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Thursday 26 May 2022

Plunge right in

At last, the moment we've been waiting for: the full release of the Fabled Lands CRPG on Windows and MacOS. After years of amazing work by Prime Games, this beautiful and immersive game is available for players to plunge into. The launch content includes the whole of the northern continent (FL books 1, 2, 4 and 5) with the Violet Ocean and Akatsurai to follow as downloadable add-ons.

This is the ultimate incarnation of Fabled Lands that Jamie and I dreamed of twenty years ago, when we pitched the FL computer game concept to Eidos as "characters exploring and adventuring across a gloriously coloured map of the world". It's been a long road, but Prime Games have brought that vision to life more vividly than we could ever have hoped.

How do you follow something as fantastic as this? Well, Prime Games still have a way to go with Fabled Lands -- including, perhaps, the southern continent. But as soon as I saw those tactical maps and started hurling some spells around, my first thought was how brilliant it would be to give Blood Sword the same treatment. Who knows?

Friday 20 May 2022

Two timing

'Do you remember a guy that's been in such an early song?' asked Bowie. Until reminded by a shout-out from Alexis Kennedy, I'd completely forgotten that in Dragon Warriors book 6 I included some advice on handling passage of time in a roleplaying session:

Very long journeys often mean that a game-time period of many months will be skimmed over in a matter of a few minutes of real-time. However, it is not in the best interests of the game to be too quick about this. A sense of the ludicrous may creep into a game where the GM says something such as, ‘You ride south through Algandy, spend a few days in Ferromaine where you charter a ship, then you sail across the Coradian Sea and down the Gulf of Marazid until you reach the mouth of the Mungoda River after about a month. You find a guide and bearers and make your way inland through thick jungle, finally arriving at the ruined temple Sengool told you about three months after you set out.’

Such an introduction is implausible and does little justice to the adventure that is to follow it. I recommend that you never spend less than half an hour gaming each campaign month. Something of interest must happen in that time. Devise a meeting with officials in Ferromaine – are the player-characters stung for duty tax, or wrongfully arrested by the city guard? Embroil them in a subplot which may take up the whole gaming session (though try not to lose the impetus of the main adventure in doing so). As a last resort, at least throw in a pre-planned but ostensibly random encounter.

One useful trick that allows you to move through game-time at an accelerated rate is by means of a film-like montage. Wait for the players to begin a discussion amongst themselves – a plan of action, an argument over spoils, or whatever – then run them fairly freely through their journey, interjecting briefly sketched events or remarks from NPCs, such as the ship's captain, at intervals to show that time is passing. As in a film, a few minutes’ action can thus be made to seem to cover days or weeks. 

It's that montage technique that Alexis and Lottie were talking about, and it's very generous of them to give me the credit for it. I just swiped it from cinema, after all. But which filmmaker came up with it in the first place? It's almost but not quite what Welles uses in the breakfast montage in Citizen Kane. One flash of light but no smoking pistol -- where did he get it from? And who was the first to use it fully? By which I mean carrying on a continuous dialogue through a succession of scenes in which time is passing.

As with most fictive tricks, we can go right back to Shakespeare. He has two clocks, so to speak, running throughout Othello. (No montage there, obviously.) Montage as a cinematic technique predates dialogue, so at some point while cutting an early talkie it must have occurred to the director and/or editor that it would be neat to hold together the montage sequence with one voiceover or dialogue sequence. It's really just an extension of overtonal montage (a sequence of cuts linked by theme) which was well-established in the silent era. When talkies came along, some bright spark must have made the intuitive leap to using the dialogue as the overtonal glue. But who? Lev Kuleshov? Alfred Hitchcock? Don Siegel? In the absence of any further info, I'm going to have to bashfully submit to Mr Kennedy's attribution and call it the Morris Effect.

If you want to experience it in a game, the obvious pick is The Lady Afterwards, now available on Steam. If the story and game design are as gorgeous as the visuals (and Fallen London suggests they will be) then it's a must-have.

Thursday 12 May 2022

Become a Destiny angel

I'm filled with envy and admiration for what gamebook author Michael J Ward is doing with the crowdfunding campaign for the DestinyQuest world sourcebook. I couldn't produce such a beautiful-looking book and I certainly couldn't whip up that sort of exciting marketing frenzy. 

The book is an illustrated hardback and the campaign goes live on Kickstarter on May 17. It includes:

  • A detailed history of the world, from its creation by the celestial Fates, to the current End Times of crumbling empires and war-weary kingdoms.
  • A comprehensive timeline that charts the key events that have shaped the world of Dormus, right up to the present-day narratives of the gamebook series.
  • An overview of the magic system, detailing the chaotic forces of the Shroud and the effects of its demonic taint, as well as the runic magic of the dwarves and the dangerous arts of elemental sorcery.
  • Character stories and biographies, exploring some of the key characters who have influenced the DestinyQuest world, including the legendary witchfinder, Eldias Falks, and the enigmatic archmage, Avian Dale.
  • Descriptions of the main factions that vie for power and influence within the kingdom of Valeron, from the secretive enclaves of the Arcane Hand to the scheming masters of shadow, the Nevarin.
The blurb promises: "Whether you are a fan of the DestinyQuest gamebooks or a referee looking for a new and immersive setting for your homebrew roleplaying campaign, the World Companion promises a wealth of exciting secrets and discoveries – everything you need for the epic adventures ahead."

This also seems a good opportunity for some of what Sam Harris calls housekeeping. First up, gamebook fans of a certain vintage may have already noticed that booking for Fighting Fantasy Fest 4 is now open. Jamie Thomson and Paul Gresty will both be there, along with Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, Martin Noutch of Steam Highwayman fame, Rhianna Pratchett, Jonathan Green, and other FF stalwarts.

Even more exciting (in my book, anyway) is that you can now sign up for the Fabled Lands CRPG beta build. That includes the whole of the northern continent and coastal waters -- with more to come.

Lastly, I was at Surrey University this week and somebody mentioned they'd had complaints about the lack of story nudges in an open-world game they had written. It's not just me, then. In days of yore, adventures began with an old guy running into a tavern to hand you a quest, and some players of Vulcanverse were irked to be just left to explore the world and find their own adventures, others were happy to uncover those stories for themselves. So as to cater for the former players I'm making sure that the fifth Vulcanverse book, Workshop of the Gods, has plenty of those proverbial old guys (or equivalent of other age/gender) to guide you on your way. If you prefer to be assigned quests and given plenty of hints, then, just be sure to start your adventures in VV book 5.