Gamebook store

Thursday 31 October 2013

In his house at R'lyeh

Having mentioned Old Ones, I can't let Halloween pass without recommending I N J Culbard's fabulous graphic novel adaptation of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. We never got del Toro's long-promised Mountains movie - not yet anyway - but this is the next best thing.

The universe has never seemed a more alien place than it is in Lovecraft's Antarctica, and crucially Culbard adds to the terror of the story by humanizing the tiny, helpless protagonists in the midst of a continent of unknowability. I'm not sure I'd agree with Rachel Cooke's review in The Observer newspaper that draws comparisons with Tintin and Boy's Own. Ms Cooke must have been reading Tintin and the Pit of Eldritch Horror, or else was thinking of all those Old Ones running curio shops and talking in mockney. But hey, she liked it.

While we're on the subject of the Cthulhu mythos, I found that the gamebook/Dungeons and Dragons variant spelling of shoggoth is not as risible as it seems. Well, it is, but it's also slightly supported by canon. (I'm not casting the first stone, me. If I'd known more Romany in the 1980s, at least one country in Legend would have had a different name. And no excuse for that, really, as I had a schoolfriend who called all us Anglo kids "gaujoes"; he could have told me.)

The original Mountains novella is worth a look too, and may be a good place to start if you've never read Lovecraft. There's an excellent article by M Christian that includes some of the illustrations from the  Astounding Stories publication in 1936. Mr Christian notes:
"What’s particularly interesting about At the Mountains of Madness is how it forms a bridge between Lovecraft’s mythology. Before it, his 'horrors from beyond' were more mythological, but with At the Mountains of Madness he instead moves in a more science fiction like direction - a change many other reviewers have called extremely significant for his very long-lasting popularity."
The last word goes to Ech Pi El himself:
"For a second we gasped in admiration of the scene’s unearthly cosmic beauty, and then vague horror began to creep into our souls..."
Brr. Happy Halloween.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

WOTT no excuses?

If you don't know by now that the Kickstarter campaign for The Way of the Tiger has but a day or two to run, there's really no point me telling you again, is there? But you might want to hear it from the mouths of the chaps who originally conceived of the most famous non-violent professional killer in the whole of gamebook fantasy. For lo, here are interviews with Jamie Thomson and Mark Smith.

Jamie and Mark talk about the origins of the (very neat) tactical combat system, how the books were written, the real nature of the world of Orb (more Greek city-states than Oriental fiefs), and the plans for new books and apps.

There's still (just) time to get in on the act. Here's that link again. And if the total hits $40,000 (which it very well might) there'll be a video interview with Jamie and Mark giving away even more Orbsome secrets.

My work here is done.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Time's running out

"'Ere, mush, have a shufty at this little bargain. Nice, eh? It's a Kickstarter for Way of the Tiger, and you don't get many of them to a tenner. Only got a few days left on the clock, an' all, so you better get moving. Me? I'm an Old One, aren't I? Yeah, an Old One running a shop. What's wrong with that, then? Gotta make a living, en't I? I've got some nice elder things here if you're interested. Knick-knacks yer granny would love - if she's a freakin' Innsmouth mutant, that is, har har. Oh, that Lovecraft geezer, 'e gave us Old Ones such a bad press, you'd think we was all monsters, eh? Talking of 'love crafts' and that, if you want to step around back I've even got a shaggoth. Yes, I said shaggoth. 'Ere, who you callin' a perversion..?"

OK, I don't know what an Old One is doing in Way of the Tiger either. A lot of dope got smoked in the eighties. To many gamebook writers, the decade is a complete blur. Luckily, in these much sharper times you're unlikely to zone out Cheech and Chong style and miss the closing hours of the WOTT Kickstarter campaign. Still, best not take any chances. It really would be an unnameable horror to wake up on Friday and realize you failed to secure your very own gorgeous colour hardback edition. And after all, it's only a few squid.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Way of the Tiger closes in on stretch goal five

The Way of the Tiger campaign on Kickstarter is entering the final stretch and for me the most exciting goal is finally within reach. If the pledge total reaches $35,000, Leo Hartas will be commissioned to create a map of Irsmuncast, which is one of the WOTT cities.

The youngsters among you may never have heard of Leo Hartas, so let me assure you he is possibly the world master of fantasy maps. OK, I haven't done a survey lately but he's certainly one of the masters. Twelve million Fighting Fantasy readers can't be wrong. You want a teeming warren of rogue-haunted streets, an oozy network of sluggish foetid canals, a suggestion of looming peak-roofed buildings, a scattering of creepy cemeteries, dour prisons and numinous temples? Leo's your fella.

