Note: some minor spoilers from the selected stories.
Stephen King’s prolific career as a writer has spanned more than forty years of masterful suspense and terror. That’s a lot of scary and creative stories that have been written, with several of them having films and series adaptations. I mean, did you notice how many audiovisual projects were made (and are being made right now) in the last decade? No less than eleven movies and eight series!
As happy as fans can be with all these products, I’d argue there’s still a huge medium missing its opportunity with the Master’s different nightmares. No, I’m not speaking about Tik Tok videos. We need more Video Games based on Stephen King’s work. It’s incredible that only The Dark Half comes to mind when you search for quality or at least interesting experiences. While Mr. King might not be a very big fan of video games himself, I strongly believe this can be a unique medium to create fantastic and special experiences.
I selected five very well-known stories, even a more contemporary one, based on popularity and my own personal tastes. Each one is inside a specific genre or uses a unique mechanic, to make things a bit interesting. But if I’m being honest here, this list could be significantly longer, with more unexpected and original choices. Who knows, maybe for a future list.
With the recent release of It Chapter II, the old clownish murderer Pennywise is terrorizing your neighborhood’s sewers again. The story has briefly flirted with gaming, It had some 8-bit games, currently unavailable, that were on the film’s website, and a current mod for Resident Evil 2 Remake, turning Mr. X into Pennywise. However, we are speaking about It, one of the most sprawling and ambitious books King has ever written. History, geography, homophobia, abusive relationships, racism, friendship, cosmic battles with a turtle (!), among other topics. It’s indeed a book in which Stephen has written a lot, at moments leaving the iconic painted face creature in the background.
Trying to express all these subjects would be an unnecessary struggle, like it -arguably- was for the films. So, hear me out: a first-person adventure, with a linear chronological structure. The main mechanic consists of controlling each character in their unique scenarios and stories, while solving puzzles and avoiding death by Pennywise. There would be an implicit time limit to solve any task the player has, with the infamous clown creating more and more dangerous situations as the minutes pass by. Put some smart jump scares here and there, intense sequences that require fast thoughts and we have our first draft of a game. But like I said before, it isn’t all kids getting eaten and devilish red balloons here. A cohesive and balancing narrative with the losers having fun and enjoying life has to be here. We need to interact with each child -and then adult- to get to know them, in order to create bonds with them and unfortunate situations when everything goes wrong.
Misery is often thought of as being the most breathtaking book in King’s catalog. This is undoubtedly true for two main reasons: the feeling of being complete defenseless in a highly improbable but still possible scenario, and the complex, mentally ill character of Annie Wilkes. For those unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a writer who suffers an almost fatal accident, and he has his movement quite reduced as a consequence. Annie finds his weakened body and takes care of him while he’s recovering. Unfortunately, she isn’t as cool as it seems.
My idea for Misery: The Video Game is a dialogue-driven one. Each day, you’ll have different conversation options to engage with Ms. Wilkes. Every choice affects your future possibilities of escape, creating different scenarios with unexpected variations. Depending on how you develop your relationship with Annie, she’ll treat you more violently or be a relative sweetie. While dialogue selection would be the main mechanic, you’ll have moments of freedom and more interactive options with objects near you. Perhaps you might be able to hurt your “medic” when you least expect it and finish the story early? However it may come, what I’d want from this title is the intimacy it needs to have. You are by yourself, hopeless and with very little possibilities, against a strong and erratic woman, isolated from the outside world in a cabin surrounded by snow. Let the mind games begin.
Of course, there should be a scene regarding a lawnmower…
The Overlook hotel is such a mesmerizing and mysterious location, full of secrets one wouldn’t want to know. What kind of crimes and supernatural events took place inside its rooms? It would be a shame not to give it an opportunity as a proper video game scenario, with much of the terrific symmetrical design Kubrick gave birth with his film.
For this title, you’ll use the three main family members from a third-person perspective. Your main goal is just to keep them “entertained” and without murdering/being murdered by the other. This will be an easy task in the first hours: everything’s going well for the lovely family in their new home. But as days goes by, strange situations will take place at the Overlook. Shouts from empty rooms, enigmatic silhouettes across halfways and some eerie-looking girls wandering around. Each character could have a “stress” bar, akin to Gamecube classic Eternal Darkness, that you need to keep from increasing in order to survive and avoid deadly hallucinations. Ultimately, that bar would get dangerously high, and things would get pretty nasty.
