I don't know if the Sorcery books ever explicitly connected with the Fighting Fantasy world of Alan, but in the minds of the readers I'm sure it was an easy glide between the two. (And in fact Wizard Books's new edition explicitly places them in the FF series, which clinches it.)
But that was then. It was a time when trees had to die so that we could read. Now dawns the age of backlit glass and pixels, a world in which gamebooks stand blinking like a cosily familiar but hopelessly befuddled elderly relative. So I've been curious to see what Inkle Studios would do with the iPad adaptation of Sorcery.
Inkle, as you may know, supplied the luscious visual design that burnished the iOS version of my Frankenstein interactive novel. The expectation for Sorcery, then, was that we'd see a graphically enhanced port of the books onto iPad. Now that Inkle are unveiling some details, it looks to be much more interesting than that. Sure, there's a lovely drawn 3D map by Mike Schley and dynamic character animation for the combats by Eddie Sharam. But instead of just a gamebook on a tablet, what we're seeing here is an evolution of gamebooks into something new.
On the surface it looks like a top-down CRPG (which is something much more likely to get a few hours of my time than a Fighting Fantasy book) but the truth is more complex and more interesting. You can go back and forth around the world Fabled Lands style, which I don't think was a feature of the original Sorcery books. More importantly, look what they've done with the text. It develops as you go - not in a simple old-style gamebook way, where the text you read depends on whether you take the money or open the box. Oh no. The style of the narrative - the way things are described, the way you speak - is shaped by the way you're playing.
Say you stride boldly into every battle. The system learns that and gives you text that portrays you as fearless. The things you say will be forthright and challenging. It's the original concept of Fable, only here it looks like it might go deeper than the colour of armour you wear over your Union Jack underpants. And the text that is being written aggregates a complete story, right down to the level of having procedurally-generated descriptions of the fights you get into. You could give the end result to a friend and it's the novel of your imaginary life. This is sounding a lot cooler than "roll two dice and add your Skill", isn't it?
The first Sorcery book/game is coming out in May, with the sequel due by the autumn. In my view it's a game changer, and the best hope for traditional "D&D-style" adventure gamebooks to find a niche along CRPGs in the 21st century. However, don't think for a moment that I'm giving up on my forthcoming Infinite IF gamebooks. They have something going for them that FF has never been renowned for: the quality of the writing, the story and the characters. That's why we're releasing them as ebooks, not apps, and have purposely kept them free of animated frills. But more on that next time.