Sunday, September 26, 2010

Good choices and bad choices but no dead choices.

I picked up Dave Morris's Screaming Spectre and Tyrant's Tomb Heroquest books yesterday from a charity shop and enjoyed reading them again.

I noticed that in the Tyrant's Tomb, Dave had been very shrewd. In the book, you are given the option of asking a wizard for a gift. He offers you strength of arms, magic or foresight.

Strength of arms gives you an axe that always hits first time, magic gives you an amulet that protects you from hostile sorcery and foresight gives you some information that once you know it you won't forget after the first time you've played the book and so you don't pick it again.

However, Dave must have known this trick, so the foresight option also gives you a stone which lets you see an elvish market where you can buy game winning items from.

Every time you play a gamebook past the first you are forewarned of knowledge of the previous attempt, which you will work on. This is not really a form of cheating as you cannot will yourself to forget this knowledge and the writer does not want you winning on you first attempt and not reading the book again as it won't feel satisfying. Maybe they want it to be hard so you have to read it several times. That is why they offer you many choices, some good and some bad.

However, paragraphs which just offer information and do not open or close new paths will end up as dead choices. You won't want to go back to your paragraph after you've been there before. Sometimes, an option is a dead choice because you know that it is useless or bad before you even go there (Such as in Fighting Fantasy's Demons of the Deep where on paragaph 1, you are given the option of swimming back to the surface where lots of hostile pirates are. You know that's bad).

This is why Dave Morris decided to reinvigorate the foresight choice with a helpful item.

A good gamebook needs your choices to be good or bad. It doesn't necessarily mean that every paragraph ahs to have an adjustment in stats or an item. It could just mean you have a new path opened up to you or one is closed off. However, the last thing you need are dead choices. If you read a paragraph and think 'I don't need to go back that way next time', you've just hit a dead choice. The only reason you might want to do it is for flavour reasons, so it is part of your story.

In Dave Morris's other book, The Screaming Spectre, Dave carefully avoids dead choices with codewords and items. You may get to a stage where you save a woman from a monster and she offers you dinner. Then you hear music play. If you listen, she tells you that it is a water elemental that gives a magical harp to a mortal which makes people dance. The elemental's music speeds up time and you miss your meal. If you do not listen to the music you get nice food and restore 1 body point.

After the first run through, you would rather take the meal over the info you already know, but Dave gets around this with a codeword. If you do not listen to the music, you do not get the codeword.

I must endevour that my gamebooks have less dead choices and more bad choices. The option of bad choices increases replayability as you are striving to find the best possible path for your character. I do not put as many bad choices in my books as I should do. All moy options seem to be beneficial in some way.

Had to modify my Windhammer entry. I missed that you could end up trapped in the marketplace. This is due to a last minute change I made, forbidding the hero to return to the docks if they got the guards' attention. This stopped them from being able to get a merchant ship out of the city and closed off their last option of an ending if they had missed the others.

It's all changed now. Have a look at the entries at:


  1. Interesting read. Personally I'm a fan of having codewords when info is handed out though to some they may seem clunky. I don't think having too many "good" choices is necessarily a bad thing. It will allow more routes the story can legitimately take which means more interactivity and replayability. "Dead" choices on the other hand are best left out altogether.

  2. I've been thinking about this more and maybe you cannot have too many 'good' choices. Maybe the best way of reducing dead choices is having lots of good choices, some of which are better than others depending on choices you made before. This will mean that you will either get a reward or nothing. At some point, the book will check how many rewards you have and you win if you have enough.