Sunday, April 20, 2014

My favourite 10 posts

Hello all!  Now that  have almost 4 years of weekly posts under my belt, I thought that I would pick 10 that
are special to me in some way and revisit them.

I should just complete things! - My first post, highlighting and classic problem I have.  I think I have got better with this, but it is good to be reminded of this.  One thing I have found that helps during writing my first draft of Awakening of Asuria was to email Neil Rennison my progress every week.  Knowing that I have to report on my progress (or lack of it) motivated me to make sure I made some.

April A to Z - K is for Karam Gruul. - Karam Gruul was my favourite villain from my first April A to Z. This guy knows what he is doing.  He stays one step ahead of you at all times and doesn't rely on unreliable methods such as hordes of orcs to protect himself. Unfortunately, I could not give him top marks, as Gnaag was a more perennial foe to Lone Wolf.

Love in gamebooks. - Done to celebrate my wedding day :D :D :D.

When I decided to write gamebooks - A reflective post that I made about my journey as a writer.  My journey is not over yet.

Happy new year!  I made this post after Andrew Wright's post, Keep on bloggin'.  It is important, because Andrew's post inspired me to, er, keep on bloggin' after I thought that I wouldn't get anywhere with my blog.  I'm glad that he did.

April A to Z - H is for Harkuna and the Fabled Lands - a post featuring Dave Morris who has been a constant source of good advice to me over the years.

Something's up in the land of Destiny Quest - my first vlog.  I need to make more as apparently, YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine after Google.

Why I consider Shadowcaster a failure and what I can take from it. - I loved writing Shadowcaster, but it was a distaster.  I still learnt lots from it, though.

Why do we read gamebooks? - An important post as it questions the whole reason of why I do what I do.

Adventuer:  The Solo Role Playing Game - why gamebooks need something like this. - Another project I learnt a lot from, which lead me to make my own system.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

April A to Z - Q is for Questions for Wayne Densley, creator of Windhammer

Imagine it's 2008, and gamebooks do not have anywhere near the presence on the internet that they do now.  There's an amusing playthrough blog, a website where people can put up their amateur adventures, some Yahoo Groups, Mark J. Popp's fighting Fantasy,, and a few other gamebook websites that are mainly Fighting Fantasy fan sites, which may be around, or they may have been lost in the mists of time.  I was idly looking at these gamebook sites, purely for the nostalgia, and not really expecting them to make much more of a comeback.  Then I notice a gamebook competition and decide to try my hand at it.  Some other people try to, and I don't do too well.  however, it inspires me to try harder for next year, and get deeper into the fledgling gamebook community.  In 2009, I do better, but still no prize, so I decide to try harder, and start a blog in order to write my reflections on what makes a good gamebook to improve myself.  In 2010, more people have entered and more and more gamebook blogs and sites have either appeared or increased in profile.  Now it is 2014, and the Windhammer Gamebook competition has many many entries every year, from people who have used it as their first steps into the gamebook writing community.  It has opened my eyes to what can be done with a gamebook and provided a way for gamebook writers and readers to give feedback to each other.  Without the Windhammer competition, the gamebook presence on the internet would be a lot poorer than it is now.  We have a lot to thank it for.  So today, we have its founder, Wayne Densley to talk about the competition and also about his own gamebook series, the Chronicles of Arborell.  Enjoy!

Describe the world that the Chronicles of Arborell takes place in and the background.

In the Sorrows of Gedhru and Aume, the creation myth of the Oera'dim of Arborell, the world is made from the remains of Emur, the slain son of the Creator-Gods and brother to Elanna and Shabel. The world born of his death exists within a universe of its creator's own design, following a set of rules that allows for both the normal physics of the world as we might recognise them, and also a more hidden, secretive world of magic.

Created as a memorial to the life of Emur it is soon corrupted by treachery and murder. Betrayal colours its history and the ruthless ambition of the ancient Trell'sara ensures that life for most sentient Beings in Arborell is neither simple nor safe.  The Oera'dim and Humanity are intractable enemies and within the Nations of Men and the Kraals of the Oera'dim there is discord and mistrust.  All look to war but amongst the violence and destruction there is also hope and a slim chance for a better future.

