Gamebook store

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Tin Man has a brand new shine

Lately this blog has been focussing more on print than digital. That's not because I've lost faith in ebooks, just that Fabled Lands LLP is in the process of bringing all our gamebook back catalogue back into print, so page sizes and printing costs have been occupying our attention.

And mostly I think that if an interactive story is going to work in digital form, it needs to be written for that medium. In my digital version of Frankenstein (available for Android now as well as iOS), the interactivity is designed in the form of a conversation with the narrator. The relationship would not be nearly so convincing in a print version, where you'd get to see his Trust and Empathy variables.

So it's interesting to see some revolutionary new changes being hinted at for Tin Man Games's forthcoming Fighting Fantasy titles. Rather than just convert the old text to digital form, Tin Man are giving the books a thorough overhaul (with the authors' blessing) to make them suitable for digital format. Among other things, this means getting rid of nostalgia features like the dice (hooray!) and making the books a lot more visual.

There's some speculation that this revamping is in response to Inkle's recent app-daptation of Steve Jackson's Sorcery, but I suspect the seeds of what Tin Man is doing now were planted earlier, in their visually rich Judge Dredd gamebook app.

My own gripe about dice is not in the clattery cubes themselves - bonkers as those are on the screen of a digital device. It's that when I'm reading an interactive story on iPad, I don't want to be bothered with the mental arithmetic of adding dice scores to combat skills and subtracting defence levels and then dividing by... Sure, the device can do all that for you, but it was never a great part of gamebooks, it was just a necessary evil. At any rate, it fitted with the pace of reading a print book, but feels like steam radio in the era of e-readers.

Putting more graphics into the apps also makes sense. After all, how many text adventure games are released these days? Unless framed within the structure of a novel, interactivity is always going to be more convincing in the context of immediacy that images and audio provide.

I'm also hoping Tin Man will do away with all the "turn to 273" legacy stuff. I should just tap on the option and be taken to the next section. Well, we'll see. It's a bold move, as I see they've already got a comment on the blog saying, "You changed something! How dare you!" (I'm still bracing myself for the snit-storm that'll come when diehards see that the new edition of The Lord of Shadow Keep now has artwork by Harry Clarke.)

The first of the new-style Gamebook Adventures is Appointment with F.E.A.R. and it's due to be released in October.


  1. Efrem Orizzonte27 July 2013 at 17:37

    "They changed it, now it sucks." The truest trope of all :p

    But I can see the reasons behind it. Gamebooks (the UK flavor of gamebooks, at least) were born from pen-and-paper (and 6-sided dice, hehe) RPGs. And for old-time readers, there's hardly another way to see them, especially when the very same adventures are being rereleased without what were considered their core elements. The main reason I hate seeing the dice rolling on my iPad screen, is that I'm deeply convinced that the die-rolling engine is made to troll me in the most obnoxious way possible :-D

    And about the "turn to 273" part... there were books where that was an important part of the game, too. In Steve Jackson's mazes of doom, where that single numbered section was the one and only true path that would see you through, the number was a good way to tell which paths you had already tried, and which ones you were still to try. I solved Starship Traveller this way, and to this day, I still remember so many section numbers from so many different gamebooks.

    I'm not against trying new (and possibly better) things, but I think that tinkering with the old books too much can take away some elements that, while archaic, did contribute to our enjoyment of the books.

    On the other hand, if changes truly make the experience better, now's the chance to do it. A whole lot of gamebooks were unbalanced to the point of being unplayable, and randomness was definitely taken to extreme consequences in so many cases. The "roll 1-3 and you survive, roll 4-6 and you die" situation was a terrible thing, and I've seen so many of those in the second-to-last section of a gamebook...

  2. I think that e-books should exploit all the potential that their technology allows. Dice-rolling, numbered sections, and an emphasis on text were and still are an important part of the attraction of gamebooks for me, but even if I didn’t accept that I’m in the minority with those views, I would have to agree that it makes no sense for e-gamebooks to try to replicate all and only (or any of) the features of print gamebooks. It’s a different medium with different strengths, and interacting with it should be a different experience.

    1. I'm replying here to both Efrem and Graham. It's true that old-time gamebooks often made overt use of paragraph numbers, etc, but that really supports the view that the best way to bring theose books back is in print.

      Taking codewords, for example. I simply regarded these as logic flags, and chose random words for them, but some authors specifically picked codewords that would give the reader a clue. ("Midas" if you had been cursed so that your touch would turn things to gold, for example.) Should a digital version retain the codewords? That would seem very odd, because here is a device that can remember stuff for you - a more elegant solution to the problem that codewords were created for - but if you remove the codewords then the purists will say that you are tampering with the original content.

      My own experience of working on my own gamebooks is that straight ports of the old text into digital format doesn't really work. You invariably end up with a partly broken product. Whereas Frankenstein makes full use of its digital clothing and would be broken in print.

      And, as Graham says, we interact with the different media in different ways. Hence I'm sticking to the original text (with some necessary revisions) for the new print editions of my Golden Dragon and Virtual Reality books, but if and when I get around to turning them into apps they're going to need a full rethink.

  3. The only real gamebook I have ever really played has been Fabled Lands as a kid (Hence being on this blog) and I am loving getting back into them using the Fabled Lands app made for the pc.

    Maybe it's because of my age, but I actually find the experience more enjoyable using the app than playing in the books. The app takes away all of the unnecessary tasks from the game books such as checking off the codewords, keeping a track of inventory etc.

    I loved playing the books as a kid, but being able to play it digitally now is much more convenient than having to pull books out. Especially when I am out and about.

    What I would love to see the rest of the Fabled Lands books completed so I can expand my journeys in one of the my most loved experiences.

