Gamebook store

Friday, 6 February 2015

You never have to wait till breakfast

The Thomson-Smith series everybody talks about is The Way of the Tiger. Fair enough. Mixing Japanese martial arts with Dungeons and Dragons doesn't do it for me - and the ninjutsu and bushido stuff was never part of Mark Smith's original conception of the world of Orb either. But in the '80s it was all black pyjamas and nunchuks. Even Daredevil seemed to be wall-to-wall ninja back then. Way of the Tiger rode that wave, and you can't blame them.

Another '80s fixture was British comic 2000AD. Of course Judge Dredd wasn't my favourite. I preferred Nemesis the Warlock (which felt a bit Moorcockian), Ace Trucking Company (definite shades of Keith Laumer), and the resolutely downbeat Strontium Dog, whose demise (later retconned as "legend") surely inspired Avenger's apparently sticky and sudden end.

More of the spirit of Johnny Alpha was evident in the Falcon gamebooks. Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson wrote these books around the same time as Way of the Tiger, but that series has always overshadowed them. It's a shame. Falcon's time-travel concept allows for a diversity of setting and tone that WotT could never achieve. There's a dry humour as well as a dark bite to Falcon's adventures, and with multiple timelines as the theme sudden death is no longer quite such a metafictional minefield. Put it this way: Falcon could make a respectable movie or TV show, whereas in the case of WotT you could hardly help asking why an Occidental-looking guy kept using Japanese words and was trying to drop-kick that shoggoth with an orc on its back.

Well, no need to pick sides. You can have your kēki and eat it, because Fabled Lands Publishing is bringing back the Falcon series, starting this month with The Renegade Lord. It's 3033 AD, you're an agent of the Temporal Executive, and you have to stop the time traveller who is trying to change history before he, she, or it deletes the present. The wrinkle in the time stream is that the miscreant you're after seems to be one of your own superior officers.

We had this book ready for release at the end of last year, but we didn't know what to do about a cover. Then Jamie happened to get in touch with Peter Andrew Jones, the near-legendary artist responsible for some of the great gamebook covers of the '80s and '90s. Mr Jones kindly offered to remaster the cover for the new edition. So that's a point in favour of Facebook, in case you're still missing your hoverboard.

32 comments:

  1. All six of the Falcon books were great fun, glad to see them back!

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  2. That's excellent news. Just last year I dug up my copies which I got on ebay a while back and played book 1, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was just about to start on book 2, but the small typefont made it a bit hard to read so I postponed it. Now I'll just wait for the bigger reissues of the remaining books to continue my quest :-)

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    1. Let me just warn you there might be quite a long wait. We have to see how The Renegade Lord sells first, to determine if there's enough of a demand to bring the rest of the series back.

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  3. Great news. I've always thought that Falcon is the most underrated gamebook series. I've got good memories of playing Book 3 in particular.

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    1. I haven't played a lot of gamebooks myself, but if I did then Falcon is the kind of series I'd go for.

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  4. Falcon returns! I'm especially looking forward to the far future planet of metal in Book 2.

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    1. I've never been quite sure how Mark and Jamie escaped legal action from the BBC regarding Mechanoids!

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  5. WOW!!! This is really good news!!!
    There is one other thing that The Way of the Tiger and Falcon share: the sixth book is by far the worse of the series!!! :-)

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  6. Fantastic news! This series is the real overlooked gem of the original gamebook era; the fact it only lasted 6 books pains me as much as the cancellation of Firefly, and for similar reasons in that both had such promise for longevity.

    I'd be quite content with new artwork throughout (Nic Weeks' designs notwithstanding), as I never thought the original artwork captured the tone of the series well. Geoff Senior's artwork isn't very detailed, and the choices of panel to illustrate were often rather odd, and PAJ is about *the* most overrated artist in my eyes (the covers he did for the Lone Wolf 13+ titles were dreadful). Of course, just one consumer's opinion...

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    1. I feel like I'm going to be disappointing you, then, Mike, when I say that the reissued Falcon features all-old artwork. And the truly bad cover of Lone Wolf 13 was surely the US edition - by Dave Dorman, not our Mr Jones.

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    2. Did PAJ do the Red Fox Lone Wolf covers? If so I strongly disagree, I thought they were excellent.

