Sunday, April 26, 2015

Inspiration for gamebooks - Iron Heroes

Iron Heroes  is a D20 RPG created by Monte Cooke.  It has some similarities to Dungeons and Dragons,
but its setting is distinctly low magic.  However, it is not simply Dungeons and Dragons with the magic removed; rather, new classes and rules have been created in order to make play more awesome than ever.  Out of the 10 classes available, only two are not combat specialists and only one of the two is a magic user and that one is totally optional.  These combat specialists have abilities that make them far better than any Dungeons and Dragons barbarian.  The archer can pull of great feats of ranged attack.  The armiger can do powerful things with defensive abilities and the Man-At-Arms is so versatile, he can actually change feats if he wants.

This RPG was a good inspiration for me in many ways.  First of all, it showed me that removing magic from a system did not necessarily mean making it less interesting.  It showed me good ways to make non magical characters a lot more interesting.  One of the ways that these characters are more interesting is that they are capable of stunts in combat.  A stunt is an action, not covered by the combat rules, that your character can attempt to make.  Examples from the book include throwing sand in your opponent's face, run along a narrow wall to maneuver around a foe or cracking open a keg of beer to send a stream of liquid into an opponent's face.  I can imagine that players having a great time thinking up creative stunts and then being able to boast about their victories over their foes.

This idea helped me greatly when I was writing my Tunnels and Trolls solos.  In Tunnels and Trolls, you could be a character that is not very good at combat, such as a rogue or a wizard, or even a citizen.  I did not want to exclude them from my solos with too many combats, but at the same time, I did not want to de-power the enemies so that the warriors could easily defeat them.  Which is why I created the option of doing stunts in a combat round.  Basically, each combat had the option of four skill tests, that may not have been based on combat based abilities.  In fact, I made sure that every ability had a chance to use a stunt.  My rules cover this idea in more detail.  This meant that even a wizard could use their skills to overcome a stronger foe.

The other great idea from Iron Heroes was the idea of grouping skills.  The RPG uses the same skills as .  However, Iron Heroes also has skill groups.  A skill group is a collection of related skills.  For example, the agility skill group covers balance, escape artist, and tumble, whilst the mysticism skill group covers concentration, decipher script, spellcraft and use magic device.  You can spend a skill point on a skill group rather than one skill and get bonuses in all the skills in that group. This mechanic helped me when working with Shane Garvey on the Adventurer system.  Gamebook systems have to be a lot simpler than most RPG systems so that the writer has less to think about when thinking about how a hero can get out of a situation and the reader can create a character in minutes.  We wanted the skills to be similar to RPGs, but not be so numerous, so I, inspired by the Iron Heroes RPG, I suggested that we have skills cover a multitude of things.
SRD Dungeons and Dragons, which means that it has about 40 skills.  Iron Heroes has those same skills, but it breaks them into groups.  If you choose to invest skill points in the group, you get bonuses for all the skills in the group, which made me realise that I could do something similar.

So there we are.  I have read many RPGs and played several games that have helped me with gamebook systems and I will be talking about others in future posts.

Happy gamebooking!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

April A to Z - V is for very good apps from Cubus games

 
You have managed to find a wide range of authors for your apps. How did you select them?
 
On one hand, by searching for the gamebook websites, blogs, game reviews, etc. we could find many interesting authors. On the other hand, other fiction writers got in touch with us from different countries (United States, England, Scotland, Spain, Russia, New Zealand, Bulgaria...). Once both parts know the conditions of the agreement, the final selection is made by our content director, Jaume Carballo, after going deep into the idea, get the feelings, and balance the possibilities of the story as an interactive fiction app. 

You have modernised Dave Morris's book, Necklace of Skulls and turned it into an app. Do you have any plans for any other Dave Morris books?
 
It's a good question! I have to recognize that we are working on a project with Dave Morris that is going to be 'launched' this spring. We like the way he works and the stories he creates. He's a master. 

You have also turned Kyle B. Stiff's Heavy Metal Thunder series into apps. Do you intend to work with Kyle on his future books?
 
