Friday, July 27, 2012

Gamebook news for July 2012

I'm releasing my post early because its about current stuff and also because I'm just to darned excited about it.

When I started this blog almost two years ago, I wouldn't have thought I would be making posts about gamebook news.  Now it seems like I can't keep up.  So, this is what's going on in the gamebook world...

Blood of the Zombies out in August

Fighting Fantasy co-founder Ian Livingstone will release his much
anticipated gamebook, Blood of the Zombies.  It will be published by Wizard Books on the 9th August 2012 and will be available for £7.99 but if you want it at a lower price and earlier than 9th August, you can pre-order it from Amazon for £4.71 or you can pre order copy autographed by Ian Livingstone himself from Forbidden Planet for £6.99.  If you want to see the man himself, Ian Livingstone will be in the Forbidden Planet London Megastore, Shaftsbury Avenue, London WC2H8JR on the 4th August between 3pm and 4pm to sign your copy.  Good times!

I'm going to be there.  It would be nice to finally meet Ian and if you are around, it will be nice to see you :).

Mr Livingstone will also be making an appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on the 11th August at 2pm.  Tickets are from £4.50.

A few weeks after the physical book release, Tin Man Games will be releasing Blood of the Zombies electronically.

5th annual Windhammer competition opens for entries on 1st August

You can't spend all of August blasting away zombies with a shotgun however, as you have a short gamebook to write.  For the fifth time, the Windhammer competition will be open for submissions on the 1st August and there is still time to get a gamebook of 100 paragraphs or fewer in for the closing date of the 7th September.  If you are thinking about entering (which you should do), have a read of my previous blog post on Windhammer and my interview with Wayne Densley.

The competition is a great way to show your talents and get lots of feedback.  I always love reading the gamebooks and also the feedback I get as it is very constructive and informative. 

So get on it!  I'm looking forward to reading your entry. 

Assassin in Orlandes out on the PC

As someone is too poor to own an iPhone or a decent Android, this is wonderful news.  You can now get Tin Man Games' Assassin in Orlandes for the PC!  There is now no reason not to get it.  I certainly did.  And I love it.  It was everyhing I was anticpating and more.

Adventurer now in its second draft

Adventurer - the Role Playing Game is now in its second draft and it is doing very well.  My latest job is the enviable one of writing the treasure tables.  I feel like a fantasy Santa Claus.  Look out for the public playtest!

The new gamebook blogs

There seems to be gamebook blogs springing up all over the place.  Here are three that have appeared since my last post on gamebook blogs:

YOU CHOSE WRONG - a brilliant blog showing us all the most entertaining deaths that you can experience in interactive fiction.

Adventure Gameblog - this is a gamebook playthrough blog by Ed Jolley, also known as Greenspine in the Unofficial Fighting Fantasy forum.  He has gone through all of the Fighting Fantasy books before and now he is doing it again through the medium of blog.

Jake Care's Gamebooks - In this blog, Jake, who is passionate about gamebooks will share his views on gamebooks and will write some gamebooks for us.

Gamebook themed kickstarters

There are a couple of gamebook themed kickstarters, if you're in to that kind of thing.  The first, is Trial of the Clone, a gamebook by Brett Easterbrook Zach Weiner.

The other is the AFF 2nd edition publication of Blacksand which will have new material in addition to the old edition's information.

Destiny Quest rumours

The Heart of Fire is coming out in November and Michael J. Ward is teasing us with new careers for the book.  There are six now and it looks like there are two factions - the true church and the Wiccans.  I am looking forward to this :).

Gamebook fans group

The brilliant LupLun has set a gamebook fans group up on Goodreads.  The gamebooks Yahoo group aside, there aren't many places where people can discuss ALL gamebooks.  There are plenty of vibrant places to discuss certain series but few places to discuss gamebooks in general.  Joining Goodreads itself is a brilliant idea so first do that and then join the gamebooks group.

Heroes Rise:  The Prodigy

I gave it a great review last week so if you haven't already bought this from Choice of Games, do so now.

Story Explorer

Here's a webiste that I found on Twitter (it can do far more than tell you what Stephen Fry is eating in Belgum).  It is full of interactive stories and allows you to write your own.  Why not check it out.

TrollsZine!  5 is out

You can get it for free from RPGNow.  It's a brilliant read, as always.

Fighting Fantazine 9 is out

You can get it for free from the Fighting Fantazine website.  As always, it's greeeat! 


The site hosting the gamebook creation program ADVELH is down but you can still get it from this site

Tin Man Games!