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    3. I'm not the person to ask - I didn't even know there was a Lone Wolf book 13 until Mike mentioned it. My apparently encyclopaedic knowledge of Dave Dorman's artistic involvement is entirely due to having access to a searchable international network of digital data ;-)

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    4. PAJ did do the Red Fox covers for the initial run of 13-20, and the reissues of 1-12 from that time, so yes, he was responsible. Downright guilty in fact, if you ask me. :)

      No disrespect intended of course, just to be clear.

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    5. Mike, no worries - we all have different tastes :)

      Anyway, back to Falcon. My copy arrived an I'm very pleased - it does contain original art which I personally am happy about. I never got to read the entire series, I was more of a Way of the Tiger fan as a boy. Here's hoping they all get released..

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    6. Luckily, they did away with the death penalty some years ago.

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    7. Lol - that's gamebook fans for you, Peter. "We want it exactly like it was in the old days!" "Except when we don't!"

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  7. Oh, it's a close-run thing Dave. Not that I have any artistic claims that qualify me as a critic of course; I was always just slightly confused that PAJ was held in such high regard. If I'm honest, the only cover he did for Falcon that I thought did justice to the books was #6. I think perhaps I'm tougher on him because on some level I hold him partly responsible for the series not being more popular, however irrational that sounds.

    Anyway, great news overall. I just love this series, and given Jamie is in a sci-fi writing vein these days who could say #7 could never happen...

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    1. Funny you should say that, Mike. Jamie and I are currently working on an SF project - not Wrong Side of the Galaxy, this is an all-new thing. And it is based around time travel. I'll reveal more in due course.

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  8. Gruddammit! Just when I was reciting a mantra to ease the pain of nostalgia:
    Be Strong... Be Hard... BEHAVE!!!

    Hearing that book sales will determine the fate of the rest of the Falcon series is disconcerting... I only have books 1-3 courtesy of second-hand bookshops, and books 4-6 courtesy of HotU. (By the hoary hosts of Wyrd, Amazon lists book 6 at $106 dollars??? What is the world coming to???)

    Still, compared to "Inferno!", "At the End of Time" has better finality, and honestly, we can't have the series maintain the format book 5 adopted, can we? Unless we have full characterization through interaction with all the agents, thence making the books a lot thicker. Sounds like Falcon might have a better chance going digital than being printed, if we use the same innovations as your digital Frankenstein.

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    1. Now you've got me intrigued, Godwin. What *was* the format of Falcon book 5?

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    2. Well, in Books 4 and 5 of WotT we see a departure from the solo adventure format to one that incorporates strong strategy elements. I am guessing Mark and Jamie wanted do do something different with Falcon 5 as well, since the story had progressed to Falcon being promoted to Section Chief of the Special Agent Section. If I recall correctly, you get to choose one of three graduates to become a Special Agent, and assign agents to undertake pressing missions. Based on the situation and the graduate selected, certain missions would be successful or a failure, and eventually everything culminates in a final showdown with the big bad (at OK Corral, no less!). And only one graduate would make it to assist in the final showdown.

      On hindsight, maybe Falcon 5 influenced WotT? Either series had the protagonist achieve a position of political/strategic importance. In my opinion, it is difficult to write an engaging adventure gamebook for a character of eminent importance such as a king or section chief; after all, such a person is in a position to get someone else to do it. Plus it is somewhat droll for an adventure to be centred on administrative and clerical duties. Even in WotT Book 4, the latter half of the book has you off to find the Orb and Sceptre. I could be wrong but after 30 years of reading gamebooks I have yet to find an adventure that only requires you to be a successful manager through book-keeping, filing documents, addressing concerns ("Please sir, he's stolen my pig"), paying the servants, coordinating ministers, collecting taxes, etc.

      So in Falcon 6 we have an ending reminiscent of James T. Kirk in Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home. As I said, it has a better sense of finality, though with a potential chance of continuation if possible. Much, much better than the disappointing cliffhanger in Inferno!

      I dare say you would have a different take if you did something similar. I know I'm repeating myself, but Blood Sword still remains a unique adventure experience using a panoptical prose. The best dialogues still belong to the Trickster, beginning with Book 1 (dealing with the apprentices and Larisha), Book 3 (dealing with the Jinn, Lagrestin, Jablo the Knife, hunchback gaoler), and Book 4 (dealing with the Horned Bat and Bearded Dog).

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    3. You get the same problem in role-playing. When a character is a general or running a province, he or she not going to get into the same kind of personal scrapes. There's still plenty of room for drama, though. Look at a TV show like Borgia. Rodrigo is the Pope, but it's not like he doesn't have plenty of very interesting problems and personal challenges.

