As sure as spring gives way to summer, Kotaku's 2010 Summer Reading List is here to help you get your portable video game fix during the sunny, sandy situations where gaming isn't an option.
The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the surf is gently lapping at the shore. While that all sounds idyllic, it's not exactly a prime setting for video game playing. The sun glares off of your portable's screen. Bird droppings and sand can ruin electronic components, and that crystal clear water? Forget about it. Leave your gaming fear at home and curl up on the beach with one of the excellent selections from the second annual Kotaku Summer Reading List.
Just like last year, we've compiled a list of some of the best video game-related reads your money can buy, including straight-up adaptations, side stories set in your favourite video game universe, original fiction and non-fiction. The selection mainly consists of new releases, with a few golden oldies thrown in for good measure.
While today's games do their best to create fully-realised worlds with a true sense of depth and history, there's always room for improvement. While building worlds takes game developers years, a good writer only needs a couple of paragraphs to draw you in. Imagine what they can do in 300-400 pages, or better yet, see for yourself.
Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Author: Oliver Bowden Publisher: Penguin Pub. Date: February 2010 Assassin's Creed: Renaissance is the novelisation of Assassin's Creed II. It tells the story of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, just as the video game does, from the murder of his family to whatever spoiler-ish thing happens at the end. It's a pretty straightforward retelling of the tale, not deviating much from the plot of the game. Renaissance will add a little more depth to your Assassin's Creed II experience, without distracting you with side quests.
EVE: The Burning Life Author: Hjalti Danielsson Publisher: Tor Books Pub. Date: March 2010 EVE Online's lead narrative creator Hjalti Danielsson takes a novel approach in fleshing out the universe of New Eden in The Burning Life. Rather than write a book from the players' point of view, the book tells the story of two people affected by the deeds the players have done. Many novels based on massively-multiplayer online games ignore the seeming immortality of player characters, leaving readers wondering why no one casts resurrection spells on fallen comrade. The Burning Life bypasses this paradox by depicting two characters that can be killed, among a universe of starship pilots that can't.
While the narrative is a little dry, there's a wealth of background information in The Burning Life, giving the reader a deeper understanding of the inner workings of New Eden.
For the Win Author: Cory Doctorow Publisher: Tor Books Pub. Date: May 2010 Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow takes us to a near future where gold farmers in third-world countries slave away under horrible working conditions while virtual economies that rival those of real nations thrive upon their backs. While the book is classified as young adult fiction, it explores deep issues, from virtual economies to the formation of labour unions. According to Brian Ashcraft, who reviewed For the Win, it's one hell of a great read, with compelling characters and a strong message, even if it does feature the terrifying prospect of an MMO from Nintendo.
Guild Wars: Ghosts of Ascalon Author: Matt Forbeck and Jeff Grubb Publisher: Simon & Schuster Pub. Date: July 2010 Guild Wars 2 takes place 250 years after the events of the original free-to-play massively-multiplayer online role-playing game. Ghosts of Ascalon picks a year before Guild Wars 2 begins, following a band of adventurers as they seek an ancient artifact that could change the course of a centuries-old war. The catch? It lies within the doomed city of Ascalon, populated by the vengeful spirits of the citizens that called it home in life. With compelling characters and a great deal of background regarding what's gone down in the past two and a half centuries, Ghosts of Ascalon is a must-read for any player looking to get an early look at ArenaNet's next big MMO.
Halo: Evolutions Author: Various Publisher: Tor Books Pub. Date: November 2009 Is a full Halo novel too much for you? If you've got the attention span of your average Halo player (just kidding!), then perhaps Halo: Evolutions is more your speed. This collection of short stories based in the Halo universe just missed our 2009 Summer Reading List. Luckily its selection of bite-sized tales from the likes of Tobias S. Buckell, Eric Nylund, Frank O'Connor and Karen Traviss is more than memorable enough to make the list this year. If you've got a favourite Halo character, they're in here, with stories told from players in both sides of the battle. The book is subtitled "Essential Tales of the Halo Universe", and rightly so.
Halo: The Fall of Reach - 2nd Edition Author: Eric Nylund Publisher: Tor Books Pub. Date: August 2010 Originally published in 2001, Eric Nylund's Halo: The Fall of Reach tells the story of the bloody battle for the planet Reach, a battle that sparked the legend of Master Chief. Now that Bungie is revisiting Reach in the upcoming video game, Halo: Reach, the novel returns with all-new updated information and extra content, bringing it in line with the game's story.
Fans of the original book will doubtlessly enjoy the fresh take, and The Fall of Reach should be a perfect way to get you psyched up for Bungie's last hurrah in the Halo universe.