Tin Man games is releasing its Judge Dredd gamebook early next week. There's a trailer and everything!

Tin Man games is also releasing a string of interactive romance novels called strange loves. Check them out!

And finally...

As with all news reports, I'm ending it with a cute cat.  Enjoy!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Heroes Rise: The Prodigy review

Choice of Games has released a new game based on the life of a superhero.  It is available on iTunes, Google Play, Kindle and Google Chrome for a mere $2.99 (£1.92) and it is spectacular.  You can try a free online demo here.

The wonderful stories are the great strength of Choice of Games and Heroes Rise is no exception.  As is typical of Choice of Games, the first part involves your backstory where you make choices about your name, your sexuality, details about your life, aspects of your personality and certain events that have happened in your past.  Your hero has a high level of customisability. 

The story then takes you through the city that you want to protect, throwing challenges your way.  Your first cases may seem very disparate but because of the twisty, many layered story full of action, romance and secrets, it becomes apparent that the choices you make in the first parts of the book will affect what happens later on in the book.

You also have several stats which allows your character to form a greater sense of identity.  In Choice of Games fashion, your characteristics scores determine whether you are one thing or another.  You are either a lawful hero or a lawless hero.  Or you are either saving people because of your sense of justice or because of your desire for fame.  In the latter case, the two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive but that is a minor gripe about the stats. 

Your stats may also prohibit your from making decisions.  for example, if your justice score is very high, then you cannot hold a press conference.  I have mixed feelings about this - yes, your previous choices have made you favour justice over fame, but the decision is not based on physical capability and it seems out of flavour to prevent someone from making such a choice.

Minor niggles aside, the stats system is very good at creating a sense of identity and a narrative for your character.  Heroes Rise adds relationship scores with certain important characters to your stats and it also gives you a lengend score.  You could play the game to try to maximise one of your scores, such as being one of the most lawful heroes in the game or by trying to get the biggest legend score possible.  You also have a health and power score which you need to keep a close eye on because you will die if they reach 0. 

I like the addition of the possibility of death to Heroes Rise.  When I played Choice of The Dragon, I found the game enjoyable and challenging but once I had played it a few times, I realised that, although some decisions mean that you get a higher or lower score, you would never die and it made me feel like my decisions were not as critical. 

Having the possibility of dying adds more tension and thrill to the game and each decision you make.  Health is reduced when you are injured and power is used up when you use your super powers.  You can fly and you can manipulate energy.  Whenever you face an opponent, you are given the choice of some powers that you can use and how much they will cost.  I found these decisions very interesting.  I could not just use the power that drained as much power as possible as I might run out and die.  However, too weak and I would get seriously injured.  The choices became a game of 'How low dare I go?'.  The strongest powers are not necessarily the best and you won't be able to use the strongest powers as you would quickly run out and die.

Despite the threat of death, I made it through the whole epic 18 chapters alive, though I hadn't been a perfect hero so I could easily go back and replay many times it to be a better hero or a different hero.

The game system is very fair and the choices you make have predictable consequences.  You have the chance to replenish your health and power at pertinent times and you are also given the option of trading power for health or health for power at certain points which is a great option for allowing you to survive situations if you go too low with one stat. 

Heroes Rise:  The Prodigy is a wonderful addition to the Choice of Games collection with its epic, twisty story and large number of options and at a mere $2.99 it is an absolute bargain.  Get it from one of the following places:

Free online demo
Google Play
Google Chrome

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Enjoyable and challenging or unfair and frustrating? Part 3: Conclusion

So what have I learnt from this little excercise?  first of all, my opinion isn't too reliable because I now know the route to victory in all the books I have played and may have forgotten how frustrated I was when I didn't know the route.  I may have been frustrated at Siege of Sardath before I realised how all of the clues fitted together as part of the whole.  An analogy with my initial frustration with gamebooks until I have discovered the route through them can be made by Eddie Izzard's 'Control P Print' stand up routine (2:57 from this video).

So here is my attempt at a reasoning why some things are challenging and  enjoyable and other, similar things are unfair and frustrating.

Not cool
Arbitrary or random consequences to decisions are challenging and enjoyable if the negative consequences are small.  If they are big, they become unfair and frustrating.

Opening a non descript door to be hit by an arrow trap that deals 2 stamina points of damage is less frustrating than opening a non descript door that kills you.  Similarly, losing 2 stamina points on the roll of a 6 on one die is less frustrating than being killed on the roll of a 6 on one die.  They are probably both frustrating but being killed without warning makes me feel like I've been cheated and I ahve wasted all of my time.  Losing 2 stamina points is something I can deal with - an occupational hazard.

