Last November, debut author Marie Lu introduced readers to the dystopian world of Legend (Putnam), a splintered America embroiled in constant conflict among warring powers, most notably the Republic, a draconian nation located on the West Coast. Lu tells the story through the alternating narratives of June, a bright young noble from a prominent Republic family, and Day, the Republic’s most wanted criminal – who has been accused of murdering June’s brother. In January, the story continues with Prodigy, the second book in the author’s projected YA trilogy. And fans looking for a pre-release fix can delve into Cities of Legend, a Facebook game launching in December that allows users to choose a character and take sides in the fight.
While creating a video game based on a novel may seem like an unusual choice, it makes perfect sense for Lu, who prior to becoming a writer worked in the video game industry for about five years, first for Disney Interactive Studios and later Hollywood Interactive Group, a small gaming company, and Online Alchemy, which specializes in Facebook-based games. Lu says that while working on her novel, she even envisioned certain parts of the story playing out like a videogame, such as the hand-to-hand “skiz fights,” which she compares to the combat in Street Fighter, a popular arcade game.
After completing the first draft of Legend, Lu created an online game called Legend: Dystopia. In it, players could create their own Legend-themed avatar and play a series of mini-games based on the book (the game has since been taken offline). The project, she says, had unforeseen benefits – it allowed her to “stay in the world” of the book while providing a sort of sandbox for ideas that she could later incorporate into the story. Although Lu never intended her game to be anything more than a fun diversion, it attracted upwards of 12,000 players and intrigued CBS Films co-president Wolfgang Hammer, who had spearheaded a movie deal for Legend (the film is currently in development). With branding in mind, he suggested adding an online social aspect to Legend – a perfect opportunity for Lu to create a new game.
Together with Los Angeles’s Wicked Sweet Games, Lu created Cities of Legend, a free-to-play game that takes place before the events of Legend and uses puzzles, role-playing, and social elements to bring the world of the books to life. Developing an in-game storyline, Lu says, is very different from writing a novel. She had to consider interactivity – the player “is actually part of the story” instead of a passive observer – as well as the pace of a video game, which compresses the story into bite-sized bits, which forced Lu to “boil it down to the essentials.” Developing Cities of Legend and writing Prodigy concurrently, she adds, let her “draw energy from each,” with the game inspiring parts of the book and vice versa.
In Cities of Legend, players can choose to join the Republic or fight alongside Day and the rebels, earning points for either side through various challenges and missions. The decision to use Facebook as the gaming platform was an easy one for Lu. Creating a game on Facebook, she explains, is relatively easy compared to developing a traditional console game, and using the social network as a platform can help foster a thriving, active community of Legend readers.
Lu plans to update the game’s storyline as the trilogy continues, with the goal of keeping readers invested in Legend and its characters in between novel installments (the final book is scheduled for fall 2013). Through the game, she hopes to offer an even more immersive experience than what readers will find on page – one that can continue even after the last chapter is read.