the game world that captures the moods that good games have, as well as other qualities that these days have been so exciting, specifically art and sound direction.

    Two examples: Doom 3 and Bioshock. Bioshock was a dramatically superior game to Doom 3. Doom 3 had one mood, and it became boring extremely quickly. Bioshock was much more varied, although tension and adrenaline still dominated. But the character vignettes were much more dramatic, and the world was more compelling and suggestive. If you made a movie out of Bioshock and tried to keep the “plot” from the game, it would be dead awful. If you told a story from the point of view of a splicer or other original inhabitant, one that wasn’t certifiably insane, perhaps set it during the decline of the city (when Bioshock 2 is set to take place), it might work.

    But even then, like most games, the theme and plot would be excessively apocalyptic and the hopelessness and inescapable destiny would make for a grim, fatalistic movie that would not attract an audience.

    The common driving dramatic core of most games is survival, and secondarily to become an unstoppable hero, and possibly to save the world and become a god, or something equally ridiculous and solipsistic. Since game worlds do, literally, exist solely for the sake of the player, this is not surprising. But it is also why you can’t makes good movies out of games (good or bad). If you saw the protagonist of a game from the point of view of another character, or an impartial observer, they would invariably leave you cold. A story in which you can find no way to relate to the main character has little chance of being interesting, and virtually zero chance of being popular.

  58. LadyDarkWolf says:

    I want to see Thief in novel form. There’s a lot of scope there. I started writing a sequel to Thief 3 in ‘novel’ form, but didn’t get past about 3 chapters. Which is how most of my writing goes.

  59. vdgmprgrmr says:

    Shamus, I notice that in the Free Radical page on your site, the Foreword still says it’s unpublished and such.

    Perhaps that should be changed?

  60. Jansolo says:

    Just put Final Fantasy X’s story into a book and you will have a great novel.

  61. Bret says:

    Halo books I’ve read are actually perfectly okay. Picked ’em up from the library, enjoyed them. Bungie actually (if you read the manual, listen to the side bits, etc) has a fairly decent knack for crazy Fictionalized Scientific universes.

    Their Marathon series actually could be a decent book or two in the right hands. AIs going mad to become self aware, a hero with a dark secret that’s been buried deep, an ancient philosophical race only made sapient by cybernetics who, until enslaved, assumed cyborg parts were always the basis for sentience, black humor…

    Potential there, all I’m saying.

    Also: There are Balder’s Gate and Planescape torment novels.

    They are not good. They are not to be read. They are not to be touched. Just… avoid.

  62. Stargazer says:

    I’d like to read about the seven hour war in Halflife or how that guy from Myst started making worlds just by writing books, and how one of his sons destroyed his work.

  63. Jonathan says:

    For Baldur’s Gate… look up Adrian, a Neutral Evil journey through the games. Brings in some different material, but who’s to say that a NE Bhaalspawn WOULDN’T enjoy working for the Zhentarim? is a place to start for some good quality fan-noveilzations.

  64. George says:

    At the risk of sounding like Jeff Spicoli: Dude, cheer up. Many on here like me check in frequently and truly appreciate what you do though we don’t vocalize much. And hate mail reflects on those who send it so very much more than upon who it is addressed to.


  65. MintSkittle says:


    There are Myst books. Book of Ti’ana, Book of Atrus, and Book of D’ni. The first two are prequels. Not sure about the last one, as I haven’t read it.

  66. Jabor says:

    I’ll put in a vote for System Shock 2. By Shamus.

    Possibly with one book in between, to get us from the end of Free Radical to the launch of the Von Braun.

  67. Amstrad says:

    Gotta agree with Bret on this one. If System Shock works well as a novel, there’s no doubt that the Marathon games would as well. They actually have a fairly deep storyline as it is, for an FPS as old as they are.

    The fact that they would serve as a proto-prequel universe for the Halo games/novels doesn’t hurt things either.

  68. Mr_K says:

    I’d vote for Freespace and Freespace 2. However, I’d guess that would merely be Battlestar Galactica novels but with aliens instead of Cylons.

  69. capital L says:

    Dwarf Fortress practically writes itself!

  70. Amstrad says:

    Belated joke option that just occurred to me, Leisure Suit Larry the novel.

    Granted, a good number of those old text and vga graphics based adventure games could probably fair decently translated into novel format given the amount of text already delivered to the player.

    But a LSL novel sounds particularly hilarious.

  71. ehlijen says:

    I want Minesweeper the Novel. Based on Minesweeper the Movie.

