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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Worlds of IF

I've been dropping enough hints that it will hardly come as a surprise to learn that the Fabled Lands LLP gamebook back catalogue (which includes Blood Sword, Way of the Tiger, Virtual Reality, Falcon and Golden Dragon) is the secret third strand in the new Osprey Adventures imprint.

The Critical IF series will comprise new versions of classic gamebooks by me, Jamie, Oliver Johnson and Mark Smith, alongside new titles such as the Wild West fantasy Undeadwood which Jamie will be getting back to as soon as he's finished writing Dark Lord book 3, our new kids' SF series Starship Captain, and a few other things.

The books will be released in both print and ebook editions, the latter being fully interactive. So the sections are not only hyperlinked, but your hit points are automatically updated, skills and codewords checked, and so on. It's a miracle of technology (what passes for a miracle in the ebook world, at any rate) courtesy of the master coders at Spirit Entertainment, who are also developing the new Fabled Lands apps. You knew that. I know you knew that.

We'll be launching in the spring with Heart of Ice, Down Among the Dead Men, Necklace of Skulls, Avenger, Assassin and Once Upon a Time in Arabia. Oh, that last one? That's Twist of Fate as was, finally blessed with a title I approve of.

These aren't the covers you'll see on the finished books. These are just mock-ups (courtesy of Pieter Bruegel and Maxfield Parrish) I did so as to have some working copies by my side while editing and revising the manuscripts. Osprey have their artists working on all-new covers, maps and interior fillers.

To whet your appetite, I'll leave you with links to Per Jorner's comprehensive, no-holds-barred reviews of Necklace of SkullsHeart of Ice and Down Among the Dead Men, and Mrs Giggles' reviews of Assassin! and Avenger! There, I even put the exclamation marks in this time.

71 comments:

  1. Absolutely fantastic news. Cannot wait.

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  2. This is indeed absolutely fantastic news. Finally, after a couple of decades or more of collecting, I'll be able to fill some gaps in my gamebook collection. The electronic versions fail to excite me, but to see them back in print is brilliant. A big thanks to all involved in making this happen.

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  3. Awesome news, I have already pre-ordered the titles available and will be adding the new versions to my originals when they arrive. BIG question, will there be Print/ebook bundles?

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    1. Personally I'd love to see print/ebook bundles, but whenever I mention this to friends who work in publishing, they say, "Why should we give people something for nothing?" I should add that I haven't discussed it with the guys at Osprey yet, so they may have a more enlightened view. We'll see.

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    2. Odd view because if I want print I'll happily pay a little extra for ebook, and vice versa for ebook. Very very rarely will I buy both unless there is some deal (like most RPG products)
      Good luck to convincing them because otherwise they are losing sales IMO

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    3. Man that didn't make sense LOL. Basically they and you will get more money from me with bundles available than with only individual products available. It is very rare that I will actually purchase both if only available at full price. I don't think I am alone. See RPG publishing for examples, almost all offer bundles.

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    4. I agree. The problem is that most publishers are still in a 20th century mindset. Most of them are still resistant to the idea of building a direct relationship with their customers - "We're not booksellers," they say sniffily.

      Osprey are an exception to that rule, which is why Jamie and I were keen to team up with them. I'm hopeful they will see the logic of bundling deals.

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  4. Woohoo! Awesome news - gamebooks are back in the mainstream with a splash!

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  5. Nice. though i did get heart of ice second hand just recently...

    will these titles be available on android? also will frankenstein be available on android?

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  6. All you'll need is an epub3-compliant reader app. On Android, the only app I know of currently that fits the bill is Astri-Bee, but others are on the way.

    Frankenstein is now ready in both epub3 and Kindle Active Content versions. The former will work in iBooks, Firefox and in Astri-Bee for Android. If it were up to me you could buy it right now, but it's up to the publisher, Profile Books, so apparently we have to wait till April. Sigh.

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  7. Although this news propels me into a breathless tizzy, I maintain just barely sufficient presence of mind to ask: what exactly do you mean by "new versions" (other than the ebooks) and "revising the manuscripts" (other than correcting any errors)? I shall buy the print editions in any case, but I wondered whether you hint at any significant tweakage of the innards beyond the new artwork.

