With the recent explosion in popularity of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series due to the long awaited release of the fifth book A Dance with Dragons and the incredibly well received HBO series A Game of Thrones (named after the first book in the series) it was only a matter of time before a licensed game was released. I was surprised to learn that EA owned the game rights but has since let it lapse. A small French company Cyanide Studios snatched the license up and will be releasing a game on 5/15/12. You have probably never heard of Cyanide Studios before unless you are a big fan of European released PC only Pro Cycling simulators or if you loved the 2009 release of Blood Bowl for PS3/Xbox 360. They have already released ASoIaF title in the summer of 2011. It was called Game of Thrones: Genesis. It was an RTS and it was a terrible game. I paid $8.99 and I felt like I overpaid by about $10 . In their defense, I honestly think that Cyanide just made a bad RTS and used their licensing rights to milk a few more sales out of what they knew was a bad game.
Back to the title question, can ASoIaF work as a game? To answer that question there a few points I think need to be explored. Luckily Thomas Veauclin Cyanide Studio’s project manager for the game has been quite chatty on the internet recently.
Firstly, the story for ASoIaF is two books from being finished, so where does a game fit in without creating false canon and still being true to the story? And it’s impossible to pin down a main character, sure everyone roots for the Starks, but several other houses get just as much face time in the books.
Veauclin -“From the beginning, we wanted to write a story that ran parallel to the first book in the series. For us it was impossible to build a game using the main characters of the license; their destiny lay in George’s hands. Moreover, we did not want to do a cut and paste adaptation of the book; it would hold no interest for fans to the series. We wanted to find a new angle, with new characters and a level of uncertainty. Fortunately, the world of Westeros is massive and so there was plenty of niches from where we could begin to weave our own web. Our Story starts the same place as the book, just before John Arryn’s death, and I won’t be giving much away by telling you that the storyline is built around Robert’s bastards. For the reasons of game play and unlike the books we could not have a plethora of leading characters and we therefore limited ourselves to two main heroes. They are diametrically opposed to each other and they are separated from each other at the outset. It is the actions of the player that brings them together. The story unfolds in the same way as the books, with each chapter focusing on a different hero until their two stories combine.”
Second, The HBO series has really painted a picture for people of what Westeros looks like, for both characters and landscape. Will main characters and locations be in the game, and what will they look like?
The Atlus Press release says- “HBO allowed Cyanide to incorporate some elements from the show including the main theme and some actor likenesses”
Veauclin -“Without naming every character, you will serve Queen Cerci, obey lord commander Mormont and have dealings Varys. While we have invested a lot of time and effort in creating our own story and unique locations, players will be able to stroll through the streets of King’s Landing and freeze your hands on The Wall”
Third, Cyanide Studios said that this would be an American style RPG (Fable, Skyrim). There have been many successful games that use this formula such as the examples above. It’s almost a hindrance to be in the same category as those games because they are both from wildly successful franchises that have defined the genre over the last 5 years. Aside from the strong license, what can Cyanide do to make their game stand out in a genre with some real heavy hitters? Cyanide’s answer is something called the “Active Slowdown Tactical Combat Engine”
Veauclin on the games combat system- “The combat system offers both tactical and strategic choices while, at the same time, providing a feeling of action. You can therefore slow down the game at any time for an unlimited duration. When the game is slowed, a skill wheel is displayedon-screen showing the abilities unlocked by your character. You can then stack up to three abilities that will be automatically executed by your character. Of course, when your two heroesare together you can switch between them to manage both at the same time. Many RPGs let you pause the action entirely, which eliminates the need to make fast, sound decisions in combat. There is added realism and excitement with knowing the clock is still ticking, albeit more slowly.”
The final, and ultimate, question is whether or not GRRM has had anything to do with the development of the game.
Veauclin -“We were able to present our project to George over two years ago with our first ideas on scripts and character design. He tweaked a few things, here and there, but basically let us get on with it. When we had the complete scenario and some fully implemented chapters we went to see him again in Santa Fe; again he tweaked a few things but liked what he saw”
All of this sounds pretty good, with a strong license and help form both HBO and GRRM Cyanide seems to be on the right track here. But I have a few concerns, from the time I started writing this article the game was pushed back two months and even though the screenshots look nice they are clearly from a cut scene and not from game play and are seemingly of nothing. With that game original release slated for early March they should have game play videos available in late January. I’m also concerned with the company producing it, if this was being made by a development team with a track record of success and I knew HBO and GRRM were on board I might already be waiting outside the store. The fact is this is Cyanide studios who are virtually nobody in the gaming industry. You can equate this to a teenager who is being given the keys to his father’s Ferrari; chances are he is going to smash it into a tree before the end of the street. Or maybe I’m wrong and this is just the beginning of another successful franchise but I’m not counting on it, I would suggest careful optimism in this case. So yes, A Song of Ice and Fire can work as a successful game I’m just not sure if it can in this case.