Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #4: Beginner’s Guide to Video Games & Novelisations, Part 1

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Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

Today I want to introduce some video game series, and their novelisations.

This post is mostly aimed at people who are new to video games, or those who are interested in playing but don’t know where to start. I’m listing some well-known series, as well as their novelisations, in case you want to try the books out too!

The Assassin’s Creed series

Assassin's Creed

[icon name=”fa-question-circle”] What is it?

The series follows a man named Desmond Miles, who using a machine called the Animus, delves into the memories of his ancestors to learn more about the rivalry between the Assassins and the Knights Templar. The games cover several time periods: the Third Crusade (Assassin’s Creed), the Renaissance (Assassin’s Creed II, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and Assassin’s Creed Revelations), the Colonial era (Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed Liberation and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag), as well as the French Revolution (the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Unity). Playing as his ancestors (the most famous of which is probably Ezio Auditore), you must uncover the secrets to becoming a master assassin, as well as the Templars’ plans.

[icon name=”fa-thumbs-up”] Why should I play it?

Because you get to be an assassin? Also, meeting various historical figures like Leonardo Da Vinci, the Borgias and the Sforzas (Caterina Sforza even quotes her infamous line) and Niccolo Machiavelli is amazing. The digital versions of locations like 15th century Venice and 16th century Rome are also gorgeous. And did I mention you get to be a super stealthy assassin?

[icon name=”fa-book”] Novelisations

All of the following are by Oliver Bowden: Renaissance, Brotherhood, The Secret Crusade, Revelations, Forsaken and Black Flag.

The Bioshock series

Bioshock Infinite

[icon name=”fa-question-circle”] What is it?

A series of games that explores the idea of a dystopia/utopia. In Bioshock and Bioshock 2 (which I have previously discussed), the player ends up in an underwater utopia known as Rapture. Unfortunately, the city isn’t quite what it once was, and is now filled with drug-addled mutants, psychopaths and terrifying hulking creatures known as Big Daddies. In Bioshock Infinite, the third game in the series but the first chronologically, the player finds themselves in a seemingly utopian city floating in the sky. Booker, the player character, has been instructed to rescue a young girl who is imprisoned there in order to pay off his debts. However, how it always is with these sorts of places, things are not quite what they seem…

[icon name=”fa-thumbs-up”] Why should I play it?

In regards to the first two games: because they’re scary and so, so immersive, you may be terrified but you’ll keep ploughing on! As for Bioshock Infinite, it is an absolutely BEAUTIFUL game with a mesmerising (and heartbreaking) story.

[icon name=”fa-book”] Novelisations

Rapture by John Shirley and Ken Levine, and Bioshock Infinite: Mind in Revolt by Joe Fielder and Ken Levine.

The Mass Effect series

Mass Effect

[icon name=”fa-question-circle”] What is it?

A trilogy set in the future, where the human race have discovered faster than light travel – and many, many alien races. The player assumes the role of Commander Shepard, a completely customisable character who can be either male or female. During the first game, Shepard must stop a rogue by the name of Saren from taking over the galaxy with an army of sentient mechanised beings, called the Geth. However, Shepard soon discovers that there is a much bigger threat on the horizon – an alien race known as the Reapers, who purge all life in the galaxy every 50,000 years, and their deadline is fast approaching. Through his or her journey, Shepard builds up a loveable squad to join them aboard the SSV Normandy, not all of whom may survive the mission…

[icon name=”fa-thumbs-up”] Why should I play it?

Mass Effect is my favourite game series for so many reasons. But the main reason is that you are in control of every choice Shepard makes – and whatever you choose may have a permanent effect on the world, the galaxy, the universe – forever. Let that planet die and it’s gone, its people wiped out, no more resources, nothing. Betray that squad mate and that’s it – they’ve left you, never to return. Every choice you make has a consequence, whether it be bad or good. Not to mention that every single character is fantastically created, and you feel a genuine connection with each and every one. This video game makes me cry, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

[icon name=”fa-book”] Novelisations

There are both novelisations and graphic novels for Mass Effect: Revelation, Ascension and Retribution by Drew Karpyshyn, Deception by William C. Dietz, Redemption, Evolution, Invasion, Homeworlds and Foundation by Mac Walters (graphic novels).