Arborell is a world populated with the natural creatures of its original creation; the Oera'dim, a race of manufactured Beings that once held dominion over its vast lands; and Human settlers that have come into the world after having fled the power of a merciless and destructive Enemy.  The Chronicles are essentially a history of the world of Emur (of which Arborell is a part) from its beginnings to the present day, told from the perspective of all the main characters of that history. Starting with the Gods themselves the history of Arborell is laid out as a series of gamebooks and associated titles, each a standalone title but together forming an intertwined chronicle of Emur and its inhabitants.

It has proven a huge task that has so far taken over twenty years, but it has allowed me to develop a history of Emur that begins in creation stories and myth and then develops into historical accounts and a range of personal documents and stories.  Along the way I have also found need to develop the language of Haer'al, an Atlas of Arborell, a range of wargaming titles, card-based gamebooks, a growing series of map-based microgamebooks, journals, novellas, supplementary documents, and of course the gamebook series itself that forms the spine of the underlying story.  So far there are around forty titles that can be downloaded from the Chronicles website with just as many still to come.

What inspired you to write these gamebooks?

I began writing the first core gamebook, Windhammer, in 1993.  It started as a standalone gamebook and quickly developed into the Chronicles of Arborell.  If I was to say what inspired me to begin it was probably the creative challenge of gamebook writing.  Putting together all the varying threads of an interactive story so that an author can create a conherent narrative is one of the more difficult challenges in fantasy fiction writing and certainly one that I enjoy greatly.

Which gamebook from the Chronicles is your favourite?

I must admit that I don't have any particular favourite.

What inspiration did you draw from?

I think the main inspiration for me has been anything Tolkien, Asimov, Larry Niven and specifically the Dune series by James Herbert.  As far as gamebooks go I have found great enjoyment in both the Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf series.

Will the Chronicles of Arborell be released on other platforms?

No.  I have no commercial ambitions for the Chronicles and have no plans to release any of the freely available titles on any other platforms.

What future releases do you have in the pipeline?

At this time I am working on another four micro-gamebooks, a prequel 300 section gamebook titled Vaeyawch (which in Haer'al means "westwards"), the second Windhammer companion, Honour Amongst Thieves, and the Sixth Horde War campaign for the Warriors of the March wargaming system.  Half done and waiting for their turn are also the Jotun of the West gamebook, A Murder of Crows and the second core gamebook, Earth and Stone.

About Windhammer:

What inspired you to start the competition?

The Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction started as an outlet for aspiring authors to find an audience for their talents.  Back in 2008 I realised there was a very active gamebook community out there but not much opportunity for people wanting to write gamebooks and have them read by a wide audience.  The competition started and has grown with every passing year.  Now of course interest in gamebooks has risen again both in paper editions and even more so as apps, and this has led to even greater interest in new authors and innovative interactive fiction.  All of that interest has been very good for the Windhammer Prize.

Have you noticed any similarities with all the Windhammer Competition winners?

Not really.  The Windhammer Prize has generated a huge range of original and fundamentally different entries, and this is reflected in the variety of gamebooks that have been selected by readers as prize winners.  I really like how much thought authors put into their entries and in the main this shows itself in really cool storylines and sometimes quite surprising settings.

What are the things that all entrants need to avoid?

Typos and not spending enough time testing the entry before submitting.  A number of great stories have been entered in the competition only to do less well because of simple errors in logic flow or straighforward spelling issues.

Have you had any surprises with the gamebook entries?

The greatest surprise with the entries submitted over the years has been the consistent quality and the new ways authors have found to use the gamebook format.  The Prize was started in part to expand the subject matter available to the genre and the success of that has shown that there are a lot of very talented gamebook writers out there.

Apart from entering Windhammer, what else can people do to contribute to the world of gamebooks?

Let authors know what you think of their gamebooks, and support new authors trying to get their books published when they seek funding on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.

What is your advice to someone who has never written a gamebook yet, but is thinking about it?

Spend a good amount of time planning out what it is you want to do, especially when considering the different story branches and the game system you are going to use..  All that preparation saves a lot of time and frustration when you start writing.

So check out Arborell and the Windhammer competition.