The Infernal City - An Elder Scrolls Novel Author: Greg Keyes Publisher: Random House Pub. Date: November 2009 Forty years after the events of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the world of Tamriel faces another horrific threat in the floating city of Umbriel. Floating across the sky, the city leaves death in its wake, and those the fall prey to its shadow are doomed to rise again. As Umbriel spreads terror across the land, a motley band of unlikely heroes could be Tamriel's only hope.
Of course, if this were faithful to The Elder Scrolls video game series, it would be one hero fighting in first-person, but we'll give author Greg Keyes a break. You can only write "I swing my sword downward" so many times before it gets old.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Author: Raymond Benson Publisher: Random House Pub. Date: November 2009 The author of several James Bond titles and director of the Ian Fleming Foundation, Raymond Benson is no stranger to stories of international espionage with bizarre plot twists, and no video game plot twist was quite as bizarre as the swapping out of Solid Snake with Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Benson continues his work novelising the entire MGS series that began with 2008's Metal Gear Solid. It's a faithful adaptation of the game, right down to having Raiden plagued by pigeons at the Big Shell. Fans of the game will be able to quote dialogue before reading it. It's likely the closest thing you can get to playing the game without having to power on a game system.
Mogworld Author: Yahtzee Croshaw Publisher: Dark Horse Pub. Date: August 2010 Fans of Yahtzee Croshaw's acerbic and loquacious Zero Punctuation video game reviews won't mind waiting until late into the summer (August 31) to get their hands on his first novel, Mogworld. Mogworld tells the story of Jim, a long-dead non-player character in a popular massively-multiplayer role-playing game, brought back to life by a necromancer for dark purposes that Jim could really care less about. He'd much rather be dead, and with hordes of players against him and inept programmers trying to hammer out game bugs, he might just get his wish.
The Escapist posted a lengthy excerpt of Mogworld when the book was first revealed, and there's definitely something very Terry Pratchett-ish about Yahtzee's writing. Should make for an entertaining read, and if it doesn't, you can always tear it apart in a Flash-animated review.
The Myst Reader Authors: Robyn Miller, Rand Miller, David Wingrove Publisher: Hyperion Pub. Date: September 2004 If the goal of video game companion novels is to flesh out the game's worlds, adding depth and detail, then The Myst Reader knocks it out of the park. Compiling the three novels in the Myst series - The Book of Atrus, The Book of Ti'ana, and The Book of D'ni - The Myst Reader explores the magical worlds and compelling characters of the bestselling video game franchise, with a focus on the character of Atrus, a member of an ancient race that can write whole worlds into existence or destroy them.
Otherland Series Author: Tad Williams Publisher: Penguin Pub. Date: 1996 - 2002 Tad Williams' Otherland series explores a not-so-distant future where virtual reality has been fully realised and people from all walks of life spend their free time exploring an expansive online world known as The Net. Over the course of four books - City of Golden Shadows, River of Blue Fire, Mountain of Black Glass, and Sea of Silver Light - Williams takes his characters on a wild ride through countless fictional worlds. In many ways the series is evocative of today's MMO culture, touching on the threat of online gaming addiction through a strange disease that traps users inside the virtual reality network.
dtp Entertainment and Singapore-based developer Real U are currently working on a massively-multiplayer online game based on the Otherland series, slated for release on the PC in 2011.
Other Lives (graphic novel) Author/Artist: Peter Bagge Publisher: Vertigo Pub. Date: April 2010 Peter Bagge is best known as the creator of Hate, a comic born in the 1990s that has long lampooned slacker and grunge culture and some social misfits that lived them. Other Lives is a graphic novel about a different brand of possible misfits, people who spent several years of this decade obsessed with the virtual world Second Life. Amid a tale of possible government spying, possible infidelity and possible lunacy is a spot-on recreation of some of Second Life's most incredible qualities - which is to say that some of the characters in Other Lives indulge in some extraordinary virtual world sex fetishes. This is a story of masking identity, but it is also a time capsule for Second Life at its bizarre heyday.
Scott Pilgrim Volumes 1-6 Author/Illustrator: Bryan Lee O'Malley Publisher: Oni Press Pub. Date: July 2004 - July 2010 Don't go see the Scott Pilgrim movie without reading Bryan Lee O'Malley's amazing series of graphic novels first! Enter the bizarre, video game-centric world of twenty-something Canadian slacker Scott Pilgrim. Thrill as he battles Ramona Flowers' seven evil ex-boyfriends! Laugh as the hilarious cast of characters takes over-the-top boss battles in stride! Laugh as Scott's gay roommate Wallace Wells steals every scene he appears in.
