The first trailer for the upcoming Dark Tower film adaptation released today. While many people might ooh and aah over it (seriously, it's a really great trailer), a lot of people remain unaware that Stephen King's Dark Tower universe was translated into a video game years ago - and it is certainly worth a look.
Back in the 2000s, Stephen King green lit a project that would spin off his Dark Tower universe into the realm of video games. It would be a trial run toward something bigger, possibly a full-fledged Myst-like expansion to King's universe. The project released in 2009 as a free browser game on Stephen King's official website under the name Discordia. While it is typically talked about as a completed concept, it seems the game was intended as an episodic series. Discordia at present consists of its first chapter titled For Callahan! with a second installment slated for 2015 that never materialized.
Discordia was developed by a team of four people: Brian Stark, Judy Hahn, Robin Furth, and Marsha DeFilippo. The project sparked to life in 2002 after Stark and Hahn were contracted to redesign the Stephen King website in an effort to focus the branding of The Dark Tower series and provide clearer messaging regarding what the universe was about and meant. While working on how to accomplish those goals, Stark created some rough designs for the creatures and technology described in the books to use as references for the general look of the new website.
Those images were never meant to become a game, but Marsha DeFilippo, one of Stephen King's longtime assistants, saw the pictures and felt inspired. Knowing the sheer amount of fan mail King received clamoring for some kind of interactive game related to The Dark Tower, DeFilippo brought Stark's designs up in a conversation with King while they were on a flight to New York City. King gave his blessing.
Stark, Hahn, and DeFilippo began pouring over King's series and the reference compendium The Dark Tower: The Concordance created by King's other assistant, Robin Furth. The team decided to focus the story on the conflict between the Tet and Sombra corporations, centering the action on an original character called Op19. It would begin in New York City and bring players through to Mid World over the course of an investigative mystery to track down the elusive Arina Yokova, a corporate mobster who sells weapons of mass destruction from other worlds to criminal enterprises around the world, as she threatens to bring down the entire multiverse.
The process Stark and Hahn went through to finalize their story concept was incredibly rigorous. Stark described it in an interview with Boxx (a company that helped design the workstations Stark and his team used for the game) saying, “We started by hyperanalyzing every word of the sections that we needed to create. We took detailed notes on everything that needed to be considered and in the end, every last detail described by Stephen in the books, was manifested in 3D.”
The original promo for Discordia along with the introductory cutscene
Though the concept originated in 2002, development on the game didn't begin in earnest until Robin Furth took on the role of director in 2008. Stark and his team handled the 3D modeling and creation of the mechanics, all of which had to run smoothly in Flash, while DeFilippo lent a hand with the world-building. All the while, Stephen King took on an executive producing role, stepping in from time to time to keep development grounded appropriately within his fiction.
The actual gameplay of Discordia, which you can play for free on the Stephen King website, is relatively simple. It's essentially a hidden object game mixed with some gunslinging action sequences. Players explore locations from a variety of different angles and positions, looking for magical artifacts or clues. When players enter a new area, a new journal entry is created describing the scene and situation. Each object found provides even more information and can be examined for hi-res images unique to the game.
Despite the desire from fans and the oversight of Stephen King himself, the team worried about how the game would be received. Would a browser game be able to stand out as indie games rose in popularity? Would an adventure game set in The Dark Tower universe attract enough attention? Stark even worried about public reaction to what the team had done to expand the lore of the beloved series, stating, “I wanted [fans] to start thinking “what if” again and not show up at my door with torches and pitch forks."
Luckily, those fears seemed unfounded. DeFilippo recounted that public reaction seemed to be incredibly positive, "I knew we’d hit the mark when we got feedback that the Dixie Pig was exactly what readers had envisioned and that it was as though we’d reached into their mind and they were now seeing it on their computers, [but] a further litmus test was their question, ‘when can we have more?!’" Indeed, even while researching this piece two years after the promised release of chapter two, I still see recent comments from fans of The Dark Tower and Discordia asking when the second chapter will release.
Currently, it doesn't appear that any development on the second chapter has begun, though Stark has expressed interest in revisiting the project at some point in the future. The feature film adaptation of The Dark Tower might put hopes for Discordia Chapter Two on ice for the foreseeable future.
Looking back on it from 2017, Discordia's style of gameplay would be ideal for VR. Let me repeat that more emphatically: If Discordia Chapter Two does happen, it definitely needs to be in VR. That would add to the creepiness, the wonderment of the setting while making the shooting segments more interesting. Additionally, it would work while embracing the limited mobility afforded by current VR technology. Heck, you could even tie it all in better with the film franchises - maybe an live-action VR experience?
Look, this was really a way for me to talk about the slick, new trailer for The Dark Tower that looks so freaking good (it even uses music from For A Few Dollars More!).