Gamebook store

Friday 8 June 2012

Frankenstein web demo

After all the recent posts about the writing of my interactive Frankenstein book app, you may like to try it out. And now you don't even need an iPad or iPhone, as development wizards Inkle have put a Frankenstein web demo up on their site. Pop over and have a conversation with Victor about what he's got in that tank - just click where you see the words "Give it a try."

This demo is the sort of thing that publishers ought to be putting up on their websites too, incidentally, not just leaving to developers. But we're only in 2012. Softly, softly.

Meanwhile, if you are iOS-enabled then you can buy the book here.

Wednesday 6 June 2012


Reality is breaking apart. Fracture lines exist in the fabric of reality and are spreading. People can be sucked out of the universe. Their lives are just erased as if they had never existed. From the darkness beyond the fault lines, other things from a time that never happened are waiting to break through into our world.

The players are cabals of wizards who operate secretly in the modern, urban environment. They alone can maintain and repair the cracks in reality. However, the various cabals are at loggerheads because the cabal that mends the final fracture will remake the world on their terms.

Any use of everyday magic widens the cracks, making damage to the local environment and the incursion of nightmare creatures more likely. Some districts of the city appear whole and normal. Other neighborhoods, where the cabals are weak, are magical Chernobyls where no one can walk in safety. Hence cabals have to organize and self-police to limit such damage. They also have to band together to compete with other cabals on a citywide scale.

* * *

Every so often you come up with a piece of an idea. You wait around for something else to join it to, and if you’re lucky that grows into a novel or a game design. Other times, those fragments just sit around as orphans.

Fractures is one of those.

Jamie and I would love to work it up into something. It’s got a modern Lovecraftian urban thing going on, and as a big fan of B.P.R.D. I find that has a strong appeal. Not that it’d look anything like B.P.R.D. when it grew up. I think of it as more Tarot teams up with Doc Strange to investigate The Killing.

We even tinkered with a script, whether for a game cutscene or a comic book we couldn’t say. But still the concept stubbornly refused to come out of its chrysalis. And there it remains, perhaps forever – or, alternatively, sudden inspiration next week might kindle a spark of existence for it. These things are rarely in the authors’ hands.


The doors open and Grace gets out. She’s in a long anonymous hall which, in contrast to the lower floors, is still decorated in a sober ‘forties style.

She makes her way along the hall. The doors are dark wood with heavy round handles and frosted glass panels. Set under the glass pane on each door is a copper nameplate. They’re all blank.

Grace looks back along the hall. The elevator doors close.

She tries one of the doors. It swings open.


Grace steps into the office. It’s uncarpeted and bare except for a single desk with an old-style dial telephone.

The telephone is off the cradle. It’s emitting soft buzzing sounds that seem like speech, but distorted so as to be sibilant and hard to make out.

She approaches the phone and picks it up. For just an instant that we catch a voice talking quietly, half hidden by the heavy clunk as she picks the receiver off the desk.

Grace listens to silence on the other end of the line, punctuated by just a few random clicks.


She jabs at the cradle contacts.

Who’s there? Hello. Hello.

Suddenly she hears a soft exhalation of breath on the other end of the line. Grace stiffens.

A whispering voice - icy, rasping, desolate:

We’re waiting for you.

Sunday 3 June 2012

Write choices

If you want to write your own digital gamebooks, there are a couple of authoring tools for that purpose. Varytale has a selection of interactive stories online already, and you can publish your own or submit through them. However, when it comes to the reader experience I prefer the way that Inklewriter subliminally guides the eye so that you don't keep having to reorient yourself within the text. They are both worth trying out, though, and no doubt we'll be seeing more tools like this in future.

I'm interested in the way that interactive literature (a subset of interactive fiction, which I use to mean any story that is interactive whether text-based or not) works differently on screen than on the printed page. In traditional print gamebooks, you are turning pages to read just as you would in a regular book, so there is no special compulsion to rush to the next choice - that choice is just an instruction which page to turn to next. On screen, however, there is the powerful allure of the button. There, when the choices are just between two courses of action, I find myself skimming the text in my rush to make the next choice.

What's the solution? Well, you could make the choices more interesting. Rather than read a half-page of text followed by "Do you parry or dodge?" I'd prefer several pages of text and then be faced with a choice I have to consider very carefully. Or you could embrace the speedier read, as Jamie and I did in the Fabled Lands books, in which case your book starts to look more like an old-time text adventure: "You are in the rolling hills north of Metriciens. Go north, west, east or south."

Or you could eschew plot-based decisions in favour of the kind of character-driven interactivity I used in Frankenstein. Ask a friend if they want tea or coffee and it's a snap decision, so who cares how you phrase it? But ask them about a moral choice or what they thought of a movie and you've got a discussion going.

What's interesting about ebooks generally is that they are not just books on screen, in the same way that movies aren't plays and television drama isn't cinema. A subtle difference in the reading experience can have a profound effect on the content. It remains to be seen how this will affect the interactive literature of the future.