Decadent

Literary Adaptations

Failed Literary Adaptations: The Lord Of The Rings: Volume 1 and Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth

Two games based on classic books were discontinued before the story ended.

By Drew Toal • October 10, 2012

In Decadent, we explore two games united by a common theme and separated by time—specifically, by a decade or so.

Have you ever seen 2010: Moby Dick? Of course you haven’t. I hope I’m not spoiling the plot for anyone, but as this perversion of the Herman Melville classic nears its end, the whale somehow overcomes evolutionary constraints and actually runs out of the sea and onto an island, terrorizing the surviving members of the Pequod, a nuclear submarine captained by Weekend At Bernie’s II’s Barry Bostwick. This is probably the least terrible part of the film.

To paraphrase Ahab, these mindless adaptations leave a white and turbid wake that often completely obscures the source material in all but the most superficial ways. Is it any easier to adapt literary works into quality games? The 1994 Super Nintendo version of Lord Of The Rings and 2005’s Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth suggest it is not.

An adaptation can also go wrong if too slavishly devoted to the original text. Few thought Peter Jackson’s film version of The Fellowship Of The Ring was worse for a lack of Tom Bombadil, Tolkien’s crazy, ageless hobo—“merry fellow, bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.” It was a judgment call on Jackson’s part, and he rightly decided old Tom’s unexplainable presence would have hurt the flow of the hobbits’ tale. On the other hand, the Super NES version—dubbed Volume 1, which proved overly optimistic—incorporates many of Tolkien’s more mundane creations, in the least creative ways possible.

The Lord Of The Rings: Volume 1

For those few unfamiliar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic tale of elves, Middle-Earth and talking trees, the story centers on a young hobbit named Frodo Baggins. Frodo, the nephew of a famous hobbit adventurer named Bilbo, comes into possession of a magic ring. This bauble is the property of a disembodied megalomaniac named Sauron who fancies himself dark lord of all creation and really wants his ring back. Sauron sends his minions after Frodo. At the urging of the wizard Gandalf, Frodo and his friends race to destroy the ring so that they might make the world safe for beer-drinking, weed-smoking halflings everywhere.

One of the first quests Frodo has to undertake in the Rings game is to search some nearby caves for the lost glasses of old Gaffer, the father of Frodo’s friend and manservant, Samwise Gamgee. Forget for a second how this little old hobbit ended up crossing wolf-infested land and misplacing his glasses in a dark, monster-infested grotto. The glasses are missing, and Sam can’t join your quest until you find and return them. This irritating find-the-missing-stuff task sets the tone for the entire game, which renders memorable chapters of the books as nonsensical annoyances.

Lord Of The Rings: Volume 1

This is an unbelievably boring game. Coming in the same era as some of the finest video game adventures ever made (Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past, among others), and mining what amounts to the Bible of fantasy literature, The Lord Of The Rings: Volume 1 belongs in the conversation for most disappointing game adaptation of all time.

Frodo and company wander around familiar settings like the misty, wight-haunted Barrow Downs (another spot wisely left out of the films by Jackson) and the mines of Moria, collecting a baffling array of silly, inconsequential items that are nonetheless necessary to advance the game. Terrible as it was, 2010: Moby Dick at least boasted moments of kitsch hilarity. The most colorful parts of The Lord Of The Rings: Volume 1 are the vibrant capes worn by the hobbits, which contrast against the game’s vast, resolutely bland background. It is a mercy that the world was never inflicted with a second volume.

Not all literary fantasy is doomed to mediocrity in video game form. H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories and novellas—specifically, his Cthulhu mythology—inspired generations of aspiring horror writers and adaptations from the likes of Metallica and South Park. Cthulhu is an ancient, tentacled god thing from beyond the stars, totally evil and all-powerful. According to Lovecraftian lore, Earth was home to advanced, terrible races millions of years before humans crawled out of the primordial ooze. The greatest of these, Cthulhu, still lives, and sleeps away the millennia beneath the ocean in R’lyeh, a city that is “abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours.” His psychic alien brain waves, meanwhile, have inspired human cults around the globe. It’s now-standard “apocalypse by rampaging space monster” stuff, but Lovecraft does it better than anyone.

Cthulhu

The 2005 game Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth makes heavy use of two Lovecraft stories—“The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “The Shadow Out Of Time”—for its material. You play private detective Jack Walters. The game begins when Jack gets called in by the local police to act as a mediator with this armed cult. A shootout ensues, and Jack explores the cult’s hideout. Weirdly, the cultists appear to recognize Walters, even though he’s made it a general rule to not befriend insane Cthulhu worshippers.

Walters has a wry, Sam Spade-esque sense of humor about the whole thing. For instance, when one of the cultists takes a break from shooting at the police from out his window to tell Jack they’ve been expecting him, the cultist is killed by a stray bullet. Walters concludes that the bullet-ridden deceased died from “a bad case of lead poisoning.” Classic.

Despite his hardboiled one-liners, Walters doesn’t escape the house with his sanity intact. After uncovering hellish rites and strange creatures, he slips into a prolonged state of amnesia (a nod to “The Shadows Out Of Time”). He emerges back into his old self six years later, with few clues as to what happened during that blank chunk of his life.

But Walters is back on his old beat. After receiving a phone call about a missing person, he hops on a decrepit bus to the fishing village of Innsmouth—essentially the same idyllic fishing village described in the Lovecraft story—to investigate. Did I say idyllic? What I meant was even worse than Detroit. Innsmouth’s denizens are described in Lovecraft’s story as having “queer narrow heads with flat noses and bulgy, stary eyes that never seem to shut, and their skin ain’t quite right.” That’s the kindest description I could find.

Cthulhu

Despite the obvious warning signs, Walters is trapped and hunted by Innsmouth’s homicidal fish people. They don’t appear that formidable—no more so than a species of aggressive hobo—but Walters is mostly helpless against them. Often you’re forced to sneak past these guys and then they lay down withering gunfire once you’re spotted. This desperate flight fosters an atmosphere of imminent, crushing doom that heightens as the game goes on.

