Sunday, January 7, 2018

Destiny Quest IV: The Raiders of Dune Sea Kickstarter is now live!

Good news everybody! Remember the Destiny Quest series, that awesome epic series where you could become a warrior, mage or rogue and equip yourself with loads of cool gear and get loads of abilities and face massive monsters in great quests? 

Well, there is a fourth book in the works! Wooo! And it's currently live on Kickstarter! Just 25 Euros will bag you one of these doorstoppers which will give you hours upon hours of fun.

And if you need more information, here is an interview with the author himself, Michael J. Ward.

What can you tell us about the Dune Sea? 

It’s big and full of sand.

Sorry, joking aside, it’s a vast region to the south of Valeron (the kingdom where previous books have taken place), which has its own capital, religion and culture. The main hero is a sell-sword who ends up travelling into these desert lands to seek out adventure… and to settle a debt.

With each book in the DestinyQuest series I try and set the story in a different type of environment. Since I began the first book I’ve always wanted to do an adventure that has an Arabian/Egyptian feel – I even allude to the ‘Dune Sea’ of the title in The Legion of Shadow, when you meet the ghostly crusader in Act 1. Having already explored jungles and polar regions, it felt it was high time to take our adventures to sunnier climes – and it fits in well with the story that I wanted to tell. A very big story as it turns out!

Each book in the DestinyQuest series feels as though it has its own tone and feel. The Eye of Winter’s Fury, for example, was quite dark and adult compared to previous ones. How have you approached the latest volume in the series? Does it get darker?

I don’t necessarily set out with the goal of making a book ‘darker’, those decisions sort of arise from the main character and their journey, and also the type of environment that they are in. I think Legion and Heart of Fire were very ‘high fantasy’ and probably had quite a ‘gung-ho’ attitude to the storytelling, whereas Winter’s Fury I felt that the character was on a much more dramatic and introspective journey – obviously his circumstances and condition (which I can’t go into cos, spoilers…) feeds into that. I also had a lot of things going on with my personal life at the time, which I daresay influenced the more sombre tone of the writing. I still think Winter’s Fury is my best writing to date.

I think Book Four certainly has a very adult tone, but I would not necessarily call it ‘dark’. I think this one is set in more violent world – so the attitudes of characters are more blunt and pragmatic. Some might label that as ‘Grim Dark’ and I’m fine with that. But I think the book has not lost its high fantasy elements, although I do think – out of all the books so far – this may be the most grounded in terms of characters and their (often broken) hopes and dreams. I’m very proud of this work, but certainly it’s a gamebook for adults not children.  

As fans of the series will know, no-one is safe in the DestinyQuest world. Can we expect a high death count?

Oh yes, the environments and scenarios in Book Four are pretty brutal. Act One is set around the Badlands, which is kind of a lawless frontier between Valeron and Khitesh. It’s a place where pretty much anything goes, and morality is just a word – not a code to live by. Similarly, the Dune Sea is full of scheming factions that will give no quarter to obtain what they want. You represent someone who must navigate these dangerous tides and decide for yourself who you should side with. It’s quite a massive jump from the early books where choices were relatively simple (and in Legion, some might say lacking entirely!). This is a book about people. And how you interact with those people. You create your own moral code.

Will we meet any returning characters – and what can you tell us about them and their involvement in the hero’s adventure?

This book has many returning characters, mostly from Legion if I’m being honest – and these are characters that will already be well-known to existing fans. But your hero (by in large) will not know them or have any previous interactions with them, so that creates an interesting dynamic. It also throws plenty of surprises into the mix. Obviously I can’t elaborate without spoiling the story.  

Is it helpful/essential to have played previous books?

Not at all. I have to accept that this could be people’s entry book into the series, and I am fine with that and almost encourage it – as I feel the books have improved tenfold with each successive edition. As I mentioned previously, yes there are returning characters – and there will be many things referenced from previous books – but they will not disadvantage a new player in any way, they merely provide depth for those who have read previous books and are committed to the lore.

For the first time in the series, you are splitting a single story/adventure into two books. Was this a difficult decision and what challenges has this presented?

It wasn’t difficult because I really had no choice. I guess this story has been gestating for many years, so I have had time to develop it and think about all the twists and turns, the characters, the nuances. Once I started writing, I did find it tricky to pick a starting point, but once I began developing the Badlands and Act One, I perhaps got a little carried away – and once I hit Act Two I realised that I really did not have the remaining word count and pages to tell the full story, or at least do it justice.

