Virtual Reality gamebook series, but we wrote our books separately and took a very different approach. The original pitch to publishers was that VR would be like interactive novels. What we meant by that was that if you took all the sections in a given read-through and pasted them together, you could give that to a friend and they could read it the same way they would a novel. (Not that you would, of course. It was a thought experiment kind of thing.)
In Green Blood, Mark frequently used a second-person variant of free indirect style: the text describes the world exactly as the character is intended to feel about it. At least one reviewer took Mark to task for use of "weasel words" because of this. In fiction there is no claim of objectivity, but gamebooks are an interesting grey area. The author, like the referee of a role-playing game, is the reader's only source of information. If that information becomes suspect, or seems to be chosen and slanted to nudge us into feeling a certain way, then we react much as we do if a politician or salesman starts trying to bamboozle us.
As I began to write my first VR book, Down Among the Dead Men, I saw that if I stuck to my role-playing principles of giving the player control of their own persona, the text resulting from stitching all your choices together as you went would be more like a great game write-up than a novel. I could describe events that happened to you, fine, but unlike a novel writer I couldn't prescribe all your moral, emotional and life choices or it wouldn't be a gamebook.
Mark went the other way. Whichever character you pick at the start of Green Blood, you soon learn that after a promising start at a good school for orphans you have been raised in the city slums and are disgusted with "the cesspools and plague pits" of your fellow man. The ways of city folk, you are told, revolt you. Throwing your bag over your shoulder, you set off for the Forest of Arden to seek out the elves. The story is extremely slanted against humans and in favour of self-righteous, tree-hugging elvenkind. This is the sort of thing that makes me prefer Tekumel and the Dying Earth to the heavily moralistic settings typical in high fantasy - but that's just personal taste. I do think that Green Blood has been unfairly maligned because of the lack of freedom of choice. As Dostoyevsky and others found, the theme of a young hero driven by poverty and squalour beyond
bitterness into insanity is ripe for literary
exploration. If Green Blood had been a novel, it would have worked just fine. It's just the game aspect that lets it down.
A big for instance: in the first draft, it was impossible to get through the adventure unless you picked both WILDERNESS LORE and SWORDPLAY among your four skills. Any other character was doomed from the start. With eleven skills (it should have been twelve, in three groups of four, but that's a detail) that leaves a less than twenty-five percent chance that a randomly selected character has any hope of surviving.
I didn't agree with Mark about that, but I had my own books to worry about, and it's not up to me to ride another man's horse or shoot his bow. There it would have remained, except series editor Ian Marsh found some crash-bug type errors that needed to be dealt with before the book could be sent for typesetting. Mark was by then deep into writing Coils of Hate, so it fell to me to fix the Green Blood flowchart.
While I was doing that, I noticed Mark had included a short sequence where you meet the elves on midsummer's eve and have to convince their king to help you in your quest. Without the Elf King's help, there is no chance of a successful conclusion. In the original, you had to have SWORDPLAY to do that, but I saw an opportunity to let other skills have a look-in. By adding a whole range of different challenges to the sequence, I made it possible for any character to get through to the end of the adventure. And, as the New Year's freebie has become a tradition on the FL blog, here is that sequence. Feel free to cheat.