Both games require you to fight, as Gandalf might say, demons of the ancient world. But where Jack Walters facing the amorphous Shoggoth—a being described in the story “At The Mountains Of Madness” as “a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light”—is a taut, visceral experience, the culminating battle of The Lord Of The Rings: Vol. 1 consumes 10 torturous minutes of your life.

That game’s ending truncates Tolkien’s own first volume, curtailing play after you face the mighty Balrog demon in the mines of Moria. This is one of the dullest final boss fights you’ll ever see. Members of your party that have managed to not be eaten by wolves or lost in caves run up to the edge of a precipice. The Balrog kind of floats back and forth, languidly swiping at you with his flaming sword. You dodge and stab. You can’t even kill the stupid thing if Gandalf is still alive and in your party—this is the game’s way of ensuring that he doesn’t make it out of the mines alive. Thanks for the literary fealty! But seriously, I dare you to watch this titanic clash and not fall immediately and willingly into a coma.

The Rings game never saw successive volumes for obvious reasons, but Dark Corners is an amazing game, and two sequels—tentatively titled Beyond The Mountains Of Madness and Destiny’s End—were being developed alongside it. Those follow-up projects never found a publisher due to poorer-than-expected sales. But while Dark Corners was a failure in box-office terms, its adroit translation of the text did show what could be done with the right mix of selective plot choices, original writing, and tentacled extra-dimensional nightmares.

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  • caspiancomic

    Man, a golden era RPG based on Lord of the Rings should have been a slam dunk, how could this have happened? Really, LotR deserves a better gaming legacy than it’s got.  Surprisingly, the EA film tie-ins were pretty serviceable hack-n-slash games, but something more in the mould of Final Fantasy VI that covered the entirety of the story would have been excellent. The party members and their various skills are all there, there’s plenty of travelling through monster infested wastelands (read: random encounter infested dungeons), the characters collect new weapons and armour as they progress, there are memorable bosses in the Balrog and Shelob… actually, the more I think of it, the more RPGs seem to owe a lot to Tolkien. Not just in their standard middle-fantasy elves/dwarves/magic shit lying everywhere kind of mythologies, but the Lord of the Rings actually reads like a novelization of a golden age role playing game. Which is a bit odd, because I’m not sure how influential a force Tolkien was on the 1980′s Japanese studios who introduced many of the standard tropes to the genre.

    • Citric

      Speaking of JRPGs owing a huge debt to Tolkien, I seem to remember something from that era which had a fantastic, highly atmospheric mine area, possibly even called Moria, but I can’t remember what the hell it was.

      EDIT: And make no mistake, Square at a minimum had some Tolkien fans on staff, just look at their love of Mithril.

    • Kevin Irmiter

      I think the influence is mostly indirect. First you have early D&D which was heavily influenced by Tolkien. Then you have early computer RPGs, which are heavily influenced by D&D, but also have some direct Tolkien influence here and there. Then you have the early Japanese RPGs, which are heavily influenced by computer RPGs, with some direct D&D influence and almost no Tolkien. So while the influence is there, it’s filtered through all the other stuff.

    • http://twitter.com/RowanKaiser Rowan Kaiser

       It’s worth noting that the 1990s LOTR games were initially PC games, with this one, I guess, ported over to the SNES. While they didn’t set the world on fire on PC, they weren’t terrible. I guess the port was. But that’s really to be expected from that era.

      • dreadguacamole

          I played both of PC LotR games, and loved them to pieces. They were HARD (at least to my teen self,) and pretty pure hardcore, old-school RPGs. Loads of stats to manage, a pretty amazing (for its time) open world, complete with day/night cycle, very deadly, menu-based battles and a light text parser for things like conversations and some puzzles.
         From the sound of it, looks like the SNES version was completely redone.

      • zebbart

        I don’t know if they’d hold up now but I found both LOTR PC games for $5 at Walmart around 1996 and totally loved them.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         The PC games were very, very different from the SNES game. The SNES game was an action RPG, with less fine-grained CRPG stat stuff going on, and more fetch-quest style gameplay. Graphically, also, everything was redone, with sprites based on/traced over digital photographs of actors (I remember them showing this process in Nintendo Power – due to the low resolution of the end product they could do things like have their ‘Gandalf’ just be some dude in a bathrobe wearing an ill-fitting fake beard).

        The PC game is generally well-thought-of. I had a cool CD-ROM version that spliced in snippets of Bakshi’s animation.

        The SNES game…is NOT generally well-thought of, for reasons detailed in the above article, among other.

        • http://twitter.com/RowanKaiser Rowan Kaiser

          Yeah, but that sort of difference-in-port was normal back then. Like Ultima 7 being put on SNES but you didn’t have a party to control, etc.

        • TheDunk

          There were conversions of Ultima III, IV, and V to the NES before this and they were terrible.

    • Captain Internet

      Which era was the ‘Golden Era’ exactly? Because some really great games have been put out recently, so…

      I can see what you mean, but any story where someone has to go on a journey to get to a thing can be interpreted as an RPG, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo included. 

      It’s really the other way around. From what I understand, after The Lord of the Rings came out, people wanted more, and they wanted to live it. The early D&D games took some of the things in the book- the party of adventurers, the magic, the fighting, the treasure, the monsters- and turned them into things that could be used as part of a game. Over time these ideas have become the grammar of RPGs. It’s a way of telling a story and having some element of game along the way, but the two are not equivalent.

      So, you can interpret Gandalf’s fight with the Balrog as a ‘boss battle’ if you want, but that’s not what’s in the book. He doesn’t really even fight it. Frodo doesn’t do anything RPG-like at all, apart from get stabbed.

      • Citric

        I don’t think it’s too far off to say that 1993-2000 was the JRPG golden era. The graphics started getting pretty, the stories got ambitious, the gameplay went in new directions, and they got increasingly popular. The decline started probably post-Spirits Within, when Square – later Square-Enix – management kind of went to crap and the big-budget blockbuster JRPGs started to get thin on the ground. Which is not to say smaller studios didn’t do amazing work, and I’m sure some people will point that out in a reply, but it went from a big-selling genre to niche product.

