So, the ‘TV versions’ thread got me thinking- Why is it that so many hard-copy (and a few computer based) IFs and Choose-Your-Owns are based are liscened worlds? Do you just want to interact with characters without writing self-insert? Is it the world itself? I realize that it’s much easier to stick something based in a universe that already exists, but let’s take a careful look at some of these. Spoilers abound for those who read juvenile literature outdated by about 10 to 15 years.
The first thing that springs to mind when discussing licensing is of course Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a game wrapped so thickly around it’s parent media that stepping outside of it’s boundaries for even a second leads you to a gruesome death. This frustrated me in third grade. We had this old Apple IIe with about a billion different games collected from donations, and Hitchhiker’s was one of them. Problem being, I never knew there was a book until high school- Yep, never once got passed the third scene. Let’s face it ‘Lie down’ is one of the most counter-intuitive actions you could possibly think of! If you hadn’t read or been aware of the various medias that the story has been in, you’re screwed instantly.
That was the point though. Adams was trying to make a game that would purposely mess with the user. (And his second game Bureaucracy did that even more so.) but it fit the mood of the universe and book in general- Arthur Dent is being toyed with by every external force in the cosmos, so the game toys with you.
Hitchhiker’s isn’t so much a ‘game’ for those who are already familiar with the book in other words. It’s a series of puzzles designed around some extra jokes and some ‘Ha! I remember that!’ moments from the player.
On the other hand, let’s take a look at some books…based on video games. I’m thinking in particular of that old Mario World series that instead of just desicion points, also had you solve puzzles…or at least tried. “Here’s a maze if you solve it turn to page 90, if you don’t you die horribly.” Everybody cheats.
This is playing in the universe sure, but outside of bad endings, there’s nothing here. You mess around, you solve a few mazes and…well, that’s it. Outside of the bad endings there’s no real plot or branching so…
Finally at the opposite end we have the Animorphs Choose-your-owns that Schoolastic commissioned. The first is pretty terrible and a virtual walktrhough of the first book. It’s average. Like just…huh. The second however, takes you, makes you a viable character and leads you on a branching plot that twists and turns a couple times before leading you to exactly ONE ultimately good ending on both branches, each done very shockingly well. The biggest kicker? You get to affect the universe, based on your actions a major character can get killed, and you can still make it okay. Not the best ending, and it implies things get worse, but YOU made that decision.
Basically, what I’m taking way too long to say is this- What’s the point of licensed books/games if we don’t get to affect that universe? Just to play around in them or just as cheap tie-ins?