April A to Z - Q is for Destiny Quest as an app

Hello all!  Today we have Christopher Liu and Yuliya Geikhman from Adventure Cow, a website which allows people to write their own Choose Your Own Adventure style stories.  They have also started writing an app version of Destiny Quest (by the way, the Eye of Winter's Fury is out now!) which will be out soon.  Here they are...

Tell us about yourself.
CL: I studied math in college, and I’ve been a programmer since then. I like building things, and I’ve been playing games my whole life (you’d think I’d like Minecraft, but I’ve played far more of the Civilization series).

Tell us about Adventure Cow.
CL: In 2011, I started a game with some friends where I wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure-style story and they would play by email. Every week, our program would email a new page and you would make a choice by clicking on a link in the message.
It was originally just for fun, but when I found DestinyQuest, I realized that lots of people were interested in gamebooks. I decided to start Adventure Cow so that more people could write them and play them. We’re starting small, one book at a time.

What attracted you to doing DestinyQuest?
CL: DestinyQuest is a 600+ page book, about 6 times larger than the Fighting Fantasy books, and I've always been a bit of a masochist. In all seriousness, it's a fantastic world that manages to be intense and silly at the same time, and I felt it would translate well into a digital game. That, and it's difficult to lug the massive book around (and fiddle with all the rules), so it was the perfect candidate for digitizing.

What spoils a gamebook for you?
YG: I'm actually a relative newcomer to gamebooks, and my one big pet peeve with them is arbitrary choices. Whether I go east or west should not determine my fate as much as it does in many gamebooks.
CL: A lot of things - I’m actually quite picky about gamebooks. Most gamebooks have just a few ideal endings and require you to play through dozens of times; having to do repeat readings through the same story can get pretty old, pretty fast. A lot of gamebooks deal with this by keeping the prose short (gamebooks usually have shorter passages than CYOA).

What makes a gamebook stand out for you?
CL: A good gamebook is one that pulls you into a new world. If the story and the game work well together, you become the main character - the story’s experiences become your own. That’s what gamebooks promise, but it’s a rare game that does so, of any genre!
YG: In video games and gamebooks, great storytelling is a must. I'm a sucker for a story that can pull you in and not let go until it's 2 AM and you wonder where the time went.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to write a gamebook?
CL: I’m not personally an experienced gamebook writer! But I’d say the best games are really mindful of what their players/readers are experiencing. Write a lot, read a lot, and focus on making an experience.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a gamebook for an app?
CL: It’s a pain in the butt. HTML goes a long way. I’d love to help anyone who wants to start, having spent 3 years on this myself, so send me an email! (chris at adventurecow)

When will DestinyQuest Infinite be out?
YG: Soon, very soon. We're hoping to have the final kinks out within a month or two, and then Act 1 of 3 will be released.

What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
CL: Part of our goal, besides DestinyQuest, has always been to help people write their own gamebooks. We can’t say much about what’s coming up next but safe to say we will be coming up with more DQ and also giving people ways to write more.

What is your wish for gamebooks?
CL: Gamebooks have a lot of potential. Digitally they can go anywhere games can go, and in some ways further. They should be going to those places!

You can visit the Adventure Cow website here to play their games.  You can also buy the latest Destiny Quest here.

If you want to see Michael J. Ward, he will be at Collectormania in Milton Keynes on the 16th-18th May and also Nine Worlds Geekfest at the Radisson Heathrow on the 8th-10th August.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lloyd of gamebooks is looking for contributors

Ever wanted to say something about gamebooks, but you think there aren't enough places to say it?  Why not contribute to this blog!

Basically, I have a lot of gamebooks to write, news to do for Fighting Fantazine and also this blog to maintain.  This, coupled with a job and childcare is starting to take its toll.  However, there is still lots of things that we can talk about when it comes to gamebooks, so if anyone wants to contribute an article about gamebooks to this blog, please email me at

Happy gamebooking!

April A to Z - P is also for Path of Light by Ivailo Daskalov

Ivailo Daskalov is a gamebook author who wrote Dating A Witch for the Windhammer competition and then followed up with The Path of Light gamebook app on Google Play.  Ivailo's gamebooks focus a lot on relationships rather than your standard hack and slash and so there is plenty of depth in them.  Give them a go.

Q:Why did you start being involved with gamebooks?
A:I have always been a gamer. I also enjoy reading and writing books. Gamebooks are a crossing point between these hobbies.

