Gamebook store

Friday 21 September 2018

I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous

I knew if I waited long enough Brexit would give me something to laugh about, and this video is worth the price of -- admission isn't the right word, I guess. The opposite.

If you've been curious about my and Jamie's new gamebook Can You Brexit Without Breaking Britain? now is your chance to try it out as a free online PDF. (Oh, and incidentally if you need to backtrack you can use Alt + left arrow in a PDF just like the Back button in a browser. That's for PCs. There are options for other devices but you don't need me to tell you about those; you've got the internet after all.)

Share the PDF if you like. This book took us a year to write and, although I'm aware most gamebook readers would rather we'd done something with goblins, I think it's kind of important. Possibly the most worthwhile book we've written, in fact. With just six months to go before the UK and the EU part company, we now just want as many people as possible to get the chance to play it. And don't be put off by the sheer mind-crushing horror of Britain's current political fubar. Can You Brexit? may not be quite as laugh-out-loud as the Titanic video, but we've done our best to inject it with plenty of humour along with all the informative stuff.

And the print book is still on sale for another six months if digital gaming just doesn't do it for you:

And finally, as the newscasters used to say, there's this too. Oh, I can see Brexit is going to usher in a whole new era of deliciously bitter satire:

Friday 7 September 2018

Critical IF cover design

Following on from the previous post, here are the cover briefs I sent to Jon Hodgson when Fabled Lands LLP decided to republish the Virtual Reality books overselves rather than partnering with Osprey to do them.

*  *  *

These are my initial ideas. I’m open to any suggestions or changes, as the briefs were originally prepared on the assumption I’d have to hand them off through a chain of editors and art directors at Osprey and would get no direct communication with the artist. Hence I’ve probably over-managed the details... however, here’s the cover Osprey intended for Down Among the Dead Men so you can see why I’m getting a tad control-freaky.

The top third of each cover will need to be for the author and title, and the logo extends about 2.5cm from the bottom. Maybe we should have the background and main foreground elements on separate layers, so that a hydra’s head or a sword could partially overlap the title lettering if necessary.

Ideally each book should each have a unique palette with one predominant colour to help it stand out.

Necklace of Skulls

I based the new design on the original Virtual Reality cover with these changes:
  • Removed the second (kneeling) figure. Now it's just the warrior.
  • The warrior is holding a flaming torch and a sword.
  • The view is straight-on from directly behind the warrior to make the threat of the hydra more dramatic.
  • I've put the warrior on a raised ledge of rock a few feet above the desert floor. This allows the hydra to be nearer to him and to appear to be rearing up out of a chasm.
But... it would be better not to be looking at the back of the hero’s neck. If (unlike in my sketch) one of the hydra heads were further forward, the hero could be partly turning to keep an eye on it, giving us the opportunity for a partial or full profile – just to create more engagement with him as a character:
Background and palette - as we’re looking up past the hero with a slightly low-angle shot, I think the background should be a midnight blue night sky dotted with stars. It reinforces the desert setting and astronomy is part of the mythological context of the adventure. The hydra dark-scaled. The torchlight picks out the blaze of colour (feathered head-dress, etc) in the warrior’s garb and his glistening skin, the yellow light picked up in the sand and rocks where he’s standing.

The Maya sword is made of hardwood with sharpened spikes of knapped flint or sharpened volcanic glass fixed along the edges. Just the thing for killing a hydra.

Down Among the Dead Men
A pirate fantasy adventure, a little bit earlier in history than Pirates of the Caribbean – think Elizabethan/Jacobean period. It’s pretty obvious how I’ve changed this one from the old Virtual Reality version:
  • The zombie pirate is looking straight at us.
  • He’s closer, more threatening.
  • He’s already climbed halfway over the rail.
  • The rail tilts up left to right rather than down as on the VR cover - more dramatic that way.
Put a few wisps of mist in the foreground, picking up the fog in the background. Also the original colour scheme is a bit of a dog’s dinner. We need a more limited palette to give the image more impact.

Once Upon a Time in Arabia

The classic Thief of Baghdad type adventure. It’s not even worth looking at the original cover – I never liked it. So, on to new ideas...