So rather than hack it apart and create something that would be unsatisfactory, both for myself and readers, I decided to just split it across two books, so that I could write the story that I want to tell and not compromise too much. I daresay I will get criticized from some quarters for the decision, but I feel Raiders of Dune Sea still has a beginning, middle and end – and segues quite nicely into the next book.

So, readers will be carrying their hero from the end of this book into the next one? Will they get to keep all of their abilities and items?

Of course. I won’t be pulling any tricks to suddenly rob you of all your hard work. Your character begins the next book with everything that they have gained and achieved. That also means, for the first time, we will be taking heroes to new heights of power – as this will be a four act adventure once the two books are combined.

When writing The Eye of Winter’s Fury, you commented that you found it challenging to work to a two act structure (as opposed to three in the other books). What influenced your decision to have a two act structure in this book?

When I made the decision to split the book, I no longer needed a third map – so the book became focused around the two environments (the Badlands and the Dune Sea). I’ve not found this one such a struggle (as I did with Winter’s Fury), maybe because I have more confidence in knowing exactly where the story and characters are going, so I can sort of fashion the story better to give the right beats and structure.

What is your favourite new feature of Book Four?

Hmm, good question. That depends. From a narrative perspective I would say the choices. I’ve tried to offer much more choice in the quests and adventures, to hopefully throw up interesting dilemmas and challenge readers. Out of all the books, this one probably has the most complex decision trees.

From a gaming point-of-view, I would probably say the new abilities and careers. They are much more focused around distinct styles of play. Everything should feel fresh and new, even when playing around with old abilities and combos. This book kind of brings everything together then multiples it by 100.

When writing previous books you have often mentioned the heartache of having to cut out sections and edit down your work. So far, have there been any parts of this book that you’ve found difficult to let go?

Because of splitting up this story into two books, there has been less stress when it comes to fitting everything in, but even so I have had to constantly pare back on some scenes and decision elements, because otherwise you would just end up with a 1000 page paper weight. Part of my decision to divide up the story was to ensure that I could develop the quests and encounters much more than previous books. I think the average quest in Book Four is probably at least twice the size of those in earlier books. Sure, I always wish I could do more, but you have to be realistic. 

Is this the biggest DestinyQuest book?

I haven’t quite finished the writing yet , but I would put my neck out and say yes – it will be the biggest book in the series. Perhaps not by much (I hope), but it will certainly be pushing it for biggest gamebook ever.

How have you approached the different paths and careers in this book? Are there any unexpected surprises?

I went completely back to basics, stripped back all the paths (warrior, mage and rogue) and set about working out what makes each path unique and different. From there, I then worked out how I wanted the paths to play and developed two key builds for each path; builds that I wanted to fully support with a plethora of abilities. So that starting point completely influenced the development of the abilities.

As I near the end of the writing, I still have to fully playtest the game aspects – and yet I have already seen how there might be other builds and combos that can come out of the existing ability selection. This book, more than ever, will give readers the ‘sand box’ tools to make incredible heroes.

Combat has always been at the heart of each DestinyQuest book. Has it been difficult balancing all these new abilities?

I’ll tell you when I’ve playtested it all!

I always prefer to write a book first, and fill it with placeholder enemies (based on what I think would make a challenging encounter at that level) and stats for items. Once I am happy with the story, then I set aside a heap of time to get into the nitty gritty of playtesting. I’ve had experience of three previous books now, so I have a good sense of what is going to work and what might ‘break’ the game, but you can never tell until you truly get playing.

I’ve made this a difficult one for myself as there are probably more items and abilities in Book Four than any other DQ book, so the combos and possibilities are pretty mind blowing. But then, I think that’s a cool thing – to hand over this over to the fans and be like ‘okay, go for it – show me what you can come up with’. There will always be some crazy build or combo that you could never second guess. I don’t mind that. I just want people to have fun and enjoy the experience.  

Players have often commented that the combats in Book Two and Three are a lot easier than Book One. How do you decide on the difficulty for each book? How will Book Four compare?