        I’m sure that there will be some disagree with my dates, but that seems to be about right to me.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         The SNES era is probably a safe bet for the “golden era” of any console genre that doesn’t require 3D geometry.

    • http://rmyung.tumblr.com/ rmyung

      I think RPGs based on existing material face an uphill battle.  A significant portion of the fun of the RPG is discovering the world and uncovering the plot.  The book/movie already did this for you, so what’s left?  

      I think the best case scenario is when you’re set in the world of the book/movie, but not following the book itself.  
      The Knights of the Old Republic is a good example of how to set an RPG in an existing world, while not following the same plotline.

      Similarly, a Tolkien RPG would be better if it was just based on the Middle-Earth world, while introducing new characters and stories. I’d play a game based on the Silmarion (which I’ve never read)

      • M_as_in_Mancy

        LOTRO, for all its flaws, did do a good job with this with the “book” story questlines- there’s enough intersection with the Fellowship to feel like you’re part of the story, but still filling in some important gaps in what else had to have been going on in the world for things to turn out as they did. The writers did a fine job of bringing backstory to life in a vivid way, and creating new material that feels very true to the spirit of Tolkien’s original writing. It gets to the point where if I’m trying to recall bits about the history of Moria I can’t remember whether a piece of info came from Tolkien or from LOTRO. It doesn’t go to the trouble of blatantly stating Tolkien’s themes, but the chain of quests in Evendim, both the non-epic search for the Silithar and the epic chain weaving through Annúminas, did a good job of evoking themes of patience and respect for the losses of the past, and mercy and redemption as preferable to destruction.

    • SeanSandy

       The pc version of LOTR is quite a bit different, you can recruit Pippen and Samwise right away (for example) and your first quest is not getting Gaffer’s glasses, in fact he doesn’t mention glasses at all.

  • http://twitter.com/Tyrannorabbit Brian J. Wright

    I found that Cthulhu game very difficult; I couldn’t believe there were end-of-game bonuses for using something like 5 saves throughout when I’d used, in all likelihood, a few hundred.

    Still, it was a badass game.

    • http://www.quentinlewis.com Quentin Lewis

      I liked it, but I found it extremely buggy–at one point, I had to write a forum to get a saved game past a point on the ship because it kept crashing.  I think if it had made a few more bucks, bethesda would’ve patched it more regularly, and I would’ve been more immersed and less annoyed. 

      • blue vodka lemonade

        I think I hit a bug around the same spot, or a bit before. There was a car chase sequence, and right at the end of it my game always would crash. I recently re-bought the game through Steam, and that won’t run right at all.

        I think it might be trying to protect me from things man was not meant to know, IE, the second half of the damn game.

    • http://www.facebook.com/james.slone James Slone

      I love the game. The difficulty was a big part of my enjoyment. You kind of got to feel what crawling on a broken leg and firing blindly while undergoing a panic attack might actually feel like. It was survival horror done right.

  • PaganPoet

    It may be that we’re discussing classic fantasy stories adapted as video games, or it may be that I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to bring it up, but this article remind me of the NES adaptation of Willow. It was a decent enough Zelda-alike game of its day that was only loosely tied to the movie it shared its name with. The reason I’m bringing it up? The music that played during the final castle/level: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1LsNH-tdzs

    It may be that I was 4 years old. It may be that it’s some minor key neo-Baroque ditty, but all I’m gonn say about it is that song FREAKED. MY. SHIT. OUT.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       How did you get to the final castle of Willow when you were four?! I really liked that game, but never got any appreciable distance into it.

      • PaganPoet

        Older brother.

    • Bad Horse

      In the Genesis Sonic games, the music that plays when you’re about to drown was nerve-wracking enough for me that if I wasn’t already on top of a bubble spot, I was certain to die.

      • blue vodka lemonade

         I set that as my older sister’s ringtone, once. I think I gave her a complex.

  • Pgoodso

    The best Lovecrafian game is Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. Sure, it’s gimmicks don’t really work twice, and it’s not a direct adaptation of any actual Lovecraft story, but it’s still the best translation of the FEEL of the Cthulhu Mythos that I’ve ever experienced in a game

    • Logoboros

      Anyone remember an old graphic adventure game, Prisoner of Ice? I played it years ago, and I can’t remember enough of it to compare, but I remember it being the first computer game I played to overtly use the Cthulhu mythos (the first Alone in the Dark was probably the earliest Lovecraftian game I encountered, but it’s not a direct attempt to represent his universe). I know there are a few earlier games actually licensed through Chaosium, but I never played those (or knew about them until trying to look up the title of Prisoner of Ice just now).

      • dreadguacamole

         I loved Prisoner of Ice at the time, but I doubt it was actually good – or even particularly faithful to the Mythos; didn’t it have Nazis and time travel?

         The previous game, Shadow of the Comet (IIRC) was much better Lovecraft adaptation, but it was a bit of a pain to actually play. I’ve never understood the fixation early adventure games (and text adventure games too, now that I think about it) had with mazes.

    • GaryX

      That or one of the Penumbra games.

  • jarviscockblocker

    Dark Corners scared the shit out me when I was playing it, I had to ask my girlfriend to sit next to me and calm me down, I remember telling her I don’t want to walk up to that door where something definitely awful will happen, but she kept insisting, of course something jumped out and I almost fell off my chair.

    That’s right, I’m a pussy.

    But the best thing about the game was that it didn’t use any display, you had no idea how many bullets you have loaded or in your pocket, there was no crosshair and all the guns were wildly inaccurate.

    • Effigy_Power

      Don’t feel bad, especially in the beginning the game is pretty scary. Being chased by disgusting fish people through the rooms of other disgusting fish people in a town that’s been nothing but unsettling for hours… pretty damn scary.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      You need to check out videos of people playing Amnesia, assuming you haven’t already. 

      This one is a classic.

      • Effigy_Power

        I couldn’t play it. I just seriously couldn’t. Give me all the gore in the world, beheaded burning toddler impaled on giant spears, whatever, but this psychological horror of darkness and corners and having to open doors… no fucking way.

