If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
Or so says a team of former Advent Rising developers. After the retail and critical disappointment of last year's Advent Rising, which featured a story penned by sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card, a handful of developers departed from that game's developer, GlyphX Games. They formed their own company, Chair Entertainment, and have announced their first game, Empire--again featuring a science-fiction story in collaboration with writer Card.
But this time, the typical video game adaptation cycle is flipped. Chair Entertainment created the story of Empire, while Card is adapting it to his medium of choice. Card's Empire is set to be released in November by Tor Books.
While details of Empire's gameplay are sparse (it will be a first-person shooter running on Unreal Engine 3, as first reported by fan site FiringSquad), the game's backstory is much more fleshed out. Empire is set amid a second civil war in the United States that takes today's partisan politics to extremes.
"The American Empire has grown too fast, and the fault lines at home are stressed to the breaking point," reads the book's description. "The war of words between Right and Left has collapsed into a shooting war, though most people just want to be left alone."
As Republicans and Democrats in the United States gear up for November midterms, Card's adaptation will introduce the book-reading public to the franchise before game players get a chance to play through the story. Chair Entertainment hopes its partnership with Card will boost Empire, with its politically charged storyline, to a new level.
"Given the current state of politics and the upcoming fall elections, we think the timing for this story couldn't be better," Donald Mustard, creative director at Chair Entertainment, told GameSpot. "[It] is certainly going to have people talking."
From the beginning, Chair saw the development of Empire as a tightly knit collaboration between game developer and author. After Advent Rising, Mustard said, teaming up once more with Card was a no-brainer.
"Card and I had a great experience working together in the past, but never felt as if we had the chance to truly collaborate to the degree we'd hoped," Mustard said.
"With Empire, I wanted to involve him on a larger scale and bring him into the loop from the very start," he continued. "We made sure to establish all of the major plot points, gameplay scenarios, and the entire arc of the franchise so that it had a very defined beginning, middle, and end."
With Advent Rising, the developers inherited Card's story and had to fashion the gameplay around the author's vision. Mustard said they had more freedom this time around.
"[T]he book provides us with interesting hooks which we can choose to either touch on lightly, or delve into more deeply with the game," Mustard said. "This allowed us to design our gameplay functionality around the story, which is the direction we want to take games--gameplay features driven by the narrative, as opposed to the game's features dictating what the narrative has to be."
Empire the game is currently without a release date or announced platform(s). In fact, development of the game has not yet begun, Mustard said, and Chair Entertainment has its lips sealed about many of the specific gameplay features, other than its first-person-shooter roots.
Although the link to Orson Scott Card is Empire's major touted partnership, Chair is not ruling out future products or media emblazoned with the Empire name. A Chair spokesperson revealed that the game company owns the rights to the franchise, and the book is just the first step.