Book One I made far too brutal, with long combats that I’d almost describe as a bit of a grind – with a lot of luck required. Since then, I prefer to write and develop combats that are challenging, but you also have the tools to win. They are about strategy and item management, rather than being lessons in patience and torture!

With quest combats, I like to strike the fine line between being fun and also challenging, but not making them roadblocks that could halt an entire reader’s progression through the content. However, with legendary monsters (and the new dungeon delves), you can push the boat out a little and make encounters that are a little more hardcore. They’re optional, so casual players can simply skip them if they find them above their patience or skill levels – but for the dedicated they offer a chance to test out your very best builds and powers, in an effort to gain that extra awesome piece of loot.
This is the first DestinyQuest book to have its own Kickstarter. What can you tell us about the Kickstarter?

The Kickstarter campaign is being run by Megara Entertainment so it is really their thing, although I will obviously be contributing with lots of exciting and informative updates to reveal more about the new book and its exciting features.

There will also be a selection of loot cards available as part of the Kickstarter, which are collectible cards that each feature a special item of loot that is not available in the book. I imagine that Megara will have other surprises in store too – so be sure to check out the project page once it is live.

The Kickstarter will be running from 10 January to 10 February. It would be amazing if gamebook fans could get behind the campaign and pledge their support. I would really love to keep writing these books and finish the story that I began all those years back with The Legion of Shadow. Here’s hoping!

And finally if you could sum up Book Four in just a few words what would they be?

Big. Daring. Choices.

Oh and loot! Lots and lots of loot!

 You can back Destiny Quest book 4 here:


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year! And Where have I been?

Happy new year, gamebookers! It's been a great year, both in the gamebook world and in the world of real life!

I haven't personally updated for a while. Peter Agapov has made some great posts recently that really explore gamebooks to their core, so I suggest you definitely give those posts a good read through.

What have I done recently?

Most of my projects this year have involved finishing things that I had started a while ago.

I decided to write the reboot of Coils of Hate because I read it when I was 10 and thought it was a great idea. I later realised that there were a few problems with it, so I decided to clean it up, using the best bits and adding a few bits to help. You can get it for free from RPGNow.

This is a Tunnels and Trolls solo using the new Deluxe rules which is for any class and any level (it also includes rules on how to do that). This book is all about a quest where you can make your own magic weapon with whatever powers you want. The weapon will also get more powerful as you go up in level, so it is designed to stick with you throughout your life. You can get it for PWYW from RPGNow.

Advanced Fighting Fantasy adventures

I finally finished off and cleaned up all of my adventures to fit all of the rules with the expansions. You can find all of them for free by clicking the link above.

Advanced Fighting Fantasy collection of stuff

This is a collection of all my house rules for Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd edition. You can get it for free by clicking the link above.

A secret project

I can't talk about it. It's a secret. I'll tell you when it's out.

What do I want to do in 2018?

I have two three gamebook ambitions for 2018 and I just achieve these, I'll be happy.

1) Complete a gamebook I am working on with Jeffrey Dean. It's gonna be a long one.
2) Actually write Rulers of the NOW - a book I wrote a sample for in 2012 for the Windhammer competition and over the years, I have made tons of notes and collected lovely pictures for it and now I need to write it. It's going to be a very long one.
3) Relearn how to use underlines on Blogger. I've managed to open a window showing the source for this page four times. This will be the hardest to achieve.

What happened to all of my posts?

Several things happened this year in RL. I left my day job and now I get my income from various random sources, which, while more liberating, means that I had to work harder to get the work done. This is combined with the fact that I finally run out of posts from my stockpile that I built up from 2010 (I had 20 years worth of thoughts on gamebooks and gaming before that). I have other thoughts, but I need to write them down. I also need to revisit old thoughts and refine them with my experience of writing gamebooks since then.

In the future...

There's a gamebook Kickstarter coming out in early January, so save your pennies. There will be a post about it in just over a week. Keep your eyes peeled...

Monday, December 18, 2017

"Fog of War" and Logical Conclusion Choice

Note: "Fog of War" is terminology established by Ashton Saylor in his blog on Gamebook Theory. Unfortunately, he never came up with a specific step by step formula on how to apply the fog of war in a gamebook, so I decided to try analyzing the whole process and arrived at the theory of the Logical Conclusion Choice. While this is, by my own account, the greatest of my achievements in the game design theory, please look at it as a suggestive process instead of an exact science.