As well as being an expert scribbler, Leo co-hosts a radio show called The Bantering Boys. Three chaps engage in wittily inconsequential chit-chat and play the odd bit of music. It's all very English. Tune in Thursday evenings at 9 pm if that's your cup of tea.

If you were thinking of investing in a hardback set of WOTT gamebooks, the city map is a reward worth raiding the housekeeping money for. I'm still hoping I'll be able to pay Leo to continue my Mirabilis comic book epic eventually. But for that I'd need a bigger Kickstarter.

Sunday 20 October 2013

A neck romancer

I think of Crypt of the Vampire as my first gamebook, but it’s moot. I’d already written the magazine version of Castle of Lost Souls. That was serialized in White Dwarf in the summer of 1984, several months before the Golden Dragon series launched, and later got reworked as the sixth GD title. But Crypt was the first time I’d taken on a whole book.

Those were busy times. I had to turn down designing the PC game “Eureka by Ian Livingstone” because of all my magazine and book commitments. Maybe that was a mistake, as my friend Steve Foster, who wrote it in my place, told me he bought his first house on the proceeds. (The picture below, that's us back then in our slimmer days. I'm the one reading Captain America.) But at least with Golden Dragon I got my name on the title page. The road that’s grassy and wants for wear, you see.

Crypt and the later books nearly didn’t happen. In spring of 1984, while I was writing the first instalments of Castle of Lost Souls, Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson offered me a contract to do a series of gamebooks for Games Workshop. I’d done bags of work for GW before – an entire role-playing game in 1980 called Adventure (never published; GW acquired the RuneQuest rights) and then in 1983 an entire Questworld campaign pack with Oliver Johnson (never published; GW lost the RQ rights). In the case of the gamebooks, though, they seemed to be serious. They were willing to pay an advance, and that was a first.

Except… it was £350 per book, which was a pittance even in the ‘80s. And it would have been an exclusive contract, meaning I couldn’t work with any other publisher. “Why would Ian and Steve want to compete with Fighting Fantasy?” I wondered. For whatever reason, I dragged my heels about signing and was mighty glad I did, as a matter of weeks later I went to see Angela Sheehan at Dragon Books, had a nice long chat, and walked out with a two-book deal.

Originally Temple of Flame was down as the first book in the series, and the contract describes the other as “Dungeon of the Undead”. I think it was probably my dad who said, “Put ‘vampire’ in the title, it’ll grab people more than ‘undead’.” The publishers wanted to call it Crypt of Dracula, but I wasn’t having that. These books would be read by kids, and I didn’t want their first experience of Bram Stoker’s creation to be in a gamebook. Dracula was already in public domain, Stoker having died seventy-two years earlier, but I believe writers owe a creative courtesy to each other that lasts a lot longer than the term of copyright – though, regrettably, not everyone shares that view.

For the new edition, I’ve revised the text slightly to excise the trad fantasy elements (a hobgoblin, an elf) that seemed most intrusive. Now the atmosphere is very slightly more Gothic, the setting less definitely medieval. “Ah!” the DW players will say, “but isn’t Wistren Wood in Ellesland?” And so it is, but my Legend games have moved on – past the Last Trump at the end of The Walls of Spyte, even – to a time of matchlocks and sabres.

But that’s getting close to a foolish consistency. Whether or not Crypt of the Vampire is set in Legend, at heart it belongs to the lurid fairytale world of Hammer horror, where Cushing’s alert, flashing gaze locked with the fiery brooding in the eyes of Lee, and dark ivy-choked halls waited in the depths of darker woods. I like what Johnny S Geddes said about Crypt on Demian Katz’s gamebook page:
“Every now and then around midnight, and especially when there's thunder outside, I go back and take another tread through the enchanted forest leading to a dark mansion.”
That’s how I like to think of it being enjoyed. And, with Halloween almost upon us, here’s the chance to curl up with something creepy. The new edition also has Leo Hartas’s illustrations, incidentally – it was Leo’s first book as well as mine. Start as you mean to go on, that's our motto.

Saturday 19 October 2013

Tabi or not tabi

This is one of Bob Harvey's original pictures for the classic '80s ninja action gamebook series Way of the Tiger. All of Bob's pictures are being repainted in full colour by Megara Entertainment's team of talented artists, ensuring that the new hardcover copies of the books currently being offered on Kickstarter should be truly gorgeous collector's editions.