It's a possibility. I mean, Kyle B. Stiff's has his own style, beloved by the fandom, and it has been working very well in the stores. For these reasons, in certain way he's part of Cubus Games crew for future journeys! Anyway, Heavy Metal Thunder series haven't finished yet... There's more Cromulus adventures to come!

You have just done a presentation on fear in video games. Do you intend to make any more horror based apps like the Sinister Fairground?
 
We like horror, sci-fi, steampunk, fantasy... but we feel that now it's time to explore the darkest side of our minds... Jaume is really focused in psycho-thriller stuff right now and I know for sure that sooner or later we'll announce something related to it. We've already done a few brainstormings and testings, and I hope the final approach is near.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to make a gamebook into an app?
 
I would say, think in the app format and the possibilities that the device is offering, but also don't forget that if you don't have a good story, you don't have anything.

What future releases have you got planned?
 
Apart from some ideas about interactive storytelling that we are developing and testing in background (to be released soon), we are preparing a Kickstarter campaign to fund and promote the next 'gamebook app' release. We can talk about it in few weeks! ;)

Friday, April 24, 2015

April A to Z - U is for Underbyte studios

Howdy gamebook lovers! As you may or may not know, gamebook apps have fuelled the revival of the gamebook format and also smashed the boundaries of what gamebooks can do. And today, we have the people from Underbyte Studios to tell us about their latest project, Heroes Guard.

Underbyte Studios also have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed.
 
Tell us about your backgrounds?
I always wanted to work with video games, learning to program around the age of 13. Unfortunately "breaking into" the game industry is difficult, so I started off my career as software engineer in the defense industry. After about 8 years, I was lucky enough to land a job working on a AAA title: Elder Scrolls Online. It was a wonderful experience and taught me to not give up on pursuing my dreams. 

After launching the PC/Mac release of Elder Scrolls Online and helping to do console integration for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, I decided to set out to work on my own games. Actually my wife Colleen was a big proponent and really pushed me to further explore the opportunity. I can't imagine a more lucky man!

What influences did you draw from when you created Heroes Guard?
I grew up reading and loving Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was younger. It wasn't until much later through the App Store that I came to find out gamebooks even existed. I loved the game and role playing elements that they mixed into the story. I could have seen myself being thoroughly obsessed as a kid if I knew they existed!

Most of my interactive fiction reading these days comes from: Choice of Games, Inkle, Tin Man Games, and Cubus Games. More specifically, I have to tip my hat to Lucid who authored Life of a Wizard.

Some of the game is Zelda like and some has gamebook elements to it. How did you decide which parts of the game would have text and which parts would have graphics?
Hah! Zelda-like, that probably would be neat! But since the game is turn-based and text-heavy, I think it is probably best described as a hybrid of Choose-Your-own-Adventure, Magic: The Gathering, and table-top role playing.

Heroes Guard was always meant to be first and foremost an interactive fiction experience. All of the graphical and game-oriented parts are there to help the reader get more engaged into the story. For instance, how much gold the player had on his adventure: This could be a simple flat number, but instead I chose to create a bag of gold that spills over with coins. The more gold they have, the more the gold spills over. I feel that the player can become more entrenched in the story and world if they have a few of these elements to help get them there - but ultimately the fun is enhanced by the player's imagination!

Secondly, one thing I felt to be lacking in most of the interactive fiction I read was a strong sense strategy and replay-ability. The card game for large encounters gives the player some opportunity to win a fight "their way" and not just with the fate of a few dice rolls. The story-engine technology in Heroes Guard, coined Fate Spinner, also plays a key role in keeping the story fresh and new for each play through!

I played the demo version of the game. What features will the full game have?
Are you sure you've played a demo version of Heroes Guard? It is only in alpha and I've hand selected the few people who have gotten test copies. Although I would love to rope you in as the game nears beta (few months).

