80 Days: Reading the Book

Like many games based on existing stories, 80 Days assumes that you’re familiar with the original. That is, you never need to know the original story to figure out what to do next (unlike some games), but it keeps on dropping in references with the expectation that you’ll know their significance. A descendant of Inspector Fix, the detective who pursued Fogg around the world in the mistaken belief that he was a bank robber fleeing justice, repeatedly interferes with your journey in a strange and obsessive attempt to clear his family name by wiping that whole affair from public awareness. The Bombay chapter contains a woman named Aouda and an elephant named Kiouni, just like the book, but here it gets a little strange, because Kiouni is supposed to be the very same elephant as accompanied Fogg (and is now a minor tourist attraction for that reason), while Aouda is definitely a different person: the original was a European-educated Parsee noblewoman, while the game’s version is a minor Bollywood actress, providing the basis for the Bombay chapter’s predicted musical number. (Bollywood? Exactly when is this game supposed to take place, anyway? The answer is that it’s firmly indefinite, and full of gratuitous anachronism. People walk about in Victorian fashions but make modern pop-cultural references. The technology isn’t quite right for any era. It’s all something of a cartoon.) The original Aouda wouldn’t be in India anyway, as she fled with Fogg, fearing death at the hands of fanatics. Is it just a coincidence that you meet someone with the same name? Perhaps not: she’s engaged to Kiouni’s current owner, and I speculate that she chose her screen name after hearing him tell the story of Aouda’s rescue (which he seems to do at the drop of a hat).

Now, when I started the game, I myself wasn’t really familiar with the book. I had never read it, nor seen any of its numerous film adaptations, and had no idea who Inspector Fix and Aouda were. But the game’s name-dropping convinced me to read it, if only to appreciate the game better. It turns out to be a reasonably short book, and I’m currently about halfway through it. So the details are quite fresh in my mind as I play through the equivalent sections of the game. They are of course quite different, in both details and tone. The game is considerably wackier, and this comes as no surprise. (For crying out loud, the last chapter I completed, on the train out of Bombay, had a vampire in it.) But Verne is something of a literary caricaturist, and he portrays Fogg’s meticulous habits, unvarying down-to-the-minute daily schedule, and implacable faith in his ability to account for any unforseen obstacles with something that I’d also call cartoonish exaggeration. (In fact, he reminds me a bit of the DCAU version of the Clock King.) The one aspect of Fogg’s character that I find the most interesting, from a narrative point of view, is his utter lack of curiosity about the world he’s racing around. He’s shown as never leaving the boat or train he’s on unless absolutely forced to. He’s not on this mission to sightsee, he’s on it to win a bet. And that’s interesting because it’s at odds with what the reader, or player, wants. We’re here to sightsee. So it’s little wonder that Passepartout, Fogg’s servant, winds up being the viewpoint character for much of the novel. The game gets around the problem by giving us a completely different character, with completely different motivations, ones that force him to engage the environment. For Fogg, Bombay is just a stop between Suez and Calcutta, a place where he gets off a boat and onto a train. For Oliver, it’s a destination, a place with hidden treasure in the form of one of Uncle Mathew’s patent papers.

2 Comments so far

  1. Healy on 4 Jul 2012

    Apart from some abbreviated Klassiks for Kids version, I’ve never actually read Around the World in 80 Days (although your comment about the book being somewhat short is encouraging me to look it up online). But I have seen a number of movie versions, and above all perhaps the best part is the ending, which I’ve never seen any version leave out completely. It’s one of the classic twists of speculative fiction tales, and I’m eager to see if and how this game riffs on it.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 4 Jul 2012

    It’s hard to see how it can do the twist at all. For one thing, the timing of the return to England is too much under the player’s control; I’m currently several days ahead of Fogg. I suppose it could introduce an arbitrary delay at the end, lock you in jail for exactly as many days as necessary or something, but then it would still have the problem that everyone in the game knows the story of Fogg’s voyage, and therefore knows how it ended, so Oliver wouldn’t be surprised when the same thing happens to him.

    But I’ll know for sure soon enough.

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