I’ll be doing a couple of posts of this type, look out for Dragon Age, Deus Ex and Halo in the next post!

Are you new to video games, or have you played any of these? Have you read any of the novelisations?

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Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #2: Bookish Influences on Bioshock

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Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

Today I want to discuss the bookish influences on the Bioshock series of video games.

If you follow my Twitter feed, you may have recently seen me talking about a game called Bioshock, and how I was terrifying myself by playing it with headphones and in the dark. Although it had me screaming, swearing and shrieking, it also got me thinking. There is an obvious bookish influence on the game – the imagery within, as well as some of the character names, instantly made me think of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. So of course I had to do a little research into it, and yes – it’s a big influence, along with many other books.

Bioshock Logo

If you’re not familiar with the games, here is a brief synopsis of the first one:

Set in 1960, Bioshock follows a man named Jack, who ends up in the ocean after his plane crashes. After heading towards a nearby lighthouse, he finds a bathysphere, which takes him to the underwater city of Rapture. Intended to be a utopia by its founder Andrew Ryan, Rapture unfortunately took a turn in the opposite direction with the discovery of ADAM – a plasmid that gives the user superhuman powers. The city is now filled with addicts and horribly transformed people, including the terrifying Big Daddies. Jack has no choice but to fight his way through the city, with the help of a man named Atlas, using plasmids, weapons and the very environment of Rapture itself.

One of the most obvious bookish influences here is the idea of utopia and dystopia. So many times in fiction, we’ve seen a seemingly perfect society peel back its shiny exterior to reveal something cold and very, very horrifying at the centre. And Bioshock is exactly like that. The environments are beautiful, Rapture’s art deco and 1950’s style is pretty breathtaking. Combine that with an underwater setting, where you can play around with water, light and reflections and it really does look like a utopia. I mean, just look at some of the concept art!

Bioshock Concept Art
(image source)

At first glance, Rapture looks beautiful. Neon signs, specially crafted underwater gardens, the city neatly divided into sections, entertainment districts – but soon you start to notice the graffiti. You see the blood on the walls, the smashed and ruined windows and belongings. Then the bodies begin to appear, and soon you hear the noises. A high pitched, maniacal laugh. Something running along the ceiling. A long, low groan. Stomping of heavy boots. A young girl whispering to herself (or someone?), whispering things that a young girl shouldn’t even know about. And that’s when you realise – this is DEFINITELY no utopia.

The influence of Ayn Rand on Bioshock

One of the first things that really demonstrated the influence of Rand’s work on the game, was a statue of Atlas, bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders. I can’t find a screenshot of it from Bioshock, but I am currently playing Bioshock 2 and managed to spot it there:

Bioshock 2

It immediately made think of this:

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

As well as this statue, there is also the mysterious character of Atlas, an Irishman who guides Jack through the halls of Rapture, and the character Frank Fontaine – the name perhaps inspired by Rand’s The Fountainhead? Perhaps a simpler comparison is that Andrew Ryan is an anagram (albeit with a few extra letters) of Ayn Rand, and that many events throughout the story of Bioshock echo that of Atlas Shrugged.

Like Atlas Shrugged, the city of Rapture is founded on the philosophy of objectivism: the idea that one person should follow their self-interest, and not let the opinions or morals of others get in the way of ambition and ability. A slogan to this effect is often spotted around Rapture:

No Gods or Kings, Only Man

Biblical influences on Bioshock

It’s not just Ayn Rand’s work that influenced Bioshock. The Garden of Eden was the original utopia, ruined by the actions of Adam and Eve. Similarly, the actions of man (and woman) have ruined the utopia of Rapture. Although ADAM can grant the superhuman powers, a drug called EVE is needed to keep the plasmids active. Not only this, but the very word ‘Rapture’ conjures up Christian imagery: of the ‘good people’ of the world being taken away to a better place. Rapture may have been that place but for, rather ironically, the use of ADAM and EVE.