Keep in mind that not all the steps listed below are my own invention. On the contrary, most of them have been discussed in depth by other authors and designers, but nobody (as far as I know) has presented them in a form that is clearly defined and easy to apply when writing a gamebook adventure.

I believe that the father of Logical Conclusion Choice is Michael Mindcrime (a nickname of Dimitar Slaveikov). According to his own words, he was disappointed by the arcade approach of blind decisions and random choices in the well established series "Fighting Fantasy" and "Choose Your Own Adventure" and started writing gamebooks back in the 1990s, implementing some innovative ideas, where the choices were based on strong logic and therefore positive outcome of the adventure was a direct result and in direct proportion to the reader's performance quality. He quickly became the best selling author in the genre of gamebooks in Bulgaria and some of his work reached the top of bestseller book charts in the country.

To better illustrate the process below, let me once again use the example of a Logical Conclusion Choice I presented in my last blogpost: The protagonist is crossing a wide open field. There are mountains in the distance to the west, with visible caves carved in them. A dark, almost black, thunderstorm front is approaching fast from the east. The choice is between running for the caves or seeking shelter under a nearby tree.

Lets dissect the above example!

Part 1. Hide the danger by applying the 'fog of war'

1. Danger. Design the danger your protagonist would be facing: being hit by a lightning. At the moment, this choice is between being hit by a lightning or taking shelter in the caves: this is a cake or death (too obvious) choice and no self-respecting author would write it in this very form.

2. Clues and Hints. Take the exact wording out of the text and replace it with clues and hints: don't mention a lightning in the text, but provide clues and hints by listing the conditions, under which the danger may exist or occur: thunderstorm, wide open field, the tree is the only tall object in the vicinity. Note: You don't have to start out from a loss point of view. Instead, write a paragraph with a specific gain in mind. Example: dead body with a bag of gold coins next to it. Hide it by writing that there are vultures circling high in the air, far away in the distance. Now, keep in mind that, this is also a warning of a possible grave danger awaiting there, so the outcome, positive or negative, is still a matter of chance, not the result of an informed decision. To avoid such randomness in your gamebooks, adjust the difficulty of the choice, using the steps listed below.

Part 2. Adjust the difficulty of the choice accordingly

3. Move clues and hints. Move some of the clues and hints to previous paragraphs: if you need to make the choice more difficult, move some of the conditions to a previous paragraph. Example: mention wide open field and the lonely tree in the same paragraph as the choice, but move the information of the approaching thunderstorm to a previous paragraph. This step increases the difficulty of the choice by measuring the attention and the memory of our readers.

4. Inform the Reader. Make the dilemma a little bit easier: inform the reader that the tree can't provide full protection against the forces of nature (this is a wide term that doesn't directly hint towards a lightning) and let him guess and decide what those forces could be and how much damage they could possibly cause. Note that without this step, the player could be tricked into making the wrong choice and that is something an experienced author would never do to his readers.

5. Partially Reveal. Make the choice harder: if we stop at the previous step, the choice could be a little bit too easy (which could be acceptable early in the adventure), so we may want to adjust it to more difficult (especially later in the adventure) by forcing the reader to choose the lesser evil from two bad outcomes. To do so, we could reveal that if he decides to run for the caves, he will suffer the loss of 10 points of health due to exhaustion. Alternatively, we can design paragraphs where the player chooses the greater good from two or more positive outcomes. The dilemma is now similar to a lot of everyday choices we face, where one of the outcomes is well defined and expected, while the other outcome could be better or worse due to unknown or unforeseen factors.

6. Adjust Further. Adjust the difficulty further by mixing and matching more of positive or negative clues in step 4 and step 5 as much as you think is necessary. Why not adding some positive to each negative like this: there could be provisions or gold left under the tree by other travelers, who took shelter under it or rested there, but at the same time, there are probably artifacts hidden in the mountain caves. See what we did back there? "A thunderstorm is approaching fast. There could be provisions or gold left under the tree by other travelers, but it can't provide full protection against nature's forces. However, if you run for the caves, you'd lose 10 points of health due to exhaustion, but you've heard that there are artifacts hidden in the mountain. Do you take shelter under the tree or do you run for the caves?". Now we have a choice between the lesser of two evils and the greater of two goods. How about mixing them in order to make the choice less obvious? The lesser evil provides the greater good and vice-versa. Actually, to make the above example more difficult, I would move the information about the artifacts to an earlier paragraph, where another person tells you a legend that there are artifacts in the mountains and I wouldn't even mention them in the paragraph where the choice is.