I'm just going to take this opportunity to explain a little about why Fabled Lands LLP has licensed to Megara the right to run this Kickstarter. We know that Megara will do a fantastic job of editing the books, commissioning new full-color artwork, and producing fine hardcover editions that diehard collectors will cherish forever. There's a win-win in this deal, because Fabled Lands LLP then gets to use the edited text and the artwork to publish our own paperback versions of the books next year. Collectors will want the limited edition hardcovers, and that's what the Kickstarter is for, but a successful campaign now (as it is shaping up to be) is also an enabler for the series to continue.

I think that's worth mentioning because some Kickstarter comments have fulminated about Fabled Lands LLP "limiting" the Kickstarter. Well, OK, that's the problem with the internet. Nobody even takes a deep breath and counts to ten, much less actually troubling to find out the facts of a case. But just so you know: Fabled Lands LLP are not putting limits on the Kickstarter. FL controls the print, ebook and app publishing rights and, thanks to this deal with Megara, will be able to release paperback and app editions of WOTT books 1-6 next year. The paperbacks will likely be around the same price as the Critical IF books. So if you can't afford the hardback edition: don't get mad. Just hang in there. I had to wait five years for the end of Breaking Bad, you know.

(Fabled Lands LLP doesn't have the publishing rights to the prequel or books 7 onwards, though, so if you want those I guess you're going to have to take a hammer to the piggy bank.)

The WOTT campaign only runs until the end of this month, then it'll vanish like a ninja in a cornfield. Or indeed a ninja anywhere, I guess, since that's pretty much the job description. If you're still on the fence, then (a) I hope it's more comfortable than the fence in the picture and (b) you ought to take a look at Megara's site, as I'm sure the goodies on show will convince you to pledge a few mon.

Incidentally, the authors (Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson) have been trying for quite some time to get in touch with Bob Harvey, but he too has vanished without trace. If you know where he is, please ask him to email Jamie at the address in the sidebar. Arigatou gozaimasu.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Your wish is my command

If you already own a copy of the Virtual Reality gamebook Twist of Fate, a couple of things... First, let me shake your hand. Not a lot of those babies made it out into the world. The original '80s gamebook boom was dying out (well, it was 1994) and this was last in the series, too.

Secondly, I'll understand if you don't want to shell out for the recent Critical IF edition (now titled Once Upon A Time In Arabia) just to read the new prologue. The rest of the book is slightly revised, but substantially no different from the 1994 version.

At the same time, if you're a collector you won't want to miss that new prologue. Here's the solution. You can download a free PDF version right here. That'll give you the prologue, the character sheet and Jon Hodgson's vertiginously amazing new cover. Those were the three wishes you had in mind, right?

Friday 11 October 2013

You wait for a gamebook and then four come along at once

I think we pitched the Virtual Reality books as "like novels only you get to make choices". Mark Smith certainly wrote his that way. The Coils of Hate in particular has some beautifully evocative descriptions and sharply tuned dialogue, though even after struggling from dawn till midnight for weeks on end I don't think I managed to fix its dysfunctional flowchart.

My own VR books were not so much novels as role-playing adventures. Heart of Ice in particular was based on a Tekumel campaign that I ran many times, except that for the book I moved it to a near-apocalyptic future where the world may end with a bang or a whimper, and which of those fates it will suffer is largely up to you. I always saw it as a Sergio Leone movie with operatic sweep and pragmatically amoral heroes. In the new edition, I've corrected one logical flaw and in the process added yet another possible ending with the obligatory nod to Blade Runner.

Down Among the Dead Men is an adventure with pirates, magic and the undead. Pirates of the Caribbean in those days was still just a ride at Disneyland, and I don't know if I'd even heard of On Stranger Tides. If this one were a movie it'd be directed by Tim Burton. The setting is about a century before the powdered wigs era popularized by Hollywood. Think Drake and Raleigh and Doctor Dee.

I researched Necklace of Skulls while on honeymoon in Mexico and Guatemala following the Maya trail. Spirtually it owes a debt to Professor M A R Barker - as do all my books, really - but there's nothing there that came directly from our Tekumel role-playing games. There are two main routes through: one the underworld of Pre-Columbian myth, where I aimed for the logic of dreams, and that's contrasted with the "reality" option of the everyday world of the hero's clan and the historical backdrop of the collapse of Teotihuacan. Director of the movie? Jan Švankmajer or Terry Gilliam, maybe.

For the new edition, I've retitled Twist of Fate as Once Upon a Time in Arabia and I've given it a completely new prologue. The core of the adventure is unchanged, though: a whirlwind of encounters with a 1001 Nights flavour involving ghouls, djinn, flying carpets, magic rings, lost palaces, strange lands, devious villains and brave comrades. Well, you've seen the movie and played the boardgame I'm sure.

