Friday, August 31, 2012

Assassin! review

Hello world!  Sorry for the big delay between posts.  I've been stockpiling posts on my other blog so that I can focus on actually writing gamebooks (such as for this great Android game and the Adventurer system) but then actual things started happening in the gamebook world and so I'm writing posts about current events all the time (awesome)!

Anyway, I loved Avenger!  so much and I'm a sucker for titles with exclamation points, so I decided to continue the Way of the Tiger series and move onto Assassin!

In our last installment, I have just killed three of the most powerful villains on Orb in a guard and monster filled castle and obtained the scrolls of Kettsuin.  My god Kwon has appeared before me and granted me an extra skill (thanks, Kwon!) and I begin Assassin in the keep with a horde of guards crashing up the stairs to do very nasty things to me (you could have given me a lift home, Kwon!) and there's no rebel bird men here to fly me home, so I guess I'll just have to get myself out of this mess.

Oh well.  The gods work in mysterious ways.  On with the review!

Theme 5/5

We're still in Orb (plus) and we get to explore even more of it (bigger plus).  This installment lets you explore even more than the last one as this time, there are no incorrect routes to take.  You can go through the goblin infested mountains, the sea full of sea elves of a nearby city infested with monks of the Scarlet Mantis.  You carry on to many more wondrous places but its also the people you meet that really stand out.

I especially loved the group of adventurers who you help against an undead monster.  They have a wizard with them who messes the battle up with the wrong spell then gets befuddled about what to do.  I'm sure that kind of thing happens all the time.

I also got to face three of the biggest villains in Orb who had managed to kill me many a time in my first gamebook, Tyutchev, Cassandra and Thaum.  In an epic battle, I managed to blast Thaum with a magic ring in revenge for all of his imaginary ogres, fireballs and blinding lights and give my best against Tyutchev and Cassandra.

And this is where are start using the word awesome a lot again.

I thought killing these three super villains was about as awesome as it can get, but once again, I could not deal the killing blow because the battle was interrupted by none other than the son of the god Nil.  The three scoundrels fled and left me to face the son of a god.  I managed to defeat him and collect some more blood of Nil, which was useful because I had used my last dose to kill Honoric.

I thought that I had reached the finale of the book.  After all, where could Mark and Jamie go from there? But it was not so.  I wasn't even half way through and I had already escpaed from my enemy's castle, killed a goblin king who owns a dancing sword, fought an undead spirit, three powerful servants of Arnachil, god of Chaos and a son of Nil, god of the Void.  OMG.

Afterwards, I fought an O Bakemono and an ogre, narrowly avoided a facehugger and then died to a rival ninja.

The plot regarding your father is left a little aside until the very end, but you will be so busy desperately fighting the evils of Orb, you won't have time to think about it until then.

So there's even more awesome in this book than there was in the last one, if that is possible.

Illustration 4/5

Once again, I love the illustrations, especially the one of the ninja of the way of the Scorpion.  It is also nice to see more pictures of Tyutchec, Cassandra and Thaum up to their old tricks.

Gameplay 4/5

The book loses out on gameplay a little bit.  I might be being fussy in order to give another huge score out again but I died to the rival ninja because I didn't have the right skills.  There was no way that I could have survived this book, which was a slight annoyance.

On the plus side, feign death and immunity to poisons have a lot more uses than in the first book, redressing the balance within the skills.

The book also provides you with plenty of options and gives you places to explore so this book is in no way linear.  It is very convergent.

Exposition 5/5

Once again, the exposition is brilliant.  Smith and Thompson's love of the world of Orb really shines through.  I hear that they created this world when playing DnD so they already had a lot of detail to fit in.  I'm glad that they wrote gamebooks to share this world with us.  In this book, you see the more dangerous side of Orb as you have to avoid civilised areas and lie low in the wilderness.  You see that while humanity is enjoying its cities, there are creatures living in the mountains and under the sea, all with their own lives and cultures.  Brilliant.

Rules 5/5

I don't think I had a good enough appreciation of the rules when I played the first book.  There are plenty of decisions that you can make in combat, such as blocking, throwing or using inner force which are not just nice add ons that you can do when you get bored with punching and kicking.  Rather they are essential to your survival in this book.  Every opponent has been well thought out and you must think about which stratefy you need to approach them with.  This has been thought through very carefully as there is a time and a place to use all of these approaches but you need to think about the circumstances in combat.  For example, you may have to use inner force or you may have to throw an opponent before trying to hit them  I loved the rules before, but I love them even more now.

Total - 23/25

Once again Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson deliver another awesome gamebook where they show off their believably fantastic world of Orb.  Once again, there are a few mistakes with gameplay but overall Assassin is another awesome gamebook.  Next time, you find out who your true father is...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Happy 30th birthday Fighting Fantasy!