Part 3. Provide deserved feedback after the choice was made

7. Explain Yourself to the Reader. Very limited number of authors inform their readers how and why the consequences of each choice are in direct proportion to the performance and logic during gameplay. It wouldn't hurt to tell the player that while he is running for the caves, a lightning hits the tree under which he had a chance to seek shelter. While subtle enough, that information provides necessary feedback to the player that he chose wisely. In the opposite scenario, feel free to openly criticize the reader extensively for choosing to go under the tree. Inform him that he missed very important clues and tell him that he is running the risk of being hit by a lightning. Keep the feedback short when a good choice was made, but explain in detail why the player is being punished for a mistake he made. This is the only way to provide your readers the satisfaction that they are in control (the human creatures looooove to be in control) even when they are being punished and, and at the same time, teach them a lesson they may benefit from sometime in the future. Teach good and valuable lessons in your games! Being the adventure designer, you are the God of their game world. "With great power comes great responsibility". Use it wisely!

8. Punish or Reward Appropriately. Lets be fair, but also realistic: a lightning can't cause partial damage, it is a total annihilation event. Tell the reader to subtract 10 points of life due to exhaustion, if he chose to run for the caves (you promised him that in the previous paragraph), and also reward him with a magic sword, but don't tell him that the tree was hit by a lightning, if he decided to seek shelter under it, and then ask him to reduce his health points by 40 or so! That is simply not realistic. Instead, give the player some provisions, which he apparently found under the tree and then inform him that he made a mistake, so he will be facing the grave danger of being totally fried up. Then apply, what I call, the rule of God's Forgiveness.

9. God Forgives. Most authors agree that instant death in gamebooks should be reduced to a minimum. If the reader gets to a dead end, it must be the result of multiple bad mistakes and unsatisfactory performance (he dies only after he loses all points of health) or it should be a combination of extremely bad choice and unfortunate luck (the later approach is the God's Forgiveness approach). For the purpose of applying this rule, I suggest that the author tells his reader that, even though being hit by a lightning is a very likely outcome, the chance of it is only a 1/3 or 33% and then ask him to roll a die. If the roll is 1 or 2, the protagonist gets annihilated by a lightning in an instant death, but if the roll is greater than 2, God (the designer of this world) forgives the mistake and allows him to move on. I believe that most readers would see this as a very fair mechanic.

10. Add a layer of emotional and moral choices: Add more implications to make the choice more interesting: having two final goals in a gamebook instead of just one would be a great addition to the difficulty and will add another layer of game mechanics: balancing between two goals, which also provides a much greater replayability value. I love it when authors add a romance plot to another well defined ultimate goal. Let just say that the cop is not only asked to do good in the world and get to the mafia boss in town, but is also given a parallel plot of meeting a beautiful woman, whom he is supposed to attract. It should be nearly impossible to achieve both during the first read, but gaining more knowledge about the game world should allow the player to achieve complete success in both plotlines after a couple or three consecutive attempts. More on the subject of Emotional and Moral Choices could be found in the blog of Ashton Saylor here.

Classification of Hints and Clues:

General Knowledge or Storyline Specific. General Knowledge hint is a piece of information, which is assumed to be a well known fact in the real world. Example: lightnings strike during a thunderstorm. Storyline Specific clue is information received in the course of the adventure. Example: the village elder tells you that there are artifacts hidden in the caves up in the mountain.

A game could be a lot of fun and very sexy if well designed
Storyline Specific hints have two subcategories: Storyline Revelation and Immediate Paragraph hint. Storyline Revelation is information received sometime earlier in the adventure, which could be of help to the reader for the choice he is facing in a later paragraph. Example: while at the tavern, you hear a legend about a magic sword, which could be found in the cave to the left (use that information when you get to the mountains). Application: this kind of hint normally has a higher difficulty level and is used to measure the attention and memory of the player. Immediate Paragraph clue is information presented to the reader, directly related to the choice he is facing in the current paragraph. Example: there is an immediate danger of a thunderstorm front approaching very fast from the east. Application: this kind of hint usually has a lower difficulty level and doesn't require the use of memory, it measures only the reader's attention instead.

