Gamebook store

Saturday, 22 January 2011

A blind date with destiny - and it looks like she's ordering the lobster

British newspaper The Guardian (aka as the Grauniad because of its relaxed approach to proof-reading) ran a short piece about the possible resurgence of interactive fiction (aka gamebooks) on ebook readers.

I like the idea, but having written dozens of sword-n-sorcery gamebooks over the years, I'd be interested to try something new. Maybe an interactive thriller, a romcom or a historical novel?

I'd also chuck out the dice, percentages and stats. With paper-n-pencil gamebooks all that stuff was just there by historical accident, a hangover from D&D. In the case of e-gamebooks, the device could take care of all that so that the reader can concentrate on the story.


  1. While the dice and stats may originally have been originally included only by 'historical accident', the presence of a system of RPG-like mechanics was nevertheless a major reason why I, and presumably others, favoured books like those in your Fabled Lands series over those in mechanics-free series like Choose Your Own Adventure or Endless Quest. I think doing away with them entirely would be a mistake.

    On the other hand, what I could do without is an actual representation of physical dice on the screen, at least in the way it's been done now. I tried one of the Fighting Fantasy iPhone adaptations, and found it tedious to wait and watch the animation play while the dice roll across the screen. I'd have been far happier with an instantaneous popup or onscreen message saying 'You rolled .'.

    That's not to say you shouldn't still do an interactive thriller, romcom or historical novel - just that you shouldn't necessarily throw out the 'game' part when you do so. Plus, I'd be kind of curious to see what sort of mechanics prove suitable for a romcom.

  2. The other difference with CYOA, of course, is that they were much simpler stories for younger kids. When Mark Smith and I combined sophisticated storylines with a much more rules-lite approach in the Virtual Reality series, I'd say that was a big success. And the Choice Of games (Choice of the Dragon, etc) are pretty good at this too.

    The mechanics would still be there in my interactive romcom, they just wouldn't be visible to the user - not in abstract game-type form, that is. The things you said and did would make a difference to the plot, but your interface for finding out how would be the story itself (ie what happens next, how other characters react to you) not in a "you fail your sympathy roll and Alice's affection rating for you drops by 3 points" kind of thing.

    I absolutely hate seeing dice roll in a computer or smartphone game. It's just dumb. I'm not supposed to be rolling dice, I'm supposed to be sneaking past a guard or rewiring a transporter console or something. What's the point of watching dice roll about on screen and then being told, "Your roll of 4, added to your Stealth of 5 and subtracted from the guard's Perception of 2, means that..." Argh! I mean, we have to do that stuff in a paper-n-pencil game, but on screen it's really obtrusive. It just breaks the spell of the story.

  3. It's really quite refreshing to see an article in a mainstream newspaper that actually extolls the virtues of gamebooks rather than denigrating them as a juvenile thing of the past!

    However, the Guardian article has a slightly misleading title considering it's narrow focus on gamebooks, of course. Forgive me if you already know this, but these days the term "interactive fiction" - aka "IF" - actually has a very specific meaning. Essentially, IF usually refers to command-line driven text adventure games (e.g. 1980s Infocom classics like "Zork", "Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy" and "A Mind Forever Voyaging"). IF is the sort of computer game where you type "open the bottle and pour it into the vase" and the game responds. These days, IF is OS-independant and the games are played on software emulators (usually called "runners"), with versions available for all modern operating systems. Gamebooks in contrast, don't allow the reader to type input - although a tiny handful of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks were actually converted into IF format in the eighties.

    The IF renaissance of the late nineties and early noughties, meanwhile, was powered by the rise of the Internet. It has produced thousands of works that seem to have slipped right past the attention of the mass media - the best of which can rival prize-winning "serious" novels in their use of evocative prose, depth of immersion and intricate design. Standout titles such as Anchorhead, Photopia, Spider And Web, Varicella and Galatea are just a few of the modern classics that are sadly underappreciated by the "real world" because they cannot possibly exist in printed form. Which in a round-about way brings me back to gamebooks, which *can* exist in printed form. Unlike IF, gamebooks are better suited to the tablet format of the iPhone and iPad because those devices don't have tactile keyboards.