  • CNightwing

    I only played Dark Corners of the Earth fairly recently, and I was very impressed with it right up to the point that it got too far ahead of itself in gameplay terms. These days we’re spoilt by well-designed set pieces that are just the right level of difficulty to give you time to think, but not to dawdle.

    Specifically, the first night you stay in Innsmouth requires you to escape the locals via an exciting run through the hotel and across some rooftops. Unfortunately the way in which you do this is completely opaque, and so I, like many others I’m sure, viewed the initial cutscene tens of times before working out not only what I could do with furniture and where I could go, but exactly which order I had to do things in and with the correct timing for jumps and runs.

    I’m an avid Call of Cthulhu fan, the literature and the roleplaying games. We are at the point now where the high-concept gameplay they had in mind for DCotE can be properly imagined, and no doubt improved upon. In fact, a few cases into LA Noire I thought to myself, damn, this would be the perfect way to implement a Cthulhu game – the clues, the interrogations, the attention to detail. In my head I was always hopeful that the story might take a twist away from mundane corruption into the occult, but alas not. Make it happen Rockstar!

    • blue vodka lemonade

       The hotel escape is just brutal, and I think one of the most flawed parts of the game because the trial-and-error nature of making your way through the sequence meant that by the time I finally made it through in one piece, I was not at all scared but very much annoyed and frustrated. Dark Corners is not particularly generous with the save-spots.

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    I don’t really see the reason between comparing these two games.  The SNES game is neither the best (that goes to Battle for Middle Earth) nor the worst (several contenders but possibly the 2002 FOTR travesty that was, despite the suspicious timing, only licensed to be based on the book and not the movie).  

    The SNES version of LOTR was in itself a horrible attempt to remake the flawed but ambitious 1990 PC game.  The 1990 PC game was a top-down RPG that was, for its time, absolutely sprawling in its depiction of a relatively free-range middle earth.  The game’s large map succeeded, for perhaps the only time, in making the players truly feel like they were striking their own path from the Shire to Rivendell.  Crossing Brandywine bridge was, expectedly, a very bad idea — but if you somehow managed to cross it, the game simply let you keep going on that route rather than freak out on you and either crash or magically move you back (like many games of the time would’ve).  The world becomes a little more claustrophobic after Rivendell (they didn’t want you wandering down into Isengard yet), but there was a glitch you could use that let you (if your endurance was strong enough) survive the pass of Cahadras and bypass Moria entirely.  And again, even though it was a path not intended by the game developers, it doesn’t break anything and you can walk right into Lorien with Gandalf still alive.  Meanwhile, the Shire, the Old Forest, the Barrow Downs, Bree, Rivendell, Moria, Lorien, and even Mirkwood (complete with Radagast) are all full of side missions and treasure. 

    The biggest downside to the game is that the corny 1990 sound blaster music and contrived boss battles (the game ends fighting the witch king in Dol Guldor)  strip the story of its inherent poetic beauty or more subtle developments (Boromir’s betrayal and repentance, for instance, happens off screens between the end of this game and the beginning of the sequel).  But for sheer exploration and a feeling of no limits, the PC version was among the best. 

    • nattyish

      I have fairly fond memories of the first volume of the PC game. IIRC, you could fully customize who was in the Fellowship. Trading out Sam for this badass elf guy was a no-brainer (10 year old me totally knew his name, and could identify the place where that minor character appeared in one line in the book, but fuck if I remember now), and trading Merry for Bill the Pony was just awesome.

      The game ended with this side quest to Dol Guidur in Mirkwood, which I thought was totally lame since a) it wasn’t in the book, and b) if the fellowship really went up against the Necromancer (i.e. Sauron in disguise) he would totally kill their asses. Pedantry aside, it makes sense that they’d need to tack on another boss battle, since the Balrog was at like 75% trough.

      I did have the second game, but I remember giving up somewhere in Fangorn, so I have no idea how far into the storyline it got. The hobbit parts were always hard because they were fucking worthless at combat.

  • Electric Dragon

    Few thought Peter Jackson’s film version of The Fellowship Of The Ring was worse for a lack of Tom Bombadil

    You would be surprised. I was around on the BBC film/tv forums that existed at the time. It had a board devoted to all things Tolkien, and there were some rather heated discussions about the changes the Jackson films had made to the novels. And, yes, the omission of Tom Bombadil was one of the most controversial amongst the hardcore. The other most controversial changes: the omission of the Scouring of the Shire chapter (because apparently 6 different endings weren’t enough) and the presence of elves at Helm’s Deep.

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4

      I was very active in the now defunct ringbearer . org messageboards leading up to the first films, so had a lot of the same discussions.

      I have the most thoughts on the scouring issue because I think the argument that it should have been included is the strongest.  The scouring of the shire was a way of showing that the hobbits had become capable of controlling their own destiny in both the larger outside world and at home.  It serves to tie LOTR into the epic tradition, in which such a coda is almost universally present (the most famous example is the slaying of the suitors at the end of the Odyssey).  The “I saw the world, now I re-establish the right to rule my home” coda exists because of primitive literature’s instinct that character growth is best demonstrated through action, and using the trials of your journeying to beat up your next door neighbor is proof that the journey made you potent and powerful (see, for instance, the end of The Neverending Story for more on the concept that saving the universe is fine and all, but the story’s really not over until those bullies get whats coming to them!). 

      However, the visceral and visual nature of a film means we can literally see how the hobbits have changed over the course of the films so a final exhibition of their prowess is not as important.

      The Bombadil chapters are beautiful but entirely unneeded and would serve more to confuse than to enlighten if they tried to be included.  I point to the cinematic depiction of Galadriel for comparison.  A lot of people didn’t understand her or her motivations at all on first viewing, and she’s downright conventional compared to Bombadil.  The Elves at Helm’s Deep was a decent choice.  A movie has to be economic in how many different factions it introduces.  Their presence also serves to keep in perspective the idea that its not just men at war but the entire realm, which is a thread Tolkien himself kind of dropped in the second book before picking it up at the end of ROTK by basically hanging a lantern on it and saying “hey look, I know we didn’t talk about the battles in the north but they were important too, k?”  It was a good way to bring the Elves back on screen and show the audience that this was a story where huge populations weren’t forgotten about just because our main characters had left their territory.