A very good alternative of Logical Conclusion Choices is the School Test Choice (Statistical Probability Choice), which is created by finding (in your memory or in a textbook) the correct answer to a question, modifying it to fit the gamebook storyline, coming up with the wrong answer(s) and then designing the outcome punishment and reward. Using this approach doesn't even require the application of hints and clues, the author could even openly warn his readers of the positive and negative outcomes. Example: "Our hero must hurry to the rescue of a beautiful princess, who is held captive in a cursed castle to the north. Should he go in the direction moss is growing on trees or the opposite way? Is moss growing on the north side or the south side of trees (given the adventure is taking place in medieval Europe)"? If the reader chooses South, we punish him by lowering his health 10 points due to being lost in the forest. If the reader goes North, we reward him with successfully finding the dame in distress.

The most difficult choice for every gamer: Save the World or Coin and Cleavage?
At the end of this post, I'd like to point out that Logical Conclusion Choice is one of many possible  mechanics in the genre of gamebook adventures. A book based entirely on Logical Conclusion Choices could feel like taking a test at school, bringing back some unpleasant memories. However, this kind of choice is one of the very limited amount of mechanics in the genre of gamebooks that keeps the player in full control over the outcome of the adventure. Al Toro pointed out that an author must never cheat the player into the wrong decision by applying false clues. He also criticized me that I didn't mention choices that are not absolute, where the same choice could be either good or bad depending on the current stats of the protagonist. That would be the Strategic Choice approach Ashton Saylor had already talked about and I strongly recommend reading his post on the subject. Before you go off wandering to his blog, let me point out that Strategic (also known as Tactical) Choices also require application of "fog of war", hints and clues, because it should never be too obvious which way the player should go, otherwise there is no choice, it is simple "if - then" statement.

The Adventure Map of Short Gamebook Adventure

Here is a very Short Gamebook Adventure designed entirely on Logical Conclusion Choice Theory. You can also follow the step by step process of creating it at my personal blog 

Please remember, whatever you do, don't ever make your readers feel that the final outcome is the unjustified result of pure chance and blind guessing rather than a product of good performance and informed decisions.

Peter Agapov
Game Designer

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Gamebook Mechanics: Meaningful Choices

In my last post on Gamebook Theory, I covered the basic structure of any game (input - test of performance - feedback) and compared the mechanics of gamebooks to the ones in the genre of video games, ultimately arriving to the conclusion that choices are the only possible active gamebook input method. The rest of the input such as rolling dice, keeping track of stats, skillchecks or even flipping pages, I insist to move to the passive mechanics category, because they don't provide means for measuring skills or performance and therefore they don't allow the player to influence the outcome of the adventure one way or another (except if you believe that you are very skilled at rolling and re-rolling dice or keeping track of previous paragraphs, just in case you decide to change your decisions later, but I call all that cheating).

Please, don't take the controls out of the reader's hands
All that being said, we can summarize that choices are in fact the single most important game mechanic in the genre of gamebook adventures. The writer may have a great story to tell, but without meaningful choices in the course of the adventure, the book is not a gamebook, it is just a book with multiple endings. Of course, the exact opposite, bunch of choices without any story, is just as bad, because the player isn't provided enough information through narrative to be able to make a good educated guess about the possible outcomes of the decisions he is going to make during the game. Just like everything else in life, the goal here is to achieve good balance between narrative and choices.

I remember reading an article on writing gamebooks some time ago, which was listing the struggles new authors in the genre run into. To my surprise, I found out that most of them were having the problem of coming up with too many possible choices (up to 10 per paragraph) their readers had to pick from. Honestly, I've always had the opposite problem. It's always been difficult for me to create many enough choices, because I want every single one of them to result in meaningful consequences and therefore to provide a positive or negative impact over the course of the adventure.

