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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure returns - with a difference

The latest blast-from-the-past interactive story brand to appear on Kickstarter is the granddaddy of them all, Choose Your Own Adventure. But this one's a little different...

First of all, the purpose of the campaign isn't to reissue the books in a new edition, it's to create an all-new app, Your Very Own Robot. And that app isn't going to be text-based. It's an interactive cartoon.

Your first reaction may be, "Isn't that just a simplified point-and-click adventure game?" And so it is. But I would argue that, just like the sabre tooth recurred in evolution many times, adventure games don't have to lie buried in an unmarked grave just because PC and console gaming left them behind. The combination of kids and iPads means a new market.

Kids. That's another interesting point. Gamebook revivals over the last few years have all been targeted at pushing the nostalgia button for thirty- and forty-something readers who remember them first time round. And no doubt those are the customers for Choose 'Toons, as the new series is called, but they'll be buying them to play with their own kids. That gives it a fresh feel and probably a much better chance of surviving, whereas the nostalgia trip soon wears thin.
Interactive story apps are already moving towards more art, less text, in order to broaden appeal. Text is cheap, as this slide from Inkle Studios illustrates. Trouble is, interacting with text is not very engaging once you've got used to playing something like The Witcher. And it's not just kids who feel that way.

All that artwork, though. That's got to be expensive. Well, CYOA are delivering an app, not printed books, so there aren't all the manufacturing and shipping costs. And having built the first app, they could do further titles for (total guess here) around $60,000 each. 17,000 units at $4.99 and they'd break even. That's achievable. And, given that it's a new, fun series with animation and audio, and even the text interaction is done through dialogue with your guide character (that admittedly very unappealing dog), why not 170,000 units?

I'm a little baffled by the way they depict the main character as a sort of blued-out generic "you". What, after a hundred and twenty years of cinema and nearly eighty years of television we can't just accept that audiences are able to identify with a specific character? And the dog - why "Homer"? That's kind of a well-known name in cartoons, and anyway wouldn't "Virgil" make more sense? Still, if there's going to be a new gamebook craze, this could well be what it starts off looking like.


  1. My Own Robot is one of two CYOA books I bought a few months ago as I, thanks to Fabled Lands, was rediscovering gamebooks, and wanted something I could read with the kids. Its the better of the two books, and my son loves it (he doesn't know English, but I have to read to him anyway). He even loves the other book that is even worse, but I have enjoyed exploring the books with him (he loves to ask me to go back and try to pick different paths to find new endings). Seems like in both books the main character is implied to be a young boy, often seen in the illustrations. He has a dog named Homer in the books as well, or at least one of them (can't remember). I wish the stories made more sense and were longer though. /Pelle

    1. I agree. I liked the stats-free approach of CYOA (so very different from the game-geeky tradition of British gamebooks) which should have meant more emphasis on storytelling. But it seemed like they never really tried to do much with the series. However, I'm no expert on the whole CYOA range, and they did appeal to kids, which is no bad thing!

    2. One thing I noticed is that other gamebooks I have played have endings that are all consistent with the same story. There are many ways the story can end, but it is the same story, same world. The two CYOA I have experienced have many endings that completely change the story. There are even "you wake up and learn it was all just a dream" endings. More like alternative endings to a movie on a DVD, and sometimes not very correlated with the choices the reader makes.