Lately I’ve become a pretty big fan of the Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light video games. They feature unique science fiction world-building, with survivors of an Apocalypse living in the Moscow subway tunnels. There are Nazis, Communists, aliens called the Dark Ones, currency in military grade ammo, and lots of drunk people. The games also manage to merge genres and include everything from humor to horror in the part stealth, part shooter action.
Equally interesting is that the games are based on novels by Dmitry Glukhovsky — and they came about in a very unusual way.
In an interview here, Glukhovsky explains that his book Metro 2033 was inspired mainly by two things: his daily subway ride to school in Moscow, and his love of the Fallout video games (specifically the first two). When he learned that Moscow’s subway is the planet’s largest nuclear shelter — with bunkers and even a separate Metro-2 beneath important places like the Kremlin — the idea awakened.
Unfortunately at first, he couldn’t find a publisher, because the hero, Artyam, died at the end of the book. So he published the book online and let people read for free. To please fans, he revived the protagonist and published a new version of the novel one chapter at a time.
He calls it “literary beta-testing” — and as you can imagine, this opened up his book to a flood of feedback before it was even close to being finished. Readers began pointing out inaccuracies about everything from the weapons to the science of genetic mutation present in his book, which was criticism but also complimentary in its own way. Clearly the readers cared about the world, twisted it around in their heads, and were willing to try to improve it along with Glukhovsky. It was a natural give-and-take between the author and his readership that worked well for this inventive world. Glukhovsky calls the interactive editing experience “an RPG thing.”
The web publication was a success in gaining Glukhovsky a riveted readership. More than 2 million people read the work online before it was ever published in print. After releasing (in print) in Russia, the Metro 2033 novel was translated and sold in more than 20 other countries, but Glukhovsky hit a wall when he tried to publish it in the States. U.S. publishers felt the book was not the kind American audiences would be interested in — so Glukhovsky self-published it as an ebook.
As for making the novel a video game, he oversaw the game’s story development but only changed the Russian version of the script to keep it in tune with the novel’s unique flavor, which was lost when translated from the original American game script to his native Russian.
But he says his second novel in the series, Metro 2034, isn’t suited for a video game adaptation. Instead, he came up with a plot that ushers Metro 2033 into the Metro: Last Light video game and wrote the plot and dialogue for the latter.
Glukhovsky also wants us to write our own stories set in this world, as he said to Digital Trends:
“I appealed to authors across the world to help create this universe and to write their own stories set elsewhere… It’s the same world that I describe in my book and in the game, but my book just focuses on the subway of Moscow. It doesn’t speak of St. Petersburg, or Siberia, or the north, or Europe, or the States.”
His post-apocalyptic setting is the starting point, but it’s already inspired other fantastic stories set in other parts of the world.
Maybe it’s Glukhovsky’s openness to others’ talents that has helped make the Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light video games so successful. Whatever the case, the spirit of collaboration that has driven him so far has definitely made the world of his books — and, for me, the subsequent games — among the most imaginative and detailed I’ve encountered.