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Sunday, September 29, 2019

The good points of Coils of Hate part 1: The hero

NOTE: I wrote this post a long time ago and I've only just released it. Since then, Mark Smith generously gave me his permission to release a fan version I made which reboots the original book and (I hope) addresses the problems it had. You can get it from Drive Thru RPG for free!!!!!

Coils of Hate is a gamebook in the Virtual Reality series written by Mark Smith. In the book, you are a member of the Judain community in the decadent city of Godorno. Your people are much hated upon and to make matters worse, about 5 sections into the book, the corrupt overlord of the city makes the hate official, banning Judain from the city unless they are slaves. You have to flee the city. When you return, things have really gone south. The overlord's men are hunting and killing Judain, there has been a plague and a giant purple creature is stalking the city, swallowing up people and undermining its foundations. For some reason, you are the only person who can stop all of this.

Now the book is maligned due to logic errors which cause a lot of frustration. Per Jorner has put in a lot of effort to catalogue them and Dave Morris has acknowledged that they need a lot of editing, but if you look past the logic errors, there is actually a lot of depth and great aspects to the book that surpass many other gamebooks.

The first aspect is the main character.

First of all, I would like to say that the character you play is an idiot. He (and, based on his relationship with Lucie, it is probably a he) does have some skills, but against the worst that Godorno has to offer, he is completely out of his depth. Want to fight Tyutchev? You'll probably die. What about go to some pub that thieves drink in? If you don't have streetwise, you'll get your throat cut. How about threatening or bribing a bunch of guards? You'll get peppered with crossbow bolts. Surely you can organise the resistance against the guards? No, they will also get peppered with crossbow bolts. How about tomb robbing? Can't harm the Jade guards. Killing the overlord? Failure is the only option. He doesn't even want a job, thinking that is beneath him.

Basically, it seems that the only thing you can succeed at is running away.

Now, I think the main character is an idiot, but I also think he is an extremely well fleshed out and written idiot with a depth that almost no other main character in a gamebook has.

He has a great can-do attitude: Despite only taking a few sections, your trip out of the city is vital at the beginning of the book - it gets you away from the city when things really go bad and crush the spirit of your people. You miss the plague and the initial attacks on the Judain. You also miss the first attacks by Hate. As a result of this, you are one of the few people in the city whose spirit hasn't been completely crushed, which means that you are ready to do whatever it takes to save your people. Due to the fact that everyone else is desperate, they actually listen to you.

He has friends and enemies: The character has people who know him and who he can drop in on. Now sometimes, these friends just pop out of nowhere, but they are introduced with familiarity. Tarkamandir, Caiaphas, Marmeluke and Lucie are exaples of the character's friends. The character knows Melmelo the thief and disapproves of him.

He has desires: He wants to make something of his life, which is what the introduction says, but not get a job. I'm putting this down to the arrogance of youth rather than the protagonist actually knowing that they will achieve something great. He must have a high opinion of himself when he is living in a broken down hovel yet somehow knows he is destined for greatness. He also desires Lucie. There are many points in the text where you can tell that the character is so besotted with Lucie that what is actually happening and what they are feeling are completely at odds.

He perceives things through an emotional lens: Most gamebooks simply describe the five senses to the reader, but this one demonstrates the characters thoughts and feelings. The book mixes the five senses and character perception well, so that you, as the reader can see that the character has a warped version of reality in places. This is most apparent when Lucie is involved. When she steals your amulet, your first thought is that she is being influenced by some supernatural creature, not the fact that she wants to sell it. There are also parts where there is a discrepancy between how skilled you think you are and how skilled you actually are. For example, in a section where you organise the resistance to take on the Overlord's men, you feel quite happy with your plan. And then the Overlord's men fire a bunch of crossbows at the resistance and completely curb stomp them. Oops.

So there we go. Here we have a main character who is really up against it. Their steps to being a hero is fraught with failure and sacrifice and yet, they are the only person who can do it as they haven't had their spirit completely crushed by oppression, plague of hate itself. They become a hero simply by just doing something.

I think this quote from Mark Twain sums up the hero perfectly:

"Only two things are required for success - confidence and ignorance."

Sunday, September 22, 2019

3 rules I had to be reminded of when writing Asuria

Asuria Awakens, my addition to the Tin Man Games Orlandes series is still out in the App store. It was released on September 11th 2015, making it almost its anniversary.

I thought I would share some lessons I leant whilst writing it.

1)  Don't annoy the player.

There's a reason why this is number 1.  It doesn't matter how clever you're being, or how great you're writing is.  It's all for nothing if it annoys the player.  I had a section in Asuria where you get sucked into a maelstrom and pulled into a giant monster.  Now, throughout the book, I wanted to give an impression of hopelessness and that winning was impossible, so in this section, I offered two choices - row or swim.  however, both choices lead to you being sucked away.  There was no functional difference between them.  The reason I did this was to make the reader think that they had chosen the 'wrong' choice and make them feel like it was hopeless.  However, I then thought that if they went back, chose the other choice and realised that there was not difference, then they would have got annoyed.  So I got rid of that bit.

2)  If you need an item, make sure you have a chance to get it towards the point you need.

