Video Game Designers Partner with Writer Neil Gaiman

Novelists have collaborated with video game designers to create interactive fiction for decades. In 1984, author Douglas Adams and computer game developer Steve Meretzky paired-up to turn the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series into an interactive fiction video game. Cyberdreams later worked with author Harlan Ellison to turn his short-story, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” into a point-and-click adventure game. Writer Tom Clancy created his own game studio, Red Storm Entertainment, and has produced popular series like Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell. Recently, award-winning author Neil Gaiman and independent studio The Odd Gentlemen documented their collaboration for the forthcoming video game Wayword Manor.

In his presentation at Game Developers Conference Next 10 last November, Matt Korba, President and Creative Director of The Odd Gentlemen, talked about a “peculiar type of creative process, one that involves a game maker and outside talent from another field.” Their work on Wayword Manor began when Lego play turned into a brainstorming session.

The Odd Gentlemen team used Lego bricks to create a prototype of the game. The group built a cross-section of a Lego mansion and color-coded the prototype so that each brick represented a game component. A white Lego brick, for example, symbolized a candle, and four gray Lego bricks signified a suit of armor. Korba invited Gaiman to join the design process early and the time spent on the prototype led to character development, level mechanics, and story elements. Kobra noted that the team aspired to create a game that “leaves the player breadcrumbs” so that she discovers the story much in the way readers enjoy some of Gaiman’s other texts such as American Gods, Coraline, and Mirror Mask.

Wayword Manor’s aesthetics and cast of characters reminds me of a cross between the films Clue and Beetlejuice—mysterious and quirky. The game follows a ghost as he attempts to rid his 1920s Victorian Gothic pastoral estate of a rude, dysfunctional family of intruders. A player must solve puzzles to uncover the deepest anxieties of the misfit family.  For example, twins Patience and Fortitude love candy almost as much as they hate separating from each other. Maid Dagmara is prone to injury and any strange occurrence scares gangster Benny “The Bull.” A player must expose these weaknesses to drive the family mad enough to abandon the mansion.

Novelists and short story writers that adapt their narrative to video game interactivity create new opportunities to engage with both readers and gamers. I look forward to playing Wayword Manor when it comes out this spring.