All four of my VR books return to print this week as Fabled Lands Publishing's new Critical IF series. These are completely re-edited versions, in many cases with new sections, and with brand spanking new covers by Jon Hodgson. All but Once Upon a Time in Arabia have the original illustrations, and they are formatted to fit on the shelf along with the new edition Fabled Lands and Golden Dragon books.

And if you're into the digital era of reading, all four books are also out on Kindle. Even better, they're included in Amazon's new Matchbook bundling program, meaning that if you buy the print book, you get the Kindle version for no more than 99c extra.

And, and, and - this weekend only, you can pick up a FREE Kindle edition of Down Among The Dead Men. This is what heaven is like for e-gamebook fans. But just till midnight on Sunday, mind you.

These are some of my very best gamebooks, so I'll hope you'll check them out - or, if you already read them, maybe you'd like to go put a review on Amazon? If so, may your barysal gun never want for charges.

Sorry about all these covers. I know it looks like a supermarket shelf, but I wanted to be sure everybody had easy access to at least the US and UK links. (Hey, I could have added Italian, German, Canadian...)

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Wrap up warm

Talking about Kickstarter projects, here's an interesting-looking game from Canadian developers Hinterland. The Long Dark is a post-disaster survival game with ethical and social dimensions. Here's how the Kickstarter page describes it:
An exploration-focused survival simulation set in the Arctic wilderness in the aftermath of a global disaster. Brave the elements and other survivors, hunt for supplies, explore the world, uncover the mystery, answer the question: How far will you go to survive?
I guess I'm bound to be a sucker for something like this because the developers go on to say that it's for fans of atmospheric, exploration-focused games like Fallout 3 or S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - a patch of Venn diagram that also surely contains Heart of Ice.The campaign has already raised $120,000 as I write this, but it still needs $80,000 and it only has a week to go.

Videogames are a good fit for Kickstarter because the money raised actually goes into paying for development - although normally when I pick something like this and stick my "interesting" label on it, the campaign taps out, so let's hope I haven't just jinxed this one.

In the meantime, the Way of the Tiger campaign is still here and is thundering on towards stretch goals that include an all-new fantasy city map by Leo Hartas. So take your pick - or hey, why not back both?

Monday 7 October 2013

What dread hand and what dread feet?

Way of the Tiger fans can't have too many reminders that their black-pyjamed hero - I mean, alter ego - is making a bid to return from the misty swamps of gamebook history. If Megara Entertainment get the backing they need, Avenger will leap, tiptoe, somersault and forward roll his (or her) way into the 21st century in a series of full-colour hardback books.

Depending on this Kickstarter campaign, you'll be able to play through the early life of everybody's favourite peace-loving assassin in David Walters's prequel book Ninja and then undo the hero's demise at the end of book six in Redeemer, written by David Walters in consultation with original WOTT authors Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson.

I've seen David's plot outline for Redeemer and it's by no means the sort of "with one bound he was free" solution that would have Annie Wilkes shouting at the screen. Instead it really moves the series on into a more mature, novelistic, character-driven direction as befits the fact that the typical WOTT fan has to be at least thirty-five years old by now.

But perhaps you are not so long in the tooth as that. Or perhaps you were never bitten by the '80s ninja-and-nunchuks craze. Not familiar with Way of the Tiger? No need to fret, as those generous chaps at Megara have come up with a demo comprising about half of book one:
  • Download the full-size version here
  • Download the compressed version here
And to think, Megara didn't even have to kidnap and hobble Mark and Jamie to make this happen. Not so far, anyway.

Friday 4 October 2013

How to deal with Doomsday

More kung fu hullabaloo coming up on Monday. If you can't wait, take a look at these Way of the Tiger style shenanigans c/o Andrew Drage. You'll believe a man can catch an arrow.

In other news, late last night I came across this interesting brief exchange on Twitter:

Something to think about.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Nice rice baby

The balloon went up a few days early, but officially it's today. As Master Po would say, "Slice like a ninja, Grasshopper. Cut like a razor blade. But quit your jibberjabber and don't let no fool get between you and the Way of the Tiger Kickstarter campaign."

Maybe I'm mixing up my trash TV shows there, but make no mistake, it begins today. You have one month to pledge $50 for each full-colour hardback WOTT book you want on your shelves - including the all-new prequel book, Ninja, and maybe even book seven, Redeemer. (To call that one "long-awaited" is an understatement; people died of old age waiting for it to be written.)

So your mission, should you choose to accept... Oh, there I go again. Better wax off before I get to cowabunga.