      As you can see, I’ve thought about this a lot over the years.

      • HobbesMkii

        Interesting, I never saw the Scouring as a coda before, but as a way for Tolkien to point out that wars generally don’t leave anyone unscathed. The Hobbits come home to discover that the Shire, just as everywhere else, has been deeply affected by the war. 

        It also contains some of his most rabidly anti-industrialist tracts, so there’s that.

        • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chu.94 Arthur Chu

          It’s both. From a Campbellian Monomyth perspective, to demonstrate that one is the Master of Two Worlds requires that there be a threat that exists in both worlds, either literally — the dark storybook realm bleeds over into normal life — or figuratively — it turns out that the storybook monsters are, in a sense, a metaphor for everyday schoolyard bullies.

      • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chu.94 Arthur Chu

        As a practical matter I just don’t see how, from a filmmaking perspective, you can include the Scouring and not basically ruin the pacing of a film that’s already pretty damn bloated in a trilogy that’s already pretty damn bloated.

        Even for the “extended edition”, having the Scouring of the Shire as a coda essentially turns Return of the King into two movies.

        And this is just a consequence of the fact that films are not as long, in terms of content, as novels and can’t be paced like novels — a film script has about the same amount of plot content as a novella and to turn a novel into a film there is no way not to cut things.

        People who think this can’t or shouldn’t be done to a set of novels like LotR — and that’s a respectable argument — are arguing that LotR is unfilmable and shouldn’t be filmed, and I do in fact respect that point of view while still being a fan of Jackson’s films. The question of whether the films are “true” to Tolkien’s original vision is less important to me than whether they stand as quality movies on their own — and the biggest surprise for me was the shocking degree to which they *were* true to the books while still being decent films, while I had been convinced that any film adaptation would have to make cuts and alterations even more radical than they made.

        (The fact that The Hobbit is being extended into three whole damn movies is actually a very troubling sign that this lesson has been forgotten and they really are going to try to put every damn thing into those movies, turning them into the same mess the Harry Potter films were.)

    • lokimotive

      My friend came home from Two Towers absolutely incensed. He hated the depiction of Faramir, and was tremendously disappointed about Jackson ending the film where he did. In fact, he was just generally pissed about the whole Frodo story line as it completely displaced Frodo from where he should’ve been and screwed things up in terms of the narrative.

      I can understand his disappointment, and, really, his complaint makes a lot more sense to me than people’s complaints about things like a lack of Bombadil or details like no elves in Helm’s Deep. I heard several people complain about Faramir, as he had been one of their favorite characters and his depiction was rather drastically altered. Since I’ve never read the books, I can’t comment, but it seemed like Faramir was one of the few humans who somewhat instinctually understood the dangers of the ring and placed himself above it, or at least his arc was more complex. In the films, though, he was more of a mustache twirling villain initially, who comes to understand Frodo by nearly fucking everything up. In deed, he outright says, “I think we’ve come to understand each other,” which is kind of hanging a lattern on it.
      Any way, for my part I absolutely loved the trilogy, but I think that had more to do with the fact that they were indisputably movie events, and I feel like we often forget how much fun it is to all simultaneously anticipate something and then allow ourselves to be impressed by it. At least I know, I’m more likely to leave a film saying, well that was pretty good but… rather than Holy Crap That was amazing! Now, I recognize a lot of flaws in the films far beyond anything having to do with adaptation problems.

      • GaryX

        Faramir actually makes sense because in the book he’s a bland hero with no arc. He’s resilience against the Ring also diminishes Aragorn’s own resolve at the end of Fellowship. By actually making him conflicted over what to do with the Ring due to his own relationship with his father (they really should’ve left the Boromir/Faramir flashback in the film), it adds complexity to the character and human cause by making him something beyond the “I’M A PALADIN!” character he was in the novels, and it creates a better foil to his brother: both were tested but only one passed.

        Frodo’s changes don’t really mess things up narratively because of how the book treats the stories as happening in tandem rather than alternating as in the books. The Osgiliath detour does feel like unnecessary padding, but you can tell it had to be added for the third film’s sake. If you had them encounter Shelob during the film, they would have had nothing to do for the third. Plus the book The Return of the King leans on the cliffhanger ending of the previous novel to make it seem like the entire quest might be lost. That would have been impossible in the films.

        I think worst missteps were having Sam leave Frodo or having Saruman be an outright lackey. At least they didn’t have Arwen bring the elves to Helm’s Deep as they originally planned.

        Despite all the complaining, I love the films immensely  and the first thing I do when I get a new TV is tear through the extended Blu-Rays.

        • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chu.94 Arthur Chu

          I actually agree with this assessment, and will add that Tolkien saw Faramir as a kind of self-insert character — someone who saw world events with a kind of meditative distance, the way a reclusive scholar who was into research and books and weird hobbies would be, and was able to see through the nonsense of power-hungry kings and warriors who think the weight of history rests entirely on their choices (and therefore that they should be empowered as much as possible).

          The thing is, though, that from a realistic perspective as you say this makes no sense — sure, Faramir could be someone like that but someone like that would not end up a fucking war leader embroiled in battle against dark forces in command of thousands of troops. Just as the real J.R.R. Tolkien with his pacifist bent and his scholarly mien and his tendency to try to empathize with every culture would never in a million years have become a highly decorated war hero in WWI as opposed to serving out his term, being disgusted and horrified by everything he saw and staying away from the military for the rest of his life.

    • The_Misanthrope

       Yeah, there’s a reason the new Hobbit adaptation–besides the desire to make more money anyway–has become a trilogy.  There are ardent fans who want every possible bit of the book to get up on the screen.  Personally, I would rather that it stayed the simple one-and-done deal it was initially; Not every fantasy story needs to be some big important work.  In fact, I would venture to guess that is what puts me off the genre:  too many multi-volume tomes, not enough shorter works.

