What Happened To War Of The Worlds?
Click on the above and you’ll find me banging on about this project.
When it comes to science fiction my first question is always; Why aren’t there filmed TV versions of books by Ray Bradbury, Christopher Priest, Arthur C Clarke and at least twenty other superb SF authors? Why are the only books that get made ‘brands’?
Videogames offer a further problem. The player decides where to go, so how can you have a literary adaptation with multiple endings? Kim Newman tried this with pretty much the first game/novel hybrid called ‘Life’s Lottery’, but the reading public generally wants its stories to have closure. Closure makes better stories. The more openings you have, the less powerful the tale is. Greek tragedies work because from the outset there’s one outcome, and it usually comes about because the hero/ine has a flaw they can’t see which gets exploited by enemies. So how could a book ever become a game?
A games designer told me something that made sense. He said that since side-scrollers moved on to 3D environments the player imagines having total control, but the secret of most games is that the main options are really all decided for you. So that, I imagined, was gaming’s dirty little secret, that you didn’t really get the one thing you most wanted – freedom to participate and choose your course of action, not truly.
I was appalled by the recent BBC ‘War Of The Worlds’, which fell into every dramatic trap imaginable. A few years ago when Paramount asked me to write the ‘War of the Worlds’ video game, we managed to make it surprisingly faithful to the spirit of HG Wells. I upped the ante to make more of Wells’ original point – that invasion by a terrifying, unknowable source would be more devastating than invasion from a known enemy. By setting the story in 1953 I found new postwar resonance. You could understand the fear of invasion because it was in recent memory. But Wells’ idea of a faceless alien with one simple aim, total extermination of the indigenous race, was frighteningly simple and brilliant.
There’s a Hollywood maxim that says the best movies come from short stories. Lately long-form TV has proven that the case. A game can go the distance to reflect the entire novel, with all of its loyalties and betrayals, eccentric minor characters, twists and turns of plot. On ‘War Of The Worlds’ I worked with Sir Patrick Stewart, and he was clearly excited to be involved with the project, despite me telling him to ‘tone down the Shakespearian’ in his delivery. How we laughed. He was terrifically generous to work with.
Our games was finished when it suffered from being caught in a regime change at Paramount. The new incomers always dump the outgoing team’s work. I don’t think anyone saw our extravagantly detailed labour of love. There was never a moment when we didn’t think of the project as a direct reflection of the novel, and I wish such adaptations could happen more often. I have a shortlist of books I’d love to see as games, from ‘Gormenghast’ (escaping across the rooftops! Flooding the castle!) to some of my own books. I’d have loved to take on all of the puzzle-challenges I laid out in my novel ‘Disturbia’. Now that I look at it again, the book reads like a game.
And if games designers want to know which books they should be thinking about adapting – ask us writers.