This drawing is a bit sketchy, so I’d better explain what’s going on. It’s a aerial shot above an Arabian Nights city looking steeply down at the towers and domes below.

Our hero is flying on a magic carpet, the wind whipping at his clothes. In one hand he has a sword. From a ring on the other hand he has called forth a genie - the swirl of smoke curls out of the ring and under the carpet, solidifying into a giant demonic figure who is ready to assist the hero.

I don’t think the hero should have a full beard (though the genie can). He should either be clean shaven or have a little hipster goatee. Or it could be a heroine (no goatee in that case). The traditional Douglas Fairbanks Arabian look, ie flowing white like the Prince of Persia used to wear before he went all moody black leather.

I envisage the genie as taking shape out of smoke that looks like a storm-cloud – dark violet/black shot through with inner flashes of lightning suggesting violence and magical power.

Overall colour palette: how about that haze of golden yellows and ochres that you get in hot, dusty climates as the sun is close to setting? If that suffuses the background, we can then pick out some bright colours (the carpet, jewels on the hero/heroine) and contrast that with the white flowing clothes of the hero/heroine and the black, billowing smoke of the genie.

Heart of Ice

The idea here is we’ve got a guy slogging through a blizzard out on the Saharan Ice Wastes towards a city in the distance. Deep snow. He’s dressed in arctic weather clothing: parka, fur-lined hood, snow goggles, etc.
He’s heard something and he’s turning back to face us to shine a flashlight at whoever or whatever is coming. (So he’s twisting at the waist, insofar as his bulky clothing will permit.) In his other hand (held out to the side so we can see it) is a barysal gun - the raygun of the 23rd century.

In the background is the place he was heading for – the city of Du-En, abandoned and empty for a hundred years. A bit Gormenghast, a bit Mountains of Madness. Massive walls, so hazed by distance and snow that the architecture (half sci-fi, half ‘30s futurist fascist) seems to render our human endeavours and dramas insignificant. We can’t see the city walls and towers that clearly because of the snow-haze.

This is a variant cover I did. Disregard the image/concept here, but I do like the colour scheme of the background. I’m thinking that this one can be the most monochrome of the series - all icy blues, whites, greys. Even the figure shouldn’t be too colourful, and possibly the only variation might be a bit of backlight from the flashlight reflected in his tinted goggles or something.

By the way, that figure - he could be the hero, he could just as easily be one of the adversaries. This is quite a morally ambiguous book and the anonymity of the figure reflects that.

*  *  *

The brief isn't the end of the story. Just like with game design, where you come up with an initial plan but then have to work out during development how to implement that and which parts work and which need changing, the cover concepts go back and forth before you arrive at something that everybody's happy with.

Take Once Upon A Time In Arabia. Jon's first sketch featured a female protagonist in historically credible but determinedly unsexy garb. Well, fair enough; we're not in the 1980s now. As Jon said:
"I went for a female character on Once Upon a Time in Arabia, which I'm kinda regretting - maybe a male would have more appeal to the readership, and I'm not keen on making a 'sexy' female character."
I agreed that a young male hero might be better, not least because I thought Jon might be more comfortable making him attractive and athletic. I went on to say:

"His clothing probably needs to be as much like the Fairbanks-style stereotypical 'Arabian adventurer' costume as you can bear to go. I know it's not historically accurate, but I'm minded of what Jonathan Miller said when staging Anthony and Cleopatra: 'I'd like to dress her in Greek-style clothing, but audiences think it's wrong if she's not in Hollywood's idea of Ptolemaic fashion.' Also, the image is going to work better if the flying carpet is moving left to right. And can we add the jinni's taloned hands for extra impact?"

Of the first Heart of Ice sketch I said:
"I like the icy colours in the cover, but would like to get a real raging blizzard. It makes the situation more life-or-death -- will this lone figure even survive to reach that city..? -- and injects some doomy apocalyptic feeling into the scene."
I'm very pleased with the end result, but you can judge for yourself whether our cover creation process was a success - Jon's final book covers are here.