Gamebook store

Monday 28 February 2011

On behalf of the group, I hope we passed the audition

I intended to put this up to commemorate the start of the Interregnum (and also the anniversary of the Beatles’ last public performance, on the roof of Apple Records) but missed that target by a whole month. Better late than never (maybe) here’s my wife Roz and I on Leo Hartas’s radio show. Tune in every week to hear the Bantering Boys, Thursday at 9pm GMT on 10Radio. When you're listening late at night, you may think the boys are not quite right - but that's just the beer before the show, and anyway it's banter; it's not meant to make sense.

Thursday 24 February 2011

The biggest gamebook ever

I mentioned a little while back how UK author Michael J Ward is single-handedly aiming to turn the tide in favor of print gamebooks with his impressive epic new series Destiny Quest. And Andrew Wright, genre historian and writer of the latest Gamebook Adventures app, has an in-depth interview with Michael Ward over on his Fantasy Game Book blog, covering how the DQ series was conceived and written as well as (of equal interest to many of you, I suspect) the inside dope on its publication. If that whets your appetite, Destiny Quest 1: The Legion of Shadow is available on Amazon and there's a wealth of material on the DQ website.

And talking of gamebooks, this seems to be a good place to link to the Slate article about the origin and (possible) future of gamebooks, flagged up in a recent comment by Mike Mielke. I noted this bit

"Researching interactive books," Demian Katz, gamebooks archivist, says, "There's pretty much the same pattern in every country. A few come out, they become explosively popular, a flood of knock-offs are released, they reach critical mass and then drop off into nothing. When I first started cataloguing them, around 1998, it was happening in the Czech Republic. That was one of the last booms."
and couldn't help wondering if China has had its gamebook craze yet...

Wednesday 23 February 2011

In the thick of battle

If you're interested in the statistics of medieval warfare but don't want to go so far as to actually join the SCA, here's an in-depth CSI-style analysis of the Battle of Towton in 1461.

Some highlights:

"[He] suffered eight wounds to his head that day. The precise order can be worked out from the direction of fractures on his skull: when bone breaks, the cracks veer towards existing areas of weakness. The first five blows were delivered by a bladed weapon to the left-hand side of his head, presumably by a right-handed opponent standing in front of him. None is likely to have been lethal."

"In a letter sent nine days after the battle George Neville, the then chancellor of England, wrote that 28,000 men died that day, a figure in accord with a letter sent by Edward IV to his mother. England’s total population at the time is thought not to have exceeded 3 million people. George Goodwin, who has written a book on Towton to coincide with the battle’s 550th anniversary in 2011, reckons as many as 75,000 men, perhaps 10% of the country’s fighting-age population, took the field that day."

"The men whose skeletons were unearthed at Towton were a diverse lot. Their ages at time of death ranged widely. [...] The youngest occupants of the mass grave were around 17 years old; the oldest was around 50. Their stature varies greatly, too. The men’s height ranges from 1.5-1.8 metres (just under five feet to just under six feet), with the older men, almost certainly experienced soldiers, being the tallest. As a group the Towton men are a reminder that images of the medieval male as a homunculus with rotten teeth are well wide of the mark. The average medieval man stood 1.71 metres tall—just four centimetres shorter than a modern Englishman. It is only in the Victorian era that people started to get very stunted. [The Towton soldiers'] health was generally good. Dietary isotopes from their knee-bones show that they ate healthily. Sugar was not widely available at that time, so their teeth were strong, too."

"Arrows were not the only things flying through the air that day. Some of the first bullets were, too. The Towton battlefield has yielded up the earliest lead-composite shot found in England. [Archaeologists] think [they] may have found a fragment of a handgun, which was small enough to be carried around and probably set down on a trestle table or small carriage to be fired."

"The stress of [close quarters] fighting was immense: a few of the Towton skeletons had been clenching their teeth together so tightly that bits of them splintered off."

Saturday 19 February 2011

Fabled Lands on your phone

News so hot you could cook a roc's egg on it: Megara Entertainment, the development wizards behind the Fabled Lands HD game for iPad, are right at this moment putting the finishing touches to the iPhone version (which will also run on iPod Touch, of course). This will be submitted to Apple tomorrow and should therefore be on sale within a matter of weeks. Building on the roughly 12,000 man-hours of work that went into the iPad app, this version features a completely new UI to fit the smaller screen and of course has all the extra content from the updates to the app over the last month.