    On the subject of the print editions: the Bookseller announcement refers only to "a third project - wholly digital", and the Osprey Adventures web site, where the imprint is called "Infinite IF", promises only "a series of fantastical interactive ebooks". So, there *are* definitely going to be print editions?

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    1. There won't be any major changes to the books. Just correcting a few errors, adding a few (not many) new sections, that kind of thing.

      Yes, Osprey prefer the title Infinite IF and, as they're the publishers, I guess that's how it will appear. Critical IF is my preference (more dramatic, rolls off the tongue more resdily) so that's what we'll be calling them around here :)

      I notice they've been touting them as "digital only" but never fear. I have set these books up for print and so there will be print editions, even if I have to put them out myself via Createspace!

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  8. Great news, but...

    I have to ask: why the name change? Twist of Fate sounds cool; Once Upon a Time in Arabia sounds kinda tacky.

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    1. The problem with Twist of Fate is that it didn't tell anybody what the book was about. I've had to fight to keep the titles of Heart of Ice and Necklace of Skulls for the same reason. Once Upon a Time in Arabia is meant as a tribute to Sergio Leone - at least, that's the intention.

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  9. Hello,
    Do you think it is possible to translate in a close future the books of the saga Virtual Reality and the last novel book of way of the tiger in French?

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    1. If we had a French publisher then I'd be happy to. A lot will depend on how well received the Critical IF - I mean Infinite IF books are. If they rekindle wider interest in gamebooks, a French translation could be on the cards.

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  10. Hello Dave

    Any chance of us finally seeing "Reg Dragon Pass"? I forget the details but seem to recall this was the 7th virtual reality book planned, although appreciate I might be wrong.

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    1. Seeng that this question was not directed to me and that I have no access to any insider knowledge on the matter at all, I shouldn't even pretend to jump in and answer it, but I suggest that the only two people who *can* answer it are, indeed, Dave, or Paul Mason:

      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/gamebooks/message/5551

      That was nine years ago. I'm not sure that Red Dragon Pass has yet accreted quite the mythical status that Bloodbones did or that Fabled Lands 7-12 have, but obviously a few of us still remember the rumour of it, and I think it would be quite a satisfying "event" if the outline were dusted down and it was finally completed.

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    2. I don't know anything about Bloodbones, but you can read the outline for Red Dragon Pass in the latest Fighting Fantazine, available here:
      http://www.fightingfantazine.co.uk/

      Paul only wrote the first 50 sections of the book and he's rather too busy these days to finish it. Of course, if the IF series is a huge success we will be able to offer him lots of money to do it. But let's just get these 6 books up and running first, eh? :-)

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    3. Well my tongue was prodding (if only slightly) against the inside of my cheek as I was typing that, though I'll admit that despite having downloaded FF10 when it was published, I hadn't yet actually looked at it... It's a great resource and future issues will doubtless help to ensure that any gamebook connoisseur who, for whatever strange reason, doesn't regularly visit this blog will get to hear about the Osprey deal.

      You should do an interview and give tantalising hints about having some kind of grand gamebook masterplan or something.

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    4. Doesn't there have to be some kind of tie-in with Fighting Fantasy? My credentials are a little sparse in that regard, lol. Jamie could give an interview, though.

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    5. Dave - recently the fightingfantazine magazine has expanded broadly to cover all gamebook types - they are even seeking permission from authors to let them allow amateur solo adventures to be published in their magazine using other gamebook systems (I think they have permission for lonewolf and one other system at the moment). The editor is always looking for new material, I'm sure he'd welcome anything from you.

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    6. Hi, Cam. Do they need permission? Back in the '80s, White Dwarf and other RPG magazines never sought permission to run a scenario based on any roleplaying game, presumably on the principle that rules cannot be copyrighted, only words can. And when Per Jorner used a modified version of the VR rules for his short gamebook The Bone Dogs he didn't seek my permission - nor do I think he needed to!

      Well, that's a detail. I'm certainly happy to provide an interview, though I think Jamie's experiences will be more pertinent to the majority of Fighting Fantazine's readers. Maybe we'll do a joint one.

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  11. you are invited to follow my blog

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    1. You're not related to Dirk Lloyd, by any chance?

