Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gamebook traps #1 Only caring about the successful route

Hello all!

Today, I'll be talking about a mistake that I have made when writing gamebooks and that is only focusing on the successful route.  This involves working out hte correct path through the book and then just throwing in some other options that will lead to failure or just aren't the optimal path for the sake of giving the player more choice but then not really putting as much effort into writing them or even checking that they fit into the gamebook.

I noticed this after writing Sharkbait's Revenge.  I tried to make sure that all of the paragraphs were useful to go to if you made the correct choices to go with them.  However, that was never going to work out and there are some decisions that were worse than others.  For example, when you are breaking into a house, you have to face several guards.  Going through the middle is worse than sneaking around the edge of the house. 

What happened was, when I was playing through my Windhammer entry, I only focused on the optimal routes which means that I missed certain things, like the correct paragraph numbers.  I had forgotten that other people would not know that they were bad choices and make them.  I just made the best choices and made sure that they worked.

There were also problems with game mechanics.  Was I just throwing in some situatuins that would be impossible to beat and therefore might as well be sudden death paragraphs?  I also playtested the sub optimal routes a lot less so I had no idea whether anyone taking them could survive and win the game or whether they would be mercilessly killed much later for making one silly mistake and therefore having their time wasted.

How have I reduced this problem?

Check all of the options:  Yes - just having to spend some more time being more thorough would solve most of the problems.

Get someone else to read it:  This other person has no idea what the successful route should be, so they will make all kinds of suboptimal decisions and tell you if they work.  Also, you can ask them if they can tell if they know which route is the best one based on how much effort they think has been put in the paragraph. 

Concentrate on all the failure routes first and make the death paragraphs entertaining ways to die:  Even if the player really botched up and adventure and gets themselves killed, they still deserve an entertaining and engaging read. 

Some people care less about victory and more about the story and exploration.  Some players are probably just sadists and want to get their player killed in increasingly bizarre ways. 

All of these player types will be disappointed if they have to walk through several non-descript rooms to a two line death paragraph.  The bad routes and failures should be just as entertaining. 

Beneath Nightmare Castle and Creature of Havoc nail this idea. 

Also, from a gaming point of view, a player will have no way of working out if this is the optimal route or not based on the amount of effort put into the paragraphs.

So there we are.  Remember that even if a route is destined for failure, it still deserves your attention.

Happy gamebooking!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

April A to Z 2013

Ahoy there fellow gamebookers!

I'm thinking about the April A to Z challenge this far in advance, however, because although I have a lot of real life commitments, I still want to produce a post a day for a whole month as I find the process challenging and fun and it also allows me to see lots of great blogs and for lots of people to look at my blog and, by extension, the blogs and sites of the people I talk about (I hope).

So if you have a blog and the time to devote to doing the April A to Z, I would recommend that you do in order to find some great new blogs and pick up some followers to your own blog.

This is what the format for 2013 is going to be.  Hopefully, by the time you read this, I will have collected some more interviews from people in the gamebook world I missed the first time round and with people who wanted a repeat interview. 

However, if you are reading this, you haven't heard from me about an interview and you would like to feature in the April A to Z, please drop me a line at

I'm anicipating that I won't have enough interviews for all 26 days so in the days that I don't have an interview, I will be posting a mini gamebook.

So there you go - news and entertainment all rolled together in one monthly challenge along with your regular serving of Sunday installments. 

I'm looking forward to it already.  I hope you are.

Happy gamebooking!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

gameBOOKs vs GAMEbooks part 2 - gameBOOKs

Before you read this, why don't you read two excellent blog posts which partially or wholly talk about the smae topic of game vs book in gamebooks.

First, there is this one by Paul Gresty, author of Arcana Agency.  And then there is this one by Grey Wizard, author of the Mysterious Path comic.

Back now?  Let us continue.

So here we have gameBOOKs, gamebooks that place less emphasis on the game part and more emphasis on the book (or story) part.  Interactive fiction falls into this category.  What characterises a gameBOOK.

There may not be any victory criteria:  Whilst some gameBOOKs have a clear objective for victory, some of them involve you jsut seeing where your choices will take the story.

More than one satisfying endings:  You will probably live in most gameBOOK endings and these endings will have varying degrees of success.  It may even be up for debate as to which ending is better.  For example, in the CYOA book, The Race Forever, you could end up finding gold and becoming rich rather than winning the race.