The influence of other literature

One other book that was immediately brought to mind by the events of Bioshock was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Some of the toughest enemies in the game are called ‘Big Daddies’, which may not sound menacing but they are TERRIFYING. You’ll first know of them when you hear a low groan, and heavy stomping. You might also hear the accompanying Little Sister. The stomps will grow louder as they get closer, and the ground will shake. And it may look slow – but once it spots you or you try to hurt the Little Sister, it really isn’t.

franksteinbigdaddy

Big Daddies were originally human beings, genetically enhanced and with their skin and organs grafted onto an antique diving suit. I mean, that’s enough to make anybody mad, right? After the process, they are unable to make any noise but a low groan, similar to a whale call. Their original purpose was actually for construction work. However, when the Little Sisters (genetically altered young girls) were sent to collect ADAM from the corpses of Rapture, the Big Daddies were sent to protect them.

The whole idea of creating new life and playing around with genetics really reminds me of Frankenstein, and the Big Daddies are definitely monsters. And like Frankenstein’s Monster, the Big Daddy also has something he wants to protect.

The creators of Bioshock have also claimed that both 1984 by George Orwell and Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan were influences, in that way that the interesting societies in both books were ruined by their creators, humankind.

Have you played any of the Bioshock games? Are there any other books that you think influenced the series?

Monthly Roundup

Monthly Roundup: May 2014

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Every first Wednesday of the month, I’ll be posting a roundup of the month just gone, and writing about what’s to come in the next few weeks.

Books Read May 2014

Last month I read a total of fourteen books: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Midnight Crossroad (Midnight #1) by Charlaine Harris, Fantastic Four: Books of Doom by Ed Brubaker, Ms Marvel: War of the Marvels (Ms Marvel #8) by Brian Reed, Insignia (Insignia #1) by S.J. Kincaid, The Amazing Spider-Man: Book of Ezekiel (Amazing Spider-Man #7) by J. Michael Straczynski, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers (Guardians of the Galaxy #1) by Brian Michael Bendis, New X-Men: E is for Extinction (New X-Men #1) by Grant Morrison, Doctor Who: Keeping Up With The Joneses (Doctor Who Time Trips #3) by Nick Harkaway, Retribution Falls (Tales of the Ketty Jay #1) by Chris Wooding, Lexicon by Max Barry, The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar, Sabriel by Garth Nix and Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia.

I read a lot of graphic novels this month, but I think I’ve read every one I can get my hands on in the county library system… so looks like I’ll have to find them elsewhere from now on. My favourite of the graphic novels was Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers – some great art in there, and I am SO excited for the film! Standout novels included Lexicon, Retribution Falls and Insignia. The latter two are the first books in series, so that’s two more series to continue now…

 

Challenge progress:

  • I read four books towards the Avengers vs. X-Men Challenge – two books towards defeating Bullseye, May’s villain, so I didn’t quite manage to beat him. Next month’s villain has been revealed as Loki, so hopefully I’ll be able to take down the trickster god!
  • Last month I raised my Goodreads goal to seventy-five books. I’m now at seventy-one books, so it looks like I’ll be raising it again soon!
  • I read one book for my USA Challenge, which admittedly I’ve mostly forgotten about…

 

Currently reading:

The Quick by Lauren Owen Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

 

Off the blog:

May has been uneventful… in fact most of the ‘Off the blog’ stuff I shared last month happened in May. Oops! I did go and see X-Men: Days of Future Past on Thursday, and LOVED it. It also reignited my *ahem* ‘interest’ in Michael Fassbender… But apart from that, pretty uneventful! Here’s some stuff from my Instagram:

May Instagram
Left to right: My awesome new Game of Thrones t-shirt from Teefury; scaring myself silly by playing Bioshock in the dark & with headphones; my town has a festival every day and the May bank holiday weekend was just PERFECT for it 🙂
Thoughts

Thoughts #6: Video Game Novelisations

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I love video games. I’ve always played them, ever since I was a kid. My dad has always worked in IT, so we always had a PC at home. From a young age I was playing Doring Kindersley games, Mia Mouse – and Tomb Raider, Return Fire, Thief or Age of Empires.

