Indie Games RETROspective | Stephen King's Discordia
I recently found myself thinking about how cool it would be to play a video game based around Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. A romp through Mid-World in a style similar to Red Dead Redemption 2? Yes, please! While an adaptation that extensive has yet to be created, there was once an indie game called Discordia that allowed you to explore interactive Dark Tower locations like the Dixie Pig.
Released on December 7th, 2009 on the official Stephen King website, Discordia was a point-and-click browser game where the main objective was to find items and solve puzzles. The idea of adding a game to Stephen King’s website was first pitched to King by Marsha DeFilippo in 2007 according to a feature from Boxx called, “The Making of Discordia.”
The timing of this pitch was perfect as this was around the time Metro DMA was asked to give Stephen King’s website a full overhaul. Commenting on the decision to add a Dark Tower game to the site, DeFilippo noted:
“One aspect of my job as Stephen King’s personal assistant has been reading and responding to fan mail and moderating his website message board. One request that has come up time and again over the years has been for a Dark Tower based video game. Although not a full-fledged video game, I knew fans would be excited to have something like Discordia featured on Stephen’s site and was thrilled when he gave the green light for the project.”
With that, Marsha DeFilippo and the team at Metro DMA – led by Brian Stark and Judy Hahn – worked tirelessly on the development of Discordia with a little engineering help from Eric Klotzko. When creating the first chapter, Stark, Hahn, and DeFilippo scoured the Dark Tower book series along with a reference guide written by Robin Furth.
In November of 2008, Furth joined the team as a project director and aided in the creative writing process. To ensure the experience “remained grounded in the world of The Dark Tower,” Stephen King took an active role in supervising the creation of Discordia. The reason for this is likely because Discordia wasn’t a direct adaptation of The Dark Tower series.
Instead, Discordia offered visual recreations of modern Dark Tower locations along with a new side story centered around a war between the Sombra Corporation and the Tet Corporation – similar to conflicts featured in the books, but very much its own thing. Discordia even featured original characters like Op19 and Arina Yokova. Cool, right?
The first and only chapter of Discordia was titled “For Callahan!” and could be completed fairly quickly. From what I recall, Discordia was short at an hour or two in total length. To be fair, it could also have been longer than that given the slower internet speeds of 2009, though I’m positive I was able to beat it in a single sitting.
As a reward for completing the first chapter, players were given Dark Tower character portraits that could be downloaded and printed out. These portraits were designed by none other than Michael Whelan, the man who crafted most of the artwork for Stephen King’s Dark Tower series including my personal favorite, the cover art for book #7.
If Michael Whelan’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s done every awesome science fiction book cover you can think of. The one that popped into your head just now? Yep, Whelan probably did it. He even created a custom Deathwing painting for Blizzard Entertainment to hang in their corporate offices. I’m serious, you can find that detail right in Whelan’s biography.
While earning some cool Dark Tower art from Michael Whelan was certainly one of Discordia’s many highlights, there were downsides to the game as well. Namely, how short and simple it was. To lengthen the in-game experience, the team planned to release a second chapter in 2011. This chapter was to focus more on the story’s antagonist, Arina Yokova.
Unfortunately, the second chapter was pushed back numerous times due to development issues. As of 2020, it has never been completed. In the Boxx article, Stark explained the delay in releasing the next chapter.
“Right now, we’re in a holding pattern. The degree of complexity in creating an indie game like this took a major toll of blood and treasure from our team. It was a true labor of love that needed everything we had to create it. We just want to take a short breather before we take that next step into Mid-World. From here out, it’s going to get crazy, and we need to get ready for that big, creative push.”
Because the story feels like more could be done with it, I’m curious as to whether King (or his team) plan to revisit Discordia in the future.
There’s certainly good reason to do so seeing as how The Dark Tower universe remains popular among King fans to this day, having received a film adaptation in 2017. A separate Amazon original series was supposed to air in 2020, but wound up being cancelled.
With that though, it could be argued that a Dark Tower game would be more relevant now than when Discordia released over a decade ago. With today’s technology and available resources, it would also be much easier to create a more detailed second chapter.
In 2009, it took a team of 5 people a full 2 years to complete Discordia. This is extremely impressive to me, especially when considering the fact that no one on the team had worked on a video game prior to Discordia.
Instead, they were a ka-tet joined together by a mutual interest in giving Stephen King fans something they’d been asking for... a Dark Tower game. The learning curve must have been steep and yet they were able to overcome all developmental obstacles in order to create something truly remarkable.
Despite its brevity, the passion and dedication to The Dark Tower series really shines in Discordia. It makes me sad to think about how the game may be destined to remain forever incomplete. For what it was, Discordia truly deserves to be remembered for the sheer amount of work put into it.
Discordia was, at its heart, an indie game created by people without game development experience.
It had its own story rather than adapting directly from The Dark Tower series. It helped bring locations from The Dark Tower series to life like the Dixie Pig. It offered new character art from Michael Whelan as a reward for collecting items in the game. And at the time, gave Dark Tower fans a more interactive way to experience the books.
Discordia showed that not only was there interest in a Dark Tower game, but that a game was possible at all. Who knows, Discordia may offer inspiration for other King games in the future. Hopefully ones based on The Dark Tower, though I’ll honestly take anything at this point. A Pet Sematary game? Count me in. A game based on The Stand? Shut up and take my money.
In all seriousness, I hope to see more games like Discordia in the future. And you know what they say in the Dark Tower books... all things serve the Beam.