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Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and Witcher: How You Can (and Can’t) Adapt Famous Fantasies To Games

Kantamessa, a 12-year-old Christian, was sitting in bed reading The Lord of the Rings when she made her own story in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, set in Tolkien’s universe. I never imagined I would have the chance. Even Brad Kane can’t imagine himself writing his own Westerosi story through the Telltale series as he walked down the aisle to the Game of Thrones theme tune on his wedding day. The same goes for Marcin Blacha and Magdalena Zych on his CD Projekt Red.

Each of these writers has created a video game story set in an established and beloved fantasy epic, but the opportunity to do so is fantasy in itself, despite real dreams coming true. , comes with a myriad of challenges and pressures.

Shadow of Mordor Bright Lord — Photo Mode Screen

Take Lord of the Rings, for example. JRR Tolkien has created a whole plane of existence with its own history, mythology, politics, etc. .

Monolith Productions’ Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor takes place within this intricate web, with lead writer Christian Cantamessa working alongside writers and literal lords of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation on the Tolkien estate (the deceased’s work). We have cooperated with the legal authority that governs of Ring scholars to create lore-accurate narratives. It was helpful to say, “What you’re doing here won’t work because either it happens here or there’s this statement in the book that contradicts it.” .

Witcher developer CD Projekt Red maintains a similar process. Sr. his writer Magdalena Jacques Source, a collection of his eight novels dating back decades, says staying true to his material is almost as much as creating a strong story from the start. said to be important. “Of course we add, expand, and change material, but the latter is never accidental,” she says. She said, “It’s very important to keep the Witcher world intact, otherwise you’re wasting it and ruining the integrity that makes it so attractive.

“When it comes to RPGs, story is the most important thing,” continues Zych. “Regardless of what it’s based on, it first has to be mature, engaging, engrossing the player, offering the right mix of emotions, and presenting the player with options that seem impossible. , staying true to the source material is a close call, especially when you’re working on such a beloved franchise.”

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creative red tape

Staying true to the source material can also be limiting, according to Brad Kane, co-writer of many of Telltale’s Game of Thrones episodes and the canceled second season. has been a longtime fan of the series since before and has dreamed of immersing himself in Westeros and Essos every day. Rather, it was more restrictive and restrictive,” he says.

“HBO came back and had some pretty good ideas a few times that they said we couldn’t do. [fellow writer] Megan Thornton is talking about this whole thread involving Arctic ice dragons. 3 years before creating

Of course, there are strategies to keep you from stepping on your toes in general, says Kane.The main strategy the Telltale team has deployed is minor departures that can be used to carve out new spaces from George R. R. Martin’s novels. The game’s main characters are from the Forrester family, a family that is mentioned only once and very briefly in the book. “We intentionally didn’t go into the deeply established fortifications,” Kane explains. “Gameplay He wanted the freedom to create a sandbox, have a life-or-death character, and do something original within the world.

“You can’t really change Daenerys Targaryen or Tyrion Lannister,” he continues. “They’re known quantities and we’re at a particular time in the show’s chronology, so we can’t do much about where they are and where they’re going. It was a way of not being a force, but rather a way of having something we could interact with and be part of the gameplay experience.”

Keeping this gameplay in mind is another important part of a video game writer’s job, Cantamessa explains. Because this task is much more complicated than writing a synopsis and a few cutscenes. It’s not enough to just come up with characters that fit the story and world of the original. “He also has to serve the function of the game,” says Cantamessa.

“They have to fit into the mechanics of that type of story, so they add extra guidelines. When all those guidelines are taken away, you get some leeway, but not much.”


Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor’s main antagonist, the Black Hand of Sauron, is an example of how these concepts come together. in-game objectives. “It actually [creative director Michael de Plater’s] The idea is to actually personify a passage from the book that points to Sauron’s Black Hand. “

There is some debate as to whether this line talks about a literal body part or something more than that, but the writing team called it “The Black Hand of Sauron is someone doing his bidding.” “We embodied the spirit that Tolkien was trying to convey in that sentence, that paragraph, that page of the story.”

He added that some characters are a bit more obvious, such as the inclusion of Gollum as a quest giver, but even this shows that he’s in the right place at the right time in the wider Lord of the Rings lore. It has been carefully thought out to ensure that

According to Marcin Blacha, story director of The Witcher, using these known characters often makes the writer’s job easier. Seeing familiar faces also helps establish the game’s authenticity in the wider lore. “The Witcher books have his three pillars: characters, original interpretations of fantasy tropes, and dialogue with reality,” he says. “Adaptation makes it easier for his team to work on narratives because they can start working on stories involving characters and the relationships between them without having to create or figure out those relationships in the first place. Because we can.”

stay true to the source material

CD Projekt Red deployed a similar strategy to Cantamessa’s Black Hand of Sauron, but with characters like The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings’ Iorveth only mentioned vaguely a few times in the book. But the beloved character on Sapkowski’s page. Of course, this is headlined by Rivia’s protagonist Geralt, but the stories of Yennefer, Tampopo, Ciri, and others are all expanded on in the game series.

Regis is another main character resurrected in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s Blood and Wine expansion, and is (again spoiler) very dead at the end of the novel’s main saga. revive in a relatively short period of time. [the books] ‘Blood and Wine’ may have been a little overdone in terms of ‘The Witcher’ lore, but it was worth it,” says Zych.

“Of course Regis had no freedom [like] Iorveth: Regis was already a very defined, very developed character. His appearance, the way he speaks, his friendship with Geralt, the way he thinks, the way he thinks, everything had to be exactly as it is in the book.

The end result is incredibly rewarding, but it’s hard to get there, and I can’t believe the writers are working on a project that has so many rules behind it, not to mention impeccable fame. It’s no surprise that it’s not as enthusiastic. This was certainly the case with Cantamessa before he started working on Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Lord of the Rings.

“On the one hand, I’m like, ‘Hey, I can do this, it’s already done, it’s very difficult, and I really want to do it,'” he says. “On the one hand, not only as a fan, but as a normally insecure person, I’m very worried that they might misfire and I might do a bad job. Something I’m very passionate about.” When you’re a fan of something, you want to make sure that whatever you do doesn’t make it worse.

Thankfully for Kantamessa, the game was so well received that it took a lot of that pressure off. I did my best,” he says.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor Screenshots

But what would Tolkien, who died in 1973, long before video games became the medium of storytelling we know today, think about his story? “I hope he’s not spinning in his grave.

“It makes me think in the back of my mind that Tolkien would be pleased with our work, Peter Jackson’s work, and frankly, all newspaper work.

“In one of his letters he states that he is creating this new myth. And he hoped that he would fill them with poetry.

Of course, video games never existed, but I think he was open to the idea that other people would come in and fill in some of these sketches he made. He never wrote, “I hope nobody touches mine.” So we took the sketch he left behind and played with it, so at least I know he didn’t betray what he believed.

Some quotes have been edited for clarity.

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