    Can I personally thank you Dave and Jamie for creating the books.

    Dave have you thought of using a crowd funding site to generate the cash you need? I would donate to it. I would buy the books but I already own them and I have no one to give it to as a present.

    1. I do think the Fabled Lands books are a special case - far less of an interactive novel than other gamebooks, they were really an attempt to do a freeform CRPG in text form. That's why I think the FL PC app works so well - it was the format these books were always intended to be.

      We have discussed crowdfunding to complete the FL series:
      The problem is that the profit margin (maybe 20% at most of the money raised?) has to cover the writing, editing, playtesting, artwork and typesetting. To do all that for 6 books is about 3 man-years of work. That's a hefty cost to spread among the two or three hundred dedicated FL fans. Now, if we only had the magic "Thousand True Fans":

  4. There is a certain satisfaction in finding a hidden weapon that deals 4d6+2 and know just how much damage you soon will be able to deal your enemies. Some work would have to be done to replace that, if that is the kind of book you are doing. Other than that I really would love to do without dice.

    Paragraph numbers to solve mazes helped me a lot in one area of Fabled Lands as well. A digital version without them would require an automapper to not be way too difficult imo. But also outside of mazes it saves a lot of time when you start to recognize numbers. It partly makes up for being almost completely blind and not having any other real means of navigation. Again an automapper would work, but add to development time.

    1. Good points, Pelle, which are really further examples of what Graham was saying above. The medium of print encouraged gamebook authors to design them in a certain way. If we're going to create app versions of those books, we need to think of new kinds of puzzle. Incidentally, if I ever designed a maze that required you to memorize numbers to solve it, I sincerely apologize. I prefer all solutions to be in-game.

  5. Interesting... while I don't mind onscreen dice, or an onscreen representation of randomizing mechanics, the one thing that irks me about the Tin Man Games apps is the page numbers.

    I get what you're all saying about using them to help map out mazes--both literal, in-game, and the choice tree maze you're trying to navigate to "win"--but it ultimately comes down to the fact that telling the reading to go to page X vs. page Y (or go to section M vs. section N) is the only way you can introduce interactivity.

    Onscreen "pages" are meaningless since you're not actually looking at a new physical thing. Pages make sense in your word processing program since you're likely to print the document. Without that printed artifact, there's little logical reason for page numbers.

    I think, with the dice, we're seeing a bit of the Fantasy Fighting/Choose Your Own Adventure divide. I'm a yank, so I mostly read CYOA books, so having no overt game mechanics doesn't bother me at all. I did play a few Gamebooks when I was younger, and in those cases enjoyed using dice. So I think it's valid as a developer to create a story that features these pen and paper RPG nods, since they actually add to the experience. I'm currently playing with adding such overt mechanics to some of my upcoming android story apps.

    In the CYOA model if I find two swords, I guess textual clues could help me decide between them. This personally interests me because it leans heavily on the writing. But, as a game, it is a cool and different experience to know that each sword has different attack modifiers, or each might have other in-game effects, so I choose between them as a roleplayer who likes thinking of stats and other numbers, rather than as a reader who wants to get lost in a narrative.

    Maybe that should be the designer's first choice, am I developing this project for readers or roleplayers?

    1. I see your point, but would say "readers or gamers", as most roleplayers I know prefer to maintain an in-character view of events, and only tolerate being told a sword does 4d6+2 because of the referee's need to distribute the workload of book-keeping.

      My own focus when writing gamebooks has always been the story. After all, if gameplay is your main interest then you're much better off seeking it in Agricola or Carcassonne than in a gamebook. I think this is why CYOA has had a wider appeal than Fighting Fantasy and its ilk - and why, revising a stats-heavy series like Bloodsword for republication, my instinct is to prune it down considerably? Even at the risk of hearing, as Efrem said: "You changed it? It sucks!"

    2. Oh, I'm mostly in agreement with you. I don't have much time for PnP roleplaying these days, but when I did I always preferred story immersion. But there's also the players that enjoy tweaking their characters, modifying stats, and maximizing their efforts for the greatest numerical advantage. The idea of the joy of collecting comes to mind.

      There are some who enjoy accruing in-game items, not for their eventual use during the campaign (god, how many magical and non-magical items lingered unforgotten in inventories, unless the GM was a stickler about carrying capacities?), but because it was cool obtaining and "having" so many items.

      Part of the joy was knowing this sword was a +2D10 against half-giants, nevermind that you never encountered one.

      So, I can see some players/readers enjoying the numbers. You can say that wargamers enjoy the mechanics. (Warhammer anyone?)

      So, you're right, the CYOA/"mechanics-less" stories might have wider appeal, but there is a niche that might like to see under the hood. I feel that, as you're saying, you shouldn't, as a reflex, port an existing gamebook 1-to-1. If you do it, or if you create a new digital story in that vein, make sure you do so intentionally.

      Oh, I'm so glad Frankenstein is available for Android devices now. I've been wanting to check it out for some time.

    3. Hope you like it, JL. Come back and leave some feedback when you've had a chance to try it out.

  6. Umm... what "visually rich" Judge Dredd book did you read? That app has about as many pictures as the average Tin Man book...

    1. We must be looking at different Tin Man books. Assassin has black and white drawings, Dredd has full color pictures and considerably more work on the interface visual design.

  7. Are you guys going to do a Dirk Lloyd gamebook? A lot of humorous gamebooks have been successful on Kickstarter.

    1. I can't honestly see a gamebook being an improvement on the Dirk Lloyd novels, CB. They're already brilliant and hilarious, so what would interactivity add? Having said that, we'd be open to doing a videogame version, obviously.