    But in all seriousness, no novel ‘based on a game’ would reall be all that great. Novels ‘set in the same world as a game’ however could work. The one thing that’d need to happen is to ditch the focus on the main character. You can’t accurately protray any player character from any game in a novel without making all the Mary Sues in the universe go green with envy. The next thing to go is the concept of ‘mooks’. Sure, you can keep some easy opponents, but no-one wants to read how some guy kills the 956th armed guard on his rampage through the evil castle. If nothing happens in a scene that hasn’t already happened or won’t happen again, it’s not worth writing about. In games, you want the player to be able to do these things, as it gives them the feeling of being in control and powerful. But if you expect readers to want to read detailed exploits of such characters, they’ll put the book away and play a game instead.

    So, after bringing the player characters down into the realm of mortals and elevating all the enemies to the same plane of existence, we now have a world where hopefully, everything is potentially dangerous. And by dangerous I don’t mean ‘oh no, I need to use a health potion!’; I mean ‘oh no, I’m dead!’. Everyone would get frustrated by such a game fairly quickly. But everyone would also get equally frustrated by the opposite in novels.

    On top of that, you’ll most likely have to add characters to the story or at least large portions of it to actually have a chance for dialog. Even Alyx does not engage in actual dialog thanks to Gordons lack of vocal chords. If he were to suddenly talk in a book, he’d no longer be the same Gordon. As it is, everyone has his own image of him. Give him a voice and the author’s image will be trying to evict the player’s image.

    Regardless of all that, what game do I really want a novel of? Master of Orion 2.

  72. Nico says:

    Knights of the Old Republic.

    There’s seriously at least enough material for a book.

  73. Kotenku says:

    Rocket Knight Adventures for the Mega Drive would make a rockin book.

  74. Phase says:

    I’d like to reiterate the point that some people made that video games are an artistic medium all their own. Sure, there are some games, such as Crysis, which were made purely as games to be played. But there are other games, such as Half-Life 2, which are crafted to tell a story, the medium in which the story is presented is merely the best one.

  75. Haqu says:

    I just finished the game ad I must say I was very impressed.

    First comment ever on yur webpage.
    I love it.

  76. TenebrousKing says:

    Beyond Good and Evil has a well developed plot, interesting characters, and the gameplay is varied enough that you wouldn’t have to write about killing hundreds of enemies to get to the final boss.

  77. Nathan says:

    Back in the day, Rigel on the PlanetHalflife forums wrote some stirring fiction in the HL2 universe: Parabellum. The numbering’s all weird on the PHL page, but start at entry 1 and work through. A well-written story that goes very dark and thoughtful in the end if I remember correctly. Loosely tracks the action of the game.

    Anyone else read that series?

  78. Yahzi says:

    I wish I could get you to do a review of my book. :)

    BTW, Shamus, that is a great opening sentence.

  79. General Karthos says:

    Nobody has said “Mass Effect” yet. And yes, while the game is short, I think that there’s stuff in there that could make for a compelling novel. I’d argue my point, but since nobody has disagreed with me yet, there’s not really any point to arguing.

  80. DaftSkunk says:

    I just read (well, not word for word, but I´ll read it again slow sometime) Free Radical and it´s great. Really cool. I haven´t played the game (knew only the basic premise) and I also didn´t have the time (sleeping, so inefficent…), which led to my frantic reading style, but anyhow: I like it.

    Regarding a Book to Novel transformation..

  81. Johan says:

    Heh, any one “Tom Clancy’s” game? :P

  82. Unconvention says:


    I’ll start you off:

    The novice Stronghorn peered in confusion at his new master.

    “What? Kill the birds? I thought we were druids. How’s that serving the balance? How does culling these non-aggressive, plant-eating birds aid nature?”

    Grull Hawkwind, repeated his instructions, “Hunt the nearby plainstriders.”

    Stronghorn shook his head. Perhaps there was something he was missing, some threat to the balance that he was too immature to perceive. Could the plainstriders be grazing too fiercely, stripping the plains of their grasses? He shook his shaggy head, still confused but accepting the superior wisdom of Grull. As he turned to do his master’s bidding, a young female Tauran approached him. He smiled at her.

    “wanna cyber” milkycow777 asked coyly.

  83. Zaxares says:

    I was SO going to write “The Witcher”, but then I remembered that the game was BASED on a novel series. :P I’d put down Planescape: Torment, but it already HAD a (terrible) novelisation. I’ll echo the entries by the people who mentioned Max Payne and Deus Ex (Deus Ex 2, in particular, actually does have promise if the characters and storyline were properly fleshed out). Jade Empire is another good candidate.

    @Unconvention: It could be a dark, twisted horror novel about an innocent PC’s descent into madness through exposure to the brain-rotting prison that is Goldshire!

  84. hewhosaysfish says:

    I’ve never played any of the Silent Hill games but given Shamus’s stong feelings on the series I’m surprised nobody has mentioned them yet.
    Any reason why Silent Hill 2 wouldn’t make a good novel? Or did people just not think of it?