Props to Mikael Louys, Roland Derhi, Richard Hetley and the rest of the Megara clan for their amazing job in getting this conversion done in such a short time. They've been working around the clock these last few weeks, hyped up by musical accompaniment from Messrs Clapton and Knopfler, and can now take a well-deserved evening off at their local Thai restaurant. Just don't fall asleep in the tom kha gai, fellas. All that work was because you demanded it, FL fans, so please be sure to give them your support.

Thursday 17 February 2011

This Tin Man's got heart

Gamebooks are alive and thriving in 2011, as you can see from this dramatic trailer for Tin Man Games' upcoming iOS gamebook Catacombs of the Undercity, the fifth in their Gamebook Adventures series that began with An Assassin in Orlandes. The blurb ought to whet your appetite for some serious sword-n-sorcery action:

Captured by one of Orlandes City's most infamous brotherhoods, the Red Hand Guild, you are thrown to the mercy of the subterranean world deep beneath the streets of the great capital. Wading through the sewers and other dark menacing places, your goal is to reach Undercity, the City beneath the City. Only there can you find the help you need to escape this underground horror and bring down the dark brotherhood from within.

The author of Catacombs is none other than Andrew Wright, whose Fantasy Game Book blog keeps the interactive literature torch burning very bright. Want to know more? Of course you do - and the Tin Man Games blog will beam you up fast.

Monday 14 February 2011

To take you in the sun to promised lands

Okay, you Fabled Lands devotees were unfairly worked up to a lather by that "Serpent King arises" headline. Now it's Valentine's Day and you want some love. In particular, you want to know when the Fabled Lands role-playing game will be out. And the answer, I am at last able to tell you, is June this year. Yep, only four months to go. Greywood Publishing are starting off the series with the rulebook and the Sokara sourcebook, which is the first of twelve supplements covering the whole of the known Fabled Lands.

These will be released as both print books and PDFs. So everyone's happy. And if you choose the PDFs you get the bonus of Greywood's eye-poppingly gorgeous colour design, plus the option to buy just the parts of the rules that appeal to you. For all my championing of ebooks, I'll be getting the print edition myself and I expect it to get well-thumbed and lovingly battered very quickly as my role-playing group tear through the world of Harkuna for a change.

The game system is by Shane Garvey and the scenario and background material is by Jamie Wallis. Not James Wallis; he's the erstwhile Dragon Warriors impresario. Whole other RPG designer and publisher. No relation. And if that seems like an unlikely coincidence, what about there being two Steve Jacksons who both wrote Fighting Fantasy books? Spooky.

Friday 11 February 2011

All together now

Hot news from Mikael Louys, the business and creative dynamo in charge of Megara Entertainment. The Fabled Lands HD game for iPad is at #24 in the App Store RPG charts! That ranking reflects the incredible hard work that Mikael and his team put into their adaptation - indeed, their spectacular reinvention - of The War-Torn Kingdom, which is a thing of beauty that Jamie and I never dreamed of when we originally wrote the FL books.

So here's the thing. If a game can get into the Top Ten then it bobs up onto everybody's radar and it's got a good chance of staying there. And if Fabled Lands HD can get there, with just a little push, that could mean thousands of new FL fans who will help sustain the wave of RPGs, CRPGs and gamebooks that has already begun.

I know what most of you are thinking: "But I don't own an iPad." Okay, well, apart from advising you to sell your wristwatch to buy one, I'm going to say that you can certainly reach out and influence somebody who does. If not in your immediate circle of friends, family and co-workers, how about on blogs where you're leaving a comment? Or failing that, just open the window and shout.

Mikael already has his team back in harness on Cities of Gold & Glory, for which I've seen some of the truly sumptuous artwork, and there's an iPhone conversion coming in the next few months too. Getting Fabled Lands HD into the Top Ten ranking in iTunes RPGs would be a great boost for those guys, and it'd help ensure the future of Fabled Lands releases (both print and digital) as well.

So let me plead with you: if at all possible, can you try and coax at least one person to buy Fabled Lands HD this weekend? It's a steal at $7.99, and this app is no mere ebook but a full-on, full-color, atmospherically soundtracked, immersively art-intensive 2D CRPG with new extended descriptions providing dozens of hours of play. All that for less than the cost of one of the new edition FL books. No wonder the Megara staff know their boss as "Mad Mikael"!

Thursday 10 February 2011

Like one that on a lonesome road...

Jon Hodgson, one of the prime movers behind exciting new venture Serpent King Games, pointed me in the direction of this spine-tingling trailer he put together to promote the handing over of the Dragon Warriors torch from Magnum Opus Press. (Link to YouTube here if your browser isn't displaying it properly above.)