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  12. F antastic news. Blood Sword 3-5 you will be mine at last. Plus this will give Jaimie a chance to write a rather more uplifting conclusion to Falcon!

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    1. So it was Falcon too, huh? I knew Way of the Tiger came to a downbeat ending. Hopefully we'll get to do new conclusions for both series.

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    2. Don't change the Falcon series ending!
      It's perfectly fine as it is, as the ending is a fair conclusion to the actions you take.


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    3. Obviously I'd better read Falcon at some point. We do have plans for a 7th WOTT book, with a great storyline by David Walters, but that will depend on Mark Smith giving the go-ahead.

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    4. PS: I did just sneak a look at the end of the Falcon series. Of course, not having played the rest of the books it's hard for me to judge, but it does look like a reasonable ending. I assume there are some outcomes where you can do things differently and not get demoted? Or are those all Mr Smith's famous "instant kill" paragraphs? :-)

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    5. The ending is justified if one accepts a military-style being punished for not going by the book, it's just that to me being demoted to the equivalent of the office junior seems a poor return for 6 books. If the authors had wanted to eschew the traditional 'happy ending' they need only look at Heart of Ice to see how it could be handled. Except I guess it was only a gleam in the Morris eye at that time... :)

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    6. Obviously there are strong arguments on both sides. Really this debate needs Jamie to chip in, as I'm not familiar enough with the Falcon books to comment. For those who are, we're running a poll (top right) for the next week.

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  13. I'm afraid it's so long ago, I can't really remember. I wrote book 5 and Min wrote book 6, and that's about it. Anyway, if we redo them, and they do well enough, there's no reason why Falcon couldn't continue on. Win that promotion back again.

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  14. Vote cast - and it means more writing for Jamie if I win! :)

    Incidentally, I must have been naive in assuming books co-authored were actually written together (eg. FL, Falcon), which obviously wasn't the case. I can understand how actually writing with another person would be difficult, but that then makes me wonder why so few gamebook series were penned by just a single author (only Joe Dever and David Tant's books of the 'major' series?). Perhaps a factor of the demands placed by publishers for more regular output?

    Frankly this also explains the slightly 'up and down' nature of certain of the co-authored series!

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    1. Jamie and I can't be accused of that, at least. We may have written the bulk of each FL book individually, but we collaborated very closely on the whole series in terms of characters, world, quests, etc.

      It's true that the main reason gamebook authors teamed up was to share the workload. There was a lot of demand in those days and publishers wanted the "presence" that goes with getting books out quickly. The modern equivalent are series like Beast Quest, mass-produced by ghost writers in order to fill the bookshelves.

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  15. Actually, the first few books in a series are generally written together, and later books do have cross over bits - items, characters etc but once it's established, we would meet up, go through the plot in broad brushes and then go away and write it separately, but staying in touch too.

    Gamebooks are complex structure wise, but also they are full of plot events and happenings. If it was a novel, you might only use four or five of those, for a gamebook you need loads, but they are covered in short sections, so you don't need much character exposition and stuff. But you do need ideas for stuff happening, and lots of them - hence the 2 player nature of authoring game books. You can spark ideas of each other and that really helps.

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  16. Also what Dave said.

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    1. Mind you, with Keep of the Lich Lord, we broke it exactly down the middle. Jamie did 200 paras up to the door of the keep, where you're out in the forest or sailing to the island, drinking in taverns, etc; I did the bit inside where it's all infested with undead.

      Talk about typecasting...

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  17. It must have made for a very interesting process, and I suppose also removes that element of writing where it feels like being trapped in a bubble without human contact until the job is done. Possibly a topic that you'll be revisiting soon, assuming you both receive calls from Jonathan Green looking for interviews (and I sincerely hope you are both on his list!).

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    1. If it's interviews you're after, Mike, there's one here:
      http://www.librogame.com/modules/PDdownloads/singlefile.php?cid=8&lid=21

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    2. Thanks very much Dave, very interesting. It's still quite amazing how this (for its time) enormous industry grew out of such a small nucleus of people. Thinking on the number of titles you've written, I wonder whether you might claim the silver medal for total number of gamebooks produced? It would certainly be more than Ian Livingstone, and I think perhaps behind only Joe Dever.

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  18. You might be right there. Presumably R A Montgomery wrote a fair few, or did he hire ghost writers like Livingstone & Jackson did? At any rate, we can agree that Joe Dever holds the gold.

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  19. I'm sure you've already discussed this, and that it's been suggested to you before, but have you considered using Kickstarter to fund the writing of the other Fabled Lands books? From previous posts, it sounds as if the (or a) major issue with writing them is to find money to write them, in order to sell them and make money. A problem with the style of Fabled Lands is that it does encourage holding off on purchases until all the books are released, and the reader can get the full experience, and while currently one can buy the first six books, this doesn't anywhere near guarantee that the series will come anywhere nearer completion.

    Kickstarter, on the other hand, does provide a reassurance that, if funded successfully, the later books WILL be written. That, I feel, would encourage many people* to fund the project, whereas they wouldn't have bought say book 7 alone if/when it came out.

    Other gamebooks (Arcana Agency springs to mind) have been using this method recently, and successfully. Fabled Lands, which already has a 'cult following', as I believe one of the posts on this blog describes it, would be likely to find it even easier to get whatever money you need.

    *myself included; and I've never even considered funding anything on Kickstarter before.

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    1. It's a thought. I must admit I'm baffled by those people who say that the FL series is "fatally flawed" because it's not complete. Each book is pretty much self-contained, but for about 5% of the entries that link to others, and there is no single epic quest that carries on throughout the series à la LotR or Game of Thrones. So I don't know what people are hoping for from future books, other than more places to explore and more story threads.

      That said, you're certainly right that it is a problem. If somebody is going to say, "Oh, I won't read any of those books until they've written all twelve," then they'll never know what they may be missing. And, while being fully funded on Kickstarter is far from a guarantee that a project will actually happen, it ought to help convince those hesitant to jump in that at least the potential is there for the series to be completed.

      One concern I have about doing FL as a Kickstarter is that it's one thing to ask for money for a single gamebook, but in the case of FL we'd be trying to raise money for six books at once. That's design, writing, editing, artwork, typesetting and printing of about 1200 pages. I fear that FL's stalwart but small band of followers would not be equal to the monumental funds we'd need.

      I should add that's just me, though. Jamie is much more optimistic. So who knows...

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    2. Now if we were talking about a Kickstarter for something like this:
      http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stoic/the-banner-saga
      *then* I'd probably be jumping up and down and making it happen :-)

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    3. For reasons that are unclear to me my brain keeps seeing 'The Badger Saga' whenever I look at the logo.

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    4. Of course, what you could consider is so called 'stretch' goals. (I assume you know what they are, but just in case you don't, it's additional actions if the funding reaches a certain level more than the minimum you set: in this case, if you decided to go that route, it would probably be a case of the actual campaign - and minimum funding - being for only one or two books, with the stretch goals increasing the number of books according to how much is pledged). That would have the downside, though, of not guaranteeing all the books, which would probably reduce the backing you got to an extent...

      As for why 'people say that the FL series is "fatally flawed" because it's not complete', in my case (and I wouldn't say it's 'fatally' flawed, by the way), I guess it's because there's always somewhere you can't go; some quest which strays into/out of the books which aren't written, which becomes infuriating in a game system which encourages open ended exploring and going where you like. It's more a psychological thing than anything, I guess: a feeling that the player is still within constructed boundaries (akin to Oblivion and Skyrim's 'you can't go that way' when you reach the edge of the map) which harms immersion.

