"Writing a gamebook and writing an app require two vastly different approaches. A gamebook, for all its branching interactiveness, for all that it places control of the story's direction in the hands of the reader, still has a beautiful simplicity. Limits to word count and page count impose a finite set of options on the player at each turn. The story itself tends to have just one satisfying outcome - or, on those rare occasions that there's some flexibility to the story's ending, that number of 'non-death' conclusions is still pretty small. An enemy's combat abilities, if such things are pertinent, tend to be described on a single line, or over a few lines at most. On the whole, gamebooks are fairly 'short form' writing. The focus is on concrete action, speech is reported rather than direct, characterisation is slim ('Why is Kaschuf the Deathless evil? Y'know, just because.'). And this is no bad thing - on the contrary, while the practical limitations of the format necessitate such a direct style, that stark, good-versus-evil simplicity is itself a source of considerable charm.
"A gamebook app - that is, an app written from scratch for that form, rather than a print-to-digital conversion - is a different beast. The writer has far greater scope for nuance. Freed from practical constraints of overall length, the number of variables that can influence the story is much, much larger. Similarly, rather than having a binary effect on the story ('if event X has occurred, goto...'), these variables can have a gradational impact. From memory, I think The Frankenstein Wars has around 450 different variables at work 'under the hood'. Some have a fairly minor effect, aiming for a shift in tone only. For example, one of the story's main characters is Tom Clerval. Depending on Tom's previously established position on the ethics of reanimating the dead, his conversational choices when later discussing that subject - or even his precise wording within those choices - can shift. Other variables have profound, game-changing consequences. Notably, and without getting too spoiler-y, rather than having just one single satisfactory ending, the game incorporates a spectrum of possible endings at the personal level, for the game's principal characters, and for the world as a whole, forever after.
"When I came on board to write The Frankenstein Wars, I already had a couple of original apps under my belt. And yet this was my first time writing something so technically demanding - working with interactive maps, for instance, and in-game countdowns. In that regard, Chapter 3 of the game has been by far the most challenging. My original concept of the scene was that the player, as Anton Clerval, and the mysterious Mr Legion would stalk one another around the interior of a church - hunting one another, playing hide-and-seek with guns. So I began by dividing the church into sixteen different areas. Mr Legion initially follows a track around the church until he and the player encounter one another. At which point there's combat, and if both people are alive and disengage, Legion might start out at a different point on the track. He'll be more wary the next time he comes near the player; he won't fall for the same tricks a second time. And so on.
"What took ages and ages to write was taking into consideration things like direction of movement, who's facing in which direction, how far they can see, whether anything is obstructing their view, things like that. The player and Mr Legion move at the same speed (which already is a simplification), so each time the player moves into a new area, the game code runs through a checklist of a dozen different points (has the player already visited this section? is Legion to the north, one area away? is Legion to the north, two areas away? if so, is the player moving quietly?) before actually moving onto the content of that area.
"Testing all of that out drove the guys from Cubus Games absolutely crazy! If I were writing that scene again now, I'd probably do it quite differently. In fact, in a way, I did. There's a large-scale battle later in the game. I'd originally intended to do the battle in a similar way to the church encounter, with enemy units wandering all over the battlefield. In the end I kept it comparatively simple. The enemies' area of allowable movement/effect is much smaller in each case, which allows me to devote more space to the player's actions, rather than writing thousands of lines to cover the enemy's reactions. Focusing on the player's options is never a bad thing.
"So writing The Frankenstein Wars, and writing that third chapter in particular, has been a learning experience, for sure. But I believe all goes in to improving the player's experience and creating an interactive story that is as deep and a world that is as richly textured as any novel, game or movie."
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Dave here again: Michael Hartland brought up a good point last time about the long turnaround time for most Kickstarter projects. This has been a matter of concern for me and Jamie recently because we've been thinking about doing some crowdfunded gamebook apps, but I find myself torn. On the one hand the writers and coders and artists aren't getting paid much upfront, so unless they expect the app to sell really well on release -- and have a rich uncle to buy their groceries in the meantime -- it's impossible to knuckle down to working on it full-time. But on the other hand, any backer with enough belief in the concept to stake $20 to get it made has a right to expect they won't still be waiting for the thing three years later. What's the answer? I don't know. I'm chary of trying to use crowdfunding to produce print books, but in the case of apps at least all the money raised gets spent on the content. Even so, long development times are a big problem. You guys are smart, though, so all suggestions very welcome!
The Frankenstein Wars is available now for Android and iOS.