Tantalizingly, Jon describes this as "the first of the Serpent King videos". If a sixty-second trailer can deliver such an authentic shudder, I'd like to know when they're going to start work on the Legend movie.

Longtime DW fans may get a sense of déjà vu here. In the original DW Book Two, The Way of Wizardry, there was a picture of a fellow riding under a tree in whose branches sat a goblin. The man in the saddle looked glum, as if he saw that goblin the same time every morning; the goblin looked contrite as a kitten that couldn't figure out a way down. Jon has finally rendered that scene with all the minatory darkness it should have had. As I've said before, for me he is the definitive visualizer of Legend. And stone me if he didn't write the soundtrack too! Dragon Warriors is in safe hands with these guys.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

A means to an end

The flipbook of Royal Mythological Society vignettes that I wrote with erstwhile Dragon Warriors and Fighting Fantasy artist Leo Hartas goes to the top spot this week as an experiment.

We originally tried these flipbooks on the online reading site BookBuzzr as a way of promoting our Mirabilis comic book. The idea is that people get to read a dozen pages or so for free and, if they like what they see, there's a link right there to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and so on.

Much to my surprise, we found our comic trailers were consistently scoring in the Top Ten spot on BookBuzzr. And that's comics, which these days are almost as much a niche interest as role-playing. So I got to thinking... Maybe BookBuzzer would be a useful way to steer readers towards the reissued Fabled Lands gamebooks as well.

Take a look at the RMS example and give us your feedback. Would you be willing to read a gamebook excerpt in the BookBuzzr flipbook format, or are flipbooks designed too much for linear reading? If FL books 5 and 6 were released in this kind of format, would you pay for those (and how much?) or would you insist on print copies?

Even if you don't care for reading digital books, you can see how an online showcase version like BookBuzzr can be the focal point for comments, reviews and social network integration in order to build a wide enough readership to sustain print publishing. I know you'll agree with that because you're reading another example of the exact same principle right now.

With any proposed experiment like this, there are always going to be some premature howls of protest. "Pay for digital content? Over my dead body!" Fine - if that's how you feel, tell us. We're just exploring options at this stage for ways to get the FL books out to a wider readership than the loyal core of longtime fans. Most likely a combination of digital and print (as exemplified by BookBuzzr's service) is the way to go. If getting to the coveted #1 slot on BookBuzzr would drive 10,000 people to look at this blog and/or our books on Amazon, that could have a significant impact on the future of the FL series. So, click on the sample above and leave us a comment. On BookBuzzr, I mean, not here - it's time to start preaching outside the choir!

Monday 7 February 2011

The Serpent King arises

At last we can lift the lid on what's been cooking over at newly formed Serpent King Games, who inherited the Dragon Warriors licence from Magnum Opus Press and are now starting to reveal some of the marvellous plans they've been weaving throughout the dark winter months.

In terms of pedigree, this Serpent King is no itty-bitty grass snake but the kind of adamant-scaled, century-battened, monster wyrm that could send Thor hurtling through a couple of skyscrapers. These guys are an RPG supergroup; they're the Traveling Wilburys of fantasy gaming. SKG is headed up by industry veterans Gareth Hanrahan (lead designer on the new edition of Traveler), Jon Hodgson (art director at Cubicle 7 ), and Ian Sturrock (former Mongoose writer responsible for the Conan and Slaine RPGs) and their line-up of writers includes most of the folk who are responsible for Dragon Warriors' renaissance over the last few years.

All of these guys were on James Wallis's team at Magnum Opus, and he says of them: "I’ve worked with everybody at Serpent King over the last ten years, and they are fiercely talented. Dragon Warriors and the lands of Legend are in the hands of amazing people who are going to take them in some very exciting directions."

Serpent King Games will be keeping all of the current Dragon Warriors books in print and have a juicy slate of new releases lined up. First is the eagerly awaited DW Players' Book, which you'll be able to get your hands on this summer. Following that, there'll be at least two new books this year. I don't have any details on those but expect new scenarios, new professions, new creatures, new items and new magic. With SKG at the helm, 2011 is set to be the best year ever for Dragon Warriors fans.