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    5. I have heard it said (and my own experience supports this, dating all the way back to when I first played “Lords of Midnight” and “Doomdark’s Revenge” on the ZX Spectrum) that if you drop people into a simulated environment with largely unrestricted freedom to explore, then the first thing that at least some of them are psychologically compelled to do is to shoot off in a straight line and keep going until they hit whatever lies at the “edge”, just to see what’s there. (There are those of us who, when we read “Here be dragons” at the edge of a map, perceive not a warning but an invitation; we want to see the dragons.) Thus, in my view, the *only* flaw in the Fabled Lands series is that there are places the reader cannot go, not because they lie forever beyond some outermost crystalline sphere of the Fabled Lands universe, but because the corresponding books do not exist; and I would never call that a “fatal flaw” because there is a sense in which it will always exist, even if/when you do write books 7-12. By this I mean: I think that the optimal length of a gamebook depends in large part upon the freedom to explore (though not entirely; the number of arbitrary “instant deaths” is also important). A gamebook that is mostly a linear succession of encounters ought not to be very long, or the reader will soon tire of having to return to the beginning and read through all the same paragraphs again. A gamebook that has many alternative paths can admit expansion to a much greater extent. Consider then a format like the Fabled Lands, in which there is no “true path” and no single ultimate mega-quest (although I confess that I *was* always hoping to catch glimpses of such a quest buried deep in the background of FL 1-6, maybe not to become apparent until the last book was written): such a gamebook can be expanded indefinitely, and the sense of wonder and immersion it engenders will only increase in proportion. This is the same sentiment shared by those Tolkien fans whose only criticism of “The Lord of the Rings” (the book) is that it’s too short. So, my longwinded point is, even if/when you do write FL 7-12, that will not be enough. If you were to write an FL 13-24, that would still not be enough; and that is the frustration of there being only FL 1-6.

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    6. FL 13-24? Now I am worried :-)

      Jon Reed recently pointed out the phenomenal success of this Kickstarter:
      http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/breadpig/to-be-or-not-to-be-that-is-the-adventure
      which I think is curious. It can't be that those 15,000 people would really be willing to pay an average of $39 each for a gamebook. And I doubt if they give two hoots (or two bees) about Hamlet. What they are registering is a vote of approval for a pet project of the author, who they like and admire for his web cartoons.

      While I'd wish the best of luck to Ryan North, or any other creative who manages to hit the jackpot on Kickstarter, I can't help feeling the system has a big fault line running through it. Let's say Joe Dever wrote a Shakespeare gamebook. If he could even get a publisher for it, maybe it would sell 10,000 copies. And it would be good. But a famous person - not famous for gamebooks, mind - can go on Kickstarter and raise over half a million. What's wrong with this picture?

      My point is not that the resulting gamebook will necessarily be bad, but that we have no way of knowing what it will be like. If I go to a regular investor, I have to prove I have the ability to deliver the project. On Kickstarter there's no due diligence. It is an exchange for converting fame into cash. And I don't see how that can last.

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    7. Here’s another spectacular example:

      http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/loneshark/the-maze-of-games-an-interactive-puzzle-novel

      I think you might well be right. In my opinion, a strength and weakness of Kickstarter is that it is democratic. Backers are free to do as they wish with their own money, and the projects that succeed are those that gain popular support, but as anyone knows who pays any attention to politics or market economics, democracy alone is no guarantee of fairness or of sound decisions, because there is never a truly level playing-field. On the other hand, if you can exploit a system as a means to an end, to realise something worthwhile that might otherwise not be possible, then… why not exploit it?

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    8. But that's just what most politicians tell themselves, Graham. I guess I have the same moral qualms about Kickstarter as I do about the exploitation of democracy.

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  20. Are there plans to republish Mark Smith's Virtual Reality Adventures titles (Green Blood and The Coils of Hate?) These are the two titles that had so many logic and continuity errors as to be nearly unplayable (especially Coils of Hate). They therefore (unlike Dave's entries, which are fantastic) have a lot of room for improvement. It would be a great achievement to bring those titles back in an improved form.

    ---Gaetano---

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    1. I'm not sure a million monkeys working at a million typewriters could make Green Blood work. Coils of Hate I'd like to see thoroughly reworked though, as despite the mauling it received in some quarters there is a very real-world story being told, some interesting characters and a couple of nice set-pieces (including the ending).

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    2. I think Coils of Hate would make a great novel. I like the writing, the setting and the atmosphere. But I nearly killed myself trying to do a last-minute fix on it (if you think it's full of errors now, you should have seen the manuscript) so I don't want to be the one to sort it out in gamebook form.