This lucky little chap is 30 today!

I'd just like to add my voice to the already huge choir tweeting happy birthday accompanied by spectacular solos from various bloggers (here, herehere and here).  I'm looking forward to the future of Fighting Fantasy which looks bright now that Tin Man Games is now able to publish it digitally.  Figthing Fantasy also got a spot on the BBC.
Weirdly, I've just noticed that my first post on my blog was two years ago today, done completely by accident as I didn't know it was the birthday of Fighting Fantasy back in 2010.  That's synchronicity for you. 
So Happy birthday Fighting Fantasy and thanks for everything you've done over the past 30 years.  :)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Year two in review

So I have been going for two whole years now!  And what a year it has been!  Back in January, The Tin Man wrote a post on why 2012 will be the year of the gamebook.  We are only two thirds through the year and his prediction has been 100% accurate.

In the past year, I've had 72324 page views and 126 posts.

I was very flattered that The Tin Man also mentioned me and Lone Tiger gamebook reviews (which has been a bit quiet recently, apologies) as part of the rise of the gamebook blog section.  gamebook blogs have certainly sprung up all over the place this year and this has led to a gamebook Great conversation on the web.  I enjoyo the dialogue that I have with all of you wonderful gamebook readers and bloggers and it makes blogging an even mopre joyous experience. 

I'd like to thank everyone in the gamebook world that I have met through this blog.  It has been a priviledge to speak to you all and your constant support and encouragement makes feeds my enthusiasm even more. 

Since last August, I have written posts and I have had page views.  My Twitter account now has over 1000 followers (Kathy Lynn Hall helped with that).  My Facebook group now has 24 followers and my Youtube channel now has 10 videos. 

Did I deliver on my aims from last year?

Last year, people asked for more pictures, vlogs and flavour text.  I managed to deliver on the pictures and vlogs but not on the flavour text.  Two out of three ain't bad, I guess. 

What have I learnt from this blog?

I haven't really changed my MO over the past year.  When I can, I have left comments on other blogs and I have emailed some gamebook people.  Blogs are more about dialogue than a one way flow of information and the more dialogue that is involved, the more rewarding it is for both parties. 

Now that there are more people talking about gamebooks on the internet, these rewards are getting exponentially larger :) so the lesson that I have learnt this year is to talk to people.  I asked a lot of people for interviews this year and they were all very obliging.  The gamebook community is very helpful and I'm very thankful to everyone who has taken the time to provide me with material this year for various things including the April A to Z.

The April A to Z was worth doing again and I would recommend it to any blogger.  As the stats below will show you, I went from about 5000 views in March to over 100000 views in April and then just under 8000 views afterwards which means that the April A to Z not only gets you followers in the short term but also in the long term.  I also found some cool blogs to look at from the huge range on offer.

The moral of the story is that if you love something, blog about it and it will take you to all kinds of great places.

Bad news and good news

I wrote a list of articles that I would do back in January 2011(!) and I have not released most of them.  I've released the morality one and I've written the stupid decisions one but not released it yet.  The bad news is that I don't know when I will be able to release it.  In face I have written tons of articles that I scheduled for the year, then reverted to draft and I don't know when I'll release them.

That may sound like bad news, but the good news is the reason for why I haven't released these articles.  I haven't released them because there's been so much great stuff happening in the world of gamebooks that, as the year has gone on, I have released fewer posts on analysis and more posts on current events.  This is most definitely good news as it means that the world of gamebooks is thriving. 

As recently as 2010, felt no need to publish any posts about current affairs beyond the odd blog and the Windhammer competition so by 2011, when I was in the swing of blogging, I started stockpiling analysis articles in advance.  In the short space of two years, I have gone from almost all analysis to almost half analysis and half current events.  Back in 2011, I also decided to do one post a week with the occasional post if anything pertinent came up as I was worried about burning myself out or running out of subject matter to write about.

I definitely won't be running out of subject matter any time soon, but I don't want to burn myself out so I'll stick to one post a week.  I also want to limit my blogging for another reason:  I want the time to read and write more gamebooks.  My analysis has come from my childhood experiences of gamebooks and I want some more subject material to work from.  I also want to write my own stuff, such as books for Pirates and Traders and also the Adventurer system


I took these stats on the 19th August, so it's not quite a year.

The huge spike is due to the April A to Z and I would like to thank all of the lovely people who agreed to provide me with interview answers and made my April A to Z a pleasure to do.  I would like to do one in 2013 but I must see if I have the time first. 

The future

The future is looking bright for gamebooks.  In the short term, the year of the gamebook is far from over.  In just over a fortnight, we will be experiencing the treats that the Windhammer entrants will offer us and I'm excitied to see what they will come up with.  There is still time to enter your gamebook for the chance to win a cash prize and be published by Tin Man Games!

