Game Tie-in Books

I finished two game tie-in books, recently. I know it seems like tie-ins are the only thing I read, first there were the Burn Notice novels, and now Mass Effect’s third novel and the Elemental novel. I do read more than that, but usually my non-game/TV related reading are trilogies or series and those are much harder for me to write about.

Mass Effect: Retribution

Let’s start with the sci-fi book. Like the previous two  novels, Retribution is written by Drew Karpyshyn who also writes the dialog for the games and it shows in the quality of both. Set sometime after the second game, Retribution picks up with most of the same characters from Ascension but puts them into a conflict that picks up from the end of the game.

Side note: I don’t think this is a prequel for Mass Effect 3. I can’t be sure but Ascension was not directly related to Mass Effect 2, except for the fact that it featured Cerberus, so I’m guessing it’s not.

As the books opens, we find that Cerberus has acquired Reaper technology and plans to test it on humans. The Illusive Man has a particular human in mind, Paul Grayson, who’s on the run for betraying Cerberus and the Illusive Man. During the course of the book, Kahlee Sanders finds out that Paul’s been abducted and enlists David Anderson to help find him and possibly take down Cerberus.

These books are a bit different from more game tie-ins that I familiar with, because they don’t involve the main protagonist from the game or ever do more than peripherally reference events in the game. Instead these books are more about filling on more of the background of the Mass Effect universe and developing some of the ancillary characters. This is nice since, if you have read them, then the world in the game is that much more alive and there are some oblique references to book events, but they’re not required reading by any means.

Destiny’s Embers

Leaving aside all of the drama around the game it’s tied to (you can Google it), I thought that Destiny’s Embers was a fun book. It’s written by Brad Wardell, whose the programmer for the game Elemental and the CEO of Stardock. So while it’s not a great book; it isn’t an awful book either. It was a fun read that kept me interested enough in the characters and plot to overlook any rough edges, and that’s not something I can say about every fantasy book I’ve picked up recently.

I would caution anyone who’s grammar sensitive that you’ll probably not enjoy this book as Brad’s style includes a frequent use of commas. This is not something that bothered me, but it is something to keep in mind. If you’re curious but not sure, then check out the except on Amazon’s site (or get the Kindle sample).

The plot itself is fairly standard epic fantasy: good versus evil. Most of the characters are either good or bad with few shades of gray. There’s a hero’s journey in search of a mythical item, a big battle scene at the climax, and an ending that sets up the game.

10 Comments

  1. I’ve heard of Karpyshyn from his Star Wars Darth Bane books but I only recently found out he was a dialogue and scenario writer for KOTOR and has gone on to work on SWTOR as well. But I had no idea he was also behind the dialogue for the Mass Effect until I read your post. I was very impressed with what I saw from the games, so that sort of makes me want to read the ME books even more now. When I do, it would be best if I started with the first one, I assume?

    Ack, too many books on my reading list. I still need to read the second Dragon Age book, not to mention all the non-game related fiction I have in my back log.

    • BrianNo Gravatar says:

      You can but you don’t have to. Revelations is about Anderson and Saren, so it’s several years before the events of ME1. But if you’ve ever wanted the details of why Anderson didn’t become the first human Spectre, then you should pick it up.

      Ascension is where Kahlee and Grayson first appear, Cerberus is involved and there’s a lot of events dealing with biotics. I would recommend you at least start with Ascension before reading Retribution, it’s not necessary to enjoy the third book, but you’ll get some small references and have a bit more attachment to the characters that way.

  2. YeeboNo Gravatar says:

    Kind of an aside . . . but good dialogue writers, whether it’s conversation trees or quest dialogue, are highly underrated. If there was a game I knew Karpyshyn did the writing for I think I’d be a lot more likely to check it out. KOTOR and Mass Effect had some really great dialogue.

    • BrianNo Gravatar says:

      Absolutely, as anyone whose seen the Star Wars prequels can attest, dialog is supremely important.

    • I totally agree. Last year I read this interview with David Gaider, the lead writer for DA:O and also the author of the DA books about the essence of dialogue writing for projects like Bioware games: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/4045/the_story_thing_biowares_david_.php

      It really made me appreciate the work into writing dialogue for a game. I think that while a lot of good writers can write, without practice very few would actually be able to pull off what’s needed to make a conversation flow properly from one line to another, keeping in mind the myriad interactions the player will have at their disposal, the random order of choices he or she can make, etc. Not to mention it has to sound natural and can’t be too long-winded either. It’s like a whole different craft all together.

      • BrianNo Gravatar says:

        Thanks for the link, I hadn’t read that before. Dialog is definitely very tricky, for me it largely depends on how realized the characters are in my head. In games though it’s got to been much much worse since you can have multiple versions of a character, that’s got to be like mentally juggling chainsaws.

  3. As for grammar style, I would rather have an author make frequent, if unusual, use of punctuation so long as it conveys a particular flow and style to the dialogue. How else would you convey where a pause should go in writing to emphasis a particular way a line of dialogue should sound. I seems like Bradley Wardell simply writes the way it should sound – fine with me.

    Julie Whitefeather

    • BrianNo Gravatar says:

      Same for me, Sister. I read the first couple of chapters before buying the book, but the writing style really didn’t bother me at all. Then again, I’m fairly flexible regarding grammar and punctuation, but I know some people for whom that would ruin the book, so I felt like I needed to mention it.

      I’m hoping we see additional novels set in the world.

  4. AnjinNo Gravatar says:

    How did I not comment on this post before?!? Ugh.

    I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I love Mass Effect, but I haven’t picked up any of the novels. Bookstore time?

    As for the Elemental book, I’m such a fantasy snob now that I have trouble reading anything that doesn’t immediately grab me. And anything that comes with the albatross of game fiction around its neck has an even higher hurdle to cross. Oh well, can’t hurt to open it up and see if it’s something I’d like.