Some key features that make heroes guard different from most gamebooks and other interactive fiction are:
  • Fate Spinner Story-Engine: Story chapters, choices, characters, and locations are chosen by fate from a curated selection. Perhaps you were raised by hunters that found you as a child lost in the woods, or perhaps you were sold into slavery at a young age. Replay through Heroes Guard over and over and see what fate has spun for you!
  • Card-Battle System: Use the magic, weapons, and companions gathered through the story to defeat powerful foes. Perhaps you'll squash that giant spider with your war hammer or perhaps it's a better idea to blast it from afar with a fireball? Your choice, your strategy!
  • Dynamic Short-Stories: An interactive map with random locations and events is built by the Fate Spinner Story-Engine. Each event is a short-story that will put your strength, dexterity, intelligence, and charisma to the test! Careful, as each short-story can escalate if left unattended and eventually will consume the towns you are meant to protect. You must manage your choices well!
  • Life Chronicle: In Heroes Guard you are a old, weathered adventurer recalling all his past feats. You managed to live through everything fate could throw your way, but just how well did you fair when you did finally hang up your sword and shield? Perhaps you rose to power as a commander in the guard, or perhaps you lost it all and ended up as a beggar on the streets?
What can we see for the future?
For Heroes Guard, I'll continue to iterate on the features and content. I hope to get to beta-status within the next 2 or 3 months. For those in the area, Heroes Guard will be at the Too Many Games festival in Oaks, Pennsylvania on June 26-28! I'll also be applying to the Gamescape festival in Baltimore, MD that takes place from July 17-19. But, we'll see if I'm lucky enough to get a spot!

I would love to have guest writers for post-release updates, as the short-story mechanic makes it very simple to add additional content that is separate from the main story-lines.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

April A to Z - T is for Way of the Tiger - an interview with David Walters

Hello gamebook lovers! Today we have an author of many awesome books, who has recently turned his hand to producing awesome gamebooks - this is David Walters, writer of books 0 and 7 of the Way of the Tiger series.

You can find David's Amazon page here.

You've written lots of books with a Japanese/ninja feel. How did you feel when you were asked to do Way of the Tiger?
It felt like a natural progression from some of my other work, and a great honour as a fan of the series. I hadn't written a gamebook before so that was an added challenge. I wanted to explore more about Avenger testing out ninja skills, there were ways to do this that the series hadn't touched yet. Plus I wanted to get Avenger off that cliffhanger ending from book 6!
What kind of research did you do to do books 0 and 7?
I had a lot of research of Japanese mythology which I used for book 0, especially for the monsters, but was sure to give them an Orb twist. I had already fleshed out the Island of Plenty for the Orb RPG, so I used that too, drawing inspiration from some old travel books set in Japan. Orb is not meant to be an oriental setting, but this part if the world is and it was fun to detail it. I was knee to include a nightingale floor, a Jorogumo etc. to the series as it hadn't been done before.

For book 7 the main source material was book 6 and the Orb encyclopaedia, plus Talisman of Death. There's a paragraph in book 6 that specifically mentions other monsters in the Rift including plague trolls, and all those got a mention or appearance in book 7. A small but significant part of Talisman of Death was set in the Rift, and it was too good an opportunity not to link to it.

I also looked up people's favourite book of the series, and book 3 was a strong contender as it had genuine multiple paths and a fun ending of gathering support to overthrow the usurper - I used that as inspiration to write the city section of book 7.
There were lots of loose ends by the time you reached book 6. Were there any that you couldn't address in book 7?
There were a few loose ends from previous books that I didn't go back to, such as that Avenger could have caught lycanthropy in book 3.

I think I caught all the loose ends from book 6, I certainly meant to. There were so many permutations to draw together whilst still making decisions count. I had a fan saying they wished they had an alternate path to help Foxglove in book 7, and I understand that if you had kept her safe all through book 6, but given her treacherous nature I didn't think it should change the final outcome too much. She does have her moments in the book regardless.
What did you find harder to write - a prequel or a sequel?
The prequel was harder simply because I'd never written a gamebook before, but also it has to directly fit the rest of the series. For a sequel, even one with a lot of loose ends to tie up, at least you have a little more freedom to go in another direction. Ideally if there was a book 8 we could really innovate from a much cleaner slate.

Are there plans to release further Way of the Tiger books?
There is the Orb RPG coming this year, which not only allows you to run role-playing games but also has a huge amount of background material on the Way of the Tiger, a sourcebook if you like.