      That's easier to handle in drama and role-playing than in gamebooks, admittedly. I have only glanced at WotT book 4, but I was slightly disappointed to see that the statecraft part gets dropped and suddenly Avenger is off on an adventure like Captain Kirk. I wonder if there was pressure from the publishers there to make it more of a traditional single-hero fantasy adventure when Mark and Jamie had started off doing something quite revolutionary.

      Meanwhile, there is no limit to how much praise I will absorb for Blood Sword, so keep it coming :-)

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    4. I can't speak from the perspective of an RPG-player (I've never had the chance to be a player; I've always been the world-building DM/GM/Referee/Narrator), but I find it easier to keep things fresh in an RPG even if my players are high-ranking members of society. After all, I am in control of the world itself, so whenever things look stale I can always drum up intrigue as the session goes on and develop it into a full-blown mystery adventure that forces my players to keep on their toes and exhaust every available resource to solve it. Something you can't exactly work into a gamebook since it requires some creative "on-the-fly" thinking... like a little "deus ex machina" that sides with the antagonist that you can always throttle down if the players find it too taxing. Limitation of the medium, I guess...

      But coming back to Falcon 5, to maintain the same format into the further adventures of Section Chief Falcon would require Mark and Jamie to track and monitor a great deal of agent/graduate combinations should the list of available agents at Falcon's command expand further as the story grows. Limitation of the medium, definitely. Which is why your digital Frankenstein e-novel opens some intriguing possibilities for this type of solo role-playing.

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    5. That on-the-fly element you describe is why I've always preferred role-playing to gamebook writing, Godwin. Digital gamebooks like Frankenstein allow a little more flexibility, but nothing beats the feeling of a good RPG session when the story just emerges from what all the players are doing.

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    6. Unfortunately, my RPG-mastering days are pretty much over, which is why I still have a soft spot for gamebooks. The only way I can ever be a player and it's up to me how "survivable" the character is. Which reminds me, I used to give my solo team in Blood Sword an extra level up whenever they managed to defeat Nebularon, Skrymir and the Lady in Grey. That's because Books 3-4 had no additional XP awards, so it seems a 4-member team had no real reward for participating in these side treks...

      The Falcon series used a point system to gauge how successful the reader played; sadly, it was dropped in Book 5 onwards. In retrospect, I just believed it was also a good way for the authors to influence how the adventure should be played, though some people might prefer a free-handed method of play. For an series like Falcon, I think it was rather insightful; after all, the key protagonist is supposed to be top of the class, etc., so the adventure ought to be played in a way that demonstrates such qualities. Makes for interesting re-reading actually.

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    7. Although I wrote my '80s and '90s gamebooks on the assumption that people would treat them as a next-best to real roleplaying, I've never found that playing a gamebook gives me any of the things I like about RPGs. Mind you, I've enjoyed a fair few action-adventure videogames (Max Payne 1 and the matchless Outcast spring to mind) which are really just gamebooks evolved.

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  9. Yeah, Falcon featured an achievement system long before video games introduced it. And I think it's a neat idea, that underscores the great - and often untapped - potential of gamebooks. Want to just read the story? You can. Want to also play the game? No problem - and you can cheat freely, too, if the author got carried away with monster stats. Want different developments in your story? This is just the kind of book you're looking for.

    This is something the "true path" books never got: an interesting development is wasted if it's just a "dead end" that will see the character fail no matter what. Falcon's system means there's a reason to explore every nook and cranny in the book.

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    1. I'm curious: is it possible to complete The Renegade Lord and still get a -3 achievement score? I assume it is (Jamie wouldn't slip up over something like that) which makes it a much more interesting feature than I'd first appreciated.

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  10. I wish someone would publish Falcon 5 and 6 as a hard copy or as an e-book. I never brought mine with me when I moved from England to Los Angeles and I want to read them with my son but they're crazy expensive on e-Bay and the library system doesn't have any of them. I wish someone could help.

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    1. Hi David - I suggested Jamie email you PDFs of those books. Let me know if you got them okay. And of course we have a whole bunch of other gamebooks you might like:

      http://astore.amazon.com/fablland-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=4

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  11. Is there word on a date for publishing the other 5 books? I never bought these as a kid and would love to get the to read. I can get them second hand, although the last 2 are demanding a very high price, I understand.

    I will go ahead and buy book 1 of the reprint, perhaps my 1 sale will tip the balance!

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