  85. Noumenon says:

    Ratchet and Clank, number 2 or 3. In “Going Commando,” the games’ vision of the future being controlled by murderous and yet very PR-conscious corporations is hilarious and also very expandable in details. Final Fantasy X tells its story itself; Ratchet and Clank gives a world where I want to see more stories told.

    It would be interesting to see somebody write a book in Final Fantasy’s world, though, trying to make sense of “my character has the power to summon nuclear oblivion in combat, but he can’t open this locked door unless he acquires the Blossom Crown!”

  86. Decius says:

    Final Fantasy 2. From a perspective that makes Golbez the protaganoist.

  87. Hatemail is the sign that the morons of the world are against you. In other words, it’s the most accurate indicator that you’re doing it right.

  88. fefe says:

    Unconvention… in fact there are world of warcraft novels.
    They’re horrible. Probably worse than what you came up with.

  89. Chuk says:

    There already are two Mass Effect novels. I read the first one before I started the game. It was pretty good.

  90. Julian says:

    Well, of course, The Longest Journey and Dreamfall (yes, even with that ending)

  91. Leonardo Herrera says:


    A while ago, I took your book and formatted it beautifully and put it in a PDF document that you can print on Lulu. I even did a cover for it.

    So I not only took the time to read it; I also converted it to LaTeX. If that’s not dedication…

    Let me know if you want to see it.

  92. Sharnuo says:

    Wicked book, man! I haven't even played system shock and I think it's awesome.

    (Just stop referring to robots as beasts… That just urks me. =P)

  93. Dustin says:

    “I'll put in a vote for System Shock 2. By Shamus.”

    I second that, Jabor.

    Get cracking Shamus! What will your sequel be called? ;)

    Tangent idea: I would like to see Free Radical adapted to film. Anyone up for writing the screenplay?

  94. Viktor says:


    This would of course lead to a graphic novel version, as well as a video game tie-in. At which point popular culture collpses under the recursion.

  95. Blackbird71 says:

    I know it’s been mentioned a number of times before, but I have to put in another vote for the Baldur’s Gate series. After all, we already have novels based on D&D, and video games based on D&D, why not a novel based on a video game based on D&D?

    And then, maybe we can get a PnP RPG based on the novels…

  96. Sho says:

    Oh yes, the Halo series of novels is actually rather enjoyable. I read the first three books, but the second book (which is set to cover the first game) is actually the weakest of the three. The story isn’t that bad once you get into it…
    Need to pick up a hard copy of Shamus’s book. I’m not really a fan of reading from .pdfs, but I’m not sure if it’ll be easy to snag that book in Australia…

  97. Another Scott says:

    Assassin’s Creed! I think the concept could really be flushed out in a novel. Even if it was constrained to the time-line the game had there could be a lot of material that could be filled in between.

  98. RL says:

    Lots of great suggestions here. Having just ‘wasted’ 4 days of my life playing Star Ocean: The Last Hope start to finish for all the endings, I think it would provide excellent fodder for an entire series of novels. Provided that none of the game writers wrote the books, anyways…

  99. DJDD says:

    I think it is obvious to all of us that the only REAL qualifier for another game-to-novel expansion is System Shock 2. Make it so Shamus. ;)

  100. Brandon says:

    There are so many games I’d love to read in novel format I don’t think I could list them all.

    Another interesting question along the same line of query: What about concept albums (or songs) turned into novels? 2112, the song, by Rush. The Wall, by Pink Floyd. Operation: Mindcrime, by Queensryche. Each would make for an interesting read at the very least.

  101. Kyle says:

    I don’t know if you’ll ever read this, Shamus, but I’m reading your book for the second time, and at the very last line of the “Seach” Chapter, there is a typo.

    Deck looked down to see a laser-site dot pointed at the center of his chest. He could guess where the other one was aimed.

    I think you meant ‘sight’, not ‘site’.
    Because a Laser Sight makes more sense then a laser site.

  102. Kyle says:

    Oh, and now I’m on ‘The Undercity’

    but clanners were viscous and cunning, and managed to keep the casualties nearly even.

    Vicious, not ‘Viscous’
    :P I make that mistake all the time too.

  103. Kyle says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m really enjoying the book. I just want to help you make it better.

    In the chapter, ‘A Matter of Payment’, a couple of paragraphs down.

    Deck forced his way through the teaming biomass of the latest shift change.

    Teaming should be Teeming.

  104. Trianglehead says:

    Well, Shamus, you’ve finally beaten me down about it enough. I’m downloading System Shock right now, and I’ll be loading an Win98 Box to play it on sometime this week. So you’ve won. I’ll play the damn game. *You’re like a crack dealer. Only your recommendations are more addictive.*

  105. Kalieris says:

    I’d love to see Indigo Prophecy done in book form. What would be even better, though, would be the ability to turn any book into a video game. I’ve read several books lately with characters who really need to be shot in the groin with a bazooka.

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