Q:Where do you get your ideas for gamebooks?
A:Mainly PC games, other gamebooks and novels. I believe the World of Warcraft has a big impact on what I write. I could say the same for Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth Series.  

Q:Do your gamebooks have common themes?
A:Yes. I like writing about priests and demonologists. My protagonists also have the tendency of having a significant other. Maintaining a good relationship with them is one of the goals of the game.

Q:What advice would you off to someone who thinks that they want to write their own gamebook?
A:Just go ahead and do it. It is not that hard. Sometimes, having a scheme with the numbers of episodes helps a lot.

Q:What do people need to think about when converting a gamebook into an app?
A:One of the important issues is related to what the developer's software can do. Some can only support a pure CYOA adventure (no inventory, no variables, no dice rolling). Others are much more advanced. I am very happy with my developer XS Gamebooks. What he does coincides with my vision of the good gamebook app - simple and effective.

Q:What spoils a gamebook for you?
A:Being punished for a uninformed decision. Getting killed for entering the wrong door without any possible warning, for example.

Q:What makes a gamebook stand out for you?
A:I think I value most the narrative and strong characters.

Q:What is the hardest thing about writing a gamebook?
A:Keeping in mind what might or might not have happened on your way to a particular episode.

Q:What is the most exciting thing about writing a gamebook?
A:It is pleasant to know that you are making a game of your own, just the way you want to do it so that you enjoy it.

Q:What future projects do you have that you can talk about?
A:I plan to enter the Windhammer Prize competition for short gamebooks. I participated two years ago and made a lot of contacts with fellow gamebook authors. Some of the pillar's of today's new wave of gamebooks participated. Simply participating is a great honour for me. I am writing the prequel to the gamebook I wrote (and was published as an app for Android) - The Path of Light. I hope to generate awareness in potential readers as well.

Q:What is your wish for gamebooks?
A:To come back and be as popular as they were in the 90s.

April A to Z - P is for Philip Armstrong, Windhammer 2013 winner

Good day to you, gamebookers!  I may have mentioned the Windhammer competition before (the 2014 guidelines are out, so take a look), and today, we have the winner of the 2013 Windhammer competition, Philip Armstrong talk about his entry, "Normal Club", and to give some pointers to those of us who are thinking about entering Windhammer 2014.  Philip has also recently started a blog of his own, so take a look.
Anna and Jim Morrison

"Where did you get your idea for "Normal Club"

Here and there, in the typical places. I knew I wanted to write a fun, cartoony game in the vein of the classic LucasArts adventures. One day I sketched some mystery solving teens with their pet lizard and everything blossomed from there.

"What's the best thing about entering Windhammer?"

Being able to participate in this little gamebook community. Writing my entry was one of the most rewarding creative things I've ever done. Just finishing a complete, playable game was immensely satisfying, but being able to share it with gamebook fans and pit it against other talented authors was the cheery on top.

"What do you think made "Normal Club" stand out as the winner?"

Hard to say! The feedback I got was definitely mixed. Most people seemed to enjoy the humor and the straightforwardness of the rules. Others were turned off by the setting and family-friendly tone. The first half of the game is spent gathering clues to determine the identity of a mystery location. Depending on how you do you either find a good clue that points to the location or a bad clue that points to a red herring. It seems that players who came to the intuitive leap that you could use the bad clues to determine which locations weren't correct enjoyed the game much more than players who assumed that because they got bad clues they'd just have to guess the answer.

I'm not sure what put 'Normal Club ahead, as there were some very strong contenders. I think that ultimately it was a combination of the humor, the simplicity of the rules, and the uniqueness of the scenario. I'm honored that it was picked amongst excellent entries like Gunlaw, Out of Time, and The Independence Job. And I'm so thankful to everyone who chose to vote for it.

"Are you planning on entering Windhammer this year?"

I am! I can barely wait. I've been flooded with ideas since the day the competition ended. I think I've settled on which direction to go in. Now it's a matter of hammering this idea into some sort of usable shape (at the moment it's more appropriate for a 600 paragraph book, let alone Windhammer's 100). I'm even more excited to read all the other entries and to see how people will push the medium forward. I'm amazed that there's this community of people who are so passionate about gamebooks that they continue to write new ones; that they strive innovate and challenge what the format can do.