How to reduce the frustration:  If the player has no way of knowing that something bad will happen, don't make the consequences too severe.  Having clues may help (but this may cause frustration at first if the player hasn't picked up on them).  Also have arbitrary good things happen as a result of a random action.  That may take the edge off. 

Having to do a long sequence of actions with no changes or ANYTHING is frustrating

I'm thinking of the Maze of Zagor.  You wonder around a bunch of nondescript passages, making a map just to get to Zagor.  Many of the paragraphs do not involve adjusting stamina or any other stat.  It just feels like wasted time.

How to reduce frustration:  Put something in to break the boredom.  A random encounter, an item, anything.  Or, if not, just say - you wander around a maze for a bit until you come across x.

However, Marsten said last week that he doesn't mind this kind of thing because 80s dungeon crawl games all expected you to make a map.

Books that are statistically impossible to win are unfair and frustrating.

Even the correct path has a minute probability of allowing you to win.  Crypt of the Sorcerer is a prominent example.

How to reduce frustration as a writer:  Read about probability, calculate the odds (like Brewin did for Gamebook Adventures or I did for Fighting Fantasy) and playtest.

How to reduce frustration as a player:  Cheat.  It's not like anyone's going to get annoyed at you.  Even the author would probably not mind if they know how impossible it is to win.

Difficult books are OK as long as they give you clues

Siege of Sardath is actually a very fair book if you work things out from the text and the writing.  Of course, the trouble is making sure it does not just turn the puzzles into a 'guess what the author is thinking' exercise (however, people who like metagaming might like that kind of thing).  My suggestion for this would be to think about the whole backstory first so then it will be easy to just drop the player in it and then think about the clues you can give them.  Also, this link on how to run a mystery RPG session may help.

You might be able to get away with breaking these rules if your book is entertaining and cool enough or if people are used to doing these things in the first place or if your book is SO difficult then it becomes legendary and therefore popular because of its impossiblity.

There's no formula to making a cool, entertaining book and the examples I give are purely my opinion (apart from adding NINJAS!  PIRATES! DINOSAURS! ROBOTS! VAMPIRES! WEREWOLVES! TIME TRAVEL! SPACE!) but if you can pull one off then you might be able to make it lethal (Deathtrap Dungeon), full of long sequences of decisions (technically, any gamebook that does not have stats, I suppose) and with improbable or impossible odds (Black Vein Prophecy or Knights of Doom). 

Once comparison that can be drawn is Deathtrap Dungeon and Eye of the Dragon.  both involve going through difficult dungeons with high skill opponents to find several items and the exit but Deathtrap Dungeon has many memorable and interesting encounters (the blood beast, the NINJA, that whole thing with Throm, the statue, the gnome) and Eye of the Dragon has...that statue, an evil wizard fight, a hell demon fight err...

You get the idea.

Also, Marsten wrote in a comment that he did not mind the mapping in Warlock of Firetop Mountain as 'A lot of these dungeon-crawl games kinda expected it, because they stemmed so much from 80s D&D' so if it's something people are used to then it won't be much of a problem.

It also seems that even the most unfair and statistically impossible scenarios can be liked because they are unfair and statistically impossible as Abe Heron stated in last week's post.  So it seems that if you go too far into difficult and frustrating, you come all the way back into entertaining.

As I have said before, this is a difficult topic in which I am far too immersed in my own opinion and knowledge of winning the gamebooks I've talked about to offer a truly objective view on things, but I would love to hear from other people. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Gamebook news 7th July 2012

Hi all!

I've made a gamebook news video round up including what's up next month.  Please add more news if you have any.  Happy gamebooking!

Some gamebook news I had, given from my car (I was parked).
Here are the links for the news stories:
The new edition of Destiny Quest:
Under a Searing Sky:
Frankenstein by Dave Morris, available for only £2.99:
You can get the demo of Frankenstein here:
Gamebook adventures 4 on Google Play:
Gamebook Adventures is the Dredd gamebook:
Warhammer gamebooks:
The Windhammer Competition:
My post on why you are entering Windhammer:
Get the latest Blood of the Zombies news from here:
Gamebook play through blogs:
The Gamebook Feed:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Enjoyable and challenging vs unfair and frustrating 2: Unfair and frustrating

Here are some situations from gamebooks or complete gamebooks that I find unfair and frustrating. 