I'd like to write book 8 of the Way of the Tiger as Avenger's story isn't finished yet, those who read book 7 very closely may realise why, particularly where the gods were mentioned. The decision to sanction more books or not has still to be made by Mark Smith.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
The Orb RPG and my novels mostly, although a few other interesting options are available. If anything I have too much on, which is a nice position to be in!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

April A to Z - S is for sound based gamebooks (an interview with Matt Benson from the Pick Your Path podcast)

Hello all! Since the April A to Z has started, a new gamebook podcast has started. It is called Pick Your Path, by Matt Benson.  It has currently started a preview episode and the next episode is due in May. Matt has a very wide range of podcasts and other materials on his site, so check them out too.

Here is Matt...



My name is Matt Benson. I cofounded the Benview Network and host nearly half the shows on it. I've been writing creatively since I was 11 (I've gotten much better since then) and reading gamebooks even longer.

The Benview Network is a podcast collective that deals in both the creation of pop culture, with scripted shows like Midnight Marinara and Pick Your Path, and the criticism of pop culture, with review shows like Nerd's Eye View; shut up, leonard; and Comic Nerds Unite. It was founded by myself and Andrew Linde (also a writer for Pick Your Path) and is named after our first two podcasts, BENson's Boombox and the aforementioned Nerd's Eye VIEW.

I had really wanted to do a fully scripted show for a while. I was writing sketches for Benson's Boombox, but I wanted to something long form ever since I started listening to the Thrilling Adventure Hour. Every podcast I had heard before that was just a few people sitting in a room talking and then suddenly here was this scripted show that was funny and fantastic and every bit as good as something you'd see on TV or read in a comic, but it was a podcast. I so badly wanted to do that, but since they all ready did that, I had to think of something else. I remember also around this same time CYOA seemed to be having a bit of a resurgence. I know I was spending a lot of time on the You Chose Wrong tumblr. And then I read To Be Or Not To Be, Ryan North's excellent CYOA version of Hamlet. That's when I realized that this was something I could and desperately wanted to do as a podcast.

The structure will pretty much be the same as a CYOA book. Each episode will have a short introduction and then the story begins. Each episode will be a different scripted story that plays off the familiar tropes of CYOA, with chapters, like an audiobook so the listener can make choices. In the style of CYOA, it will be all ages friendly, but not without dire consequences. We tell parents who might want to listen with their kids to think of Doctor Who or Goosebumps in terms of gruesomeness. There will be music and the occasional sound effect and a whole lot of fun!

The first month's story is called "Don't Blow Up the Universe." I wrote it and in it, a couple of shadowy organizations contact you to let you know that your neighbor built a time machine. Your goal is to make it through the adventure without getting stranded in time or creating any paradoxes that blow up the universe (as the title suggests).

You can support us in all the classic ways that you support a podcast. Subscribe to us on iTunes, rate us, review us, that all helps us in the rankings and tell all your friends about us! 

I mentioned it earlier, it's To Be Or Not To Be by Ryan North. It's hilarious, prone to fanciful tangents, and, at times, provides intelligent and engaging commentary on the work of William Shakespeare. It's great, though I do feel a little guilty choosing a recent release as my all time favorite. My heart will always be with the original CYOA series, but it's so hard to pick one of those specifically since I read them all as a kid and now they all kind of bleed together in my mind.

I like a gamebook that goes in as many crazy directions as possible. If you can pick out two random pages and it's hard to tell if they came from the same book, that's a winner. Of course all the different threads should make sense, but a lot of my favorite memories with gamebooks involve accidentally turning to the wrong page and thinking, "How the heck did I get here?"

April A to Z - S is for Emily Short

Hello gamebookers! Today, we have a new addition to the April A to Z series and someone with her own Wikipedia page This is Emily Short, expert at interactive fiction. I'm so glad to be making steps into the interactive fiction world by interviewing Emily who has a fabulous blog.

> Tell us about yourself.

I work as a consultant in interactive narrative, mostly for video games but also sometimes for publishing and other types of creative projects. I got into this field through interactive fiction, which I've played since I was a young kid; I've been writing IF for about 15 years now. I also write a lot of reviews and other coverage of interactive storytelling, which you can find at emshort.wordpress.com.


> What is the best Interactive Fiction game you have played?


I really couldn't narrow that list down to a single game, but here are a few that are favorites of mine. (If you asked on a different occasion, you'd probably get a different list.)


