5 Books to Adapt to MMOs

by Tyler Edwards

If there's one thing our media seems to love lately, it's adaptation. Seems like half our movies are based on comics or novels, and many MMOs are adaptations of films, TV shows, or previous game franchises. But for some reason, books are not as commonly used as source material for MMOs. Age of Conan and Lord of the Rings Online are just about the only exceptions, and one suspects those would not have existed if both franchises hadn't been popularized by blockbuster movies. So let's put on our thinking caps and imagine what games could arise if developers started drawing inspiration from the world of literature.

shadow of the apt

5: Shadows of the Apt

Shadows of the Apt might not be as big a name as some of series on this list, but it's a rich setting with a lot of potential as the basis for an MMO. Written by British author Adrian Tchaikovsky, Shadows of the Apt is set in a world whose ecosystem is dominated by insects and arachnids. Humans of this world learned they could channel the traits of these insects, resulting in dozens of sub-races of humanity, called "kinden."

Each kinden has certain traits and powers drawn from their totem insect. Beetle-kinden resemble Dwarves from traditional fantasy, being stocky, durable, and mechanically inclined. Mantis-kinden are an ancient warrior race, deadly with blade, bow, and the spines that grow from their arms.

The kinden are further divided into two groups: the Apt and Inapt. The Apt are masters of reason and science, creating steampunk-inspired industrial societies. The Inapt are creatures of darkness, mystery, and magic.

The depth and diversity of this setting makes it an ideal foundation for an MMO. Over the massive series, Tchaikovsky has introduced readers to countless fascinating locales that would be exciting to explore in an online game - from grungy Apt cities, to haunted Mantis forests, to the exotic realm of the Spiderlands, to the underwater world of the Sea-kinden.

The diversity of the races would give players some interesting choices. Apt players would make use of technology and science, while those playing as the Inapt races would rely on ancient technique and subtle magical powers.

It's also worth noting that Adrian Tchaikovsky is himself an avid MMO player.

dark tower

4: The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower series is a vast epic by legendary author Stephen King. It combines many disparate concepts from many different genres. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, and Westerns all contribute to this series, which follows a "gunslinger" from a dying world on a quest across a surreal multiverse of alternate realities.

Aside from its popularity and beloved status among fans, The Dark Tower series make an interesting potential setting for an MMO because of its sheer diversity. Magic, mutants, cyborgs, contemporary cities, and countless other wondrous and terrible things all come together within this series. It even bears subtle connections to many of Stephen King's other works, creating the potential for those to also be featured in a Dark Tower MMO. It would be an unending delight to King's many fans.

If it has a flaw as a setting, it's that it would be an enormous technical challenge to do it all justice. Creating even a fraction of the Dark Tower mythos in a virtual setting would take more effort than many full MMOs.

Interestingly, The Dark Tower has already been adapted into an online game, called Discordia. However, it is not an MMO.

dune drive

3: Dune

Frank Herbert's sci-fi epic Dune is still beloved more than fifty years after its release. It is a tale of religious and political intrigue and human transcendence set tens of thousands of years in the future, focused on the planet Arrakis or "Dune."

Dune is the only source of melange, the spice, a drug that extends human life and allows for interstellar navigation. This makes the desert planet a hub of galactic intrigue and conflict.

Because of this emphasis on politics, a Dune MMO would like work best as a sandbox focused on player conflict. The spice forms a perfect carrot for players to chase. Trade it to increase one's wealth, or use it personally to gain great power. To make things even more hardcore, it could follow Dune lore, and spice withdrawal could lead to death, forcing players to constantly earn more.

That's not to say there wouldn't be the potential for some exciting PvE, as well. Who wouldn't want to fight a raid against one of the iconic sandworms?

The Dune universe also offers plenty of colorful factions for players to swear fealty to, including the noble House Atreides, the brutal House Harkonnen, and the wild Arrakis natives known as the Fremen.

The combat systems for a Dune MMO could prove interesting, too. In Dune, personal energy shields have made firearms obsolete, and swords have returned as the weapon of choice. This makes for a sci-fi setting with combat that harkens more to fantasy.


2: Runelords

The Runelords is an epic fantasy by David Farland based on the idea that attributes such as brawn, stamina, wit, and beauty can be magically transferred between individuals through the use of certain runes.

This seems like a great basis for a unique progression system in an MMO. Instead of traditional leveling, players would improve their character by gaining specific attributes from NPCs. The basics of a balanced progression system already exist in Runelords lore. A fighter who takes many endowments of brawn but none of grace will become clumsy and awkward, no match for a warrior with balanced attributes.

But what could really make a Runelords MMO interesting is the relationship that would exist between a player and the people who granted them attributes, known as dedicates. Would you be a noble ruler, convincing people to become dedicates through your acts of heroism, or would you be a tyrant, coercing innocents into servitude?

The Runelords could work well as a sandbox or a theme park, or combine elements of both. On the one hand, it's a setting full of intrigue, and one could easily imagine it becoming a hotbed of rivalry and conflict to rival EVE Online. In Runelords, dedicates are crippled by the loss of their attribute, and must be protected. If players could kill each other's dedicates and thus rob them of those attributes, the ganker's art could reach new heights.

On the other hand, the Runelords setting is also rich with fantastic places to explore and enemies to defeat, such as the subterranean insectoids known as Reavers or the tyrannical conqueror Raj Ahten. This gives it great potential as a more traditional PvE theme park.


1: Shannara:

Few fantasy sagas have been as long-lived and successful as Terry Brooks' Shannara mythos. Beginning with the novel The Sword of Shannara in 1977, Terry Brooks has continued to expand on the series up until the current day, with the most recent novel, Witch Wraith, published in 2013.

On the surface, Shannara is a fairly generic high fantasy setting, filled with Elves, Trolls, Demons, and sorcerers. But there is one interesting twist. The Shannara novels are not set in some alternate reality, or even the distant past. Instead, the world of Shannara is Earth in the far-flung future. Following an apocalyptic war that wiped out modern technology, magic rose again. Many of the "fantasy" races are in fact offshoots of humanity who mutated in the fallout of the wars.

This provides a very unique setting for an MMO, as there are still some remnants of the past - our future - in the Shannara world. Plenty of games feature steampunk elements or magical technology, but none hybridize fantasy and sci-fi the way a Shannara MMO could.

Sure, it could feature all the standard fantasy baddies - Demons, Trolls, and black magicians - but you could also have raids against buried cybernetic horrors and ruthless computers.

Another advantage of the Shannara universe as an MMO setting is its breadth. An MMO based on it could be set around the time of the early books for a more traditional fantasy setting, or the later books, when magical technology became more advanced. Who wouldn't want a game with flying sailboats?

If the hypothetical developers want to really stand apart from the crowd, they could even set the game during the Great Wars that destroyed our world and gave birth the world of Shannara. How often do you get to play a post-apocalyptic, futuristic fantasy game?