    I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on IF versus gamebooks, Dave.

  4. There are already some romance gamebooks out there in ebook format, written by romance authors for romance readers. I have never dared to try them despite being a fan of that genre, though!

  5. "It's really quite refreshing to see an article in a mainstream newspaper that actually extolls the virtues of gamebooks rather than denigrating them as a juvenile thing of the past!"
    Since that's a blog, does it count as part of the Guardian at all?

  6. Well, Anon, the Guardian put their logo at the top of it. But if we're getting onto the legitimacy of The Grauniad's reporting, I have to say that I haven't bothered with it since their ridiculous article "Was Darwin Wrong?" a year or so back, where a reporter had heard a bit about epigenetics and somehow got the notion that this was a new discovery at odds with evolutionary theory. One phone call to an actual biologist would have set the guy straight. The Grauniad's science reporting is sloppy, lazy and ill-informed - and not just in their blogs.

    Mrs Giggles - I have played a few Japanese-style "dating games" but find them irritating because you end up reading a very long (and not very good) story just to make a few decisions, many of which don't have any real effect on the plot. Needless to say, if I do a romcom e-gamebook I'd approach it differently!

    Jiminy, thanks for the tip. Im going to try to use the term "interactive literature" from now on, to differentiate it from IF, while bemoaning the appropriation of what should be a broadly applicable term by a narrow subset of game types :) I can't comment on the games you mention but I do intend to check them out - thanks for the list.

  7. I'd like the idea of a historical gamebook, or a thriller, rather than the "normal" fantasy, both as far as new generation interactive narration and classical paper-based one. Having already written two fantasy gamebooks, I'd like to try this genres too, expecially history, and I'm planning to do it as soon as I'll have time enough... which is a bit difficult for an amateur writer! :)

  8. I recall the "Real Life" Gamebooks of the mid 1980s which were innovative and pleasingly different to the usual fantasy adventures. In recall playing a Norman nobleman settled in England in 1066, an aristocratic army officer at the outbreak of the French Revolution, a New England colonist in the American rebellion, a Spitfire fighter pilot and whatnot. The flaw in several of the books was that there was just one 'true' path and deviating from it would curtail one's adventure with fatal results and no opportunities to 'change' history. I heartily agree that it would be splendid to see a new set of historical gamebooks, romance and so forth...although I admit to prefering a printed book to an electronic format. Call me old-fashioned but I love reading a book rather than interacting with technology and pressing buttons.

  9. A bit of topic, but I would love to see a gamebook with well depicted character. No more adventure of “You” or a generic “Explorer”. A story about a character that make decisions in a frame of choices. The kind of choices, for example, been “Good” “Bad” or “Ugly” are OK for a generic character, but in the end fail for a more complex character.


  10. Interesting idea, Ikaros. It begs the question of how choices are presented. I think it's important to avoid putting the reader into a detached authorial position, eg: "Do you think James Bond should kiss Pussy Galore or punch her?" That might be of academic interest but would probably flop commercially as only writers would be interested in it. So an interactive novel with a third-person protagonist to whom you are not an abstract disembodied deity... hmm.

    Noble, your comment reminded me of a Scarlet Pimpernel mini-gamebook adventure that Jamie and I wrote for a partwork magazine called Discovery. Being a tech-junkie, though, I reckon if I do anything along these lines in future it will be in electronic format. Sorry!

  11. I'm probably old-fashioned but I prefer printed books and real dice. So I'm waiting for new stuff like Fabled Lands 6-12 and hopefully brand new Fighting Fantasy books. If these would only be e-books, well: instant death...

