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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Busting Myths: Could The Odyssey Work As A Game?



Last week I posed the question of whether or not Homer's epic poem The Iliad could work as a AAA video game and this week it's time to cover Homer's other famous masterpiece: The Odyssey. While it's rather easy to see how a poem devoted to warfare, heroes, and gods could be reworked into a AAA title, a game that seeks to retell the wanderings of Odysseus would have to be a much different beast.


For those who don't know The Odyssey's plot, it's fairly straightforward: after the end of the Trojan War, Odysseus, the famed Greek hero who's crafty plan to construct a large wooden horse ended up being Troy's downfall, sets sail for his home in the Greek port city of Ithaca where his while Penelope and son Telemachus eagerly await his return. During his long journey he meets a variety of different people and creatures, some friendly, others hostile.

Meanwhile Penelope and Telemachus are busy warding off a group of potential suitors from taking Penelope as their wife (since Odysseus is presumed dead) and her husband's riches along with her. When Odysseus finally manages to reach Ithaca several years after his departure from Troy, he uses his wiles to infiltrate the band of suitors before revealing himself, slaying the suitors, and reclaiming his home and family.

So how could such a tale work as a video game? Obviously the epic scope that encompassed the entirety of the Trojan War would have to be pulled back and refocused onto a single character; namely Odysseus. Instead of focusing on combat and carnage as did The Iliad, an Odyssey-based game would instead have to feature several different gameplay types within its core premise, but combat could certainly be one of them.

A good way to kick off the game's narrative, as in the actual poem, would be to place the player not in Odysseus's shoes but those of his son Telemachus as he steals away from his mother's home and sets out in search of his father at the urging of the goddess Athena. Such an opening could encompass stealth and gathering gameplay elements as Telemachus must gather the materials he needs for his journey while also avoiding the evil suitors. Perhaps even some combat elements if Telemachus were to be discovered by one or two errant suitors, "silencing" them so they couldn't alert the others.

Once Telemachus reaches Sparta and is told of his father's imprisonment by the nymph Kalypso, then the narrative could switch over to Odysseus as the player leaves Kalypso's island (another gathering segment could work here as Odysseus must gather the materials to assemble his raft).

Once Odysseus reaches the kingdom of the Phaiakians and is asked to retell the events that led him there, the player can witness these tales firsthand as they play through segments such as the encounter with the lotus eaters, escaping Polyphemos the Cyclops, Aiolos and the bag of winds, the dreaded Sirens, the island of Circe, and his journey to the land of the dead. Stealth, combat, puzzle-solving, these and other gameplay mechanics could be incorporated in ways that could challenge the player while also making sure the gameplay kept feeling fresh.

The narrative could even shift back and forth between Telemachus and Odysseus at key points in the game, since Telemachus must also deal with the suitors and their plans to have him killed while he is away from Ithaca. Perhaps a few segments where the player controls Penelope as she works to undermine the suitors' attempts on her wealth and her son's life while also feigning affection for them.
While a game based off of The Odyssey would certainly have a much different tone and pace than a game based off The Iliad, a multitude of different gameplay formats combined with the shifting perspectives of Odysseus and his family and a story that's chock full of fantastical beasts and beings sounds like a pretty fun game to me.

Again, as is the case with The Iliad, special care would have to be taken with the poem's source material but, if handled correctly, such a game could succeed not only in ushering in a new generation of Greek Mythology fans but also in being a well-delivered AAA title.

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