"What makes a gamebook stand out for you?"

Good writing certainly helps, but I think it's consideration for the reader. By this I mean that the book is free of bugs that point to the wrong paragraph, but also "T-Intersection" choices (Ashton Saylor calls them "Which Door" choices). When a book features a lot of passages that read "You come to an intersection. If you go left, turn to X. If right, turn to Y" it just doesn't seem very... considered. There's nothing about this kind of writing that engages the reader, unless it's to force them to draw a map I suppose.

Most of all consideration means the author works to create a story with the reader. Their job is to craft a fun experience (and difficulty plays into this), but also to guide the reader through that experience. An author doesn't win when the reader loses. A gamebook is not a competition. As you can imagine, I'm not terribly enamored with the works of Ian Livingstone.

"What spoils a gamebook for you?"

Even when books are endless corridors with malicious death paragraphs around every turn they're still a lot of fun. There's just something about the format that speaks to me. So I guess what spoils one is when it's outright unplayable. There was an entry in last year's competition called The Thing That Crawls. The writing was appealing and the rules intriguing but the book was riddled with incorrect or missing paragraph references. I tried to get around them but they were so prevalent that the book was simply impossible. It was disappointing really, because I wanted to play the book the author had intended to write.

"What is the most exciting thing about writing a gamebook?"

Seeing all the disparate pieces come together in a cohesive whole. By their nature gamebooks are written piecemeal. When'Normal Club was finished and not only told a complete story but also had a working system with all the gears in place, well, that was a mighty fine feeling.

"What is the hardest thing about writing a gamebook?"

Finding the proper balence. I wanted the readers to experience a full story: beginning, middle, and end. But there also needed to be a threat of failure or else there would be no game at all. I'm still not sure I got it right. There's only one place in'Normal Club where a blind choice leads to a game over. It's right at the climax and I felt like it gave the final encounter the necessary gravitas. But the last thing I want is for a reader to get 95% of the way through and then feel cheated because they picked choice B instead of C.

"What advice would you off to someone who thinks that they want to write their own gamebook?"

Be prepared. Writing a gamebook is different than writing a straightforward story. I had a strict system in place to ensure all my paragraphs would line up when it came to actually write them (that I got from you, Stuart). But I also had tons of notes working out the rule system and exploring all its variations. That way when it was time to write I could focus on the words and not have to worry about the game bits.

"What advice can you offer to anyone thinking of entering Windhammer?"

Collaborate. I got as many people as I could to playtest 'Normal Club. Not only did they make sure there were no bugs, they also came up with great solutions to some real knotty spots. I also had one very good friend, Tyler Koltak, who worked with me the whole way editing the text, and just providing a phenonmenal amount of support. My entry wouldn't have been a quarter of the book it was without his help.
"What future projects do you have that you can talk about?"

Just my Windhammer 2014 entry unfortunately. That's going to take up most of my mindspace for the next six months. But afterwards, who knows? I definitely want to do more gamebook work in the "off-season" as it were.

"What is your wish for gamebooks?"

Despite seeing a resurgence in the past couple of years gamebooks are still very much a niche genre. I'd love to see them regain the popularity they had in the 80s, and for there to be a space for them in the wider publishing world.

Philip's entry, "Normal Club" can be read online, and his blog is here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

April A to Z - O is for Out today! Destiny Quest

Hello all!  I apologise for the lateness of today's post, which is a review of Destiny Quest:  Eye of Winter's Fury.  I got the book earlier in the week, but I haven't managed to finish it all yet, as it is so epic and the combats are very involved (just like the last two Destiny Quest books).  However, I can talk about what I
have seen so far.

Destiny Quest 3 follows the same format and themes as the first two, but I think with the tweaks to the system and the options offered in the quests, it is even better than the previous two books.