As the film recreates many of the series' more ridiculous scenes frame-for-panel, you can't possibly fully appreciate it fully without reading the books first. At $US11.99 apiece, picking up all six volumes is a bit of an investment, but it's well worth it.
StarCraft II: Heaven's Devils Author: William C. Dietz Publisher: Simon and Schuster Pub. Date: April 2010 Heaven's Devils tells the story of StarCraft hero Jim Raynor, taking the naive 18-year-old on one of the Confederacy's fringe worlds and transforming him into the hero he would eventually become. Witness bonds of friendship form between the backwater brawler and street-tough soldier Tychus Findlay, as the two uncover the corruption running rampant in the Confederacy.
William C. Dietz is an acclaimed science fiction writer, who has lent his hand to quite a few video game novelisations, including Halo, Hitman, and Resistance. Heaven's Devils takes the classic story of a backwoods "hick" making it in the military, and adds a futuristic twist.
World of Warcraft: Stormrage Author: Richard A. Knaak Publisher: Simon and Schuster Pub. Date: February 2010 Richard A. Knaak, author of multiple Dragonlance novels as well as the Dragonrealm series, finally returns to the characters he brought to life in the Warcraft War of the Ancients trilogy. Malfurion Stormrage, one of Azeroth's greatest druids and brother of the nefarious Illidan Stormrage, has been trapped in a twisted version of the Emerald Dream for far too long. Informed that the body of her lover is dying, priestess Tyrande Whisperwind and druid Broll Bearmantle (recently featured in the World of Warcraft comic book series) set out to bring Malfurion back to the waking world.
As with the War of the Ancients trilogy, Stormrage gives fans of World of Warcraft a heaping helping of back-story for the game, and is essential for anyone looking to stay up-to-date with game lore.
Perhaps you're the sort of gamer who gets their fill of fantastic virtual worlds from the games you play. No problem. There's a wealth of gaming non-fiction to be had, from frivolous record data regurgitation to explorations of the deep, religious undertones found lurking beneath the skin of your favourite virtual worlds.
Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter Author: Tom Bissell Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Pub. Date: June 2010 Politically-charged travel writer Tom Bissell explores a completely different sort of journey in Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter: The journey from normal guy to video game addict. As demonstrated by his world-spanning bout with drugs and Grand Theft Auto, previously featured on Kotaku, Bissell doesn't simply write about playing video games; he chronicles his journey through game worlds like a virtual tourist, regaling us with his experiences with the characters and settings we know and love, unafraid to venture into dark places, both in the games and within himself.
Guinness World Records Gamers' Edition 2010 Compiled by Guinness World Records Publisher: Brady Games Pub. Date: January 2010 The Guinness World Records Gamers' Edition seems like more an exercise in creative video game marketing than anything with real informational value. Still, the 2010 Edition is one of the lightest non-fiction gaming books you can pick up, with tons of small, easily digestible record entries making it, once again, perfect summer bathroom reading.
Halos and Avatars: Playing Games with God Editor: Craig Detweiler Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press Pub. Date: January 2010 Halos and Avatars is a collection of well-written essays on how religion is integrated into today's video games, from the myriad ways that video games integrate religious themes, subtle and overt, to discussions on how children can learn virtue through playing. No need to worry about condemnation for our favourite hobby; these essays are written by gamers that celebrate the melding of virtual and theological.
Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential Author: Brian Ashcraft with Shoko Ueda Publisher: Kodansha International Pub. Date: August 2010 Kotaku's own Brian Ashcraft follows-up his 2009 book Arcade Mania with Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential, a non-creepy look at Japan's number one export. From the origins of their sailor outfits to their prevalence in every aspect of Japanese culture, from music to movies to video games, the book is a comprehensive exploration of the teen girl squad that holds an entire island nation in its thrall.
Street Fighter: The Complete History Author: Chris Carle Publisher: Chronicle Books Pub. Date: March 2010 Take an in-depth look at the history of the franchise that launched a thousand fighting games. Street Fighter: The Complete History features tons of interviews with the creators of the series and more than 200 pieces of artwork straight from the Capcom vaults. Even if you can't play Street Fighter to save your life, you'll be able to discuss it in exhaustive detail after polishing off this read.
And that's the second edition of Kotaku's annual Summer Reading list, presenting what we believe are some of the more engaging works of video game fiction and non-fiction available to help you while away the hot summer days. We leave you with a simple question for you to answer in the comments section of this post.
Read any good books lately?