Earlier this week we ran a piece highlighting the best and weirdest of the extremely wide world of Stephen King adaptations, from film, to TV, to weird, barely recognizable outliers. While reading that piece, you may have noticed that one major medium—one whose rise, coincidentally, mirrored King’s own steadily gaining command of mainstream tastes—was absent, though: Video games. Don’t get us wrong; there are Stephen King games out there (although not very many). But the honest truth is that they’re all so desultory, and so varied, that it was hard for us to pick out a “best”—although the worst and weirdest is actually pretty clear.
On the (relatively) positive side, take Mindscape’s The Mist, based on the novella of the same name (later adapted, with one of the most nihilistic final flourishes imaginable, by King’s favorite adapter, Frank Darabont). Published in 1985, the game is a classic text adventure—read descriptions of rooms, type in commands, write “North” if you want to walk to the north for some reason—that’s weirdly faithful to the also all-text original. It’s not a great game or anything, but if you want the experience of playing through a King novel—or just being trapped in a supermarket with the twin lethal threats of alien bugs and frightened Christian fundamentalists—you could do a whole lot worse.
Compare that with the far more colorful 1989 Amiga adaptation of The Running Man, based on the Arnold film—itself a very loose adaptation of one of King’s works. The animations in Emerald Software’s game are surprisingly smooth, but just watching it is enough to make anyone who lived through the worst-programmed games of that era—full of dogs that seem to hit you no matter how hard you try to dodge them, and controls that feel as rough as Schwarzenegger’s ’80s-era accent—cringe.
Fittingly, there are actually two different games based on The Lawnmower Man, both released in 1993. (And yes, at this point we’re into photocopy of a photocopy territory here.) The one released for the Super Nintendo and other home consoles at least looks like a competently designed Contra clone, complete with some revolutionary-for-the-time 3D graphics for the “cyberspace” sections. The PC version, though, is just bonkers, a barely interactive “interactive movie” that uses incredibly grainy images from the film to vaguely guide you through the loosest beats of its already facsimiled story.
Slightly more faithful: Symtus’ The Dark Half, which actually predates the Timothy Hutton movie adaptation by a year. The game itself is a traditional point-and-click adventure game, like the old Sierra or LucasArts titles—albeit one that opens with an eyeball staring out of a cut-open lump in a small child’s chest. Honestly, the most clever touch here is the interface, which is presented as a typewriter, steadily tapping out your various commands for poor Thad Beaumont to follow as he ineffectually tries to stop malevolent twin George Stark.
And then there’s the grand capstone of any look at the games of Stephen King: F13. Sorry, no, let’s give it its proper title: Stephen King’s F13: Control, Alt…Shiver, which is both the best and the worst and the weirdest of the various digital entertainments that have had King’s name slapped on them over the years. Developed by Presto Studios—who were responsible for some actual good games, too, most notably the Journeyman Project series of time travel adventures—F13 is a true clusterfuck of mini-game time-waster nonsense, wrapped in an utterly stupid little package, and then somehow released in the year of our lord 2000. Named, obviously, after the forbidden 13th function key—the function key of true horror (unless you’re on a Mac, in which case, it’s just a regular button)—the package is a collection of extremely lazy little distractions, stuff like “Whack-A-Zombie” and “Bug Splat.” The big reward for buying this thing is supposedly the ability to read King’s story “Everything’s Eventual”—not even the best story in the collection that bears its name—in the grainy, eye-straining light of your computer monitor.
We have no idea how King was talked into putting his name—and his words—onto and into this thing, but god (or whoever) bless whoever made it happen. After all, if not for Stephen King’s F13: Control, Alt…Shiver, there would be no trailer for Stephen King’s F13: Control, Alt…Shiver that we could watch over and over again whenever we need to be reminded of the purifying power of unrelenting dumbness. And that would be the greatest horror of all.