There is also the eagerly awaited second Destiny Quest book, The Heart of Fire which will be out in November and that is well worth looking forward to. 

Fabled Lands 5, The Court of Hidden Faces has recently been republished and Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson and it seems that this is only the beginning.

I'm sure that they will not be the only things to happen in the next four months, however, so keep em' peeled and look forward to a new wave of gamebook greatness that started in 2012 and will carry on into the future.

Happy gamebooking everyone!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ian Livingstone in Edinburgh - A guest post by David Walters

Good morrow to you all!  There is a bonus post this week.  As you know, Ian Livingstone did a book signing in Forbidden Planet in London, but he also did a signing anda presentation at the Edinburgh Festival on the 11th August.  Writer of awesome fiction and contributer to the upcoming Way of the Tiger RPG, David Walters popped down and was kind enough to write up his visit with Ian Livingstone for my blog.  Many thanks David :)!

And here it is...

Ian Livinstone Presents – Thirty years of Fighting Fantasy

Ian Livingstone OBE is a busy man, currently life president of Eidos for Square Enix, and has been campaigning for tax breaks for the gaming industry and for educational reform in computer science in schools. Despite all this, he has made a point of finding time for Fighting Fantasy.

One week after a well-attended book signing in London, Ian was in Edinburgh as part of Edinburgh Interactive (an event about interactive media and entertainment). His busy schedule in Edinburgh also included an International book festival appearance and hosting an international culture conference at the Scottish Parliament.

I attended the free event at Edinburgh Interactive, and after a successful luck roll I was fortunate enough to come across Ian alone in the hotel preparing for the event.

“What first attracted you to Fighting Fantasy?” Ian asked me as we were chatting about how I first came across his books, his gaze shrewd. Off guard, I mumbled something about the brilliant artwork on the covers. “But once you had read it, what attracted you to it over other gamebooks?” he pressed. It was a hard question to answer. Ian looked as if he was still seeking that answer himself, so he could trap it like a genie in a lamp. There seemed to be no single answer as to how Fighting Fantasy captured that mysterious, elusive ingredient that was key to success.

Ian was keen to stress that the Blood of the Zombies was not a commercial enterprise, but rather homage for the fans, a labour of love to mark the 30 year point in the series. It is clear Ian dearly loves the series, and yet his commercial instincts still cannot help but to shine through. I mention I am a writer, and he is quickly asking me about genre, type (novel or gamebook), and crucially sales. I get the feeling that Ian likes to keep his finger on the pulse of what is hot and what isn’t, always seeking the newly emerging market.

What of the absence of Steve Jackson? Ian admitted he found it hard to get Steve as enthused about writing an anniversary edition, despite stressing that Fighting Fantasy is (and always will be) dear to Steve’s heart. I got the impression that the positive reaction to Blood of the Zombies may have surprised Ian a little, and will no doubt be something he will refer to in order to draw Steve back into the next writing project for Fighting Fantasy (more on this later).