See, the choices we can make in real life situations are practically unlimited. When standing in front of a door, a person could choose to knock on it and wait for response, they could choose to open the door and storm in, they could also choose to turn around and leave (especially if this is the office of the boss and the intention was to ask for a payraise), or they could even decide to start jumping in one spot (it sure doesn't make any sense, but it is still an option anyway). Of course, in a gamebook adventure, the last option wouldn't even be presented to the player as it is meaningless, because it, first, doesn't make any sense, and second, it doesn't change the course of the game in any way. I tend to believe that the option to 'turn around and leave' should also not be available to the player, because he's already made the decision to go to the office of the boss and the only question is 'in what fashion does he want to go in'. Even if a writer prefers to provide many choices with the intention to create the illusion of freedom, consider all the additional work he has to do in order to provide all the paragraphs for each outcome of those meaningless choices. That is a huge waste of time and writing space - a luxury most game designers are forced to stay away from. It is also worth mentioning that making a choice, which is changing the immediate narrative path without affecting knowledge, stats or the final outcome of the adventure one way or another is not a gamebook mechanic. What I am trying to point out is that choices which are ultimately neither good or bad create an interactive novel, not a game. If there is no way to fail, the experience is still there, but there is no gameplay.

The decisions people make, in real life or during a game, situations like the one in the example above, are not related to the door itself. They would rely on previously gained knowledge and the expected outcome of each available choice. The action must depend on the possible consequences of opening that door (getting a raise or being yelled at, or fired even) and the statistical possibilities of the given outcomes (I doubt you would ask the boss for more money if your chance of getting the raise is only slim to none, while the possibility of being fired is much greater).

It is of extreme importance that the game designer provides enough information and presents multiple clues ahead of time, so the choices his players make are the product of strong logic and calculated risk, not the result of blind guessing. Then and only then, the final outcome depends on the performance and the input from the gamer instead of being the aftermath of pure luck. For an example, if the player finds himself facing a door or multiple doors, never mentioned before, there is no way for him to make an educated decision, weighting in advance the possible consequences of his actions. There is nothing meaningful in such situation.

The main problem with meaningful choices, all authors run into, is the balance between not providing enough information (which door choice) and providing too much information (cake or death choice). Here is an example of [which door choice]: "You are standing in front of three doors. Only one of them will lead you to success. The other two lead to certain death. Choose one!"; And here is an example of [cake or death choice]: "You are standing in front of two doors. There is a Deadly Demon hiding behind the left one. Behind the right door you would find gold and glory. Choose one!"

The answer to the problem above is called applying some "fog of war". The game designer must hide the possible consequences and "only have the roughest outline spelled out", but should also leave enough clues buried in the text, so the reader is given the opportunity to apply his skills of observation, paying close attention, critical thinking, risk management, memorizing important details, educated guessing, weighting possibilities and drawing logical conclusions.

When the "fog of war" is applied appropriately, the choice becomes a "Logical Conclusion Choice".

My favorite example of a Logical Conclusion Choice is one, which I found more than 20 years ago in a fantasy style epic hero gamebook. My protagonist found himself in the middle of a wide open field. There were mountains with carved in caves standing proud far to the west and there was a dark, almost completely black, thunderstorm front approaching very fast from the east. The choice was between running for the mountains, so the hero could take shelter in a cave or hiding from the rain under a tree with thick crown, which was standing alone nearby. My logic was to avoid getting soaking wet and possibly ill from the cold rain while fleeing to the cave, so I decided to wait out for the storm to pass under the tree. I learned a very valuable lesson: Lightnings hit the tallest objects around and very unfortunately for my protagonist, that was the same tree I sent him to. Needless to say, that was a gravely mistake and it resulted in the instant death of the hero (see, no self-respecting author will make their reader lose 50 points of health when hit by a lightning - this is a total annihilation event) and while I was upset about the mistake I just made and the punishment I was forced to suffer, I felt that it was fair, justified and completely deserved. The immediate danger of being hit by a lightning wasn't even mentioned in the text at all, but I should have deciphered the 'fog of war' hint in the word 'thunder' before the word 'storm'. The instant death punishment was very logical under the existing circumstances.

Annihilate your player only if he makes a gravely mistake

Please keep in mind that not every single choice in a gamebook should be a Logical Conclusion Choice, because that would make the readers feel like they are taking a test in school instead of enjoying a good compelling story of a great adventure, but there must be a good number of Logical Conclusion Choices present throughout the book, so the player is kept in full control of the final outcome and ultimate victory.

Remember, the author should never take away from his readers the satisfaction of feeling that success is direct result of good performance, not random guessing and pure luck.