ULTRA BUSINESS TYCOON III (Porpentine) -- Porpentine has written a lot of excellent IF, but I think this may remain my favorite because the ending is so personal and accessible, in contrast with the filigreed bonework style of a lot of her other writing (gorgeous; likely to cut you if you handle it at all). The trick of characterizing the protagonist via reactions to an old-school game is also beautifully handled.

Solarium (Alan DeNiro) -- This is masterfully horrific because, alchemy and superhuman characters aside, the scary thing it describes is true: there were fanatics during the cold war who did bring us close to destruction repeatedly, and who used the threat of nuclear disaster as justification for unethical experiments. It's also a structurally inventive piece of choice-based fiction with very good prose.

Even Cowgirls Bleed (Christine Love) -- A story about the personal dysfunction that undermines a relationship, told through a choice-based story with a bit of an arcade mechanic tucked in: you "shoot at", and thus select, whatever links your mouse passes over, and at a certain point in the game this may become more difficult to control than you might wish. Compact, effective, and highly personal; and a rare example of IF in which the UI itself is a critical part of telling the story.

Spider and Web (Andrew Plotkin) -- One of the best story-and-puzzle moments in all of interactive fiction, in which the protagonist does something that is not only surprising and clever but also has a profound effect on the other major character in the game. People talk a lot about the puzzle design here, but often I think in the process they undervalue how much of its success comes from the puzzle-story integration. There's something wonderful about solving this puzzle and getting a huge reaction out of the story.

Horse Master (Tom McHenry) -- Compellingly gross, with a very effective switch on what kind of story it's even going to be: it starts out feeling like a sim and winds up as a dystopian horror story about poverty and exploitation. One of the most viscerally powerful games I've played. Today I happen to give it a slight edge over Michael Lutz's My Father's Long, Long Legs, which could also have occupied this slot, because in Horse Master I was fooled into thinking maybe I could make things come out well, whereas in MFLLL I pretty much always realized things were going badly. But on a different day I might go the other way.

Fallen London (Failbetter Games) -- FL's size and structure are unique, providing a network of stories that you can sink into and inhabit for months or years. The content ranges from silly to horrific to affecting. People have often talked about the possibility of shared-world writing in the IF space, but this is one of the few to actually pull it off, since FL's contents and related games have been worked on by many authors over the years. (* Disclaimer: I've written for FL myself; otoh, my contributions are a drop in the ocean, and I was not involved in any of the original design.)

Make It Good (Jon Ingold) -- Very difficult, but with superb good puzzle/story integration. Characters pay attention to every little thing you do, and everything they notice matters; solving the story requires thinking deeply about the NPCs and their motives and probable reactions, then manipulating them to get the results you want. They seem to have their own inner life, purposes, and goals, to a degree very rarely found in IF.

80 Days (Meg Jayanth/inkle) -- Grand, beautiful, polished, with lots of lovely individual tales that weave together over replays, describing a world full of very different people with a wide variety of individual concerns. One of the most truly replayable pieces of IF out there, and a success of commercial IF in the modern era.


> What makes a good Interactive Fiction Game?

This really varies from one game to another. Some games are great because they have difficult but fair puzzles; other games are great despite having no puzzles at all, instead offering strong writing, a compelling story, or a particular emotional experience that you couldn't get elsewhere.

I've written some here ( http://xyzzyawards.org/?p=386) about qualities of a good puzzle.


> What IF games would you recommend to people who want to see what IF is about?

There are multiple kinds of interactive fiction — parser IF, which is the descendant of text adventures like Zork, where the player has to type something to make progress, and choice-based IF, which is more like a CYOA where you click options to proceed. There are also a few interesting hybrids that use interfaces combining elements of both — but those are more of a rarity.

