Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky couldn't be happier. His post-apocalyptic thriller novel, Metro 2033, is starting to see national success after working on it for the half of his lifetime. From initial rejection from print publishers to the online culture he has created from making his work freely available on his website, the road Glukhovsky has taken to get his book into people's hands has been a long one.
This arduous journey mirrors that of Metro 2033
hero Artyom, who in a scorched Earth ends up with the unenviable job of saving humanity from mutants. OK, so the enemies and setting is slightly different – although Glukhovsky suggests that international conflict will lead us to this conclusion sooner or later – but the underlying journey and its struggles remain true.
Now, the writer's work is soon to get international recognition with a THQ release of Metro 2033
, the computer game. Global Communications Manager Huw Beynon is as excited about bringing a foreign success story over to our shores as Glukhovsky – the two kindly sat down with SPOnG to talk about the pressures of book-to-game realisation, the approach that 4A Games took with the game and the future of the Metro 2033
Oh, and we also talk about why Pyramids should 'get f*cked'. Read on...
Dmitry, what's it like seeing your novel – that you spent so long working on – being developed into a form of interactive entertainment?
It's absolutely amazing. Especially for me because this was all an idea I had when I was 14 years old, that I started to write when I was 17. I made it a freely available online text when I was 23 and I finally got it published at 25. All in all, I've spent half of my life nurturing this concept of Metro 2033
– I'm 30 now!
On another level, since 2003 I've been waiting for the book to become a video game. That was when 4A (the developers) first contacted me about the project. But since then they had other projects on the go, so I had to wait. I waited and waited... I was quite patient (laughs). Finally, three years ago the studio began work on the game and things have been quick ever since.
I've been following the team's progress over the course of development; they've been sending me screenshots, asking me my opinion, inviting me to their Kiev studio and consulting with me on every point. Finally, after all of these years I get to see this game become a reality, and it's thrilling.
Wow, congratulations on getting there! Huw, it must have been a challenge for both 4A and THQ to recreate such a world faithfully?
Exactly. The one thing we always kept in mind was whether this was a challenge or an opportunity. The 4A team first discovered the text online some years ago, and immediately saw the potential. Pre-production was already some way in by the time THQ got to see the project, and we also saw great potential.
What Dmitry's story gives us is a depth of plot, character and setting that you don't see in many other games, when that sort of thing is usually an afterthought, or a simple device to trigger an action scene. Metro 2033
reads like an action thriller, but it's more than that – it's about a man going on a personal journey beyond anything else, and that translates well into a video game.
With that sort of source material it was simply a case of how we approach it – how do we pick out key events, how we stay true to the book, and what we have to do to make sure it's fun to play. We're really thrilled with the result.
It's interesting to hear the both of you talk about respecting the novel yet understanding that this is a computer game and that makes for a totally different experience. What kind of compromises did you both have to make?
Well, the printed book is 450 pages in English, and in Russian it's one million letters and spaces. You obviously cannot put all of that into a computer game – there's no room for all of these characters, their dialogues and all the side stories. But the most important things in the book are there: the main characters, their drama, their story, their passions and emotions.
The artillery is different, as a little surprise to those who have already read the book. About half a million people have already read it in Russia, so the game should not be too predictable for them. So the main points are the same, and the meaning of the story is preserved - the spirit and the atmosphere of the book are in the game.
The less important things we had to sacrifice, but a person will play the game, then may be encouraged to read the book and discover these extra things.
One of the compromises we made is the decision to not include a multiplayer - we focused 100 per cent on the single player experience. We think we've delivered a much longer single player experience than you might expect from recent first person shooters as a result.
The challenge is really... I wouldn't say 'compromise', but at some point you have to leave some stuff out and what I really like about the game is that there's no filler material. All of the scenes, whether it's an action scene, one of the more exploratory scenes or the more tense horror scenes, it's all there for a gameplay purpose and for a narrative purpose. It's all about condensing everything down to a gameplay experience that people are going to enjoy and want to finish.
You mentioned the lack of multiplayer just then. It probably doesn't make sense to put a multiplayer in a story such as this, but beyond that were there any reasons such a mode didn't make the cut? It's quite a departure from most other FPS games that rely on a multiplayer angle.
I think there are plenty of great precedents of games that come with an original, story-driven campaign in a unique world that doesn't include a multiplayer mode that have done reasonably well. I don't think we were ever really worried about that side of things.
The thing is, you could add it, and have a nice marketing tick on the back of the box. But you have to take people off the single player team, and split your time and resources when you could be making your single player game as good as you can.
Multiplayer doesn't have a real reason to exist here - I don't doubt that you could do a fantastically exciting multiplayer in the world of Metro, with all the improvised weapons and the unique settings of the underground. It's certainly possible, but why would you, when that extra time and effort can be spent crafting this single player experience?
I think people are really looking forward to a substantial single player game, as they don't come along too often in the FPS genre. Usually it's the little taster before you get stuck in to the endlessly competitive multiplayer arena. People are going to enjoy playing through a real story in this game.
As you guys said earlier, a book as big as Metro 2033
would just be an arduous task to translate into a computer game. Do you think that material that you've cut out or not used would eventually be used for a sequel or some downloadable content?
We'll wait and see what happens with this game. It's a huge world that Dmitry's created, and it's already gone beyond the first book. But right now we're just concentrating on getting the first game out of the door – we'll see how it's received once it's out.
Dmitry, is that something you'd personally like to see?
Yeah, definitely. Metro 2033
establishes an entire world, it goes beyond one story. In fact, what you see on the map in the game are loads of stations. Many of these are city states, with their own religions, cults, ideologies and economical systems. They can be capitalists or communists... it's just a huge world, and the character Artyom visits more than 150 stations so there's a lot that can be created story-wise from all of that.
The idea is that with this concept, you can just keep making sequels forever and ever... and a part of what I'm doing at the moment in Russia is establishing a series of book spinoffs that other authors write. I invite young talents to co-create with me, and I'm selecting the best works over the internet at my metro2033.ru portal. I've launched a competition for fan fiction, where people submit their novels and vote for each other. If it reaches the Top 5, I read it along with the other editors and we publish it. From this we have already launched two books and those stories in themselves can be a base for anything.
As Huw said, we'll wait for the results of the game to see what we can do next. But the concept is so that the Metro 2033
universe can potentially be as expansive as Star Wars.