noticeably minimalist layout coupled with the sparse text of GreatGatsbyGame.com
might stylistically conjure up Hemingway more than Fitzgerald, but it
was on that unsuspecting website where The Great Gatsby video
game revealed itself to the world.
Allegedly, a Nintendo prototype cartridge of the game was said to have
been found at a yard sale and purchased for the paltry sum of fifty
cents. This game-pak contained an unreleased English localization of
a Family Computer title called "Doki Doki Toshokan: Gatsby no Monogatari."
To back up the bold claim, a blurry
photo was taken of the cart, which showed a plain, white label with
the word "GATSBY" and the date "12-6-90" written
on the front. Accompanying this photograph was a convincing scan of
an old magazine ad showcasing
the never-before-seen game as well as a few
pages out of the instruction
Before you flash those PayPal credit cards and shoot off the automated
"Is the game for sale?" inquiries, my dear and anxious Nintendo
collectors, the truth of the matter is the "old chaps" behind
this site, Charlie Hoey and Pete Smith, are just having a little fun
promoting their new Flash gamea game that
just so happens to lovingly recreate one of the Great American Novels
as if it were a long-lost, eight-bit Nintendo video game.
Charlie and Pete were gracious enough to agree to an interview to further
explain their ambitious project.
made you guys want to make a game based on The Great Gatsby in
the first place, and why draw from the Nintendo Entertainment System for inspiration? Is there
any meaning to be inferred from using 25-year-old technology
to re-tell a story that's so interested in the cyclical nature of time?
Charlie: Well, I think we both loved the aesthetics
of old NES games so much, and so much of our childhood is sort of wrapped
up in this way of telling stories. It's sort of like a scent memory
or something, you know? The aspect ratio and the color pallet and the
way sprites move and the glitches, it all comes together and really
kinda feels like home, in a way. And I mean, The Great Gatsby
is the best book ever, and when Pete and I started brainstorming about
it, we came up with the TJ Eckleberg boss fight and it was just like,
"Man, we have to do this."
Pete: We do both really love old NES games and The
Great Gatsby, but there might also have been kind of a gentle satirical
thrust thereas the game industry has advanced, it's put a ton
of focus on telling elaborate stories, when to me, there are media that
are much better at storytelling, where games are really good at atmosphere,
creating environments to explore, etc. So part of the joke was just
how little sense The Great Gatsby makes as a NES game.
you go a little bit into the development process? How long had The
Great Gatsby been in the works?
Charlie: Whew. 9 months to a year I'd say, with a lot of breaks in
between. It's my first Flash project, so I had a TON of help from my
good friend Dylan Valentine, who was on the project early on and got
me up to speed. Then he got busy with real work so I sorta took over
and got it done. At its best, the development process was me and Pete
sitting at a table for like a whole weekend eating Doritos and drinking
Mountain Dew and saying, "huh, what about a Gold Hat powerup?"
and then making it happen.
Pete: We were amazingly on the same page about so much stuff, and the
stuff we disagreed on made for hilarious arguments. We were so committed
to honoring both the book and the mediumgoals that were often
at cross-purposesso we would argue about, like, whether the green
light at the end of Level 4 should sparkle. (me: "no! gatsby is
dead, the dream died with him!" charlie: "no NES game would
end with a static image that way!" [both storm off] [i came around
on that one]) One thing that changed as we went along was that we actually
reeled in a lot of our sillier ideaswe kept referring back to
the text for details, and the prose is so beautiful that it didn't feel
right to, say, have Nick battle a giant clam, which was our original
concept for the last level. We kept trying to get more of the character
of the book into the game, which is why Nick kind of has the hands-in-pockets
slouch of an outside observer, whereas Gatsby stands ramrod straightor
why the background on the beach, as you travel from left to right, echoes
one of the last lines of the novel: "And as the moon rose higher
the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware
of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyesa
fresh, green breast of the new world."
those eight-bit tapper girls doing the Charleston is like something
out of a dream. Could you talk about the making of the jazzy, upbeat
Charlie: I'll let Pete speak to this,
he did all of that.
Pete: I write music for my band, The Aye-Ayes, but I didn't know a
ton about '20s jazz. My guess is that a musicologist could point out
a lot of musical anachronisms, but I did listen to a bunch of '20s jazz
in preparation. The title screen music was inspired by this unbelievably
gorgeous Billie Holiday song, "It's Like Reaching for the Moon";
I wrote it to fit the words of "Then Wear The Gold Hat," the
poem Fitzgerald wrote for the title page of Gatsby and then attributed
to the fictional poet Thomas Parke D'Invilliers. The music for Level
4, Nick's reverie on the beach, was supposed to sound like a Chopin
nocturneI'm not convinced I ever really nailed that. (You can
hear a previous attempt at the Level 4 music in the cutscene of Gatsby
standing on the cliff after Level 1Charlie felt it was too upbeat
for Level 4, and he was right.)
nailed many elements of the novel, right down to Owl Eyes inspecting
a book in Gatsby's library. Was there anything that you would have liked
to have included but couldn't for whatever reason? Was there anything
that you might have changed?