Blood of the Zombies
It took Ian more than two years to write the new book, whereas in the old days it used to take him a little over two months, and he described writing the new one as ‘challenging’. It was clearly a labour of love, since he has such a busy life now that the writing had to be done late at midnight or 6am when he could squeeze in the time.
He chose the theme due to the consistent popularity of zombies in culture, and that no other Fighting Fantasy book had covered them in any depth. He chose a medieval castle as the setting to straddle the fantasy element with real life that would allow a variety of modern weapons to be used against the zombies. It was Ian’s first book of the series not set in the fantasy world of Titan, so this represented a level of risk for him.
Ian insisted that the publisher have a green spine to the book for nostalgia. He was unsure who he should aim his writing at: the child of today or the one who had long since grown up but still loved the books. He found a compromise - he slimmed down the combat rules (dropping skill and luck) to try to appeal to today’s ten year olds, whilst maintain the book as ‘stupidly difficult’ to appeal to the forty year old reader.
Like a computer game, the gamebook had collectibles and easter eggs. Ian sees the fact that you have to kill all of the zombies to truly win as being like a computer game where all collectibles must be found, which may appeal to children who play games in that way. Easter eggs in the book included references to Zagor’s birthday, a nod to pencil and dice, and much more.
Ian also was able to use social media for the first time when creating this book, and this had the advantage for him of finding out more directly what people wanted. More than a thousand people voted online to choose the name of the book, and more than half a dozen people on twitter who won a competition got to have their name appear in the book. Writer and actor Charlie Hickson also got his name in the book by special request, as did Member of Parliament Tom Watson – clearly Fighting Fantasy still matters to those who have grown up with it whatever their vocation. Ian describes it as ‘amazingly gratifying’ that Fighting Fantasy still resonates with people.
The audience were shown several slides of concept art for illustrations in the final book. One of the slides shown was of the original cover art for Blood of the Zombies, and compared with the final cover in which the colours had been brightened through Photoshop to maximise the effect. Such technology use in art was not available before, and was a way in which Ian could use it to enhance the final effect. In terms of artwork Ian described himself as a nightmare to work with, very attentive to detail. Typically an interior illustrator will not get to play through the gamebook, but instead will get the background introduction of the book, the paragraph the illustration relates to and in Ian’s case copious notes of how it is to look.
Tin Man games is producing an app of the book which is due for release in late September. It will not just be a straight copy of the book either – and will contain its own unique twists. We were privileged to see a slide of artwork that appears only in black and white in the book, but is beautifully rendered in colour for the app (a zombie holding a grenade). Ian recommended that everyone by the book to place pristinely on their bookshelf for the collection, and then buy the app to play the game on the way to work. Who are we to disagree?
At the time of writing, Blood of the Zombies has sold out of print copies within 3 days and reached as high as 80 in the amazon sales chart – and the digital version is not even out until the end of September. The notoriously tough Eurogamer reviewed the book and gave it 9 out of 10. Clearly Steve Jackson’s Sorcery isn’t the only thing that still contains the old Fighting Fantasy magic.
Ian’s book signings have been very successful and led to him hearing so many stories as to how the series inspired others, which Ian describes as ‘humbling’.
Would Ian write any sequels?
This was a topic touched on several times by the audience. He would consider a sequel to Blood of the Zombies if it really took off.
Would there be another sequel (after Trial of the Champions and Armies of Death) for Deathtrap Dungeon? ‘Possibly’ Ian said.
What about a sequel to City of Thieves? Ian admitted that it would be something he ‘might consider’.
How about a sequel to The Legend of Zagor using the same impressive four-player combat system? Ian ruled this out as complicated, and said the questioner was welcome to write that one themself!
He did state that he is hoping to do a 40th Fighting Fantasy anniversary book with Steve Jackson, and that given it was a joint venture it would likely involve Firetop Mountain.
Did Ian sense that the 40 year olds of today were getting their kids into Fighting Fantasy, thereby bringing it to a new generation?
This was my question and something close to my heart given my desire to get my son into reading gamebooks when he is old enough.
Ian was certain today’s ten year olds had no free time to learn any complicated rules for a gamebook (although he did say many of today’s forty year olds did cheat anyway when younger when it came to the rules). Today’s ten year olds would likely respond better to a story with a simple branching narrative and no rules, whereas today’s forty year old Fighting Fantasy fans wanted and enjoyed more complex rules.
Ian commented that he wasn’t sure the rules so painstakingly created by him and Steve were needed, since most people seemed to cheat through the books. He also highlighted how important it was to have items to collect, so that the powerful imagination of a child felt as if they were the character in the book, and not just reading about a character in a book.
Was Ian worried about the content of the books for children?
From his considerable experience, Ian said he was aware of where to go and where not to go in children’s fiction. He said children know the difference between fantasy and reality, and as long as the themes are about fantasy elements and not real world problems they will get the distinction.
He was asked as a follow up as to whether his work had ever been ‘watered down’ for foreign markets. The series is in thirty different languages, so Ian confessed he did not know, but recalled one example of where a horrible death scene had been heavily sanitised for a foreign market.
Would Ian consider writing a digital gamebook without the limitations of a paperback book?
Ian admitted he was set in his ways, using pen and paper to create a flowchart for all his gamebooks. He does not foresee this changing.
Which gamebook is Ian most proud of?
Overall, it was Warlock of Firetop Mountain as it launched the series. For ones he wrote himself, Deathtrap Dungeon, City of Thieves and Blood of the Zombies.
What would Ian have done differently about the books he wrote?
Ian was happy with the books he had written as they were all the best he could do at the time, although he did concede some were naturally better than others.
He also mentioned that the world of Titan was something of an afterthought following the unexpected level of success of Warlock, but this was resolved in future books to give a coherent game world.
Did Ian have a sense of competition with Steve when writing gamebooks individually?
Yes he does, but emphasised it was a friendly and healthy competition (comparing it to Britain’s Brownlee brothers who competed in the men’s triathlon at the Olympics). Both he and Steve did ‘keep an eye on’ their own and each other’s level of sales. Also, this friendly rivalry was good for the series, as they each spent more time perfecting books on the series than they otherwise would have.
Steve liked to write more quirky aspects in his books and have different settings whereas Ian liked to stick to ‘orcs and swords’.
Is it harder to write games or gamebooks?
Games were the more challenging, as they involved a team of two hundred people and had to blend ideas with technology. It was easier to make a difference when you are just a team of one.
Does Ian have a rule of thumb when designing the difficulty level of a book?
It was hard to find the right balance of difficulty versus fun. Ian’s advice was to simply write the book first, then identify the optimum route through it (the true path that even those with low stats should be able to succeed at), and then make that optimum route fair.
Is it easier to write a novel or a gamebook?
Both are difficult, but he finds a gamebook slightly easier as you can satisfy the reader more easily with rules and monster encounters.
What other books is Ian working on now? Does he have any unfinished gamebooks?
Ian has a gamebook written a while ago that is only ten percent complete, but had no further details on it.
The big news from Ian was that he had written a fantasy novel, which an editor was impressed with and just needed a rewrite of the early chapters to set the scene. This was last reviewed in 2008 and he had to set it aside to start work on Blood of the Zombies.
He had never spoke of the book publicly before now, and believes it will be published someday.
Ian made it clear that he wrote Blood of the Zombies to delve into the childhood legacy of the fans, hoping to find something that resonates with them. From the feedback in the room, he has clearly succeeded.
Ian has co-created a legend with Steve Jackson. He thought he was creating a zombie book, but he has actually brought the Fighting Fantasy franchise back to life in zombie form. He admits he really enjoyed writing it (despite the crashing of his laptop that lost him 20% of the book). ‘If people still want to buy Fighting Fantasy, even not to the same sales figures as before, I am happy to write more,’ he says. Before the release of the book, Ian thought the series ‘had had its day’, but he still wanted to write something for the fans - the level of sales has been a pleasant surprise to him. Fighting Fantasy is not as alive as before, but it is moving and very hard to stop.

