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The novel initially reached 2 million online readers before it even hit print, and since then, it (and its sequel) hit best-seller status. Yet when a representative from publisher THQ asked a room full of journalists a few months ago if they've ever heard of Metro 2033 the book, no one raised a hand. That's mainly because we're not living in Mother Russia.
But THQ PR has done its job, and now we know — the Russian novel was a huge success in its homeland. And while Metro 2033 the game (Xbox 360, PC) isn't doing Modern Warfare 2 numbers on the sales charts, it's certainly causing quite a buzz with its creepy, postapocalyptic atmosphere (read some Bitmob user reviews here and here).
Most licensed games come to us from big-budget films or kid properties — rarely do we see any based purely on a novel, much less a Russian one. The author is a gamer, though, and he's pretty excited to see his imagination come to life in electronic-entertainment form.
We recently got a chance to do an interview over email with the book's writer, Dmitry Glukhovsky. See what he has to say about his own gaming background, what other huge piece of Russian literature needs to be turned into a game, and how he feels about multiple endings to a story that originally had only one.
(He also says something we think the Metal Gear Solid developers ought to learn from….)
Bitmob: Were you always a gamer? Or is gaming new to you?
Dmitry Glukhovsky: I’ve been playing video games since I was 10. Prince of Persia, Arkanoid, Tetris, Civilization 1, Wolfenstein 3D…god, I am old! The Civilization franchise is the love of my life — the last time I played was a couple of days ago.
Bitmob: How did you feel when they approached you to make a video game based on your book?
DG: I was and still am very enthusiastic about it. It's just as much of an honor as getting the book screened and turned into a movie. Together, we have worked hard to keep the atmosphere, the spirit, the meanings, and the philosophy of the book — which is a social dystopia — in the game.
Somebody asked me if I feel that having my book turned into a video game somehow degrades it. Bullshit. It promotes it, gives it a huge additional audience, and basically just lures teenagers into reading. I say, turn Crime and Punishment into a PC game!
Bitmob: Did you mainly help the developers with making sure the fiction and mythology are correct? Or did you contribute actual gameplay ideas as well?
DG: Both. But mainly, of course, I did my job — that of keeping the story consistent and making sure the senses and meanings of the book are there. Also, I have rewritten all the dialogue for the Russian version of the game.
Bitmob: Since the game offers different endings, is it strange to you that players can take different paths that don’t follow the book exactly?
DG: No, actually, I find it thrilling. The Metro 2033 novel is a long and difficult story. Before it became a printed book, it had been an online project. In 2002, I published the text using my own website and made it interactive. I started to write new chapters and publish them live while getting feedback from the audience on every chapter. So the novel was interactive from the very beginning.
It's after Metro 2033 had become an Internet hit that publishers finally noticed the novel. Metro 2033 the book has sold 500,000 copies in Russia alone since then, but the full text is still available online for free on the same website, and a couple more million readers have read the novel online.
See, I am very open to all kinds of creative experiences. And an open ending in the game, where the hero can change the ending of the book, sounds cool.
Bitmob: How do you balance giving the developers enough freedom to make a good game, yet keeping the game faithful enough to your vision you had for the book?
DG: I am a generally sane man, and I understand perfectly well that video games are a whole different genre than literature. You can't stick my longer-than-Tarantino dialogues from the novel into a game.
We have to understand the gamers. A game is meant to be played, not read or listened to. The main challenge is to preserve the spirit and the meaning of the book, to keep the consistency of the story. The developers did it perfectly well.
My motto is: find talented partners and trust them. With 4A Games, the developers of the game, I did find very talented partners. They managed to create their very own piece of art based on my book. Their work isn't a castration of my creation but an enhancement.
Bitmob: What do you think about the game? Is it as much your baby now as the book is?
DG: You won't get your regular 3D shooter with Metro 2033. It's a game that will make you feel, think, and believe. I must say, when I saw the most recent trailers of the game, when I tried to play it, I was amazed. The technology is cutting edge, the spirit is there, and altogether, this is not just another game. It is a world to live in.