Yesterday, I posted some screens from Cyanide Studio's upcoming PC strategy game A Game of Thrones: Genesis (one of those screens is above). Details about the game are few and far between, and the only video online is a gameplay-free teaser. At a casual glance, the game seemed cool enough — a Total War-style strategy game set in Westeros. Sounds neat!
But then I thought about it, and actually, it doesn't really sound all that neat. I read through the comments on the post, and saw that a lot of you guys felt similarly. We may not know a ton about A Game of Thrones: Genesis, but I know enough about A Song of Ice and Fire to sense that a strategy game runs the risk of missing out on many of the things that make George R.R. Martin's books (and the HBO series) so great.
I'm a little more than halfway through A Feast For Crows right now (and although it's no Storm of Swords, I'm warming to it). And of course, I've been thinking about what kind of game it could be since well before I'd even heard of Genesis. So, here are some thoughts. Fair warning, there'll be spoilers throughout, if you've yet to read the books.
For starters, let's just go ahead and name this game for A Song of Ice and Fire from here on out, yeah? Bad enough that the TV series (which I totally love) is named after the first book—a bit like calling the Lord of the Rings movies The Fellowship of the Ring.
I've been neck-deep in Westeros for the past several months, and if I had to imagine a game that captured the spirit of George R.R. Martin's stories, it probably wouldn't even involve that much combat. The battles in A Song of Ice and Fire feel almost entirely secondary, and ditto for the TV show. In the show's first season, most of the big battles occurred offscreen — but I actually liked that. "The action isn't the point," the show seemed to be saying. And really, it isn't.
Politics are such a huge part of these stories, and so a game based on A Song of Ice and Fire would have to involve political machinations. But it'd have to be more than just dry, Civilizationesque political debate and conflict — the politics of A Song of Ice and Fire are sordid and personal, generations-old familial grudges laced with dark, bloody betrayal. Similarly, many characters wind up doing their best with a crummy hand — Here in book 4, I even find myself feeling sorry for poor, increasingly psychotic Cercei, as she attempts to deal with an unravelling kingdom and her increasingly tenuous grasp on the Iron Throne. A complicated, difficult-to-win sim like Fate of the World could actually be kind of appropriate.
But let's back up and talk about betrayal for a second. One of the running themes of the books seems to be that no matter how someone thinks something's going to go down (or how they feel it "should" go down), it almost always goes down differently. If I had to name a single overarching theme of these books, I'd probably quote the Stones: "You can't always get what you want."
Fairness simply doesn't exist in Westeros. "I was promised a golden crown!" "I had the dying king sign this paper!" "We're sparing him and sending him to the wall!" "We took you in and raised you like one of us!" "We'll have a wedding and everything will be fine!" Etc, etc, etc. And so in order for a game to feel right in this world, it'll have to involve a whole lot of things going wrong.
So: Politics, Betrayal. Got it. And then there's the White Walkers. Lingering at the fringes, this dark, mysterious menace. Hmm… I guess we really did already kind of get A Song of Ice and Fire: The Video Game, didn't we? It was made by BioWare, and they called it Dragon Age: Origins.
I remember when that game came out, I heard from a lot of G.R.R. Martin fans grumbling that David Gaider's story had borrowed heavily from Martin's already famous series. Now that I've read the books, I wouldn't say they're all that similar — after all, Ice and Fire's Wights and Walkers are far less central and more ephemeral (so far) than the ubiquitous Darkspawn of the Dragon Age series. But Dragon Age did feel similar in a lot of broader ways, particularly in how it embraced morally grey areas and no-win scenarios, and how many of its most interesting moments occurred outside of combat. The betrayal at Ostagar, the Landsmeet, the Elven Alienage, the fate of Teyrn Loghain… it all had a very Song of Ice and Fire vibe.
(Side note: "Origins" and "Genesis" are basically the same word, which is interesting.)
But then, Dragon Age: Origins still wasn't quite a proper Song of Ice and Fire game, despite drawing clear inspiration from the books. And in truth, Martin's world is so rich, so storied, that it would be almost impossible to include everything in any single game. Perhaps an adventure set during the much-fabled Age of Heroes? An action-RPG following the exploits of Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne? Castle management in the Red Keep? A tower-defense game set on The Wall?
I suppose Cyanide's real problem is that there are so many great ways to approach a Song of Ice and Fire game that their decision to make a fantasy strategy game feels a little uninspired. But then again, who knows? I've reached out to try to learn more, and for all we know they could very well be working a lot of great things into the finished product.
In the meantime, all we can do is wonder. I feel like I've only scratched the surface here — what do you think would make for the best Song of Ice and Fire game?