Saturday, April 14, 2012

April A to Z - M is for magazines part 1 - an interview with Alex Ballingall

Fighting Fantazine is a fantastic fan magazine for all things Fighting Fantasy.  It is put together by a crack team of gamebook loves - Andrew Wright is the Out of the Pit editor, Demian Katz is the adventure editor,  Guillermo Paredes is the news editor and Alexander Ballingall is the editor.  There are currently 8 issues of the quarterly magazine and the issue 9 cover has been revealed.  Today, Alex tells us about his love of gamebooks.

What was the first gamebook you read (that wasn't your own)?
If I am recalling correctly, then it would have been Ian Livingstone's City of Thieves. I'm pretty sure that it was Iain McCaig's cover art that drew me in a first, but after that I was hooked by the set pieces and world building of the book. I played that gamebook so often that it fell apart and I had to buy a new copy almost exactly a year later.

What is your favourite gamebook?
Easily Steve Jackson's Creature of Havoc. I just love the scope and twisted nature (plot, locations, mechanics, and characters) of the book.

What gamebooks/interactive fiction would you recommend to a newcomer to the genre?
For 5-7 years olds, something like Choose Your Own Adventure. Easy game mechanics and short stories as a good place to get started. Fo 7-14 year olds, it has to be Fighting Fantasy. Beyond that I couldn't say, not having been exposed to enough gamebooks.

Summarise what a gamebook is to a newcomer in 100 characters or fewer.
The opportunity to dictate events rather than shouting abuse at the cast of characters.

Why are gamebooks great compared to games or books?
Er, because they're both books and games! It is like having your cake and eating it. Or scoring 200%!

Where did you come up with your idea for Fighting Fantazine?
Having learnt about Warlock (the FF magazine of the 80s), which was something I hadn't been aware of till meeting online FF fandom, I saw a gap in the market so-to-speak. I'm a Doctor Who fan and that fandom has had fanzines since the 60s and so I was surprised by the lack of something similar for FF fandom.

What is your favourite thing about Fighting Fantazine?
That it has support (that was never a given when it launched) and an international one at that. I like that contributors so far have come from the UK, Australia, the US, New Zealand, France, Mexico, and Japan (and that the readership is even more diverse). Plus the Germans join the party with an article in issue 9!

What can people submit to Fighting Fantazine?
We're on look out for articles of a serious nature, tackling FF from either the real world perspective (game mechanics, social relevance etc.) or the in-world one (history or descriptions of people & places etc). That said, quirky material that looks at FF in a new way is also welcome (for example the "Everything I Need to Know" series). The "Out of the Pit" is always on the look out for new monster descriptions too. I would definitely love to have a 1 or 3-4 panel cartoon for each issue, or even something like "The Order of the Stick"! Letters are also wanted. For me the letters pages should be a place for people to comment on FF, gamebooks in general, and the magazine with material/opinion/commentary that wouldn't stretch to being their own individual articles.

How else can people help out Fighting Fantazine?
Promote it (tweet, blog, bend peoples' ears), but especially review it (or send in a letter to the letters page doing the same thing)! This is important since I don't get a lot of feedback about what the magazine is doing right or doing wrong.

When it comes to writing a gamebook, what's the most important thing that you do?
Concept and plot. Gone are the days where you can slap together a simple dungeon crawl. You can still have your monster slaying crawl, but you need a bit of plot and motivation building along with more choices for interaction beyond fight or flee.

What have you got coming up in terms of your gamebook/competition projects?
I did have a modern day Zombie adventure I was working on as a back-up adventure for the magazine, but with Ian Livingstone's Blood of the Zombies announced I've put that on the back burner till his book it out, I've read it, and I've a chance to work out how to make mine different. I've a couple of other ideas to play with, but quite what I'll pitch them at yet is undecided.

Do you have any other sites/blogs/twitter feeds besides
I'm @Gallicus on twitter and my blog is, both of which are gamebook/FF orientated.

What do you think the future of gamebooks is?
Pretty good as long as you get the basics right - tell a damn good story!

So there you go - for eight great fanzines each one with a solo adventure, an in depth poll of the whole series and much much more, go to  For news on the magazine, take a look at and follow Alex on Twitter here.


  1. Always good to know the opinion of the people who make possible this kind of stuff ;) And about the plot, i would say is even harder than in a noormal book. Because yo must have in mind a lot of alternatives... and put a good amount in the book to make it fun!

  2. Hi, I am familiar with the "Choose your own adventure" books (being a retired elementary school librarian) but not with the others. Sounds interesting. Best regards to you. Ruby

  3. I always used to rather enjoy these. I particularly loved city of thieves.