  • Travis Stewart

    May I be the first (and hopefully last) to pointlessly complain that the Cthulhu Mythos as depicted by Lovecraft does not contain all-powerful, all-evil beings, but rather merely significantly powerful ones to whom humans are as insects, and therefore below moral consideration? I don’t think I’ve made a persnickety post like this before, and it sounds like fun.

    • The_Misanthrope

       True, “evil’ usually isn’t their outlook (it is often the outlook of their followers, though); “Indifference” would be a better approxomation.

      • Effigy_Power

        Then again you could consider indifference as seeming pretty evil to those subjected to it. If someone walks past me without so much as a glance while I am bleeding out on the sidewalk, I’d be prone to consider that person evil.
        Probably why a lot of homeless people are pretty angry, if you see it from their side. While we may be mostly indifferent to them, they might well see us spending $600 on a phone while outside the store a fellow human being is starving as downright demonic.
        That’s not meant to be preachy, even though it sounds like it, I just needed an example why indifference can be evil.
        Ah, Vogons destroying earth for a galactic highway. Indifference towards us, definitely considered pretty evil by humankind for the few seconds they had to think about it. Much better example, much less depressing.

        • The_Misanthrope

          Next time lead with the Vogons. I prefer fictional depression over real depression any day.

        • Effigy_Power

          Yeah, in hindsight I could have deleted the first example. It is a downer.

        • Travis Stewart

          But the evil in the first and second situations is contingent upon the nature of sufferer, and the ability of the indifferent one to observe the status of said sufferer, isn’t it? I’m not sure we’d put the same weight on a blind man ignoring a starving raccoon when he goes to dispose of his leftovers.

          Same thing with the Vogons, really: The evil is not only in destroying the Earth and consequently the humans who live upon it, but that both know about the humans and actively refuse to care.

          Am I mistaking your point? It seems like it starts with simply asserting that indifference can seem evil but ends up with a strong statement in conclusion.

        • Effigy_Power

          I guess that depends on if Cthulhu is aware of our presence. Is he… it? I don’t know.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @google-51e69d88a29e1efd2d880564090ed43c:disqus : It may be less analogous to absent-mindedly stepping on an ant-hill and more analogous to the kind of banal, matter-of-fact evil that takes place every day we wear clothes and use electronics produced by slave labor overseas. Rather than an actual rancor, there’s an ignorance, sometimes willful, sometimes not, of the conscious suffering involved in the machinations we participate in. Or in a fictional analog, maybe something like Galactus, whose existence is predicated on not acknowledging the sentience/humanity of the denizens of the worlds he eats, seeing them as insects/whatever, when in fact he is intelligent to reason that they are not.

          Maybe?

        • Travis Stewart

           Girard: It’s not a bad suggestion, but it relies upon a certain level of choice and decision-making which I’m not sure is always present in Mythos work.

          To take an element which I’m not sure originated in Lovecraft, but has become common to the character of Cthulhu, Cthulhu’s mere waking is often described as devastating for mankind due to the aforementioned psychic waves, resulting in widespread death and insanity. This is clearly an immoral result, but Cthulhu’s waking is rarely depicted as something he has control over. I feel like for your shirt example, or even your Galactus example, have a greater level of control than this. Galactus could choose some kind of suicide  over eating inhabited planets, for example.

          And then there’s the whole thing about how much these creatures are capable of thought and comprehension, as Effigy_Power pointed out. They sort of run the gambit.

        • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chu.94 Arthur Chu

          For the record, I recall that Marvel specifically established that Galactus’ existence is somehow necessary for the survival of the universe — that if Galactus is ever successfully destroyed, he is instantly replaced by something infinitely worse.

          (This happened once, and Galactus went away and was replaced by Abraxas, who was actively malicious and wanted to eat the ENTIRE UNIVERSE ALL AT ONCE and he was so powerful there was no solution but to bring Galactus back and go back to having planets eaten one at a time.)

          Which, okay, cosmic forces and all, but it still feels contrived in the same way the somewhat nebulous circumstances of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Omelas is.

          I think this also depends on the specific setting, though, but it is established that Galactus does not specifically need to eat inhabited planets; whatever condition makes a planet have the “energy” he needs to survive seems to correlate quite often with the planet being populated with sentient life, but he is capable of picking uninhabited planets that also have that “energy”, and this is what he does after he gets driven off from Earth.

          He just can’t be arsed most of the time to make that effort, and his total indifference in this regard is what makes him chilling and, yes, arguably evil. It would almost be preferable if he specifically needed to eat sentient beings to live because then you’d feel like he was making a choice between his own life and yours, not that he was killing you because it was just more convenient than not doing so.

        • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chu.94 Arthur Chu

          As far as the Vogons go: The actual thing they say in response to some unheard “desperate plea” from some unknown human transmission facility is along the lines of “Look, the plans have been available at the office in Alpha Centauri for years; it’s your own fault if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in politics”.

          Which is pretty much a pitch-perfect zinger at what goes down IRL when impoverished people get fucked over by some big destructive project that was, technically, democratically voted on at some point.

    • Moonside_Malcontent

       Beyond indifference, maybe even “inscrutability” would be a more precise term.  Lovecraft emphasizes in his best works (At the Mountains of Madness and The Call of Cthulhu, for example) that the creatures of the cosmos have desires and plans in which humanity is involved, but which we are incapable of understanding.  That might be one of the reasons why good Cthulhu games are a tough nut to crack in the video game format; it’s tough to express the incomprehensible through such an intrinsically visual medium.  Maybe that’s why the Call of Cthulhu tabletop game enjoys such praise.

      • http://twitter.com/zhandlen Zack Handlen

        “That might be one of the reasons why good Cthulhu games are a tough nut to crack in the video game format”

        The biggest reason, I think, is that Lovecraft’s stories gain a large part of their power from their utter helplessness. The whole point of a large portion of his fiction that there is nothing humanity can do to stop the monstrous forces that lurk beyond the rim of the cosmos; Lovecraft extrapolated the “fear of the Other or unknown” to its natural root–the terror that we are meaningless, without agency in a universe driven by mad engines we are forever incapable of grasping. At root, this lack of agency, combined with the awfulness of titanic calamities waiting for their hour to come round at last, is what makes his work so powerful. Lovecraft’s tales don’t have “heroes.” They barely have “protagonists”–”observers” might be a better word. Gaming usually requires some sort of agency for the player; to make the Lovecraftian narrator capable of accomplishing anything beyond simply describing (or failing to describe) the horror they see is to start off on a very wrong foot indeed. (Admittedly, not every game does this, but it seems like the starting point of most of the ones I’ve played.)

        • Travis Stewart

          Perhaps dipping into the “losing is fun” philosophy could provide some benefits? Games like Dwarf Fortress and FTL produce some very enjoyable results despite being fairly difficult, to the point where most accounts I have run into focus on just how the game is delightfully lost, very much like the Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG sessions I’ve heard described. You’d probably lose a bit of the grim spirit, but so long as the game provides a sense that it is taking the material seriously, it seems like it should be able to provide both the absurd calamities (which make something like Dwarf Fortress entertaining) as well as the concept of helplessness you outline.

        • Effigy_Power

          Isn’t there a quickform for the Call of Cthulhu tabletop?
          Roll D20.
          1-19: You die of insanity.
          20: Roll again.

        • Moonside_Malcontent

          @Effigy_Power To be fair, you can also die of Shoggoth.

        • blue vodka lemonade

           I’d like to see more games that aren’t about winning/having agency and more about exploration and deduction; Lovecraft would be a good fit. Look around a spooky mansion, read things, solve some puzzles, have some secret areas–something like a very low-stakes adventure game, more about atmosphere and discovery. With enough little events and maybe a few “end states” you could have your own personal haunted house to poke around, and that would be fun.

        • http://twitter.com/zhandlen Zack Handlen

          @green_gin_rickey:disqus I played a game on my iPad that sort of got around this; it’s a puzzle game called The Room, and it does a good job combining the freakiness of a Lovecraft story (lots of imagery implying something horrible is going on just out of your view) while still being a satisfying gaming experience. I think the trick is that, as a puzzle game, your only real goal is to uncover more and more information, which makes you active, but not in anyway influential on the events of the game world. Basically, it turns the “I found this awful story in my late uncle’s papers, and then I combined it with an article I saw in the newspaper” set-up of something like “Call of Cthulhu” into the actual mechanism of the game itself. Which is pretty cool. 

    • blue vodka lemonade

       Well, he uses the word “evil” pretty liberally. Their actions and motivations are always said to be inscrutable, but also EEEEEEEVVVILLL. What morality giant space-chimera have, we may never know.

      • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chu.94 Arthur Chu

        The fact that as an atheist humanist I believe that morality can only exist subjective and there is no such thing as objective cosmic morality that just Is is why I don’t see any problem with calling Cthulhu evil.

        He’s “only” evil by our standards, but any evil is only evil by the standards of the people doing the judging at the time. Cthulhu’s actions might make perfect moral sense from his own perspective, but the exact same is true of Hitler, or of potentially any other evil human being that the rest of us have a hard time empathizing with.

        I shouldn’t have to understand exactly what someone’s motivations are to be able to judge them as evil; in my book (which is the only book I can use) all that matters is that the action caused unjust harm and that the person can be held responsible for that action, and I don’t really see a good reason Cthulhu doesn’t fit either one.

        (The truly horrifying thing is to posit that Cthulhu can’t be held responsible because he’s not even aware of what he’s doing, like positing that maybe there’s a highly advanced sentient civilization of microbes in my stomach and I’m murdering them all just by unconsciously excreting stomach acid.

        But that’s the thing, while I hold this possibility to be unlikely I do think that if it were to somehow turn out to be true the microbes would be morally justified in trying to kill me. In any case the actual Great Old Ones in Lovecraft don’t actually seem to fit this that closely in his own works — they do receive worship from human beings and seem to be aware of it and capable of accepting it, and Nyarlathotep is an Old One who looks and acts very human and specifically exists as a go-between for the Old Ones, so the idea that they’re totally unaware of humanity and the effects they have on us doesn’t hold much water.)

  • JokersNuts

    I love Lovecraft and in theory I should really like Dark Corners of the Earth. I bought it when it first came out and it ended up being way too hard for this noob. It was great and then they started chasing me and the game became too difficult for me to get very far. Still, cool game I wish there were more Lovecraft games like that.
    Over the weekend I found myself replaying Eternal Darkness after almost 10 years.

    • blue vodka lemonade

       I got through half the game by abusing walkthroughs for the trial-and-error chases/stealth bits. It was still a pretty good time.

  • Effigy_Power

    Dark Corners, for all its low-res textury ugliness (which actually helped sell the look of the game) was a pretty awesome game considering that it didn’t start you out with a gun. Especially back then gamers were very spoiled in terms of firepower and to be pitted against a clearly growing threat without the means to defends themselves was a real shock, one that so far only HL2′s intro has managed to replicate.
    That said, the game eventually devolved into a shooter with mildly entertaining levels (the big factory was a big pain in the ass) and a strange and often seemingly random fear mechanic.
    Other than that, great game.

    As much as I love LotR, it hasn’t exactly spawned a lot of great games. “War in the North” from two years ago was the poorest example I can think of that I played, which was another in a slew of mildly related, ugly and banal games barely attached to the popular license. Only Battle for Middle Earth has thus far really been its own game using the license, whereas the direct movie tie-ins were fun enough, but really only aped the success and memorable scenes of the movies.

    • Aaron Castleberry

      This is exactly how I feel about Dark Corners.  My friend and I played through it and were ultra excited about it after the intro to the game, which was legitimately pretty scary and felt kind of like an adventure game.  Then the game gave you a gun, and it was only a matter of time before the game became an incredibly bad shooter with great potential.  The game had lost all of the awesomeness that was promised in the first part in the village by the time you got a rifle.

  • rvb1023

    I still think Dark Corners of the Earth is one of the best horror games ever made and really only lost interest in it when they gave you a gun. In particular two scenes from that game are some of the scariest from any game ever. 