Pete: I never liked those games that
had too many gameplay styles mashed in at once, often in service to
a story that was totally obscure anyway. They just tended to feel sloppy.
I think the car level could've been funny but I'm glad we ended up telling
that part of the story via a cutscene instead.
realize it would be impossible to translate Gatsby into a video
game without booze. Fitzgerald's own wild lifestyle of attending parties,
jumping in fountains, rolling bottles down the streets of New York,
and then writing apologetic letters the next day for his behavior was
all fueled by spirits. You do know, however, kind of like the Prohibition
in the '20s, Nintendo wouldn't ever have allowed a game like this to
be released due to its strict gaming policy forbidding alcohol from being shown. And religion? Forget about it, even if God is hidden metaphorically
in the optician's eyes advertisement.
Charlie: Yeah, I always love the story
about Soda Popinski from the original Mike Tyson's Punch-out.
You know in the arcade game he was "Vodka Drunkenski"? True
Pete: I was thinking it would've been funny to mock up another manual
page for "items" and label the martini power-up "Soda
noticed "S. Miyahon" was given a special thanks in the game's
credits. This was the name that Shigeru Miyamoto was credited as in
The Legend of Zelda. The story goes that Miyamoto named his masterpiece
after F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda. Are there any other in-game
references or easter eggs to look out for?
Pete: The "special thanks"
section is full of the people who made our favorite NES games ever.
And there are a couple secret endingsone that pays tribute to
one of the most beautiful passages in the book, and one that... doesn't.
you ever given any thought into converting the game into an actual working
Nintendo cartridge to play on a real Nintendo Entertainment System?
Charlie: The original idea, before we
decided even we weren't that nerdy, was to make it an actual cartridge,
maybe make 10 of them, and just hide them at flea markets and let the
world discover them. I mean, if we'd done that, I don't think it would
have gotten played as widely, but it would have been like, for the history
books good. Ultimately we tried to strike the best compromise we could
live with between accuracy and accessibility.
Pete: I was still pulling out extra colors as of the night before launch.
It still has way more colors in some places than a NES could handle,
but we tried to keep it reasonably closeit bugs me when people
make 8-bit style games and completely disregard what NES games actually
looked like. I know that is almost unbelievably geeky (and also slightly
hypocritical, since we weren't absolute purists about it ourselves).
The Great Gatsby Game's site: "For many reasons, some legal,
we'd prefer not to profit from this game." Would you care to elaborate?
Charlie: Well, The Great Gatsby
is actually not public domain in the United States believe it or not,
and I don't think it will be for like another decade, even though it
already is in Canada and Australia. I think that this falls pretty squarely
into the nebulous "fair use" category (according to my friend
Molly Kleinman, "it's so
transformative it makes my head hurt"). But, beyond that, we never
really wanted to make money off it. Just to have this be picked up in
the giant hydra of internet culture and catch on is... humbling. Priceless.
Pete: I'd be pretty happy if people just donated to the two charities
we listed. Kids need books. (And to a lesser extent, games.)
[First Book; Child's
game is fast going viral on the Internet. What do you make of the overwhelming
response? What do you think attracts so many people to a Nintendo-inspired
Great Gatsby game?
Charlie: I had no idea if it would get
picked up or not, I couldn't eat yesterday I was so nervous, and then
it got tweeted by a few big places and traffic just went nuts. And the
responses are so warm and positive, and these are like, nerds you know?
They're not an easy crowd to please with an NES spin off, and it's been
really universally enjoyed and it just feels really great. I'm so glad
people like it.
Pete: I'm extremely touched and I get really excited when people notice
the little things we worked hard to put in out of love for both the
book and the genre.
there any plans to adapt other classic literature in the future? Perhaps
a puzzle game based on T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland?" Or an
RPG modeled after Joyce's Ulysses?
Charlie: Ha! Yeah we talked about making
a "Literary Classics Arcade" at first with 3 games, but I
think you sort of have diminishing returns. But again, the code's up,
it'd be so cool if other people picked up on it and kept the idea going.
I mean, that's what the internet is all about, that's what makes it
so beautiful. It's this big content snowball. Or, this is a gamer blog,
let's say content katamari.
Pete: I think we're pretty much done with this ideabut that said,
I think someone could make a hilarious Oregon Trail type game
built off of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, one of my all-time favorites.
If people want to pick up the ball and run with it, I'd also love to
see this game as an actual NES romthough, again, you'd probably
have to scale the graphics back considerably in some places.
you aren't making fantastic Fitzgerald Flash games, what do you guys
do for a living?
Charlie: I'm a developer at The
Barbarian Group in San Francisco. Just moved out here from Philly
Pete: I'm an editor at Nerve.com,
a website about sex, relationships, and pop culture that everyone should
else you'd like to add?
Charlie: Just thank you internet. It's really an honor to have so many
people enjoying something you made.
Pete: Thanks, everyone!
One can only hope that, if it isn't Charlie or Pete, somebody else
returns to that blessed yard sale sometime soon and digs even deeper
to unearth more digitized literary treasure. Until then, we play on,
beating our high scores, borne back ceaselessly into gaming's past.