This is all for today, but I promise to give you a very detailed guide of how to create Logical Conclusion Choices step by step in my next blogpost here on LloydOfGamebook. Until then, as Stuart likes to say, 'Happy Gamebooking!'

Peter Agapov
Game Designer

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Shady Brook: Twin Peaks like Visual Text Adventure

Welcome to Twin Peaks
I still remember the Twin Peaks series from back when I was a teenager and all the fear I felt after watching each episode of this horror mystery drama. I was quite surprised and excited when I found out that Showtime started a new season of this TV series in the spring of 2017. To be quite honest, I don't remember most of the old show, but I recall that it took place in a small town where almost every resident had some kind of strange secret. Add some supernatural phenomenons such as a killer demon, who moves from the body of one citizen to another as he pleases, and an FBI agent, who is trying to investigate a murder of a young girl up there in the mountains and you would get the basic idea of what the show was about.

About 18 months ago I read a post on facebook by one of my friends announcing the release of a "Twin Peaks like game" that takes place in a small, peaceful country town where everything seems idyllic until some mysterious deaths start occurring. Being a follower of the TV show, I was naturally interested in playing the game. Add the fact that I live in Chicago now and I miss the small community feel of my hometown very much, I just couldn't wait for the game to come out on the market.

Welcome to Shady Brook
When I purchased Shady Brook for the very affordable price of $3.99, I was immediately teleported to a quiet small community and quickly met with the very few residents there. I was fascinated with the depth of the characters and the fact that I was able to start relating to them on the spot. I quickly developed favorites and I was hoping to make some friends while exploring the map, but strange things started happening and soon I realized that it was better to keep to myself until the mystery was unfolded. However, my curiosity was already triggered and I felt that I had to investigate and get to the bottom of a master plan as evil as it gets.

As I mentioned above, the storyline is very immersive and it is very easy for the player to get sucked into it. As the story evolves, more clues are presented to the reader and it gets more and more interesting until the very end of the adventure. Just keep in mind that not every choice changes the final outcome. As a matter of fact, the decisions you make during the game alter the experience, but they don't affect the very core of the story and there is only one available ending. The only reason I mention all that is to avoid the feelings of guilt you will inevitably feel after making some difficult choices. Those bad things would have happened to some good people anyway, so just relax assured that you haven't done anything wrong and enjoy revealing the dark secret of this small country town by solving the very well designed logic puzzles.

I must add that the existence of a love triangle, which causes a whirlpool of feelings due to the decision to sacrifice one of two very important people, provides further depth and involves the player to a point where this game almost starts feeling real. I believe that this is probably the strongest design trick of the whole Shady Brook experience.

The only serious complaint I have about the game is that at the very end, the player is stuck in a 'Game Over' loop until he or she finds the right action and the exact moment to get to the very end of the adventure. Even though, as a fellow game designer, I have a hard time finding another way of looping the game sequence at that very moment to avoid the 'Game Over' message, but I still think that such approach must be avoided at all cost, especially in a game where the player associates with the protagonist to such extent.

On a positive note, I truly enjoyed deciphering some of the cryptogram puzzles in the game. Those definitely were my favorite, but there is plenty of other kinds of puzzles built into the game. Most of them are challenging, but not impossible and a player with just a little bit of experience and a lot of logical thinking would be able to solve all the puzzles without external help (such as a walkthrough). The story is extremely well written with some completely unexpected twists and turns. The music suits the virtual environment very well and the limited graphics are very pretty as well as perfectly balanced without taking the attention away from the storyline and text based engine of Shady Brook.

So, if you are a fan of gamebooks or adventure games, or even if you aren't, I strongly recommend playing this visual text adventure.

Published by Peter Agapov,
innovator and game designer at

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

New Tunnels and Trolls solo

Hello all! Long time no blog. Just a wuick one to say that I have finished a Tunnels and Trolls solo. In this one, you go on a great quest to make your own personalised magic weapon that grows with you. It works with Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls rules and can work for ANY level and ANY class.

And it is Pay What You Want.

You can get it here.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Game Tale - kickstarter for gamebook aimed at children aged 3-9

Hello all! There's a new kickstarter in town. This one is called Game Tale, a beutifully illustrated children's gamebook aimed at 3-9 year olds. It looks absolutely delightful and you should definitely check it out and back it over on the kickstarter page.