All of the things that made Destiny Quest so great are still there:  each combat involves an opponent that takes a different approach to defeating you with their unique combinations of abilities, and so this, combined with the huge number of options given to you by your path (warrior, mage or rogue), career and the numerous items of equipment that you can use (you can equip up to 11 items in various slots such as main weapon, chest item, 2 rings etc.) means that each combat is an absorbing exercise in strategic thinking.  The reward of overcoming your opponents is also enhanced by Michael's method of also rewarding the player by giving them better equipment after most combats.  This adds to the buzz  of victory.  The adventure progresses when you select an area on a map to go to and completing the quest there.  Quests are split up into difficulty, so there is also strategic thinking involved in the order in which you complete your quests.  There are also villages where you can buy better equipment and meet great characters who can give you more quests to go on with the promise of greater rewards.

However, Michael has improved on that in this book.  When I have played Destiny Quest in the past, what I found most satisfying was being able to take a huge chunk of health off my opponent, and also being able to turn a defeat into a victory through prudent use of my abilities.  Playing as a warrior, I have managed to get my speed up to 7 (but usually 8 thanks to my were career path) and my brawn up to 18, allowing combats to go on for enough rounds to be interesting, but not too long.  I think that Michael has thought about his abilities very deeply, as I have found more speed enhancing abilities and many items that could increase my brawn.  All the opponents I have faced have had a speed ranging from 2 below mine to 1 above mine, which makes all combats possible (combat is decided by rolling 2 dice, adding the results to your speed and by comparing the results with your opponent, who has done the same, in the same way as Fighting Fantasy and skill.  This method means that if you face someone with a speed 3 higher than yours, it is almost impossible to win).

Another thing that makes combat more satisfying is the use of death moves.  A death move can be used if you fight multiple opponents.  When you kill one, you can use a death move to improve you chances against the survivors.  I got a good one which allowed me to automatically win the next round as soon as I killed an opponent.  Death moves are great as combats against multiple opponents can be a lot move brutal or they could turn into long slogs of attrition.  However, death moves remove the danger of both of these things happening.

There are more chances to improve your character.  First of all, there are more innate abilities that will stick

withyour character no matter what items they have.  This is good as it introduces some consistency to the character.  Also, items can have abilities added to them with runes and other items, meaning that even if you have all of your slots taken up, you don't have to hang on for a better item to improve.  You can improve the items yourself.  There are also several 'bonus areas' that are there to reward the more thorough player and the options here have a great effect on later events.

There are loads and loads of encounters here, but Michael makes sure that they are all different, keeping the challenges fresh.  Such challenges involve working out a pattern involved with a set of numbers and also a particularly engrossing combat where you are able to lay traps (in the form of magical orbs) out in a corridor for your opponents before they get to you, and it is possible to kill them all if you put the orbs in a certain order.

Enough of the encounters.  There's more.  Just like the other two books, Destiny Quest takes part in a living breathing world that you can travel across and meet its many characters.  The prologue links the characters to both of the first books.  You are Prince Arran, a young sickly prince who has been sent to the northernmost outpost of the kingdom.  You are travelling with someone who was there in the first Shadow War (DQ 1) and you are there to fend off the Wiccans (DQ 2).  However, before the prologue even ends, there is an assassination attempt on you as the church tries to seize the throne.  The Wiccans interrupt, along with the demon that the hero from DQ2 has become, and you manage to flee.  However, you don't survive the harsh weather of the cold north, but, like Destiny Quest, Death is not the end.  You wake up in the northern castle, as a member of the undead (making you immortal) and this is where your real adventure begins.

He's not screaming.  He's just singing really enthusiastically.
Although you are immortal in this book, you do get penalties for dying too many times, so you can't just .throw yourself at monsters until you win.  You have to actually approach encounters with some thought.

At the moment, the castle has fallen, and there does not seem to be other survivors.  I'm currently exploring the north, looking for a way home so that I can get the throne back.  Of course, this being Destiny Quest, where the endings to the heroes so far have made the ending to Diablo look cheerful, I'm not sure that it's quite going to go to plan.  But Michael has three more books to write, so we are yet to see were the story will climax.

In short, buy Destiny Quest 3.  It's the best one so far, and it is going to give you hours of entertainment as you slay your way to greatness.

You can buy Destiny Quest 3:  The Eye of Winter's Fury for £8.57 in paperback form or for £6.64 for the Kindle edition from Amazon.

Michael will be at Collectormania in Milton Keynes on the 16th-18th May and also Nine Worlds Geekfest at the Radisson Heathrow on the 8th-10th August.