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  21. You're very quiet on Green Blood Dave? :)

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    1. Lol. Well, Green Blood was less of a mess than Coils of Hate, flowchart-wise, and it was nicely written, as all of Mark's work is. I could probably fix it and, if the Infinite IF series is successful, I may have to. But I didn't find the premise and story as distinctive as CoH. So I'm more interested in reworking Blood Sword and Way of the Tiger first. And Golden Dragon. And Falcon... :-)

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  22. You see, in my opinion, Green Blood and Coils of Hate suffer from the same problem as book 6 from both Falcon and WotT. It's not the writing, it's not even the ending (disappointing, maybe, but not so unexpected). It's the lack of polish on the game front. You have unconsequential choices, continuity errors, even a warped time flow sometimes (yes, I know that's to be expected in Falcon, but still ;-) ).

    I personally don't hate those books as many readers seem to do. Rather, I'm disappointed they weren't tuned up to their full potential. They feel unfinished, rushed. They still provide some amazing material, though - Coils of Hate is definitely my favourite out of the four.

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    1. I can't really answer for any of those - I'll leave that to Mark and Jamie. But I do feel that Coils of Hate had potential. There was a great story in there trying to get out. Maybe it just should have been a novel rather than a gamebook.

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  23. Great news !

    I have a question related to "Heart of Ice", however. Back when it was freely available here, I translated it into French (unlike "Down among the dead men" and "Necklace of skulls", it had never been published in France, which I thought a real pity). The translation is freely available here : http://litteraction.fr/livre-jeu/coeur-de-glace

    Now that you're going to release "Heart of Ice" again, I'd like to know your wishes on the subject. I do hope that HoI will finally be published in France, but in any case, I will of course withdraw my translation if you tell me to.

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  24. I'm flattered that you took the time to translate it, Romain, so don't take it down on my account. I don't know whether there will be an "official" edition in France, but if any publishers get in touch then I'll be sure to recommend they come to you first.

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    1. Thank you, I really appreciate it.


      Speaking of "Heart of Ice", I believe I've noticed a very minor mistake near the end of the book. It's nothing important and I guess you may be aware of it already, but just in case : at section 453, the hero picks up a certain weapon ; slightly before that, however, the hero may have done something that would make said weapon impossible to obtain (section 448).

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    2. Oh my, you're right. Ahem. Well, I can fix that...

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  25. I played Green Blood, The Coils of Hate, Necklace of Skulls and Heart of Ice back in the mid 90s. I remember Heart of Ice the most but I would dearly love to see all six Virtual Reality books return to print. They were some of my favourite books. I see the comments above with the issues with the gameflow but I really did enjoy them and I would dearly love to see them reissued (Possible even fixed).

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    1. We'd have to fix them, because otherwise you'd never be able to complete Green Blood or Coils of Hate. (It's not possible to cheat in an ebook.) But I'm hoping somebody else will do that!

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    2. I must have cheated then because I remember completing them. ^^; So long ago I can't remember.

      I would be tempted to offer but I don't think I have the time to do that for nothing at the moment. Got other paid game related work I have to do.

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    3. Oh yes, I did mean we'd hire somebody. Fabled Lands LLP isn't one of those companies that tries to get work for nothing :-) But I wanted to do the first few myself to see how the ebook conversion process works. If the series is successful, we have editors and coders that we'll hire on to speed things up. (And to spare me having to ever look again at Coils of Hate - lol.)

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    4. Haha fair enough. I figured you were hinting at that but I would have been willing to do it for free (or for little) if I had the time.

      If it is redone, I do hope the original cover is kept. It's one of my favourite gamebook cover arts. :)

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    5. Covers and interior art are outside my jurisdiction on these first six books. Osprey are handling all that because the epub3 coding is such a distraction for me and Jamie. On later books, I'll take charge of the covers too.

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    6. I figured as much. It was more of a forlorn hope...

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  26. I'd be willing to patch up Coils of Hate for Fabled Lands, LLP. I love basking in the glow of editing challenges, and would jump at the chance to pick up a non ghostwriting-related task. (*_*) I'm not sure if you and Jamie still have me on your email contact lists, though.

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    1. Hi Mike, thanks for the offer. We're still a long way off Coils of Hate, though. There's Way of the Tiger and Blood Sword to get through first, so I'm not expecting to see CoH on the schedules till the back end of 2014 at the earliest. Oh, and I'm forgetting Falcon and Golden Dragon. Okay, probably the back end of 2015, then!

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