It’s not uncommon for different forms of entertainment to make a media crossover. TV shows become movies, movies become books, and in some cases, books become video games. Famous novelists and their works get something of a second life in some of today’s most popular video games, and the references certainly aren’t lost on players.
We count down our five favorite games that got their humble beginnings as books—and a few that took on a life of their own after.
Polish novelist Andrez Sapkowski gets credit for spawning the popular game The Witcher. In Sapkowski’s universe, witchers are powerful monster-hunters with wicked supernatural abilities. CD Projekt RED’s venture follows a similar vein, from the identical lead character, Geralt of Rivia, to the nature of his work. The 2007 release put gamers in control of a hack ‘n slash RPG that required careful decision-making and subsequent acceptance of the consequences. Although not all of Sapkowski’s novels have been translated into English for fans to enjoy, they did get the chance to return to the Witcher universe in 2011 with the game’s sequel, Assassins of Kings.
It wasn’t one specific tale that inspired the psychological thriller Alan Wake, but rather the works of several authors. Most influential in the creation of the game’s story was horror guru Stephen King, whose tales of nightmare vs. reality were a huge source of inspiration for Alan Wake creators. King is even quoted during the first episode: “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there is little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.” Also on the author line-up was Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions and Mark. Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Alan Wake stars a protagonist of the same name and a bestselling novelist suffering from writer’s block. His life is turned upside down when his wife disappears, and events from his latest novel, of which he has no memory, become eerily similar.
The Assassin’s Creed universe draws inspiration from a number of sources, fictional and factual. Yet the driving force behind its story is none other than Vladimir Bartol’s 1938 novel, Alamut. Alamut, which rougly translates to “Eagle’s Nest,” takes place in 11th century Persia. In the fortress of Alamut, the prophet Hasan ibn Sabbah is preparing to take the nation with a small group of elite soldiers—his “living daggers.” Sound familiar? In the Assassin’s Creed universe, Alamut is a fortress under the control of the Levantine Assassins, the group living at Masyaf. Its leader is a man named Hassan-i-Sabbah. Even one of the game’s most recognizable lines, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted,” is lifted directly from Vladimir Bartol’s novel. Alamut and Assassin’s Creed split ways in terms of plot, but the core fundamentals are there.
BioShock has always been on the forefront of the “games as artistic expression” forefront, and it’s no surprise that it drew inspiration from another creative medium—books. The game is crawling with references to both Ayn Rand and her great works of fiction, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. To start with the most obvious, the character of Atlas is obviously drawn from the book’s title; furthermore, the “Who is Atlas?” posters scattered throughout Rapture echo the famous tagline from Atlas Shrugged: “Who is John Galt?” The character of Andrew Ryan is based loosely on Rand herself, from the obvious name similarities to the character’s history and background. Tiny references to the work of the famous novelist are scattered throughout the game like Easter eggs; even character names from The Fountainhead are hidden within Rapture.
Not to get all biblical on you, but in case you hadn’t guessed, The Binding of Isaac is actually a play on the bible story of the same name. While we wouldn’t call the Bible a novel, or even light reading, it still fits the bill—and Isaac stirred up enough controversy outside of its Steam release to merit a mention. The Biblical version tells the tale of Abraham, who offers up his son Isaac as a sacrifice to prove his faith; God spares Isaac, and Abraham slices up a ram instead. In the game, the tale is far more twisted and disturbing. Isaac is a young child living with his fervently religious mother, who after “hearing a voice,” decides she must basically perform several acts of child abuse to cleanse him. Isaac is stripped of everything he loves and flees to a monster-infested basement to save his life. This book-to-game adaption is one of, if not the, most controversial to date, offending retailers, publishers and players across the board.