Crypt of the Sorcerer

I wasn't going to include this on the list as anyone who's played it will think that it goes with out saying that Crypt of the Sorcerer is unfair and frustrating (including the entertaining Galactrix) but I thought I'd say it anyway because it is a good clear cut example of things that make it unfair and frustrating.

Here's a list:

The fight with Razaak - he's a skill 12 stamina 20 opponent who kills you with two consecutive hits and his sword doesn't give you an attack strength bonus against him.  Basically, you're stuffed.

However, some of the early combats in Crypt of the Sorcerer aren't that bad.  It get's harder once you have to fight three doragor and possibly a skill 12 stamina 24 monster.

The item hunt or die:  You neen to collect tons of item.  If you don't have one of them, you die horribly.  There's one item that isn't essential and that's the rod of paralysis.  You don't die, you just have to fight a skill 12 stamina 24 opponent.  However, to get the rod, you need to kill an innocent bone ring maker (and there can't be many of them around), lose 3 luck points, take a cursed ring, fight a werewolf (if you had been friendly with the bone ring man he could have given you a werewolf repelling ring and told you how to use it) and then fight a bunch of skeletons.  Nice choice, Livingstone.

Die rolls or die:  If you roll a 5-6 on one die then you are killed at one point.  You have to make three skill tests or almost die and when you get further on into the book, your opponents get a lot harder to beat and none of the items help you.  Even Razaak's 'powerfully enchanted' sword gives you no bonus.  Razaak obviously thought ahead by making the only weapon that can harm him rubbish.

The Maze of Zagor in the Warlock of Firetop Mountain

I find this exercise pointless. Three encounters punctuate a meaningless excercise in getting the correct combination of arbitrarily decided directions. Apart from the directions that the people you envcounter suggest, there is no indication about which ones are better and unless you make a map, it is easy to go around in circles. So I suppose the idea was to get the player to make a map but since the maze has few features, it is quite a tedious experience.

Working out which components kill Zanbar Bone in City of Thieves

So here's the scenario - you are told that a powerful undead sorcerer can only be killed if you rub into his eyes a special powder ground up from black pearls, lotus flower and hag's hair. Later in the book, you are asked if you have all three of these items. If you do not, you have failed. If you do have these items, you are then told that you only need two and that you must choose which two to grind up. This is frustrating for several reasons.

1) If you have two out of the three items then you should not be told that you have failed.
2) If you have all three items, what is to stop you from grinding them all up anyway as you will definitely have the two you need in there (this can probably be answered with some magi babble about the third item cancelling the powers of the first two but this is not explicitly stated in the book, so I'm raising it as a problem)?
3) There is no clue as to which two are best.

I can see that the idea was to create an interesting decision but it was executed poorly for the practical reasons mentioned above.

Chasms of Malice by Luke Sharpe

Many of the decisions you make have completely unpredictable consequences that lead to your death. Even the paragraphs on the winning route are not very encouraging as you don't get rewards in the form of gold pieces, stat bonuses or interesting items. Most of the time, it is just you, a magic sword, a cat, some provisions and some fuel. I love cats, but even she can't save Chasms of Malice.  Luke Sharp's later books had the same randomness in them, but he had toned down the lethality, turning them into an enjoyable romp around Kazan, the area of Southern Khul his books were set in.  If Chasms of Malice was less lethal, it would have been in the same boat.

Creature of Havoc

Your first few actions are decided randomly, you have to play the losing paths for ages before you realise that you've lost making you feel like you've wasted your time, the correct path is extremely narrow, an error means that you do not know that you should use your pandant because the paragraph starts with the wrong phrase and the book makes you read a whole load of background that doesn't really help you in the game.

Deathtrap Dungeon

It is a random scavenger hunt filled with choices between non descript corridors and non descript doors. A lot of the time, you have to choose between death or some difficult combat (such as prising gemstones out of the statue's eyes) and you have no idea what the criteria for victory is.

Eye of the Dragon

It is a random scavenger hunt filled with choices between non descript corridors and non descript doors. A lot of the time, you have to choose between death or some difficult combat with some generic opponent. Very little about it is memorable.

So there we go.  The same authors and sometimes the same books have appeared on both lists.  As I expected, my feelings on this topic are confusing and sometimes contradictory.  This became apparent when some books appeared on both the enjoyable and challenging and also the unfair and frustrating lists.  I'm trying to work this out on an absolute basis, but I am finding it hard to disconnect my own feelings and opinions from this.  I'll be needing some more input to work out what works universally and what is my opinion.  I'll be posting a conclusion next week.