Thursday, April 3, 2014

April A to Z - C is also for Cook, Randy

Hello all!  Today, we have another post, from randy Cook, who is an author of two gamebooks (so far...).  He comes here to tell us about his great work.  Here are his websites etc. if you want to get hold of him...

Castle Darkholm Trailer Video:
Publisher Website:

Tell us about yourself.
Well you can find me conveniently located eight miles east of the middle of nowhere, and then you take a left.  I have been employed as a factory worker, the Operations Manager of a major software company, a Public Accountant, a Chaplain, oh and a writer and programmer of software and ePubs.  I am not sure, if I have a broad range of experiences to draw upon or if I just have commitment issues.  I currently live in the mid-western portion of the United States with my wife, Regina (a published poet herself).  I have three grown sons and a dog. (Sorry cat owners)

What was the first gamebook that you ever read?
The Third Planet From Altair by Edward Packard.  I picked up that book when I was young and it opened up a completely new world for me.  While growing up in rural Kansas provided for a wonderful childhood, it did not offer a great deal in the way of first hand real world adventure.  This book offered not only a good read for an adolescent mind it also offered a way of participating in the adventure in a manner that most other linear books did not.  I gave a nod to Mr. Packard and the gift he gave me back then when in my first book, The Vortex, I attributed those responsible for the creation of the trans-dimensional Portals to the alien race of Altarians, a slightly modified form of the name of the Altair star system from that early book.  Many of my own works include obscure (and sometimes strange) references to such things that contributed to my own unique view of the world.

What is your favourite gamebook?
That is easy, my favorite gambeook is whatever book I happen to be reading at the moment.  Every gamebook has great elements and not so great elements.  There are so many notable ingredients from so many different books, that to pick just one as being a “favorite” would be a dis-service to all of the others.

What spoils a gamebook for you?
First would be bad formatting.  When the page or paragraph layout is not conductive to the flow of the story, it creates a barrier to the enjoyment of the work.  The second thing might sound a bit old fashioned, but excessive use of profanity for me distracts from the story.  Now do not get me wrong, there are moments when a well placed explicit word has great value for its shock effect, but when over used, it simply acts as an obstruction.
What makes a gamebook stand out for you?
Good and entertaining writing.  A picture might be worth a thousand words, but words put the picture in context.

Where did you get the idea for Castle Darkholm?
From my fear of things that go bump (or bite) in the dark.  Castle Darkholm began its life (or maybe I should say un-life) as a Dungeons & Dragons adventure module that I wrote.  I then discovered adventure games and morphed it into a computer text adventure game.  After I had written, The Vortex, I began thinking that it would be an interesting challenge to make Darkholm into a digital ePub for eReaders and tablets.  3671 pages and over 4000 hyper-links later it was done.  Castle Darkholm is dedicated to my middle son Zachariah.  My kids have always been a major source of inspiration providing my life with a definite sense of adventure and excitement.

How did you get your idea for the Vortex?
My oldest son, Michael, gave me a Nook eReader as a father’s day present.  After playing with it for a while, I concluded that an ePub would make the near perfect format for delivering a CYOA style book.  After working with the layout for a bit, I decided on a subject matter that centered on the pretty classic concept of exploring an abandoned alien city.  Throw in a galactic calamity to destroy the universe and the story just revealed itself.  I dedicated this first book to Micheal since he is the adventurist explorer in the family (he is a US marine).

What is the hardest thing about writing a gamebook?
Beta testing!  There are so many different devices out there (Nooks, Kindles, Nexus, iPads, etc) and each has their own nuisances when it comes to rendering pages.  While the idea of write once and publish on many devices sounds great in theory, the actual practice is sometimes messy. What might look fine on one device could look terrible on another.  Lots of beta testing is needed to produce a consistent product across multiple device platforms.

 What is the most exciting thing about writing a gamebook?
That would have to be seeing the virtual world of your gamebook come to life as a working prototype.  You spend so much time considering plot development, doing layout and writing content that the moment it becomes a functioning work, it becomes very real for the first time as a writer\designer.  Of course all of the beta testing and revisions that follow are not so exciting, but it still does not diminish that initial rush of adrenaline that comes when you can actual move from location A (the Castle Foyer) to location B (the Castle Main Hall) for the first time.  At least until you realize that location B somehow became the Castle Water Closet and your virtual torch has morphed into an empty tube of toilet paper.

What advice would you offer to someone who is writing gamebooks?
Before you even think about touching a keyboard and coding, work out the major story arcs in your mind (lots of notes, flowcharts, maps, and chicken scratch are mission critical).  Once you have the big picture in your mind, the smaller details will almost write themselves.  Also, find some excellent people to work with on the areas that are not your strengths.  I have had the great fortune to work with some top talent such as Cynthia Celeste Miller of Spectrum Games who is an excellent Graphic Designer, Jeremy "Kinsei" Daniels a wonderful artist, and Demian Katz of who has some amazing editorial skills.

What advice would you offer to someone who is writing gamebooks for electronic media?
Do not let yourself become restrained by the chains of imagined paper.  Although the basic concepts of game play remain the same for both physically printed and electronic books, many of the constraints imposed on a printed book no longer apply.  Things like the necessary tradeoff between the per page printing cost and story development are no longer relevant.  My last ePub, Castle Darkholm, has well over 3000 pages and would simply not be possible as a printed book (and still be cost effective to bring to market).  I am a firm believer that you must capitalize on the strengths of a medium and exploit its weakness.

What plans does eGenesis Media have for the future?
Our next interactive title scheduled for release is Metal Wars 2027.  An adventure set in a dystopian future where humankind is on the run (again).  Metal Wars, like my other books, is dedicated to one of my sons, this one is for Christian.  While we are committed to continuing to provide innovative ePubs to our readers for all devices, we are nearing completion of a full featured development environment for creating and publishing web-based adventure games.  We are also working to develop mobile app versions of our titles for android, IOS and Surface devices.  Both the apps and web-based gamebooks will include new levels of user interactivity that will push the idea of interactive fiction to a new level.

What is your wish for gamebooks?
My primary hope for gamebooks is that they will be able to reach a broader audience.  The entire genre, be it CYOA, FF, text adventure game or some hybrid in-between has so much great potential that I would love to see more people have access to them.

Castle Darkholm Trailer Video:
Publisher Website:

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