  12. Another flaw in the "Real life" gamebooks were some historical errors. In the first lines of the one that takes place during the American Revolution, you can read that some of your relatives have settled... in California. In the one where you play a Spitfire pilot escaping from a camp in Germany, you can find a restaurant, in Germany, with a French flag ! Later, you have to cross Metz or Mulhouse that the author describes as French cities though they were, at that time, annexed by the Nazis (I know this, for my family living near Metz was expelled).
    I could have a look at the first book of the "Falcon" series and read that, at the battle of Borodino in 1812, French troops are singing the Marseillaise, moreover in front of Napoleon himself. Sorry Jamie, but I don't think that soldiers would have sung a Republican hymn during Napoleon's reign !

  13. Jamie will be mortified at getting a historical detail wrong about Napoleon, Olivier. He used to own a huge army of miniatures of the period and played an ongoing wargame of Napoleon's campaigns.

  14. You're right, Napoleon did ban the Marseillaise, my bad, I just got that one wrong, sorry!

  15. Thanks Jamie ! You're forgiven. Though I didn't play wargames, I was a fan of Napoleonic Wars too !
    The "Real Life" gamebook which takes place during WWII was never published in France. On a French forum, some gamebook-fans ranted: "those French editors, they want to hide the fact that many French people collaborated with the Nazis !"
    I replied that, on the contrary, this gamebook is very favorable to France since the character we play soon finds helpful Frenchmen. The problem is that this part of the action takes place in what wasn't actually France anymore !

  16. In terms of interactive romance literature, a prominent (book) example is Being Elizabeth Bennet (US title: Lost in Austen). This is one way of handling the problem of a 'well depicted character,' since the player-reader here adopts the role of an already-established figure.

    Regarding interactive fiction (IF): You can in fact play IF on the iPad and iPhone, using the free Frotz app.

  17. I saw a great UK television drama (almost an oxymoron there) called Lost in Austen, and I wonder if that's related to the book you're talking about? I'll also check out Frotz - thanks, Ken.

  18. The idea of a 3rd person-gamebook isn't new: Brennan used it in Demonspawn, and it's one of the best gamebook saga ever conceived, as far as setting and narration are concerned, but unfortunately quite unplayable. I'd really like to see this narration system used again in a more sofisticated gamebook...

  19. The problem remains how to maintain the suspension of disbelief when the protagonist is being described in 3rd person. "Cap'n Jack is swimming towards the Black Pearl. Do you think he should climb aboard at the stern (turn to 22) or the prow (turn to 36)?" But who am I in the narrative, that my decisions affect Jack Sparrow's actions?

    Obviously that's not a problem in 3rd person videogames, where you have a liminal identification with the main character. But in a book it puts you in the position of being the author - which is disengaging.

    I'm not saying there aren't very good solutions to that problem, mind ;)

  20. Dave, it's Mike. I tried to send you an email but it comes back bounced. Any suggestions?

  21. Hi Mike, welcome back to the blog. I don't know why the email bounced but at least the comments seem to be working. (They don't always!)

  22. Not the email address on the right, the other email (regarding the article). This is the error message I receive: gave this error:
    #5.1.0 Address rejected

    Perhaps it's some sort of firewall.

    Does go directly to you?

    Oh, and I have always thought that the madman/mystic deserved a codeword, congrats to whomever pointed that out. I have received the first four books back in December along with the Game Guru books, but haven't had any time to read them, due to final term studies. April 2011, here I come!

  23. Ah, but is the new codeword to do with the mad guy on the beach, Mike, or is it something else? I'm afraid everybody's going to have to wait and see. (Hopefully not for another 15 years...)

    The info@ email goes to Jamie - and quite right too, as he leaves me to do all the work on the blog. In fact, I'm going to ask for a pay rise. As soon as Fabled Lands LLP starts paying me anything, that is :)

  24. Your wording scared me a bit there Dave - at first it read like you were hoping we wouldn't find out for another 15 years!

