Sunday, May 18, 2014

What makes a gamebook stand out for you?

Two weeks ago, I took a list of the things that people from my April A to Z interviews had told me spoils a gamebook for them.  This week, I list all the things that makes a gamebook stand out for them and ask what makes a gamebook stand out for YOU!?

No gamebook is going to be perfect, but to be considered great it needs to have something special about it.  If the special thing is particularly good, then it may mean that any flaws in the book are forgivable.  For example, Creature of Havoc is full of instant deaths, but it is still considered great for its detailed background, great characters and having the satisfaction that you can finally beat it.  Lone Wolf can sometimes railroad you a bit, but its rich story more than makes up for that.  In some cases what makes this book special could be seen to be a flaw, but it is done so well that no one cares  For example, Fabled Lands doesn't have a narrative, but no one cares because there's a huge world to explore.

Also, trying to do too many special things in a gamebook will just spoil it.  And in some cases, putting more docus on one aspect will have to take away from another aspect.  No one gamebook can appeal to everyone, but if there are people who love it, it will do well.  As Mark Rosewater says "If you make a game that everyone likes, yet no one loves it will fail."

Mark didn't mention anything about hate because it doesn't matter if someone hates something as long as there are people who also love it.  That's the whole reason Marmite still sells.

So here are some things that make a gamebook special.  Which ones do you think are most important?

Being meta and self aware.

Interesting plot.

Interesting choices.

The "feel"

Story and quality of writing

Balance between plot and puzzle

Strong central storyline and detailed setting

Plenty to explore

Getting into the characters

Having decisions that make a difference to the outcome

Special rules

Depth and breadth of choices

Meaningful choices


1 comment:

  1. Being meta and self aware: Not always a good point. Some books can do this well - Herbie Brennan's Grailquest books pull it off; so does his mini-adventure in the Monster Horrorshow RPG where you 'find a sword that lights up and buzzes like one of those things in Star Wars' (I'm paraphrasing). But it's a fine line between poking light-hearted fun at the genre, and just not caring about the genre. I've read a few books that fall into the latter category.

    Interesting plot / Story and quality of writing / The "feel": Very important, and probably what can make the difference between a pretty good gamebook, and an excellent gamebook. Also incorporates...

    Strong central storyline and detailed setting: Storyline is important. Detailed setting helps, but isn't super-vital. Think of some of the SF FF books, f'rinstance. 'The Rings of Kether' doesn't have a wonderfully rich setting, but I still think it's a great book.

    Balance between plot and puzzle: The 'puzzle' part isn't necessarily so important for me. I'm really going off gamebooks where you have to 'beat the book' - I'm there for the story, which can play out in a number of different ways. Then again, it depends on the nature of the puzzle. If you look at the Choice of Games / Hosted Game 'Life of a Wizard', it's very stat-heavy, and the big puzzle sort of becomes working out how to maximise as many stats as possible. Still a fantastic game.

    Plenty to explore: Important if you want your book to be replayable. Important for books that don't have a linear route, as well (and gamebooks shouldn't have a linear victorious route, I feel).

    Getting into the characters: Kind of important, though plenty of gamebooks don't really have any friendly minor characters to interact with. But then, in a gamebook, YOU are the most important character. Getting into the secondary characters is less important than having a strong playable character (either because of a strong backstory, or plenty of possible character builds).

    Special rules: Not so important. For instance, plenty of FF books have special rules that could easily be cut out.

    Meaningful choices / Interesting choices / Having decisions that make a difference to the outcome / Depth and breadth of choices: This is really the defining characteristic of the genre. The choices are all-important. And I think that, these days - in this 21st-Century renaissance of gamebooks - that you need to include choices that impact the story, and the story's outcome. It's not enough - any more - to simply say, 'Do you go east or west?' 'Do you take the sword, or the slingshot, or the loaf of bread?'

    Art: Personally, it's not a biggie for me. The Destiny Quest books (certainly the first two; haven't yet played the third) have little to no internal art, except for the full-colour maps. And I don't think that harmed them any. They're still great books. The first time I played DQ1, I didn't even notice it didn't have any artwork...