Georgia Tech alumna Kate Compton has been working for Maxis on Spore for the past four years or so. Back when she was a masters student, she took my course on videogame translation and adaptation.

This week, Kate announced a new official scenario for Spore Galactic Adventures, which she created based on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.

Given the pliant nature of Spore, not to mention its support for all sorts of creatures (from dung beetle to abstract Ungeziefer), the game seems a particularly apt host for Kafka’s story. Kate was kind enough to name-check the class as an inspiration:

“I got the idea from a class I had back at Georgia Tech. The focus of the class was on trying to adapt examples from literature (and a few other mediums) into video games.

Itâ??s a challenging and fun exercise to do with any piece of media. I wanted to make the most faithful adaptation possible, so I needed to zero-in on how to make the player experience analogous to what you would experience while reading the original Kafka novella.

On a related note, last week at the DiGRA conference Matthew Weise persuaded me that I really need to compose an article that summarizes my theory of procedural translation, since it never really escaped the context of the course syllabus. He’s right, and I plan to do that soon.

published September 9, 2009


  1. Bruno de Figueiredo

    I never thought Kafka could be interpreted so literally to the point where a complex book such as Die Verwandlung could become Pixar’s A Bug’s Life.

  2. Paul

    And you’re right of course. It can’t.

  3. Jeff

    Really. What’s the point of using Kafka so shallowly?

  4. Kate Compton

    I’m sorry that the commenters are taking it as a shallow adaptation, as though I’d just dropped a giant bug into a pre-existing game and called it a day.

    My personal goal for this project was to try to stretch a system (Galactic Adventure) that was designed for very stereotypical adventure-gameplay (coin-collecting, door-unlocking, monster-slaying) and see if I could tell a different kind of story.

    One of the challenges that Ian’s class identified is that it is difficult to identify what meaningful parts of the story can be proceduralized. For a game, you need a goal and a conflict, and I had to find something in The Metamorphosis that matched that pattern, but still captured some theme that actually mattered.

    So I chose this weird tendency that Gregor has to be caught up in these tiny mundane goals (getting out of bed, checking the train schedule, getting to work on time), as though achieving his normal goals would mean that he was normal. The obvious goal, ignored by both Gregor and my adaptation, is discovering the root of his condition and its cure. But the point is that he’s so tangled up in maintaining middle-class decency that he can’t conceive of any “win condition” outside of that.

    The challenge is provided by his family who start out as allies or indifferent, and turn into either threats or barriers as the game goes along. Quite literally: there is a “team-identity” property that gets changed from scene to scene. It’s a brutish and un-nuanced interpretation of family relations, but that’s the limitations of the algorithm behind our AI.

    Is it an all-encompassing adaptation? No, it’s a “translation” into a language (games) that has few “words” to match the form of the written novel. Kafka writes the best version of Kafka; I just did my best to interpret one little theme of it into a procedural system.

  5. Bruno de Figueiredo

    Thank you for your enlightenment. Don’t take my comment personally, but I think that a writer like Kafka deserved more than Galactic Adventures and item recollection. And perhaps that is not something you should feel wrong about; it does seems like whatever you choose to turn into an actual game – by these academic rules and standards that never helped build a relevant videogame title anyway – the result is always liable to be considered as a simple and impoverished version of the original that may sound promising, at best, when written on paper.

    In other words, the constraint derives from all these rules that simply cannot express what an intricate piece of literature like that of Kafka can. After reading your description of the project I found myself empathizing with your attempt; placing myself in your position and seeing how Kafka could be a delightful topic for a small game project. However that does not eliminate the fact that it is still simple and literal. I see you do acknowledge the message of the book: and although I recognize the effort and the work implicit in the project, the problem remains that Kafka is far too complex to be aptly translated into videogames while preserving these academic directives and definitions at the same time.

    The bottom line being that whenever I look at my bookshelf and spot â??A Metamorfoseâ? (Portuguese version) I feel like I can give it a third or fourth pleasurable read; on the other hand, looking at this game, I certainly donâ??t feel like even trying it.

    (Thank you very much for reading and I wish you the best of luck for your future projects. Again, I hope you donâ??t feel offended or disencouraged by my impressions as my only intention was to provide a sincere comment based on my view.)

  6. Jeff

    I think that there was some talk about a Kafka-inspired game… made by some Japanese studio. I’m not sure if this is actually true but I’m pretty certain that I read something about two or three years ago. Help, anyone?

  7. Bruno de Figueiredo

    I think you might be referring to Kurayami? The game is being developed by Suda Goichi and will be, according to recent news, an exclusive release for the PS3. As for the Kafka part, it has been known for a while that Goichi is an avid reader of his books, which might result in something significant: however, I’m always suspicious of this particular game author because of several inconsistencies shown throughout his career.

  8. Jeff

    Exactly, that’s the one. Thanks! 😉

  9. Todd

    I’d very much like to try it. I’m looking in the Adventures and Playable Adventures portion of Galactic Adventures and don’t see it. I installed the game in German if that’s an issue.

    I never understood why people leave commentaries before they’ve at least tried said game/software/whatever. It looks very promising. I look forward to trying it.