How Skyrim Was Almost Set in Westeros

Excited for Skyrim? The next installment of the immensely popular Elder Scrolls series is set to debut on November, 11th (11/11/11, right?) and promises to suck away the social lives of millions of fantasy-buffs all over the world, inspire countless misadventures, and spawn an equal number of horrifying hilarious glitches to amuse Youtube users until the next game from developer Bethesda Softworks.

Can you imagine, then, that Skyrim was almost a game based on George R.R. Martin’s equally (and enormously) popular A Song of Ice and Fire series?

Yep, you read that correctly, Bethesda, the company behind Morrowind, Oblivion, and Fallout 3 almost made a game based on A Game of Thrones, long before it became the cultural phenomenon it is today.

In a recent interview with Electronic Gaming Monthly, Todd Howard, executive director of Skyrim, said, “[p]eople in our studio liked [A Game of Thrones], and it seeped in a bit to what we were doing. We were actually asked a while ago to turn those books into games.”

Conceptualization of Skyrim began in 2006, a full year before HBO acquired the television rights to Martin’s series (which was the jumping board for Martin’s skyrocketing popularity and success), so, in a way, it’s not a wonder that Bethesda had to put their financials before their passions toward the series. Were they presented with the idea now, with A Dance with Dragons potentially being the highest selling fiction book of 2011, would they sing a different tune?

We’ll never know, but Howard and Bethesda, being at the time fully immersed in the production of Fallout 3, set in a universe created originally by Tim Cain and Interplay Entertainment, also had other concerns when it came to adapting someone else’s work (no matter how impressive the source material):

We wanted to do our own world. That’s where we wanted to put out time into. Before we were even making Skyrim, there was a conversation with George R.R. Martin’s people. They thought it would be a good match—and so did we, actually—but then we thought about if that was where we wanted to spend our time. It was tempting, though.

So, all that Bethesda fans are left with are dreams and wasted promise (and… well, Skyrim.) Of course, with the success of the series and television show, other videogames were bound to appear to take the place of Bethesda’s potential giant. The two most prominent of those are a strategy RPG called A Game of Thrones: Genesis and a plain-jane RPG aptly titled Game of Thrones, both coming from Cyanide Studio, a developer based out of Montreal and Paris. While Cyanide doesn’t have nearly so bright a track record as Bethesda (they’re best known for Blood Bowl), both games have and interesting (and somewhat promising) take on the setting and how to apply it to videogame mechanics.

More on A Game of Thrones: Genesis

A Game of Thrones: Genesis

A Game of Thrones: Genesis, which releases on September 29th, is a strategy game that takes inspiration from both Sid Meier’s Civilization series and Activision Blizzard’s Warcraft 3. From the game’s website:

The notion of peace and war is very important in A Game of Thrones and, in part, fixes your strategy and how you will gain control of territories.

At the start of each game, harmony usually reigns. However, every action taken by the players has an effect, be it positive or negative, on the apparent peace. Every killing, assassination, imprisonment and other treachery actions will lead toward War. To the contrary, sending messages of peace to enemy castles (if the envoy manages to reach his destination alive!), freeing captured enemy units, and other actions, will maintain peace. Depending on your strategy and plans, you may want to maintain peace, or to precipitate war.

Screenshot from A Game of Thrones: Genesis

The most interesting aspect of A Game of Thrones: Genesis is that it doesn’t shackle itself down to the content covered by the television series (or even the novels, somewhat), instead choosing to tackle some of the important historical events mentioned but never explored by Martin:

From Nymeria’s arrival in the Kingdom of Dorne to the awakening of the “Others” beyond the Wall, you’ll live the origins of the A Song of Ice and Fire saga through more than 1000 years of history. From year -750 to year 299, you will take part in Westeros’ founding events and largest battles, such as Aegon the Conqueror’s invasion of the continent or the War of the Usurper.

Martin is said to have been involved in the creation and writing of the scenario, but it’s unclear how involved he was. I’m sure it’s safe to say that the game’s interpretations of these historical events won’t be considered canon, but should nevertheless be fun for fans of the series, hardcore or casual. A Game of Thrones: Genesis is set for release on the PC.

More on A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones, the videogame

More tightly connected to the television series is A Game of Thrones, which follows three new characters through events concurrent with the novels and television series. These characters will at times cross paths with the main characters that fans often clamour over (many of the early screenshots appear to be at The Wall, so Jon Snow must not be far); this is reminiscent of the path taken by EA with The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, a mildly-successful RPG that put the player in the role of characters whose adventures took place alongside that of Tolkien’s famous fellowship. Taking a cue from another RPG, Mass Effect, A Game of Thrones will offer players choice and consequence, allowing them to navigate through dialogue trees and (presumably) craft their character based on the decisions they make throughout the game.

To keep the story true to the series, Cyanide is collaborating with Elio García and Linda Antonsson, the heads of of, and regular contributors to! When I spoke with George a few weeks ago, he mentioned that Elio and Linda know more about the series and the story (that’s been told, at least) than he does! So, certainly the game is in good hands from that perspective.

Little else is known about A Game of Thrones, but more information is sure to surface as the game approaches its projected 2012 release date. It will be released on PC, PS3 and XBOX360.

It’s all a story of what could have been. If the stars had aligned correctly, 2011 would have been the perfect time for Bethesda to launch the be-all-and-end all A Game of Thrones videogame. Like HBO and George R.R. Martin, Bethesda would be hitting an enormous audience just slavering at the idea of pouring their hard-earned cash into another bit of exposure to Westeros, Ned Stark and those creepy-as-shit Others. But, of course, the stars are never so kind, and instead we’re left with two question marks that promise the world, but have much to prove. So, what do you think now, Mr. Howard? Interested in making a Clash of Kings videogame?

Aidan Moher is the editor of A Dribble of Ink, a humble little blog that exists in some dusty corner of the web. He hasn’t won any awards, or published any novels. But he’s, uhh… working on that.


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