Though we don’t see them quite as much as we used to, tie-in video games have been A Thing since the dawn of our medium.
From ET on the Atari to Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham series, a wide variety of stories have been given the video game treatment over the years. But adaptations of books are not as common; tie-ins to political novels by George Orwell even less so.
Yet that’s exactly what a group of UK-based developers are doing – adapting the author’s 1945 novel Animal Farm into a game experience.
The team features a number of familiar faces – Bossa Studios’ Imre Jele, Jessica Curry of The Chinese Room fame, ex-Lionhead game maker Georg Backer, industry veteran Andy Payne and theatre director Kate Saxon.
“Imre and I have been discussing our dream of making a game based on Animal Farm for about two years,” Payne explains.
“We both cite the book as a key influence in our own personal and political philosophies. We have similar views on how the book develops and ends, namely, ‘is that really it, are the animals as incapable as the humans of building a coherent society?’ So we decided to make an adventure-tycoon game that gives the player choices that will deliver a variety of outcomes, good and bad.”
The development team behind this project is a real who’s who of the UK games scene. But more interestingly, they all work for different studios, yet are collaborating on this project together.
In some ways it feels like a game development super group.
“Let’s hope we can live up to that billing,” Payne says.
“We decided on a completely distributed approach. Most of our team are their own bosses anyway and have vast experience of virtual working. And then when you get a chance to work on Animal Farm, well it has not been difficult to agree a way to work together no matter the geographical challenges. Whilst we are all based in various parts of the UK, we do envisage coming together regularly to ensure we meet face to face and maximise our collective creativity and make each other laugh.”
Payne goes on to say that many members of the development team have some sort of a personal connection to the novel.
“We believe Animal Farm is as relevant today as it was when published in 1945. In fact, we think Orwell’s warning might be even more relevant than ever before,” he explains.
“Imre grew up under a communist regime in Hungary and feels that some governments have started using language eerily similar to what he heard when he was younger. This has meant that Imre feels personally challenged to spread Orwell’s dystopian warning by adapting Animal Farm into a game.
“I read Animal Farm when I was 11 years old in Britain and it had a huge effect on me too and have wanted to adapt it into a game for about 20 years. The current political situation is aping Manor Farm on steroids, and I feel that the game must be made now or never.
“Jessica's 13-year-old has just finished reading Animal Farm and he has fallen in love with it and is angered by the injustices contained within, just as she was. Like all great literature, Jessica believes it remains both timeless and timely. Musically, it’s a dream to bring it to life.”
Making this game now is important, Payne says, because of the current chaotic political landscape.
“We are seeing some our great democracies hijacked by a mix of dictators, frauds, chancers, using social and traditional media to spread lies and so called fake news,” he says.
“People all over the world are subjected to terror, ideology and manipulation and many are getting angry. People are looking for simplistic and populist solutions to these complex problems. Reason and enlightenment are under threat from dark forces of totalitarianism and religion. Animal Farm will help to show players that there are no simple solutions, only a number of choices that all have consequences.
“We really hope that Animal Farm will ask questions as well as offering some answers.”