Reducing arbitrary consequences of decisions

In some ways, it is tougher to play a Choose Your Own Adventure style gamebook with not stats or random element than it is to write a Fighting Fantasy style gamebook which has stats and a random element. 

One of these ways involves working out what the consequences to your decisions will be.

for example, I was reading The Bigfoor Mystery, a Choose Your Own Adventure book.  I had been cornered by some criminal with an axe and I was up a tree.  I was asked if I wanted to stay in the tree or surrender to him. 

I decided to surrender because he wouldn't kill a kid.  However, he would kill a kid and just as he was raising his axe to bring it down upon me, Bigfoot came out of nowhere, hit him on the head, knocked him out and then retreated back into the forest.  It all worked out in the end for me, but how on Earth was I supposed to predict that (and I don't think the fact that the title contains the word Bigfoot is any clue)?

On the other hand, when I'm playing the Warlock of Firetop Mountain, I might come across a room where there are four dwarves playing cards.  I'm given the option of attacking them or playing cards with them.  I look at my stats.  Skill 9 (OK), stamina 5 (bad encounter with minotaur, not good.  Why can't I just eat provisions when I'm not fighting like in all the other books), luck 13 (good old potion of fortune.  Probably the least useful potion but I like it because I can increase the initial score of a stat).  I decide that, even if I could inflict 4 stamina points of damage several times with such a high luck, I don't want to risk dying for some poker chips and a pack of cards I could buy for about 50p from any good dungeon store (I bet that blue candle man has some).  So it makes my decision pretty easy - let's play some cards.

Stats provide us with information.  After a few uses of a game system, you can probably tell what a 'good' score is and what a 'bad' score is and use it to inform decisions.  If Lone Wolf has a low combat skill, I'll choose the mindblast and weaponskill disciplines (and definitely healing).  If Avenger has a +1 Kick modifier because he learnt Kwon's flail, I'm going to try to kick my opponent (this is an opportune time the mention the awesome Way of the Tiger RPG) and if my impudent peasant has a low stamina, I might pack in a few stamina spell sand cut out the skill and luck spells. 

Arbitrary consequences to decisions is a big cause of frustration in gamebooks.  However, the more information you provide a player about the consequences to their decisions, the less arbitrary they become.  Your stats provide information about how good you will be in a given situation so maybe you know that you are not skilled enough to kill an opponent in combat and so you flee or you decide to face an opponent in a way that tests your highest ability score.  No stats, no information.  Yes, it makes for a simpler gamebook but how are you going to make people feel less cheated if they die because of a decision they made.

One answer is to provide clues and advice.

Clues can come in many forms.  Anyone who has played the Knightmare gamebooks knows that Treguard gives advice to you before you set out on your quest and it is always very sage advice.  One thing that Treguard tells you is that violence never solves anything.  Sure enough, if you decide to attack something in a Knightmare gamebook, you will probably end up dead and it will serve you right for either not reading carefully enough or ignoring the advice.

 Of course, the advice could be in a section that has to be found so that you have to search a little harder for the answer.  It would be nice to be told that you could find the answer somewhere, however as anyone who doesn't won't know and they will get annoyed.  How nice you want to be is up to you, however.

