Many books have been made into video games in the past: everything ranging from The Bible to Game of Thrones has become some sort of platforming, trivia, RPG or action adventure endeavor, aimed towards introducing a wider audience to age-old classics. Attempts to do so have led to amazing titles, but more often than not have created a disconnect for people who may or may not have the gaming skill to fully complete the game, keeping many of us from experiencing many great stories  in their entirety. Luckily, developer The Story Mechanics (Official Website) hopes that their upcoming The Thirty-Nine Steps project will not only remedy the issue, but hopefully bridge the gap between game and story in a fascinating new series of “Digital Adaptations”.

The Multiplatform and Gaming Division of UK-based television and digital production company Tern TV, The Story Mechanics state on their website that they are “taking the greatest works of fiction and retelling them as digital experiences.” The first project, an adaptation of the 1915 John Buchan espionage novel, will allow the audience to (according to Lead Developer Simon Meek) “See, hear and feel the world that the narrative exists in,” using gameplay as an optional form of immersion as opposed to the basis of the experience, combining written text with audio and visual cues and activities to add a little bit of spice to the story, and allowing players to reach the conclusion of the story in their own way, so that no experience will be exactly the same yet still very accurately following the story.

Never heard of “The 39 Steps” eh? Well, since the original literature is about 97 years old, we’ll let it slide this time: Audiences will be treated to the tale of Richard Hannay, an expatriate Scottish man now residing in London. Hannay’s life is turned upside down one night when he meets a man named Franklin P. Scudder, a man fearing for his life whom Hannay allows to stay with him for a couple of days. The man claims to be a spy who knows of a plan to assassinate the Greek Prime Minister while he visits London, a small part of a bigger plot to cause a full-scale war between Greece, Britain and Germany. Five days later, Scudder is found stabbed to death in Hannay’s apartment, forcing Hannay to flee to Scotland, where he soon finds himself wanted by authorities for the murder of Scudder. Deciding to take on Scudder’s mission to uncover this plot and save the Greek Prime Minister, Hannay tries to stay one step ahead of a sinister organization known as The Black Stone, while also trying to uncover the secret of The Thirty-Nine Steps, a clue given to Hannay by Scudder.

The main character of Richard Hannay is one of the originals of the classic spy genre, and would go on to star in a total of six novels (though featured in eight), a television series and five movies, four of which (including a play) would be adaptations of his first adventure, The Thirty-Nine Steps, the most popular of these adaptations being the 1935 version directed by none-other than legendary director Alfred Hitchcock.

So, how does the whole “Digital Adaptation” work? The best way to explain this would be to go into the seven mechanics of the adaptation, with descriptions courtesy of a press release from publisher Lace Mamba Global and

                “While progressing through the story, users will face these mandatory and optional mechanics:

  •         Events (mandatory story mechanic): The whole story is split into events, allowing to separate the core story from additional story elements that can be consumed optionally, or skipped. Created from locations and scenes, these events are arranged into an event tree, occasionally allowing choices in the event consumption, such as an alternative order of events. Still, users will be consuming the original story of The Thirty Nine Steps, without any alteration (e.g. Hollywood would require to make a story work on the big screen).
  •          Progress (mandatory story mechanic): The fundamental methodology and core-experience is the progress. Here, the user is in control of the flow of media – a combination of text, image, audio, video. This mechanic makes use of HD environments in 3D space, with real-time vfx and originally composed atmos. The story is projected on these canvases – telling the story “from inside out”.
  •            Encounter (mandatory and optional story mechanic): All dialogue elements in the core story-text are treated as theatrical performances, using professional, well-known voice actors (such as Nick Underwood, Greg Hemphill, Robin Laing and Benny Young). Characters, though, are purposely abstracted. There is an inbuilt scope for interaction through questions that occour in the dialogue – where multiple questions are used to explore non-core narrative.
  •                Recall (mandatory story mechanic): Recall offers a different visual experience that is tied into the media of the era the story is told. These sections relate to times in which characters tell stories about themselves – effectively creating a “story in a story”. These sections allow to play around with different styles – in terms of The Thirty Nine Steps, this can mean, 1914-typical silhouette plays are used to depict a sequence.
  •                Control (mandatory and optional story mechanic): Users will be put in the position of a character, and  use gesture controls to maneuver around.
  •              Discover (optional story mechanic): This option allows the user to mine the story for more information on themes that have been raised in the core narrative.
  •             Explore (optional story mechanic): Environments are very important – the explore mechanic allows the player to delve deeper into these locations and find their secrets – story information that has often been alluded to in the core text, but also experiencing elements of the world in which the story is set and letting the story breathe.
  •               Examine (optional story mechanic): Stories use objects and items to impart valuable information. This will be recreated using highly detailed renderings of the objects described in the text, allowing to consume even more details and background information on, for example, a setting. A typical object that can be examined could be a newspaper, for example, when mentioned in the text.”


The Thirty-Nine Steps will make use of the Unity 3D Engine, which should allow for some stunning high-definition graphics and locales to explore, as well as a rewards system of sorts for progression and variety.

Looks like this project could possibly put a welcome and effective spin on the modern book and game as we know it, and you can trust that we at Only Single Player will definitely keep you updated on any news as we further investigate this in the coming weeks. The digital adaptation has an estimated release date of June 15th, 2012 for iPhone, Mac and PC. The original novel is available to read for free online through online book archiver, while the 1935 movie is now public domain and available for viewing on Youtube here.

Special Thanks to Lace Mamba Global and The Story Mechanics and for the press release information.

Leonard Flounoy

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