Gamebook store

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Sermons in stones

I had forgotten that Mark Smith's Virtual Reality books were both set in a world which may very well be part of the Rainbow Land of his and Jamie Thomson's Duelmaster series. The name of the Palayal River by the city of Godorno suggests Tekumel, but nothing else about the setting does. The Forest of Arden features in both, though whether it's Shakespeare's, the one by the Avon, or some third high-fantasy variant is not clear.

It does feel quite Shakespearean, these books being very strong on atmosphere. That's especially true of Godorno in Coils of Hate, a city that resembles a nightmarish version of Venice where the walls fairly drip with a dank ambience of distrust and fear. I could ask Mark about the intended setting (possibly it was an unmapped corner of Orb) but it was twenty years ago and he's not likely to remember now.

Mark's titles in the series were Green Blood (love that title) and Coils of Hate. They were the nearest to being interactive novels - rather stronger on the novel side than on the interactivity, to be honest. The characters and locations would make a superb role-playing sourcebook, which is one clue that Mark might have taken them from his notes for the Orb campaign. (Which was not, as I never tire of telling people, even remotely Oriental, despite the Way of the Tiger books.)

And these maps..! I challenge any role-player to look at Godorno and not want to spend a few evenings adventuring there. One of Mark's biggest literary influences is Fritz Leiber Jr, and there's more than a hint of Lankhmar to those streets and canals. It does no harm to have the maps beautifully rendered by Leo Hartas, too.

Friday 21 March 2014

Spirit Slayer

Megara Entertainment's new app Spirit Slayer goes on sale today. I haven't had a chance to play it yet, but from the look of the screens I think it will appeal to both CRPG players and gamebook fans. Mikaël Louys had this to say:
"Spirit Slayer is a co-production by Megara Entertainment and game designer and author Paul Blanchot. Art is by Mary Nikol and music by Faiz Nabheebucus. It's a sort of reflexes game mixed with elements of RPG, and is available in both French and English (translated by Paul Gresty)." 
If anybody has tried it, why not tell us in the comments what you thought? I bet we all have spirits we'd love to slay.

Friday 14 March 2014

Blank slates

A while back, I was on the phone to Leo Hartas and he was telling me of an idea he'd had to extend his Playrama cut-outs range. What he had in mind was a series of cardboard figurines for use in role-playing games. Each character would have a name and a made-up background: Sir Percival of Dragonne, that kind of thing.

I was just about to say it myself when I heard Leo's son Inigo in the background: "That's completely wrong, Dad. The whole point of role-playing is that you get to make up your own character. You don't want to be told who you're playing."

Inigo's right. In my view, the referee of a role-playing game ("games master" if you must) gets to control the world, all of the events and the NPCs, but the PCs are sacrosanct. The players are in charge there. If I'm going to start laying down the law to my players about their own characters, I might as well stop running the game and spend my time writing a novel instead.

That's the same philosophy I applied to my gamebooks. It's not easy. On the one hand, you want the reader to feel in charge - that's the whole promise of "YOU are the hero". But to deliver a satisfying story, characters have to be changed by the things they experience. In a second-person gamebook, then, there's the dilemma. Do you make character development explicit in the text (which requires you to tell the reader how they feel about things) or do you let the text just describe what happens and allow the emotional and/or moral journey to occur in the mind of the reader?

It ought to be the latter, but many readers do seem to want spoon-feeding rather than the unfettered freedom implied by interactivity. "The book was unsatisfying," they may say; "it didn't tell me how I was supposed to feel." And in videogames these days we're used to having very strongly defined characters (Lara Croft, the Witcher) and only rarely get the protean possibilities of an enigmatic personality like everyman Gordon Freeman.

In Frankenstein I got the best of both worlds. Most of the book is narrated in first person, allowing Victor Frankenstein to develop just as a character in a novel should - the difference being that your advice shapes how he develops.And in one part of the book, you are given the traditional second-person treatment but even there the inner life of that character - vengeance or love, hope or despair, anger or pity - is entirely up to you:
A thaw sets in as the days start to become noticeably longer. One morning, you are cupping your hands to drink from a pond when a shaft of sunlight hits your face, which appears with fiery clarity in the water.

Of course you’ve seen your reflection before. But this time it comes as a shock. You are so used to spending the day watching the family that you have come to fancy yourself as one of them. The red, gristly countenance with the round yellow eyes and skeletal grimace is like some creature of the depths staring up at you from the water. You feel a thrill of fear, as if it might reach up and drag you down into a mire of darkness from which there is no escape.

You scurry back thirsty to your lair, pulling the twigs and leaves behind you as if that might shut out the scrutiny of some immense, unseen, celestial eye that is somehow judging you. And if such an eye exists, what does it make of you?

* That you are hideously ugly?
* Or rather that you’re different?
Many of my old gamebooks describe events in the character's past - a foe, a murdered friend, a missing brother - and even define a role such as the Dragon Knight of Palados in The Temple of Flame. But the character's emotional and moral reactions to what he or she experiences (and even gender) are left to the reader. The process of reading a book does not, after all, happen on the page but in the mind. The book is a key to unlock creative experiences of your own. Never is that more true than in overtly interactive fiction. The journey is not in the hands of the writer, it's up to you. But for that to work, you have to be willing to bring your imagination.

Illustration by Quentin Hudspeth and used under Creative Commons Attribution licence.

Thursday 6 March 2014

Zero Dark Zombie

If you're any kind of a gamebook fan, you don't need me to tell you that this is another of Leo Hartas's fine fantasy maps. In fact, I see he even signed it, so that'd be the tip-off then.

Stayng Island (named after Jamie's shirt front when he's been eating spaghetti bolognese) was the setting for Fighting Fantasy book 43: The Keep of the Lich Lord - the only one that I wrote. Or co-wrote, rather. The adventure involved a commando raid on an undead warlord's fortress. Jamie did the first 200 paras up till the fortress gate, I wrote the rest. (More or less, though we no doubt did little extra bits in each other's section to make sure it all meshed together.)

When Icon Books started republishing the FF series, Jamie and I kept the rights to Lich Lord. You may even have seen the Megara app a few years back that was loosely based on it. Now we're thinking about republishing it, probably whisking it out of FF's world of Alan and dropping it down someplace in the Violet Ocean. Maybe right in the middle. That way, everybody who says there are no complete adventures (really?) in Over the Blood-Dark Sea will have to eat their words.

The only hold-up is artwork. Megara produced some nice full-colour illustrations for the app, but those were fairly low-res and I don't know how well they would reproduce in black and white. Also, we don't have a cover and, much as I'd like to get original FL artist Kevin Jenkins to do one, he's far too busy (and expensive) these days. But those hitches aside, I think you'll be seeing this back in print before too long.