One good way of having a statless, diceless book and still give the player a chance of making a correct decision based on the information provided is to have a mystery.  You can have a bit of text with clues and the player has to put them together to come up with the correct information. 

a website which has excellent mysteries of the type I describe is here where there are tons of mysteries.  You get some text and you have to highlight the clues.  At the end of the book, you have to say who out of the suspects is the perpetrator.  They encourage the player to read the text carefully and put together the information.  I enjoyed the mystery Thin Ice where you had to work out who had carried a 25lb bag of salt over to someone's house to ruin their ice rink. 

Gamebooks have utilised this before in both text and picture format.  The Cretan Chronicles allow you to 'take a hint' which involves adding 20 to the paragraph you are on in order to take a non standard action but it only works if you have reason to believe that the other actions won't help.  It is not to be done lightly as it can backfire. 

Jonathan Green also does it in Howl of the Werewolf where you have to look at a picture of several people and work out which of them is a werewolf from the picture and the clues in the text. 

There is also a great mystery in Debacle at Dead Man's Inn, a microadventure by Andrew Wright where you have to work out which villager is a shapeshifter.  Cunning stuff.

I tried something along these lines myself when I wrote The Path to Greatness.  You decide which time period you are to be born in and then you have to make the correct decisions.  How you find out which decisions are correct, I won't say here, but it might involve looking stuff up.

So there we go.  Any ideas of other ways we can make consequences to decisions seem less arbitrary?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Heavy Metal Thunder review

Heavy Metal Thunder is a brilliant Kindle gamebook by Kyle B Stiff set in the far future where you are an amnesiac freedom fighter trying to get home.

The book is available for Kindle for £1.94 or $3.04 and at that price you would have to be mad not to buy it.

The Kindle edition is hyperlinked so that you do not have to search through the book making gameplay very convenient, so you can be happy about that.

On with the review!

Theme 5/5

The story is set in the Solar System in the far future where every possible thing has been discovered and every possible style of art, music and culture has been tried to all of their possible permutations and so humanity has fallen into a state of decadence and apathy thus allowing themselves to be easily conquered by a horde of invading aliens.

You are a member of the resistance, a conditioned and highly trained super soldier who awakes on a station with no memory of who they are.  This book is all about returning home and on the way, you encounter all kinds of insanity from the manager of the space station to poetic navigators to the man who tried to kill you.  You manage to earn yourself a new name (no more Mr Wiggles for you).

The book is written with much madness and humour but none of it detracts from the gameplay which is a huge difficult to avoid trap where humour in gamebooks is concerned so Kyle should get a great mark for that alone.  However, there is so much more in this book.  The skills and and stats also fit in well with the universe presented, allowing you to take such skills as xenology, navigation and piloting.

Immersion 4/5

The cover image, by Oliver Wetter is very badass and it goes very well with the badass title.  There are no other illustrations but there is plenty of backstory to get immersed in.  The book has a very detailed history of humanity and also gives a lot of detail of the space stations you visit or ships that you are on.  There are also a lot of great descriptions of battles.  Combat is well thought out and is logical within the universe of the book.

Gameplay 4/5

You have plenty to explore in the book and you have plenty of choices from exploring the station at the beginning to exploring the strange objecct in space to giving interviews to people who want to be on your space ship crew to fighting the final battle.  Some choices are better than others but there are no arbitrary deaths done for the sake of a joke, so you have the freedom to explore.  Kyle also adds regeneration points so if you die, you don't have to go back to the beginning of the book and tells you that using the rules aren't necessary if you just want to play the book like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.  The book is very convergent as you play through certain set pieces before coming to the next point in the book and this makes the book very replayable.

Exposition 4/5

the book is full of madness and humour, some of it crude but all of it funny, and, as I have already said, none of the jokes are made at the expense of the gameplay.  Paragraphs are nice and full with plenty of description and interaction with the various characters thet you will come across in the book. None of them are flat - everyone you come across will have an interesting story.  The set pieces are all very enthralling whether you are exploring an abandoned space station, commanding a ship or fighting in the final battle where you meet the man who tried to kill you.

Rules 4/5

The rules system is extensive and covers stats and several skills.  There are several stats and skills to keep track of, but  I can tell that Kyle knows gamebooks, because he tells you that you can throw all of these rules out and play the book as a Choose Your Own Adventure book.  He also lets you have regeneration points that you can go back to if you die.  The rules also allow progression and customisation of your character.  If you do play by the rules, there is lots to keep track of, but you don't have to if you just fancy a read and that is very considerate of Kyle.

Conclusion 21/25

Heavy Metal Thunder is an excellent gamebook with a great setting, larger than life characters and a fast paced storyline set in a mad universe.  The best bit of it is that it is the first in a series and so there is plenty more to come.  It was a brave move by Kyle to make a gamebook full of humour but Kyle manages to pull it off in a way that the humour does not lead to frustration.  This is an excellent gamebook with a great storyline and a wonderful system and it only costs £1.94!