For choice-based IF, this list contains some good material: http://ifdb.tads.org/search?sortby=ratu&newSortBy.x=0&newSortBy.y=0&searchfor=tag%3A+cyoa

Parser IF is usually a bit more challenging than choice-based IF, so not all highly-rated parser games are necessarily going to be ideal for someone just starting out. But there are some games that were designed to be friendly to novice players: http://ifdb.tads.org/search?searchfor=tag%3A+beginners&searchgo=Search+Games

Those wanting to dig a little deeper into what the IF community considers canonical might want to check out http://ifdb.tads.org/viewcomp?id=p6s9uem6td8rfihv — this is a list of the "top 50 IF games" as voted on by the intfiction bulletin board. It's skewed in favor of parser IF and is obviously a matter of opinion, but the games on this list tend to be things that the intfiction community talks about a lot or regards as touchstones. You can get more background about why people voted the way they did in the discussion thread at http://www.intfiction.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=17422 .


> What systems or programming languages would you recommend for people starting out with Interactive Fiction?

Twine is very popular for people who want to write primarily hypertext-style choice-based games. You can make a basic Twine piece with very little technical experience — check out http://twinery.org/ for the tool and forum links. Games made in Twine can be hosted for free on http://philome.la/ , so you don't need your own website to share your work with the world.

If you want to write some parser-based IF where the player will actually be typing commands to interact, Inform 7 is probably the most widely used and supported system available. You can find the system at http://inform7.com/ (or at the Mac App Store, if you're an Apple user) and get support at http://www.intfiction.org/forum/viewforum.php?f=7 . In addition, Carolyn VanEseltine has some recent, up-to-date tutorials for getting started with Inform: http://www.sibylmoon.com/game-dev-resources/


> What tips would you offer for someone who wants to write an Interactive Fiction game?

If you're starting on your first interactive fiction piece, try to keep your project reasonably small: you'll want something where you can see some progress and have a hope of completing the thing in a reasonable time.

Don't be afraid to ask for technical help. For that matter, don't be afraid to ask for design help and alpha-testing. Getting someone to have a look at your work in progress can be extremely useful, as well as morale-boosting.

> There is a lot of Interactive Fiction on the internet including an active community and competitions. Where do you think someone can start in the world of Interactive Fiction?

To get in touch with the community, try the forum at http://www.intfiction.org/forum. From there you can find out about local meetup groups, as well, if you're interested in that.

To read blog posts, including a lot of reviews and news, check out the feed aggregator at http://planet-if.com/ (and feel free to have your own blog aggregated there if you're writing about IF!)

ifwiki ( http://www.ifwiki.org/index.php/Main_Page ) contains a lot of useful information about past and present projects; in particular the Craft page ( http://www.ifwiki.org/index.php/Craft ) provides some design help for people learning the ins and outs of IF development.

IFDB contains links to a lot of games; it's a great place to look for things to play and for things that might be similar to a project you're working on yourself. http://ifdb.tads.org/ . Among other things, IFDB contains tags that can help you find particular types of game (the tag cloud is at http://ifdb.tads.org/showtags ), and you can also start your own poll to ask other users for recommendations of a particular game style.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April A to Z - R is for revivals - an interview with Dave Morris

Hello all! Sorry for the delay - I didn't write an intro before it came out, but here we go.

Dave Morris has written/co-written tons of gamebooks including the fabulous Fabled Lands series (book 7 in the works!), Virtual Reality books, Bloodsword, Keep of the Lich Lord and he has also created the Dragon Warriors RPG.

You can find hte Fabled Lands blog here. Take a look at the gamebooks in the bookstore too. For starters, I would recommend in my humble opinion the best gamebook out there, Heart of Ice.

You have republished a lot of your old gamebooks. Do you think you will write a new gamebook?
Never say never, right? I think any interactive story I produce in future would be designed as an app, so it may be questionable how much you could call it a gamebook. I have a couple of audio gamebooks in the planning stage. I just need to find a coder for those, and actors and an audio guy. They’d be very different from the gamebook apps that are out there at the moment, though, and I don’t know if there’s a market for that.
I also started work with Leo Hartas on a very ambitious gamebook app set in the world of Legend that I created for Dragon Warriors. It’s actually more of a tablet RPG than a gamebook. Think of something like Sorcery, where you’re moving your character around the map, but it’s more zoomed in and there’s a real plotline going on with multiple NPCs. So you don’t just have an encounter and move on – you’re finding clues, going back to talk to characters, returning to locations. All this while the clock is ticking. I’ll tell you what it’s like: a gritty, medieval, low-fantasy The Last Express.
The snag is that we’ve got a coder who only gets time to tinker with it in between other jobs, so although I’ve written quite a chunk of it I can’t say if or when it’ll all be put together.

