We’ve carried posts before that posited that e-books had not yet reached the watershed moment where they became more than an attempt to reproduce one medium in another. (The way that television was originally “radio with pictures,” for instance.) At the moment, they’re just “printed books on digital screens.” And while that’s fine for the people who just want another way to read printed books, video game developer Simon Meek thinks that they’re still not reaching out to modern audiences.

Meek has the idea of doing for the gaming generation what PBS used to do for the television generation: adapting classic works for the screen. But in this case, the adaptations would be for gaming console screens.

But Meek is not talking about just turning books into video games—and indeed, he insists that calling them “games” at all is a misnomer, preferring the term “digital adaptations.” He wants to create a new way that the story can be experienced in a different medium.  —Chris Meadows, TeleRead, July 2011



By Michael Mascioni 

Simon Meek

Simon Meek

The traditional concept of e-books doesn’t ring true to Simon Meek, executive producer and director of The Story Mechanics, the Glasgow, Scotland-based developers of Digital Adaptations. He views traditional e-books as an evolution of printed books that doesn’t fundamentally change the dynamics of book presentation “or the overall story experience.” He believes those e-books are largely “building a digital foundation on the physical foundation” of books, using conventional techniques, “such as page turning, which doesn’t make much sense when you think about it,” he says.

Digital Adaptations’ strategy is to develop “digital reading experiences [that] maintain the original story,” but also “immerse readers in the world of the book,” and allow them to “experience the narrative from the inside out rather than the other way around.”

As Meek sees it, the company’s approach is located at the nexus “between books, films, and games, [which affords an] easy way to consume stories for so-called non-readers.”   Another distinctive quality about its books is their capacity to afford what Meek refers to as “on-location storytelling.”

On a broad level, Meek characterizes his staff as digital storytellers, applying their skills in film and television to the medium of books. In that context, Meek says, Digital Adaptations is seeking to use a combination of “cinematography and game design for a new wave of  e-books that tell incredible stories on games platforms.” He considers those platforms very wide-ranging,  including the PC, Mac, iOS, iPad, Playstation, Wii, and Android devices. He emphasizes that story takes precedence in his company’s books,  and that the company’s projects aren’t focused on the “adrenaline rush” or “competitive” factor of traditional video games.

One of the key aims of Digital Adaptations, according to Meek, is to reach new readers who love stories, but who—for one reason or another—aren’t currently reading books. According to him, two of the main audiences for the company’s books include “emerging casual gamers” who are primarily “females over 35,” and “lapsed gamers” who are “males over 35 that were major game players in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but don’t play anymore.”  He feels these books will also “appeal to a younger market.”

In Meek’s view,  the audience profile for the company’s e-books will closely parallel that for the original printed books on which the e-books are based.  For example, if the company developed an e-book based on a print version of teenage fiction, Meek believes such a book would largely appeal to a teenage audience.

Digital Adaptations’ stories allow readers to explore locales, historical background and other information pertinent to the books, but they foreclose the opportunity to change the story line.

As Meek explains, he believes the books offer “easy access to stories” by making the “interface  for the books’ audience-agnostic, and using the world in which the story is set as the storytelling canvas.” He notes that the books are more timely now, since “practically everybody has access to some kind of game platform.” Meek feels they also have a particularly high educational potential, though he stresses that “the product has been designed as entertainment first.”

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Digital Adaptation’s first e-book will be The Thirty-Nine Steps, a story of intrigue and espionage set in London in 1914, just before the onset of World War I. The book was written by Scottish author John Buchan. The e-book is due for release in February 2013 on various digital platforms including the PC, Mac, and iOS/iPad 2/3, with the releases delivered the via PC digital, PC retail, and the Apple App Store. The PC digital version of the book will be published by Kiss, while Avanquest will handle the book’s release via PC retail, and Faber and Faber “seems set to publish the book’s iPad versions,” according to Meek. The title will be priced on average at $9.99, and will be aimed at different audiences, including “core gamers, readers, and casual gamers,” he says.

A high premium was placed on the visual and cinematic quality of the experience, which affords more 250 original pieces of art. Digital Adaptations worked with artists to create evocative environments, such as a colonial members club from 1914, “all of which exactly reflect the character journey in the original story,” Meek notes.

A screenshot from Digital Adaptations’ upcoming digital adaptation of “The Thirty-Nine Steps”

The company has also made a special commitment to developing a rich audio content, which helps create a strong mood and “powerful emotions to supplement the story,” such as “tension and relaxation,” he adds.

The e-book’s audio was recorded and designed at the Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Designs Studio, and actors from Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre were used in the vocal performance. Digital Adaptations utilized the services of Si Begg, an English electronic dance music DJ, in the recording of the project’s musical score. And Meek notes that the project’s audio element is richer and deeper than typical voice-over material, affording a more atmospheric quality and leaving a more indelible impact on readers.

In full mode, the e-book runs 4 ½ to 6 ½ hours in total, allowing for maximum exploration, and extending the story experience, according to Meek, who also notes that the book doesn’t explicitly show characters, but instead simply sets the stage—with all the character action implied by words and text from the book—in order to stimulate the imagination of the reader. User testing of the book, he says, showed an especially powerful response to the product surveyed.

A screenshot of Richard Hannay’s apartment from “The Thirty-Nine Steps”

Once the product is published, Digital Adaptations will assess the project’s audience interest before embarking on other books.

Digital Adaptations hasn’t set specific plans for other titles just yet, though it’s likely to release digitally immersive books based on short stories in the near term, according to Meek. The company has a marked preference for cult classics that generate “a more interesting audience response,” and that haven’t yet been heavily exploited in digital media, such as The Exorcist; A Clockwork Orange; and The Maltese Falcon,  Meek points out.

Digital Adaptations also has plans to work with other book publishers and independent developers at some point in the future, Meek says. {TR}


About the Author:

Michael Mascioni is a freelance writer covering digital media and other topics for such publications as Digital2Disc, Internet Evolution, and MIT Technology Review. He also does market research consulting in digital media. In addition, he serves as program manager of the DNA/UK Digital Out-of-Home Interactive Entertainment Conference, and served as project manager for the DNA/US conference. He was a senior analyst in broadband entertainment at Strategy Analytics. He also served as managing editor of the A&A newsletter on Interactive Entertainment and program director of the Intertainment conferences on interactive entertainment.

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