Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Frankenstein Wars - The Hard Part Is History

You could make a solid argument that it's more challenging to write good interactive fiction than good literary fiction. In a gamebook, say, all of the requirements of high-quality literature must be present - such as plot, pacing, character; those old chestnuts. And yet you have to work within a very specific form, one that emphasises the meaningful choices within the text. This creates a great big decision tree, and for practical reasons of space, you can't spend a lot of time exploring the nuances of every specific route within that tree. Sadly, that means you can't devote a lot of words to dialogue, say, or inner monologue, or exploring complex socio-political situations. Out they go.


Oh, the consequences of complex socio-political situations can stay. The great big, bloody battles, and soldiers getting smashed to smithereens - all of that stuff can make the final edit.

Fantasy settings work great in gamebooks. In a really strong fantasy setting, everything can be expressed in such a beautifully shorthand way that you have a ton of room left over for the really important stuff, such as telling a great story. Don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying that the worlds themselves are simple; far from it. A handful of gamebooks have been set in Tolkien's Middle-Earth, and that's mind-blowingly rich. In more purist gamebook terms, Joe Dever's Magnamund isn't so far behind when it comes to sheer detail. But these worlds are inspired by legends that tap into the familiar, satisfying tropes of absolute light and dark. When it comes down to it, there are guys who worship good gods, and guys who worship evil gods. A sword is a sword, a big metal helmet will stop you getting bonked on the head, and wizards are mysterious and difficult to trust.

You know which setting is even more realistic than Magnamund, or Middle-Earth?

That's right. Reality.

The Frankenstein Wars gamebook app is an ambitious project in several ways. Dave Morris's concept of the reanimated lazarans as intelligent, feeling beings is a dramatic step beyond the majority of interactive fiction that currently exists. And the guys at Cubus Games are performing technical miracles with the game - I think, in terms of visuals and gameplay, we'll be able to create something that's right up there with the Sorcery! apps, or the best of the Tin Man adaptations.

But, perhaps most challenging of all, the game will be rooted in real-life history. We hope to successfully capture the discontentment of France during the reign of Charles X, the incompetent king. This is a game that will feature a host of characters who really, truly existed - such as Marshall Ney, Ada Lovelace, Lord Blakeney, and a certain deceased (and somewhat petit) former emperor of France.

And yet this is no documentary. Make no mistake - the star of the show here is Victor Frankenstein's resurrection technology, and the world-shattering power it grants to those who possess it. The game focuses on the schism between brothers Tom and Anton Clerval, yes - but it focuses too on the schism between Britain and France, and between the living and the once-dead.

Let the big, bloody battles commence. Let the soldiers get smashed to smithereens - and let Frankenstein's technology stick them back together again afterwards.

Sound interesting? At the time of writing, The Frankenstein Wars Kickstarter is hovering at around 54%, with just a few days to go. Why not click on over that way and back the project right now?


(Post by Paul Gresty)

4 comments:

  1. Are you trying to spark domestic warfare in the Morris household with the links in that opening sentence, Paul? :) I think I'll accept that literary fiction, if done well, is a lot harder, but that's not to say that gamebooks can't be a thoroughly captivating read too.

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  2. This part: "This creates a great big decision tree, and for practical reasons of space, you can't spend a lot of time exploring the nuances of every specific route within that tree. Sadly, that means you can't devote a lot of words to dialogue, say, or inner monologue, or exploring complex socio-political situations. Out they go." Is what I'm having a very difficult time with while writing my latest gamebook Spire Ablaze.

    I want to have characters that the player will get to know and care about, hate, or at least remember. In a gamebook it's difficult to do with multiple companion characters, especially if it's possible for any of them to die or be left behind. Every time you want a certain character to talk, you basically have to do a tree divergence to check if the character is there which doesn't flow well in a paper formatted gamebook (an app will make that smoother though) Ultimately I had to scrap many interactions simply due to bloat and an overly complex section tree. Did you hear this thing from character X 100 sections ago? If so, did you do thing Y or thing Z after hearing it? Character A might have something to say about it, but she died 45 sections ago. Or did she? Turn to section 4576.

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    1. Yeah, companions are difficult to do in gamebooks. If you don't give a lot of choice in who the player travels with, it's doable - the World of Lone Wolf (Grey Star) books are a good example of that. But if you actually have some degree of flexibility... yeah, it's tough. Even in apps, it's difficult - again, it's doable, but if you really want to give an option of companions, that takes serious word count.

      I like Life of a Wizard (Choice of Games); that one gives you a choice of companions - though, even here, they're really just copy-and-paste add-ons that each have different names. Still a great game, though.

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