#
 
Paul Gresty is currently writing the next Fabled Lands book. How is that going?
Just great. Paul has more cool ideas than he has time to work on, so we’re pretty lucky that he cleared his schedule to do this.
I’m also roping Paul in to write a new gamebook app that I’ve planned in partnership with Cubus Games. There’s going to be a Kickstarter campaign for that running throughout April. It’s partly steampunk (that whole aspect of it is coming from Cubus and Paul) mixed in with an RPG universe of my own creation, which originally was conceived as Regency/Victorian SF and not steampunk at all. But everything has to be a known genre these days, especially to get any traction on Kickstarter. If it wasn’t steampunk it would have to be Cthulhu.
The gamebook is based on my Frankenstein's Legions universe, which was originally created for a PC RTS back when I was working at Eidos around 2000. It later evolved into much more of a character-based mission game (Dynasty Warriors meets GTA in a Regency setting) and later still into a movie script and a comic book. Then I hired John Whitbourn to write a novel set in the Frankenstein's Legions world, where England and France are at war in the mid-1800s using technology that allows them to stitch together the bodies of the dead and resurrect them for battle.
As I said, Cubus want this (renamed The Frankenstein Wars) to have a steampunk flavour, which isn't what the concept was originally about, but that's fine by me as I've had to bow out anyway to work on another project, so Paul Gresty will bring the FW airship in to land. I have given Paul about 50,000 words of notes, background info and storylines, including the complete movie treatment, so he's got a lot more to work with already than he has for The Serpent King's Domain.

#
Are there any issues with continuing a series after such a long hiatus?
I’ll admit that I never quite get why there’s so much demand for more Fabled Lands books. Jamie and I would love to have completed the series back then in the ‘90s, but the publisher called a halt then, and if I sat down to write something similar now I’d start over with a new setting and try to evolve the concept a bit. Fallen London and 80 Days have already moved on a long way with the same basic gamebook structure as we used in FL, so why try to step back in the same river?
We also have the problem that there is no single ongoing plot, character or timeline. The whole point of Fabled Lands is that it’s a sandbox environment where you can pick your own goals and have hundreds of adventures. So we can’t move the story on twenty years the way I gather Joe Dever did with Lone Wolf. New FL books just make the world bigger really, like additional levels in an open-world CRPG. But that’s what the fans want – or, at any rate, the Kickstarter campaign will tell us if that’s so.

#
 
How much input have you and Jamie had to this new book? 
We’ve given Paul our old notes and some story ideas, and he’s showing us what he’s doing, so we can give him as much feedback as he asks for. But I have a dictum that the surest way to kill a project is to have too many people in the creative loop, so mostly we’re keeping out of Paul’s way and letting him drive the project.

#
The Keep of the Lich Lord has been republished as a Fabled Lands adventure. Do you have plans to write/modify existing books to make more adventures?
I would if there were any left that we could adapt that way. The only standalone gamebook I haven’t yet re-released is Eye of the Dragon. I was holding that back because I feel it that in a post-Witcher era it needs much more work done on the player-character’s background. That “here’s your adventure” ethic of ‘80s gamebooks looks really old today. But would Eye of the Dragon work as a “Fabled Lands Quest”? I suppose it could be done as an adventure for a Dweomer scholar. But what if you didn’t want to be that kind of character? 

#
Necklace of Skulls has been released as an app. Do you have plans for more book releases as apps?
We’d love to do the Fabled Lands series as apps. If you think about it, Sorcery was only ever designed as a traditional linear quest, and yet that works pretty well as apps. FL, as an open world where you can travel anywhere you like, is really crying out for that kind of treatment. But the world has only one Inkle – and, truth be told, I’d rather see an FL app go more towards Diablo anyway. It’s not literary the way my Frankenstein app was, so why retain the text at all? Really we need to find a CRPG developer to work on it with us.
Tin Man is going to be releasing a couple of apps based on the Way of the Tiger books at some point. Jamie wrote lots of new flavour text so that every kick/punch/block combo is completely unique – so as text-based gamebook apps go, that should be pretty special.
We’re also talking about some apps based on the two-player Duel Master gamebooks that Jamie wrote with Mark Smith, but it’s early days for that project just yet. Really early, in fact – I sent Jamie an email about getting it under way just before replying to your questions here.