Death is less likely:  Whilst you might die in a gameBOOK, it does not happen as often as in GAMEbooks.  There might be no hit point meter and most of the decisions you make won't be life threatening at all.

More backstory:  These gamebooks have no problem defining your age, gender, career, outlook on life and many other facets to your persaonality.  You may even get a name if you are lucky, so you are able to visualise your character.

Fewer stats:  You may even have no stats in the case of CYOA books and the stats may not measure your hit points but rather your relationships with people (see Heroes Rise.)

Choices revolve around what you want the character to do or in which direction you want to take the story:  GameBOOKS are very non linear because there is no objective to fulfil so you can take the story anywhere.  Should I become a ninja or a pirate?  Should I go to the party or play compuoter games?  Also, because there are no victory criteria, there is less agonising over which decision is the 'right' decision.  You can just sit back, decide to do what you want and see where the story takes you without fear of getting yourself killed.

Your character and NPCs are defined by their background, decisons and relationships rather than by stats:  It is more about how the story unfolds than winning, losing or getting the most points.

It may not be in the second person:  In some cases, you may not be playing a character but rather choosing how a story moves. 

Examples of gameBOOKs:  Choose Your Own Adventure, Life's Lottery, Choice of Games.

So there we are.  As you probably expected, the game/book divide is more of a sliding scale than two categories.  Next week, we can look at some gamebooks that are  and see if they are more game or more book.

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

gameBOOKs vs GAMEbooks part 1 - GAMEbooks

A gamebook is an amalgamation of two things - a game and a (story) book.  It's all in the name, really.

What this means is that you canget gamebooks that are more game than book and gamebooks that are more book than game.  I'm going to define the game and the book part of gamebooks, state what characteristics each one has and what type of player would like them.

I will refer gamebooks that are mainly game as GAMEbooks and gamebooks that are mainly book i.e. they focus on story and character rather than stats and winning as gameBOOKS.


Here are some characteristics that make a gamebook more game than book.

Clear objective for victory:  Since there is more emphasis on game, there is a way to win and a way to lose.  The objective is usually something like kill the wizard or find the treasure or escape the dungeon.  Sometimes, the objective is revealed to you part way through the gamebook, such as in Creature of Havoc or Black Vein Prophecy but it is always there.

Few (usually one) satisfying ending:  Since there is one objective, most GAMEbooks only have one good ending where you meet the objective.  Most other endings usually result in your death, or, if they don't (for example, if you decide to spend you life being a monk in the Crimson Tide), the text usually states that you have failed in some way.

More life and death struggle:  Since in GAMEbooks, you either win or die, there are plenty of combats and life threatening situations for you to fall into.

Very little backstory:  GAMEbooks are moer likey to be the kind of gamebook with a few paragraphs about some evil wizard which aren't really relevant to the rest of the game as you then just have to crawl around a dungeon to kill them.  Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a classic example.

Use of stats:  There are more stats in a GAMEbook than in a gameBOOK.  These stats usually revolve around the abilities of the character rather than anything to do with the story, such as their fighting and magical abilities.  Characters in GAMEbooks also have some value to measure hit points as opposed to gameBOOKs, where, if death is a possibility, it is usually due to the text rather than any situation.

Choices mainly revolve around resource management rather than what you would do as a character:  Since you have a load of stats, the rules usually have a way of manipulating those stats.  Destiny Quest is the perfect example of this.  Should I use my charm ability now or later?  Which die shall I reroll?  Should I drink this potion of vanish?  Should I take the speed enhancing item or the brawn enhancing item?  These are all very interesting decisions but none of them revolve around the story.

Your character and the NPCs are mainly defined by their stats and equipment rather than by their interactions with others and their decisions: A lot of NPCs won't even have names as they are there to provide you with a combat or some other stat based challenge.  Your character will probably be defined by which stat is highest or which skills and spells they have (chosen based on their ability to win you the game rather than flavour.  It is not uncommon to pick a wizard with both healing spells and damage dealing spells.)

Examples of GAMEbooks:  Fighting Fantasy (with Legend of Zagor taking an extreme approach), Destiny Quest, Trial of the Battle God, some Tunnels and Trolls solos.