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Friday, 1 May 2015

Not fading, sea-changing

I wonder what it's like for Woody Allen or Mick Jagger. Maybe not so bad for Jagger. People might keep screaming for him to sing "Sympathy For The Devil", even though we all know it's never going to be as good as this again, but nobody expects the next Stones album to be a follow-up to Their Satanic Majesties. Woody, though, must get pretty cheesed off with well-meaning fans quoting that Stardust Memories line.

I experience a much-diluted form of the same thing whenever I'm asked to write another Fabled Lands book. That is not a gripe. I'm very glad that the FL books connected with so many people. It's what you aim for as a writer. But you can't step twice into the same stream. Twenty years go by, you've got a whole bunch of new experiences, new influences, new concerns, new things to say. You're a different person. Ridley Scott is never going to make another Duellists - more's the pity.

This blog ranges far and wide but it mostly tends to stick to either roleplaying or interactive storytelling. I never tire of the former, the hobby I love and that is the crucible in which everything I work on is first reacted. My storytelling these days is usually of the traditional variety (ie you sit back, I'll tell it) and when I do mix in some interactivity I'm interested in character rather than puzzles. The old dungeon-style gamebook is all about closing the narrative back onto a linear path. Look, here's an orc; get what you will from it, or kill or bypass it, and the adventure flows on with barely a ripple. On the other hand, if you've been having an affair with your best friend's wife and you have to decide whether to confess - well, whatever you choose to say, the story is going to spin off in an entirely different direction after that. This is more interesting but it makes for a more complicated design, more suited to digital than print.

A very simple example: in my interactive version of Frankenstein, Victor can end up referring to his creation as "he", "it", "Adom" or "the fiend" depending largely on some very early choices that have far-reaching implications. That was easy for me to implement in the markup language I used to write the book, given that you'll be reading the book on iPad, but it would make for a fine old mess on the printed page. Digital gamebooks and print gamebooks are moving into different places. Speciation is inevitable.

Hence if I write a gamebook these days, it won't be Fabled Lands 7 or the sequel to Heart of Ice. (All right, in HOI the universe blew up, which I have a habit of making happen in my books, but even if not I wouldn't be going back.) I might not even end up with something that a purist of the medium would call a gamebook. And much of the time I'm working on other things in other media: novels like the Dark Lord and Starship Captain series, which I co-created with Jamie, or comics like Mirabilis, the labour of love that I work on with Leo Hartas on the rare occasions that our different schedules permit.

Just because you like one thing a person creates doesn't mean you're going to enjoy the whole oeuvre. The Sandman is probably my favourite comic book of all time, but Neil Gaiman's prose fiction doesn't work for me. Hounds of Love still gets played regularly chez Morris, but the Moon would have to go ultraviolet before I'd willingly throw on 50 Words for Snow. So when my other projects leave roleplayers or gamebook fans indifferent, I get it. And don't worry, I'm not going to be bursting into a rendition of "Jumping Jack Flash" any time soon.


  1. Your comment about story and relationship as "puzzles" and choices reminds of the "game" Depression Quest.]

    One of the conceits of that game is that certain potential choices are revealed or removed depending on the mood/status of the player character.

    1. Maybe I should play that instead of voting in the UK elections today, since every possible result leads to the same disastrous outcome of Scotland leaving the UK - and as my own preferred candidate has a miniscule following in any case. So depression seems entirely appropriate!

  2. Ah, the Hounds of Love. The Futureheads' cover of that is something I'll regularly throw on to get me in an upbeat mood.

    1. I like that one too. I'm a bit of a sucker for interesting cover versions in general.