#
Are you going to write any more interactivised versions of classic books for Inkle?
Actually, I wrote Frankenstein for Profile Books. Everybody thinks Inkle were the publisher, but their role was providing the writing tools and the art – and a very lovely job they made of that, by the way. Later on, the toolset had a neat pull-down menu interface added, but I got it at the valves-&-wires stage, so I was just given a list of markup codes and I wrote the whole gamebook straight into Word putting the markup in as I went. I didn’t even do a flowchart. I’ve done so many gamebooks that all just unfurls itself in my head as I write. Then I’d send the text file off to Inkle, they’d compile it in their engine – and I could do the same with the copy of the engine they gave me. I think there might have been one error in the whole 150,000 word file. (And how sad it is that I’m boasting about something like that?)
But you asked about doing more interactive classics. I pitched the classics concept originally to Profile Books as a series, but they wanted the follow-up after Frankenstein to be Dracula. I wasn’t interested in doing that. Frankenstein is a genuine literary classic, Dracula is just a good horror adventure yarn. They’re only linked by the Universal and Hammer movies; as novels they are light-years apart.
Instead I wanted to do either The Odyssey as an epic poem – well, an interactive epic rap song, really – or a very loose take on Kafka’s The Trial. Neither of those appealed to Profile – though I have to say that, although getting people to read The Odyssey might have been a hard sell, the concept I had in mind for the Kafka story was exactly the sort of left-field experimental literary approach that Profile are supposed to specialize in. They rightly realized, however, that there’s a lot more money to be made in videogames than in interactive literary fiction!

#
How about Dragon Warriors? Will there be any new releases for that?
Currently the print RPG rights in Dragon Warriors are licensed out to a company called Serpent King Games (no relation to the seventh Fabled Lands book) but unfortunately SKG have been dormant if not stone cold for the last few years so there have been no new Dragon Warriors releases. That said, we had a pretty good innings when the rights were with James Wallis’s Magnum Opus Press, and I’m hoping that eventually we can get all the beautiful new edition books that James masterminded back into print.
And there’s the Legend-based interactive story I mentioned earlier, of course. Leo and I don’t quite know what to call that. Map-driven gamebook? Tablet RPG? Sandbox narrative? Visual novel? I guess putting a name on it is the least of our development worries…

#
You have a very eclectic knowledge base – a science degree coupled with an extensive knowledge of myth and history from many cultures. Are there any books that you could recommend?
Thirty-some years after college, I still think of myself as a physicist. The Feynman Lectures are pretty awesome, and I think they’re all online these days. I’ll read anything by Richard Dawkins, but my favourite is Climbing Mount Improbable. I need to find time for Jim Al-Khalili’s Life on the Edge and Frank Wilczek’s The Lightness of Being. Science is a moving target, of course. You have to keep up or everything you thought you knew is out of date. Which is what I like about it, in fact.
I have whole shelves bent under the weight of mythology books – which, as books go, tend to be the real heavyweights. If you’re in training, try lifting Anthony S Mercatante’s Encyclopedia of World Mythology & Legend and Henri L Joly’s Legend in Japanese Art. Less likely to cause microfractures and torn ligaments: Jacqueline Simpson’s Scandinavian Folktales and Katharine Briggs’s Dictionary of Fairies.
As for history books, I turn often to G G Coulton’s Medieval Panorama and Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England when designing Dragon Warriors scenarios. And for role-playing in general – which is to say, the subject of absolutely everything – I recommend Humanity by Peoples & Bailey; the second edition is the best.

#
Do you have any other plans for future gamebook/Dragon Warriors releases?
Other than the apps I already talked about, I’d like to find time to write Jewelspider, which is the world of Legend six hundred years on from Dragon Warriors. Smallswords and flintlocks, no steampunk. But wait – didn’t I bring the game universe to an end with Doomsday on the first dawn of the second millennium? Oh, that’s a detail.