There’s more than enough excellent material to take from both film and book. But one thing the former did worse than the latter is the characterization of Jack. From the first moment in screen we realized he isn’t a man slowly descending into madness by his own dramas, family issues and by the hotel “influence”. He’s troubled from minute zero, and so much of his remarkable character development is lost. We need to recover each moment, all the nuances that make these characters who they are. For example, playing as Danny should feel like having a big playroom, and the joy of exploration a kid “normally” have. But this comes with the expense of not being able to differentiate reality from imagination, as an adult would, because of his “extra-sensorial ability”. Also, Danny’s lives with ambiguous feelings towards his father figure, who’s capable of showing genuine love and violent manners when he can’t hold it together. Knowing when to trust his Jack and when to avoid him, would determine the kid’s future.
THE DARK TOWER
For some reason, anytime I have read or heard anyone speaking about the idea of a video game based on Stephen’s epic saga, The Dark Tower, their desire is for an MMO. Yes, this makes perfect sense: in case you don’t know it, TDT is a big story that brings together most of the author’s universes and characters, in vast and diverse locations. So, the possibility of creating your own character – human or another kind of creature- and make your own path through this mess of timelines and dimensions, sounds like a pretty decent idea.
However, since I played Undertale, I can’t avoid thinking it would be a wonderful experiment to try to mix the best of the two. Imagine Roland’s long journey, with his conflictive past and frustrating doubts about his and his partner’s future, narrated in the style of Toby Fox. This means putting special attention in a wide cast of interesting characters to discover, and an uncertain world crowded with secrets to unveil -but most of them will be left to interpretation. Although it’d tell a linear story, the narration would use the strengths of Toby Fox storytelling: a compelling focus on its characters, how they feel in this world(s) and how they bond with each other, in addition to freely roam through the levels and, of course, the player’s expectations subverted from time to time.
Regarding gameplay, when you find your ka-tet (let’s say your RPG party), more options will be available for confrontations with enemies. Roland might shoot most of his problems out of the way, but Susannah, Eddie and Jake would have more creative and verbal manners to move forward. They probably won’t be all nice and sweet, by the way. Eddie is well known for having quite a big mouth and a bag full of “silly” jokes.
THE BILL HODGES TRILOGY
Taking a step away from the more conventional scary stories of King’s work, I believe detective Hodges story would fit extremely well for a crime & investigations game. Following the line of titles like the recent Disco Elysium, L.A. Noire, and Heavy Rain, you’d be tasked with analyzing crime scenes, gathering evidence and interrogating subjects. L.A. Noire’s mechanic of paying attention to your subjects facial gesture, making decisions based on how they answer with their body, was a very interesting feature that we haven’t seen it in many games since then. (Maybe because it sure is expensive as hell and takes huge amounts of work, right?).
But why would we leave this here? If you haven’t read Mr. Mercedes or the rest of the trilogy, you should know that King wrote the stories from two major points of view: the detective side and from the criminal conflicted mind, too. So why don’t we build a narrative based on both characters, trying to achieve their different fears and desires? Breaking harmony with one while trying to rebuild it with the other? Heavy Rain tried to do something like this, but this would be a more direct and honest approach -I mean, for example, you would know who’s the killer from the first moment. That was a dick move, Quantic Dreams.
Bonus: Stephen King a la Twisted Metal
Do you remember Twisted Metal? Maybe you were more of a Carmageddon or Vigilante 8 enthusiast, but in my house it was TM all night long. While I was writing this article, I was chatting with a friend about it. He happily wanted to contribute and said: “hey, what about a game like Mario Kart?”. At first, it sounded silly, but with the following thoughts, it became hilarious. Imagine all the popular SK characters in a cartoonish way, throwing friendship-killer items in the last second. It certainly could work. Nevertheless, while I was designing Pennywise’s kart in my mind, a wild thought appeared: “Sweet Tooth did it better”.
Yes, we already have a killer clown who likes crashing his vehicle against others, so why don’t we borrow that idea for an oddball Kingapalooza? Select your favourite twenty characters from all his books, design a cool looking vehicle that represents them, with a dangerous unique ability and throw all of them in different sections of Maine and other locations. There would be special characters too, like Christine or the wagon from Mile 81 (maybe even a guest appearance from the Wraith in Joe Hill’s NOS4A2), which wouldn’t use a driver, of course. The final boss would be King himself. His vehicle would resemble a tall and murky tower that will scream “overpowered” just from far away. Apart from its own arsenal of projectiles, the author will be able to throw you entire new vehicles with creatures that come from his mind, making the battle an incredibly hard task.
Or he could just drive the truck from Maximum Overdrive…
And what about you, reader? Which Stephen King stories would you like to be adapted as video games?