It’s a hobby that has continued throughout the years. Some of my favourite games include the Mass Effect series, Tales of Symphonia, The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker, The Elder Scrolls IV: Skyrim, Borderlands and most recently, L.A. Noire.

       

I am, or more aptly was, a big online gamer. I’ve been playing Lord of the Rings Online on and off for two years, and have played so many different MMOs in the past. That was why I was so excited to read Ready Player One, a truly brilliant and completely geeky novel based in our future, where almost everyone escapes from their miserable real life to the online universe known as OASIS.So really, what could be better than combining two interests of mine, video games and reading?

Well, in all honesty, it hasn’t been quite the successful venture I’d hoped for.

As I wrote in my review of Mass Effect: Ascension, when the Mass Effect series finished I was pretty disappointed. If you’re a fan of the games you will understand, but if you’re not: the premise of the game series is that every choice you make has a consequence. You are essentially in charge of the path the game takes, your actions have a real effect. So when Bioware promised that there would be over sixteen different endings for Mass Effect 3, and your actions throughout the entire trilogy would affect it, fans were excited. But what we actually got was essentially three endings that were exactly the same, apart from being different colours. There was so much backlash that Bioware released a patch to improve the ending and clear up so many unanswered questions.


Genuine reactions to the game ending.

It really wasn’t enough. I was left with this need for more Mass Effect: so what better to turn to than the books?

It would have been better for me to turn to fanfiction.

I’ve read some brilliant Mass Effect fanfiction (Garrus and FemShep. I ship it. Hard.) – and I plan on covering the subject of fanfiction in a future ‘Thoughts’ post. The writing in the four Mass Effect novelisations that I devoured soon after the series ended was clunky, the plots were paper thin and so full of holes, the characters (even those fleshed out in the games themselves) flat.

And honestly, video game books, just like the film adaptations, have a pretty bad reputation. I was surprised by the average rating of a lot of the novels on Goodreads. But despite all this, despite knowing that the quality won’t be great, that the authors are most likely in it for the money and link to an established series more than a love of the series itself, I will probably read more of these. I know that I’ll read any Mass Effect book I can get my hands on – and I’m keeping my eye out for Assassin’s Creed and Skyrim adaptations too (though I’m interested to see how a Skyrim book would work, since the main character is completely your own). It’s probably for the same reason that I’ve stuck with a series like the Sookie Stackhouse novels, even when the quality has gone downhill – I have some great memories and feelings associated with the series, and through reading the books I’m hoping to get them back. Mass Effect is truly one of those games where you get really attached to certain characters – especially as you can be responsible for their deaths if you’re not careful.

However, I’m sure there are plenty of gamers out there who aren’t readers. Seeing a novelisation of their favourite game series might encourage them to pick up the book – and maybe more books after that. If a book gets someone into reading, then who cares what that book is? It doesn’t matter what they’re reading, whether it’s good or not (although that is completely a matter of opinion), what matters is that they are reading. The reverse may be true also: although you’re less likely to pick the books up if you haven’t played the relevant game, as many assume a basic knowledge of the game’s plotlines; a video game novelisation may introduce someone to the game series who would not have played it otherwise.

And now I turn to you, my dear readers: do you read video game novelisations? If so, what have you thought of the ones you have read? Are there any video games you’d love to read a novelisation of? Please leave your thoughts and comments below, I’d love to hear them!


Atlas and P-Body hugs for anyone who comments!