The book is available for Kindle for £1.94 or $3.04 and at that price you would have to be mad not to buy it.

Kyle's blog is here so check out his other writings :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Parallel dimensions in gamebooks

So I was playing Invitation to a Feast by J.P. Barnett when something strange happened and I don't mean strange in the story, I'm talking about something strange in the metagame. 

Early on in the book, I had a chance to save a bird's eggs but didn't due to a die roll.  A bit dejected, I went on along a road until I found a blue cobblestone.  I tried to pull it up but couldn't and I didn't have the blue spade needed to dig it up, so I carried on, looking for a stick. I did find one and returned to the blue cobblestone to find a box containing a gold coin and a note from the Noble Ranger (who is miles away organising a feast) praising me for my persistance.

Well that was nice, wasn;t it?

In a later play through of the book, I did save the birds eggs and got the blue spade.  When I dug up the blue cobblestone, I opened the box to find 2 gold coins and a note from the Noble Ranger (who is miles away organising a feast) praising me for helping the bird by saving her eggs. 

That's nice, but how on Earth did that happen?

How could the Noble Ranger predict the outcome of the die roll I made, know that the bird would give me a blue spade and write an appropriate note with an appropriate reward in advance?

An in story reply would be that the Noble Ranger is magical (there are a lot of parallels between him and God) or that the whole thing was orchestrated as a test and that all the animals were in on it, the eggs weren't real and the bird called ahead to someone by the blue cobblestone to write a note (after all, you don't know who wrote it) and put a certain number of gold coins in there.

On the other hand, we could just assume that J.P. Barnett wanted to give a different reward for your actions and wrote an appropriate one in.  After all, you can't both dig up the cobblestone with a blue spade and a stick so you aren't to know any different what could have been in the box.  J.P. Barnett has created a parallel dimension. 

Now this is an interesting concept.  The way I plan my gamebooks (and I think how other gamebooks are planned) is that I come up with a chain of events that happen or a site populated by various characters and creatures and then think about how the player will interact and change these events.  Some events may be outside of the player's control and happen anyway.  For example, in Fire on the Water, you will always be accompanied by an assassin on your trip and Ronan will always be dead.  Your choices do not affect those events but they will effect how much you know about Ronan's killers and whether the assassin survives the trip.

The same sort of thing happens in some Choose Your Own Adventure books.  In the Bigfoot mystery, CYOA 11, you come across a good for nothing in the woods called Bigfoot Charlie.  You have the option of climbing a tree to escape him or hiding in a hole in the tree.  If you climb a tree, you notice a mountain lion in the branches.  If you hide in the hole, Bigfoot Charlie starts to chop down the tree, which would annoy the mountain lion.  However, there is no sign of the mountain lion.  It seems that your choice on how to evade bigfoot Charlie has made a mountain lion disappear.

At first, I saw this as a logical inconsistancy that bugged me.  How can your choice affect the presence of a big cat or how many gold coisn you get?  Then I started looking at it in another way.  If you played the gamebook fairly (I know we all peek but go with me here) then there would be no way of knowing about the other consequence.  I wouldn't know about the mountain lion if I hid in the tree, so I can't blame the book for being inconsistant (OK, I can, but I'll only find out by cheating).  If I climb the tree, I'll have to deal with a mountain lion that's always been there.  If I hide in the tree, there is no mountain lion to deal with.  It's like each path in the gamebook is its own dimension and you can visit each dimension if you play again.

This idea of creating completely different consequences based on your choices seems to be more fir mechanical reasons.  I think the author does it to create more branching paths. 

Jake Care in his article on Classifying and Rating Linearity came up with four basic types of linearity - linear, convergent, divergen and free roaming. 

The method of 'There's going to be a mountain lion in this tree and the character's choices will affect what it does' is more linear than 'If the player does X, there will be a mountain lion.  If they do Y, there won't be'.  In the former case, you have to deal with the lion, whatever happens.  Once you have, you move on.  In the latter case, you may have to deal with a completely different situation.  If the Bigfoot Mystery had set encounters, then it would have been able to fit in a lot less than it did into its mere 53 paragraphs. 

Creating what I call parallel dimensions is a good way to get more divergence out of a gamebook, something a lot of gamebooks are badly in need of.  I still feel a bit irked at the lack of consistency but the question is - am I being irrational?  Am I leaving out a potentially powerful tool just because I think that if I want a mountain lion in a tree, then there should always be a mountain lion in a tree no matter what the player does.  What do you think?

EDIT:  As is brilliant and typical at the moment (and long may it continue), things have been moving fast in the gamebook world, so here are some snippets of news:

Dave Morris is rereleasing lots of his gamebooks!