    I was very happy to see that new codeword - not because the old man intrigued me (though I'd be pleased to hear more about just how "mad" he really is), but because it offers a concrete reason to start your adventures in book 1, rather than in the later books, which can make for something of an easy mode when travelling to Sokara.

    Anyone ignoring this new incentive may well regret it when they return to a successful character in a year or two, to find a section of story forever closed to them!

  25. Sorry, James. I can see how that could be misinterpreted. It should have read, "hopefully you won't have to wait for 15 years this time." And that new codeword - oh yes, it could prove useful in several ways ;)

  26. Well, the other new thing I'm wanting to find out the answer to is what happens when you're dragged away by the Trau at Haggart's Corner in book 2. Before - you're never seen again. Now - Or are you?

  27. Personally I prefer the idea that you're never seen again. That's creepier. But we have to balance drama with gameplay, and death paragraphs are no fun for the player, so... you'll go somewhere. Only Jamie knows where!

  28. If it was going to be anywhere it would be book 12, into the underworld wouldn't it?

  29. I believe that's where the link now points.

  30. Could you post the Barnes and Noble order links as well? I believe they add to the sales figures as that is where I ordered my copies.

  31. B&N don't provide handy HTML paste-ins like Amazon, but here are those links:

    For Mirabilis

    For FL

    We don't have a single review on B&N, while we have quite a few on Amazon, so I'm assuming most of our sales are through the latter.

  32. As for sales, is there a specific deadline that FL LLC is veering towards in regards to quantities sold, or will sales go on and on until sales totals are met? I have no doubts that the series will be completed. If you keep thinking to yourself "The FL series WILL be completed, the FL series WILL be completed", with no negative thoughts whatsoever, it will most likely happen.

  33. Hi Mike - well, I'm not sure our investors would agree with wishful thinking as a business strategy, but we are hopeful! Sales will continue indefinitely because the books are set up as POD, meaning that it is no extra cost to Fabled Lands LLP to keep them in print. In the meantime, we have plenty of other projects in the pipeline for this year, including the long-awaited Dirk Lloyd launch. Did somebody mention television..? ;)

  34. Hey Dave, I found this in the current issue of the UK magazine Gamesmaster:

    It seems interesting, although they make it seem like it has not been done before :) Fabled Lands was probably one of the author's influences, due to its seemingly open-ended nature. I'm reading through the website as I type this and it's on sale at:

    I would rather save up and purchase more Fabled Lands copies, though.

  35. Destiny Quest looks very impressive. And the author has clearly put a huge amount of care, thought and hard work into it. The UK edition seems like quite a bargain too, given the page length of the book. (Not so much the US edition, which is listed at $15.51 on Amazon.) I'll mention it to the other FL guys.

  36. Quite impressive indeed, with all of the character classes, skill trees, equipment and such. There is a skill glossary on the downloads page for our perusal as well. I wonder if the rest of the series will link to the first book. From what I can tell, the author has 4 books planned, but the first one will be released tomorrow. I truly love this gamebook renaissance, cheers!

    I've noticed that the Amazon sales ranks were around 47k for The War-Torn Kingdom, but 109-116,000 for the other 3.

  37. This may not sound fair, because it’s not

    But did you know that you can be a guy’s dream girl...

    I mean, you can literally check off every box on his “perfect woman” list...

    But if you mess up this one thing, he’ll drop you the second another option comes along?

    My friend James Bauer discovered this missing “secret ingredient” all men are constantly searching for in a woman.

    And most women have no clue it exists because guys aren’t even aware of it.

    We just KNOW when it’s missing.

    ===> The “Secret Ingredient” to obsessive love <=====

    The really cool thing is, when you know how to give a man this “secret ingredient”...

    It will send a shockwave of desire for you straight to his brain and he will HAVE to have you.

    In fact, when you do this... watch his face light up, almost as if he’s just been zapped.

    It’s that moment when he says to himself “Where have you BEEN all my life?”

    Every woman should know this. Check it out here: ====> Why men leave “perfect” women... <=====