You step into a room in Dublin’s Sandycove Martello Tower, the setting of the opening scene of James Joyce’s 1922 modernist masterpiece, Ulysses. This virtual space, encircled by photorealistic stone walls, is an exact reproduction of the real tower. Scattered about are props and symbols from the novel—a kidney, soap, a potato—each of which activates quests, puzzles, or minigames.
Merging literature and computer science, English professor Joseph Nugent of Boston College and his students are creating a video game based on Ulysses. The game, called Joycestick, explores how a novel, a form once considered the ultimate virtual-reality experience, can be translated via digital virtual reality.
Nugent’s team has built a beta version using 3-D modeling software, historical images, a drone, and audio from a professional theatrical production of Ulysses. So far, the gameplay is simple: the player gathers objects while exploring the novel’s scenes, like the tower or a carriage rattling through the streets of Dublin. Next the team will enhance the game to further explore the novel’s emotional complexities—a task that requires, Nugent said, “asking strange questions about how Joycestick can replicate the human feelings that Ulysses induces.” For instance, the player’s failing eyesight recapitulates Joyce’s preoccupation with sight, but how can the player be made to follow Joyce into a meaningful exploration of blindness? Finally, the game designers must determine the “winning” scenes of Joycestick.
Nugent plans to release a complete version of the game on—you guessed it—Bloomsday: June 16, 2017.
View a making-of video here and check out some screenshots of the game below.