Gamebook Adventures apps on Amazon!

Adventurer logo released!

Lee Williams writes about gamebooks here!

Two new Tunnels and Trolls solos have been released!

Fighting Fantasy to be removed from iOS next week!
There's a new gamebook creator program that needs your backing!  For a mere $3, you can get the program once it's released (and if it hits its target of $1000)!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

My Blood of the Zombies signing experience or: How I ended up having a pint with Ian Livingstone

About my trip to Forbidden Planet

Having never been to a book signing before, I looked up how early I need to be for them.  Yahoo answers suggested 4 hours but I didn't go that early.  I went two hours early at 1pm to find someone else doing a book signing and decided to look at the various Call of Cthulu modules on offer.  At half one, I decided to go for a little walk and returned at about two to find a rack of Blood of the Zombies being wheeled out in preparation for Ian Livingstone. 

I noticed that there were two other people who were also eyeing up this treasure trove and they turned out to be the Tin Man, who is going to release the digital version of Blood of the Zombies and the Warlock.  It was great to finally meet them in person and have a good old natter over a pint nearby before heading on over to meet the man himself.

But that was not all.  Whilst waiting to have my book signed, I also bumped into Torallion and Tony Hough, fighting fantasy artist and we all had a good old chat.

Upon meeting Ian Livingstone himself, I became a bit of gibbering wreck.  I managed to ask him why he had removed skill and luck from the book and he answered that people don't have time to fight combats any more but he then assured me that I will still die on my first two or three attempts.  So no change there then. 

I also asked him if he wanted to write more books and he said that he certainly enjoyed writing Blood of the Zombies.  So I think that if we show him that we want one badly enough, he will oblige. 

Ian stayed over his allocated hour to sign some books and afterwards I headed to the pub with Torallion.  After a brief diversion to a games shop where he showed me Arkham Horror (Lovecraftian boardgame =brilliant!) which I ahve just ordered.  We talked gamebooks, MMOS, MUDS and roguelikes before the Tin Man and the Warlock joined us.  We were then joined by Ian Livingstone himself!  In the pub!  Where we talked more and I managed to speak in complete sentences without gushing. 

It was a most excellent day and I hope that there will be another signing soon (get writing, Ian!)

There is another chance to see Ian Livingstone.  He will be making an appearance at the Edinbught festival on the 11th August 2012, doing a talk about Blood of the Zombies at 10am and doing a talk at 2pm.

One of my Twitter pals, writer of awesome martial arts fiction and Way of the Tiger RPG, David Walters will be there to talk to Ian Livingstone.

About Blood of the Zombies

The book has an introduction from Ian Livingstone.  He states that he was originally going to do a Firetop Mountain themed book but he didn't want to do one without Steve Jackson.  He then wanted to do a zombie themed book in Allansia but then decided to change it to the modern world and that it was a big decision for him.

It would be fair to say that a lot of Ian Livingstone's older books are populated with high skill opponents making a lot of combats difficult.  Well, I can tell you now that it definitely isn't the case in this book.  That's because you don't have skill in this book.  Nope.  Not at all.  You don't have a luck score either. 

'Then how is combat resolved?' I hear you ask.

Glad you asked.  Instead of skill, you have a stat called damage.  If you are unarmed, your damage is 1d6-3.  In the examples in the rules, Ian mentions that a knife has a damage rating of 1d6, a machine gun (nice!) has a rating of 2d6 + 5 and a shotgun (a must in anything zombie related) has a damage of 1d6 +5. 

You still have a classic stamina score of 2d6 +12.

Combat is in rounds but instead of computing attack strengths, you take turns at hitting each other.  First you are told how many zombies you are facing.  Each zombie has 1 stamina point.  You then calculate the damage you inflict with your weapon.  Each point kills off a zombie.  When its the zombies' turn, each zombie automatically inflicts 1 point of damage on you.  You then go back to damaging the zombies.

My first thought was that this will make combat fairer as the amount of damage you deal is dependent on your weapon - something you can change and improve over the course of the adventure.  Your skill score was usually static and if it sucked, you were stuck with it until some monster mercifully made mincemeat of you.

however, as I stated above, Ian Livingstone assured me that the book is still very difficult as if not more difficult.

However, I can't talk about it any more because I've refrained from playing it because I'm going to do a playthrough with Scott Malthouse. Keep your eyes peeled for that.

I can say that there are plenty of Easter eggs in the gamebook.  The background contains a location name that is meaningful to Ian when he first started writing Fighting Fantasy.  There is also the obligatory depiction of Ian in an illustration and there's also a reference to Zagor.  So that's something else to keep your eye out for.

We're all playing Blood of the Zombies.  Join us! 
You can buy Blood of the Zombies from Amazon. 

There will be an electronic version released by Tin Man Games...coming soon!