Sunday 6 February 2011

The craft of weaving dreams

"You have to have a formula that's absolutely strong enough to hold anything. That's where people like me are very fortunate. I have a kind of innate sense of structure, which also makes me a good mimic. It's very close to mathematics. When I wrote a computer game a few years ago, it was in some ways the easiest job I'd ever had because it's all structure, and the guys know it has to be. If you're talking to a Hollywood person they never know what they're doing structurally. They ask for changes and everything falls apart, but game people are just perfect because they know the purpose of every element."
- Michael Moorcock interviewed in The Guardian

As a writer (not in Mr Moorcock's league) I'm often hard-pressed to explain exactly what an RPG umpire ("GM" if you must) does. It's not exactly storytelling - or at least it shouldn't be. Umpires who turn up with a prepared plotline and expect players to jump through their story hoops are missing the whole point of roleplaying. If I want to do that, I can go watch a movie or read a book. In roleplaying, the player-characters are the protagonists. That means they have to be the major actors driving how events unfold. If you just want to tell stories, read to your kids.

And yet storytelling skills are used in preparing a game, in much the same way that storytellers are employed on reality TV shows: to create the possibilities of a plot that the players will inhabit and bring to life. If you're running an RPG, you should be laying the tracks just half a step step ahead of what your players are coming up with. Always fly by the seat of your pants, you'll have more fun that way.

My wife Roz, who I actually married first in a roleplaying campaign - not quite as sad as it sounds as we didn't actually meet through gaming - runs a script- and novel-mentoring agency and provides first-rate free story advice on her blog Nail Your Novel. She recently published her distilled wisdom in book form and you can get an online preview here or find the print edition on Amazon. You have no reason to trust a husband recommending his wife's book, of course, but I can testify on oath that I am not the only member of my gaming group to find it extremely useful when creating stories.

Okay, enough nepotism. Tune in tomorrow for the biggest news of the year. Yeah, I know it's still only February, but trust me. This is a bona fide scoop and you will not want to miss it! You want a hint? It's only a dice roll away.

Thursday 3 February 2011

The Royal Mythological Society

Got a Kindle? If so, and if your taste for fantasy runs to the sometimes surreal whimsy of Lord Dunsany or John Collier, take a look at the latest Mirabilis ebook. This one isn't a comic, it's a collection of more than fifty fantasy vignettes presented in the form of letters to the Royal Mythological Society and answered with a mixture of oddball erudition, genteel peevishness, dry humor and extremely well-mannered infighting by Doctor Clattercut and Professor Bromfield.

Perhaps it'll make more sense if I quote from the blurb:
It is a little known fact of history, or myth, or both, that around the start of the twentieth century there existed a lost year. In this year, a green comet appeared in the sky. As it grew larger, things that would previously have been considered utterly fantastical began to seep into everyday life. By the height of summer, imagination and reality were so seamlessly merged that few recalled a time when the world had been otherwise.

Mermaids swam in the Mediterranean. Martians commuted by train from Woking. Greek gods gave lecture tours of the United States. And with this new way of life came a whole set of problems of etiquette and decorum (see reference to mermaids).

Fortunately, the solution was at hand. In the depths of the British Museum, intrepid academics Bampton “Bammy” Bromfield and Cyril Clattercut had long been cataloguing accounts of the uncanny from around the world on behalf of the Royal Mythological Society. The arrival of the green comet was about to give them the busiest year of their lives.

This book comprises more than fifty fantasy and SF tales in vignette form, from the mysterious giant hand found in a wood in Yorkshire to the best way to deal with a dragon that's taken a shine to the gold reserves of Fort Knox.
At only $1.13 (yes, you read that right, it's about 2 cents per story!) you'll think that the green comet really has turned reality upside-down. And if you want to try before you buy even at that crazy-low price, see the free preview on BookBuzzr or scroll down to the bottom of this very web page and click on the flipbook widget. Who spoils ya?

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Not your father's gamebooks

Are gamebooks making a comeback? As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm more inclined towards the possibilities of e-gamebooks than print, but every so often something comes along to remind me that embracing the future doesn't have to mean booting out the best of the past. This month it's Destiny Quest, an impressive new gamebook series from author Michael J Ward.

When I say this series takes its inspiration from computer role-playing games, I mean that as high praise. The reader chooses locations from the map, which dispenses with the need for lots of bespoke linking paragraphs while also hinting at upcoming quests. The game system is uncluttered, modern and simple, with considerable thought put into the range of character types you might want to play.

Most of all, the Destiny Quest series bears the mark of having been created by someone with real passion for the genre. Just browse around the Destiny Quest website for a few minutes and you'll see what I mean. There is masses of stuff there to show how Michael Ward is building an immersive world. The only thing that could stop him from creating the next-gen successor to Fabled Lands is if Blizzard snap him up to work on WoW.

Destiny Quest book one is available from Amazon and WHSmith in Britain. The US price tag seems a little steep at$15.51, but if it gets good sales then maybe future books will be cheaper. There are plans for a Kindle edition too. It's not iPad but at least it's digital.