    • George_Liquor

      From what people describe, Dark Corners of the Earth sound a bit like Clive Barker’s Undying. Similar themes and gameplay, anyway.

      • http://twitter.com/marlowespade Chris Holly

        Similar, but DCOTE puts the player at far more of a disadvantage in terms of fragility and weaponry.

        EDIT: Thanks for reminding me about Undying. Great scary game. Might have to trot that one out for Halloween.

  • http://twitter.com/marlowespade Chris Holly

    I still play Dark Corners of the Earth about once a year – it’s certainly got its flaws (uneven characterization by the main character, the Marsh Refinery level that nearly brings the game to a dead stop halfway through, over-reliance on scripted sequences) – but damn is it one of my favorite FPSes.

    It absolutely nails the powerless dread of Lovecraft’s world, and the Innsmouth folk are still creepy as hell to look at.

    Still for my money the best Lovecraft-themed game (although Amnesia makes a solid case). 

    • Luc Tremblay

      Yeah, I used to try to play it at least once a year, but eventually I sold my original xbox and now only have a 360. I can’t remember if that game is playable on it or not, but I think I replaced it with Jade Empire for my yearly playthrough (in addition to the playthroughs for Earthbound, Crusader of Centy, The Haunting, and Link to the Past).

  • Return_of_the_Max

    Cyclopean charnel-house.  

  • Other Chris

    That Lord of the Rings game was the first RPG I’d ever played. A friend and I picked it up from Blockbuster, thinking that it couldn’t be possibly be bad.

    We returned it just a few hours later, and swapped it out for Chrono Trigger. My life took on brand new meaning from that point.

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4

      I’m glad the story had a happy ending.  I was afraid that a story starting with “That Lord of the Rings game was the first RPG I’d ever played” was going to end with something depressing like “and to this day I hate RPGs.”

  • ItsTheShadsy

    Great article. I never would’ve thought to compare the two, but you drew some good parallels between them. Really let down by the SNES LotR though. It looks visually interesting (especially the Balrog), but the video sucked all the life out of that.

  • chaddeus

    I was initially very disappointed with DCotE, mostly because of high expectations from the early development videos on youtube of what they were trying to do (an insanity system that promised to do what Amnesia really nailed years later; actual hallucinations that would result in you mistaking a friend for an enemy and killing him).

    It seemed ok, but it really lacked polish. Just two quick examples: The large fish-like creatures that galloped after you on the boat didn’t even make audible footfalls, yet they were supposed to scarily chasing you. More damningly, one night I was playing and my girlfriend was behind the monitor on the bed ignoring me and the game. Jack Walters was gasping and breathing heavily in frightened/insanity mode as he looked through desk drawers and said “No, nothing there.” Without looking up, she said “isn’t it weird that his inner monologue doesn’t even come to sounding like what he’s going through?” of course, she was right. and simply recording a second set of barks would have sidestepped that completely.

    So anyway, it was those kinds of issues that had me more than a little disappointed but a funny thing happened on the way to disliking the game: I played the whole damn thing, warts and all, and on the whole i still think of it rather fondly. I loved the “getting chased through the hotel” part, which i found was really the only super tense part of the game. and it always seemed to do just enough to keep me plugging away, which is more than you can say for a lot of games.

    a friend recently sold his old original xbox and a bunch of games at a local store and the only game the guy gave him anything for was the DCotE i made him buy right when it came out. let’s hope the cult following gives someone another crack at making it work. it seems to have already inspired some good games since.

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    Speaking of Lovecraft, I’ve always thought his Dream-world stories would be a great inspiration for a Lovecraft game that focused more on adventure and less on horror.  

  • toudon612

     http://al.ly/t2W

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    I actually have Dark Corners of The Earth on Steam, but I can’t figure out how to run it in 16:9

  • Cornell_University

    My brother and I were ecstatic to find a JRR Tolkien game existing for SNES at our local Kaybee toys, and one of us, probably him as he was older, ponied up the dough.

    The first few minutes were okay, the Hobbiton cave section was a little repetitive but not to bad, but oh man, by the time you reach the Barrow Downs good luck not being disgusted by how boring (and confusing, since every screen looks the fucking same) the game gets.  The password system was ridiculously time consuming too, so likely you would just turn off the system without writing it down, having to start from the beginning each time.

    I never made it much further (and I suffered longer than my brother by a mile).  Years later I watched someone actually complete it on youtube.  there but for the grace of god… the Moria section looked 1000X worse than the Barrow Downs.

    The only real positive I can think of is that the music is very nice.  And some of the overworld screens aren’t completely terrible.

    Oh, and it is totally possible to kill the ringwraiths that are guarding the bridge.  It takes like ten minutes and you have to be incredibly lucky to not get hit by them, but it can be done.

    Come to think of it, as I was about to castigate Interplay for going so far off script, it occurs to me that it’s the ONLY adaptation of the books to date that actually keeps Tom Bombadil.  So uhh… great job?  When’s Vol. 2 due?

  • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chu.94 Arthur Chu

    The Battle for Middle-Earth games were surprisingly fun to play, you know, and I will stick up for them as worth having.

    As an LotR geek I think taking them as any kind of “canon” for the LotR “universe” is an utter travesty, but I just chose to see them as a fun wacky goof on the LotR franchise rather than as anything serious. The game designers seem to have shared my attitude with the inclusion of Tom Bombadil as a special summon ability in the second game, which is to this day one of the most hilariously awesome/awesomely hilarious things you can do in a video game.

  • asdfmnbv

    Did anyone play the terrible Fellowship of the Ring fake movie tie in game.  Like half the game was set in the shire/bree, with awkward bits like the time Tom Bombadil sent the hobbits to get some flowers from spiders inserted to give you stuff to hack and slash.

    10 year old me thought it was hilarious that the game never cleared the arrows from your allies. So if you shot them with 100 arrows, they’d walk around with 100 arrows sticking out of them. I spent way more time then I should have shooting Gimli with arrows at the beginning of the last level.