The links between novels and gaming are stronger than you think. Successful franchises spawn tie-in books dealing with the further adventures of Lara Croft or generic videogame action heroes, but often a respected author’s words can find themselves directly or indirectly rendered in gaming. Take Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for example, a post-apocalyptic journey through a near-future American wasteland that’s become required reading for some of those working on Fallout 3 at Bethesda - nuances which will surely have inspired their own desolate creation. The following books have strong links to their creative progenies and are all fascinating to read. Even though you have to be very clever to read Atlas Shrugged.
Author: Larry Niven
This is a proper ‘hard’ science fiction novel - with giant cat aliens, futurescape-imagineering, astrophysics and a bit of a quest dynamic with two humans and two aliens going on an exciting voyage of discovery. The novel deals with the discovery and investigation of a vast alien-constructed ribbon of planet circling a sun, and although Halo isn’t a direct reference, there’s no doubt that Niven’s Ringworld novels were a strong influence. When the brilliantly imagined heroes crash-land on the ring there’s much musing on technology and religion, and questions raised about ancient civilizations, while some of the vistas wouldn’t be out of place in one of Bungie’s space operas. The Covenant would gel with Niven’s incredibly well-defined cultures and life-cycles too. There’s no hiding behind rocks while shields recharge though.
Author: Ayn Rand
The developers of BioShock made no secret of drawing on Ayn Rand’s philosophical sci-fi classic - the guy talking in your ear is called ‘Atlas’ for a reason. Rand’s book considers what might happen if the world’s most innovative artists, philosophers and scientists disappeared, while BioShock shows you where they went. Ryan’s speech when you arrive in Rapture is an introduction to Randian philosophy - that every person is not a means, but an end; and that each has the right to live without being subject to the orders or whims of another - a thesis made ironic by the game’s show-stopping twist.
Rand’s capitalism is perverted by BioShock. For Rand, capitalism is the impossible ideal of men dealing with each others as equals, under a small government built only to protect their rights. In BioShock, as in life, it’s the neon pursuit of profit and selling idiots the lie of perfection. Atlas Shrugged is a brilliant book, and reading it will make you go straight back to BioShock, but there’s little simplicity or comfort in Rand’s brutally clinical prose. We suppose she’s a bit like a Big Daddy.
Sam & Max: Surfin’ the Highway
Author: Steve Purcell
Game: Sam & Max series
Recently re-released, the comic that inspired the gruesome twosome has that same bizarre, chaotic humor that Hit the Road and the recent Sam & Max episodes are renowned for. This is much more of a stream-of-consciousness affair though, with each page of Surfin’ the Highway feeling pretty much disconnected from its brothers in a pleasing, yet bewildering, hurricane of gun-toting, door-kicking, crime-stopping mania. Most of the artwork is in black-and-white and provokes more heart-warming smiles than belly laughs, but this is a good read for anyone wanting to brush up on our heroes’ lo-fi roots. The origins of Sam & Max are even more bizarre than you’d think; you witness them battle with manatee rustlers, ride on a wheeled land pirate ship drawn by rats, meet the world’s largest prairie dog, get deprived of sleep and face off with a demon that arises in the cereal aisle of a supermarket. Surfin’ the Highway is kooky, barbaric and wonderful.