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The Golden Compass - Secrets of the game

The Golden Compass XBOX

Feature by Jack Foley

WITH The Golden Compass due to hit cinema screens in early December and the computer game due to hit stores on November 30, 2007, Sega has begun to reveal some secrets behind its latest console buster.

Two of the leading figures involved in The Golden Compass game, David Msika, game director, and Ken Lee, lead designer, talk about what actually happens in the game…

Translating a book into a film and into a computer game…

Taking a book onto the big screen and then moving it onto your own small screen is a huge ask, especially when taking on such a hugely popular and much loved book as The Golden Compass.

But as David Msika explains: “Although a book and a film are vastly different mediums in terms of delivery and narrative, the fundamental core elements that draw the reader/viewer in are common: a good story line and a few interesting characters.

“However, there’s one extra layer that needs to be added in a game to allow for someone to ‘take control’ of the action; a gameplay hook.”

Ken Lee continues: “A gameplay hook takes the most interesting traits of a character and translates them into game mechanics that are both fun and challenging.

“After we read the book and the script, it was obvious what role we were going to give Iorek: an imposing, war-ready, bear makes for a perfect brawler.

“For Lyra it was less evident because of her lack of traditional gaming features, but her shape-shifting daemon opened up a whole new world of possibilities for us.”

Tackling the differences between the film and the book…

“The themes featured in the story of The Golden Compass are both serious and controversial,” explains David. “But like any good book that targets both adults and youngsters, it can be read on several different levels and be appreciated for either its criticism of our social culture or the fantastic background the story unfolds in, such as a parallel universe and the existence of daemons, armoured bears and witches.”

But as Ken points out: “As there are discrepancies between the book and the movie, we planned to cater for audiences both young and old by referencing elements that are unique to either format, in terms of story-telling and location, while remaining coherent and consistent.”

So where does the action start?

This is the all important question – should the computer game start in the same place as the book and film, or with being such a unique platform should it be treated differently?

David Msika explains: 2The pacing of the story in the movie and in the book is somewhat slow at the beginning, to allow for the viewer/reader to absorb information about the universe and get familiar with the main characters. But an action game must draw the player’s attention right away, making the experience as enjoyable as possible from the very beginning.”

Adds Lee: “That’s why we decided to start off the game at a point further ahead in time in the story, to allow for the player to ride Iorek, a huge armoured bear, right away and get a taste for Lyra’s (our heroine’s) traversal abilities.”

Indeed, the game goes one up on the film by allowing players to enter two new realms – “The North” and “Zeppelin”.


Ken divulges: “The North levels feature a nice balance between Iorek and Lyra game play. During The North levels, players will come across enemy Witches, as well as an intricate series of ice ravines, secret tunnels and caves, and much more.

“The caves and tunnels are too small for Iorek to fit through, but Lyra and Pan can dismount and explore them as the player sees fit.”

“Following that,” adds Ken, “they’ll come across a Witch Queen, and encounter an army of angry Samoyeds chasing them down.”

“The North areas were added when we were originally planning the game”, unfolds David. “We were laying out where Lyra journeyed throughout the book and film, and there was one section that had the perfect opportunity to do something original that complemented Lyra’s journey in the book and film (between them leaving Trollesund and arriving at Bolvangar), and that was how The North came to be.”


David explains: “Zeppelin was inspired by the brilliant event described by Philip Pullman in the original book. Before we read the film script we knew that the epic Zeppelin battle towards the end was a showpiece, and perfect for a videogame level.”

Ken continues: “The Zeppelin realm has been an amazing area to play, with Tartar soldiers, enemy Witches, and some breathtaking moment-to-moment game play that keeps players challenged throughout.

“The final standoff is a must-play event, and wonderfully complemented by arguably one of the best musical pieces in the entire game!”

Check out screenshots from The Golden Compass game