I'm referring to point 4 on the terrific article linked above.  I wanted Asuria to be a book where you did not have to complete a set path to win and it would be quite forgiving in terms of instant deaths.  So there is only 1 section where you need an item or die.  And when I wrote it, you had the chance to find 3 different items that would save you.  However, when I went back through it, I realised that these 3 items were all at the beginning of the book and that you could go through 2/3 of it with not chance of success only for you to die at the end.  It is for this reason that I included a new location towards the end with a new item to help (the bat amulet in case you're wondering)

3)  If you give the player an option to leave, don't just let it lead to an insta kill.

This is one thing Dave Morris, author of the Fantastic Heart of Ice, does not like about gamebooks, so when I realised that I had done it in Asuria, I immediately changed it.  I had two bits where you could leave Casporur and head back to Orlandes before you finish (one by land and one by sea) and they might be justifiable too (you might have found the simulacra you were looking for and you were charged with the safety of Orlandes, not Casporur after all).  However, since I didn't want this to happen, it was an instant death paragraph.  However, after the interview, I inserted a combat to both bits where the simulacra you fight warns you that you will be followed wherever you go as a not too subtle message to stick around.  After a warning like that, I feel absolved of guilt about anyone who ignores that warning and heads home anyway.

Honourable mention: Never have a combat where you have an offence of 1.

Combat in Tin Man Games works like this. You roll a number of dice equal to your offence. Your opponent rolls a number of dice equal to their defence. The winner is not the one with the highest total number, but the one whose highest die roll is higher than their opponent's highest die roll. If the attacker wins, they deal damage equal to the number of all the dice added together. Then it's the other combatant's turn. This means that if you have an offence of 1, you are rolling 1 die. Even against a defender with a defence of 1, the chance of hitting is not large and if you do hit, you deal 2-6 damage at most, which means it will take a while to kill your opponent. I did not want lots of busy time, so I made sure that your character always has a dagger with an offence of 2 and it is impossible to lose it. Also, I had unavoidable weapon upgrades so that I knew the player could keep up with their opponents.

You can get Asuria Awakens from the app store.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The creation process

I created SCRAWL as the easiest, quickest system to write a gamebook from.

However, I have discovered that making a system to enable something able to be done quick and easily is a long and difficult process.

Obviously, once the system is in place, then things will take off.

I got this idea from a book (it's title escapes me now) that talked about MacDonald's success. The book states that pretty much anyone could make a burger that is better than a MAcDonald's burger. However, the rub lies in making several burgers with the speed and consistency of MacDonald's burgers that are better than MacDonald's burgers. We couldn't do that. And that is why MacDonald's is a success. It is not in the quality of its burgers, but is ability to be able to cheaply set up a restaurant and easily train pretty much anyone to make their products.

This is my aim with SCRAWL.

I started writing a SCRAWL mini adventure and it took a lot longer than I thought it would because I didn't have a system in place. This was a blessing in disguise, because it made me realise that I needed something like a checklist to think as little as possible about the process and that to perfect it, I should start small.

So I did. I am currently on my first Small SCRAWL adventure, but I'm going to write more of them until I have the system sorted and then I will move onto bigger ones.

This reminded me of Ten short Fighting Fantasy books and one long one (I really wasn't very good at titles about 9 years ago!) which I had written specifically to hone my gamebook craft.

I did it by writing short gamebooks and then writing what I had learned from each one.

I think I need to do the same exercise with SCRAWL. Basically, even though it is my system, it already seems to have a life of its own and I need to get to know it better.

So there we go. My journey in writing gamebooks continues...

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Nine years on

Hello all! I'm a bit late! My first ever post was on August 27th 2010, so I am slightly late for my anniversary (also, the saved file in here said eight years on as the title. Whoops...)

So what's been going on?

When I started the blog, I was unmarried, working as a teacher and didn't have an A level in physics.

Now none of those things apply to me. However, things have calmed down recently and what the last few months have taught me is that I really needed some time to focus on gamebook writing. You don't know what you've got until it's gone.

I am going to do my best to not make one of those blogs where there's a post every few months that says 'I'm still here, just been busy the last few months, but I'll really get on it now!' etc. etc.

I'm going to make posts, little and often, and schedule them so that there's a regular release. Optimistically, that would be once a week, but expect once a fortnight and you won't be disappointed. I think more than that and each post will turn into one explaining what I've been doing and why I haven't posted.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

SCRAWL Ultimate edition out!

Hello all! Remember me? I don't think I do. Isn't this Peter Agapov's blog anyway? He writes loads of great analysis and has wonderful insights.

Well, I'm back...very briefly to tell you about SCRAWL Ultimate edition (available now, pay what you want)!

SCRAWL is a system I created in order to save time for both the player and the writer - abilities give you rerolls rather than bonuses (no maths! No tests that are too difficult or too easy!), spells only give rerolls to ability tests or emulate minor magical items (No spells completely ruining the game and making me consider them every time I write an adventure!) and lots of other reasons that makes it quick and easy to play.

The ultimate edition lets you create a character in about a minute then lets you drop them in the middle of a wilderness to explore a land, go to settlements and loot dungeons.

I put it on Drive Thru RPG this morning and I was touched to see the number of downloads it got, so I'm going to do some adventures to slot into SCRAWL in the future.

I hope I'll be back on a more regular basis. Peter has done a great job with his wonderful posts and I am infinitely grateful that he has kept this blog alive.

I have so much to write about though - Fighting Fantasy Fest, gamebook ideas, gamebook analysis.

See you soon, I hope!