Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dice in game books part 1

Are gamebooks better for having random elements? Here's the first part of this discussion.

Everyone knows about the Death Star. An invulnerable fortress capable of destroying whole planets. Surely such a weapon would bring the galaxy to its knees. However, it didn't.

That pesky Skywalker took advantage of the Death Star's one weakness - a small hatch on it. And he blew it up.

Darth Vader must have felt very annoyed. He probably felt cheated as well. He put all this effort building a huge weapon so he could rule the galaxy with an iron fist. He had strangled countless commanders with British accents so that promotion on a death star was not followed by the new commander planning a party. Rather it was followed by him planning a funeral.

And it had all been blown up.

This is how someone who has played gamebooks with dice might have felt at one point. They may have won the game if they rolled 2-11 on two six sided dice and they rolled a 12. NOOOOOOOO!

This is how some gamebooks with dice may turn up. You may just end up playing the odds. This sword will make this combat easier. This charm gives me a bonus when I test for luck. You can collect all the best items and avoid all the hardest combats and an unlucky die roll can still ruin your plans.

This is a case against dice in gamebooks. Since there is a random element, you can do everything right and still fail, even if the only way to fail is by rolling a 12 on two dice (1/36 chance). And I beleive that leads to the reader feeling cheated.

If the reader loses a gamebook through bad choices, their reaction will probably be. 'You got me there. But I'll get you next time.' They would probably still be entertained and would want to come back for another go.

However, losing because of a dice roll despite making all the right choices would probably lead to frustration and a feeling of not wanting to play again.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On bad choices...

I was thinking about the last post. Gamebooks need bad choices but a choice that is always bad becomes a dead choice. The bad choice needs to give a small bonus or only be bad in certain circumstances to stop it from being a dead choice. By the same token, if a choice is always the best possible choice out of a set of choices, it turns every other option into a dead choice.

This is where making a replayable gamebook tricky.

One way is the character creation system. I've just been re-reading the Tyrant's Tomb and the Screaming Spectre by Dave Morris. The stories are well written. If they need improvements, I think that the combat system can be less damaging as it makes any combats dead choices and the gamebook bits can be longer, because I enjoy them immensly.

The Tyrant's Tomb has no options for modifying your character. You are the barbarian and you have a sword and a bow. The choices you are given are whether to join two rogues or fight them. The next choice you are given is a choice of three places to go. Being with the rogues produces more bad results than good, but they can help get you through certain points. Out of the three places, I think one is a lot less rewarding than the other two, but if you make certain choices in the other two, they can be just as bad, so none of the three routes are dead choices.

The Screaming Spectre offers you more choice. You choose 9 out of 12 spells and you may take an amulet that increases your stats and an item called 'the lucky bottle'. There are places where your choice of spell is very rewarding, so a combination of choosing the wrong spells and going to places where a spell you don't have is required is a bad choice. However, you cannot say that any particular spells are bad in isolation and also, most places are not bad in isolation either (apart from the city in The Abyss). However, the book does have it's bad choices


You cannot win without the lucky bottle.


Maybe that's how you make gamebooks playable and replayable. You do not have a set of options where one choice is good and the others are bad, but instead you have a combination of choices which are good and a combination of choices which are bad.

That way, there are no dead choices which are the worst choices of all.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Good choices and bad choices but no dead choices.

I picked up Dave Morris's Screaming Spectre and Tyrant's Tomb Heroquest books yesterday from a charity shop and enjoyed reading them again.

I noticed that in the Tyrant's Tomb, Dave had been very shrewd. In the book, you are given the option of asking a wizard for a gift. He offers you strength of arms, magic or foresight.

Strength of arms gives you an axe that always hits first time, magic gives you an amulet that protects you from hostile sorcery and foresight gives you some information that once you know it you won't forget after the first time you've played the book and so you don't pick it again.

However, Dave must have known this trick, so the foresight option also gives you a stone which lets you see an elvish market where you can buy game winning items from.

Every time you play a gamebook past the first you are forewarned of knowledge of the previous attempt, which you will work on. This is not really a form of cheating as you cannot will yourself to forget this knowledge and the writer does not want you winning on you first attempt and not reading the book again as it won't feel satisfying. Maybe they want it to be hard so you have to read it several times. That is why they offer you many choices, some good and some bad.

However, paragraphs which just offer information and do not open or close new paths will end up as dead choices. You won't want to go back to your paragraph after you've been there before. Sometimes, an option is a dead choice because you know that it is useless or bad before you even go there (Such as in Fighting Fantasy's Demons of the Deep where on paragaph 1, you are given the option of swimming back to the surface where lots of hostile pirates are. You know that's bad).

This is why Dave Morris decided to reinvigorate the foresight choice with a helpful item.

A good gamebook needs your choices to be good or bad. It doesn't necessarily mean that every paragraph ahs to have an adjustment in stats or an item. It could just mean you have a new path opened up to you or one is closed off. However, the last thing you need are dead choices. If you read a paragraph and think 'I don't need to go back that way next time', you've just hit a dead choice. The only reason you might want to do it is for flavour reasons, so it is part of your story.

In Dave Morris's other book, The Screaming Spectre, Dave carefully avoids dead choices with codewords and items. You may get to a stage where you save a woman from a monster and she offers you dinner. Then you hear music play. If you listen, she tells you that it is a water elemental that gives a magical harp to a mortal which makes people dance. The elemental's music speeds up time and you miss your meal. If you do not listen to the music you get nice food and restore 1 body point.

After the first run through, you would rather take the meal over the info you already know, but Dave gets around this with a codeword. If you do not listen to the music, you do not get the codeword.

I must endevour that my gamebooks have less dead choices and more bad choices. The option of bad choices increases replayability as you are striving to find the best possible path for your character. I do not put as many bad choices in my books as I should do. All moy options seem to be beneficial in some way.

Had to modify my Windhammer entry. I missed that you could end up trapped in the marketplace. This is due to a last minute change I made, forbidding the hero to return to the docks if they got the guards' attention. This stopped them from being able to get a merchant ship out of the city and closed off their last option of an ending if they had missed the others.

It's all changed now. Have a look at the entries at: