Saturday, November 20, 2010

Your adventure is over part 1 - Victory in gamebooks

"Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes"
- Benjamin Franklin

However, in the world of gamebooks, neither is certain.  For one thing, in a world where evil sorcerers are plotting to bring down civilisation and brutal monsters roam the land, decimating whole populations, no one has had much time to collect taxes (unless you live in Port Blacksand where Lord Azzur invents a new one every week or want to save the world from the Shadow Warriors where your first great opponent is a short fat man who wants a load of gold.  It led to a great chase sequence though).

So in the world of gamebooks, you are more likely to end up on the wrong end of a sword rather than having to fill in a tax return.  However, even this is not certain as you may reach the victory paragraph.

Endings in gamebooks are strange as you need several endings but only one will be used at any given reading.  However, after scouring the forums and reviews, all endings - good and bad - need to be well done to maximise the level of entertainment. 

For example, there are some books where the victorious ending is a couple of lines saying congratulations, such as these endings

'"There" You say to Abdul, flinging your coffer open to reveal an amount of gold substantially greater than his own.  "I am the victor, I am the greatest rascal, the best sacker of cities!" Abdul bows his head, admitting your victory.  You have won." - Seas of Blood

'Victory is yours!  The Masks of Mayhem will not be released upon the land.  At least not in your lifetime...' - Masks of Mayhem

'With the capture of 'Blaster', you have wiped out the leadership of the criminal organisation.  Congratulations.  You have smashed the drug ring.  Your victory is a complete success.' - Rings of Kether.

'You drag the unconscious Cyrus from the Waldo.  Your mission is a complete success.  Congratulations' - Space Assassin.

(A Waldo is a bit like this except way less awesome.)

These endings give me and other people a sense of 'Is that it?'.  These endings do not give justice to the trials and tribulations I have gone through to get to the end.  I know that they were all in my head, but as this article about video games states (under number 4), we are hard wired to collect rewards, whether real or imaginary.  I want an epilogue to the story stating exactly how everyone in the world acknowledges my awesomeness and/or how I used the hordes of riches that all sorcerers inexplicably seem to be sitting on (in the case of Return to Firetop Mountain, this is literal) pile of treasure.

All of the above paragraphs do not do this.  First of all, they give very little hint as to the story you have experienced that led you up to this moment of triumph.  From above, I wouldn't know that the Rings of Kether was a Sci fi book.  I could just have easily been a modern day cop adventure.  If you didn't know that the first paragraph was from a book called Seas of Blood, you could imagine that you were a kind of barbarian sacking cities in the mainland.

Second, what happens after you have reached this moment.  Now that you and Abdul have established that you are the best pirate, what happens next?  Do you both go back to plundering as usual, confining this adventure to your log books?  What's going to stop him saying he won?  After all, you're both on a deserted island with only a severely beaten up cyclops and some aged creature to adjudicate. 

In Masks of Mayhem, how is your journey home?  In Space Assassin, what happens to Cyrus's ship?  How do you get Cyrus off the ship where his crew are still loyal to him and get him to a nice safe cell?  Who knows?

Thirdly, all of the paragraphs above say congratulations or make some obvious statement about you winning.  I know I've won.  Now please tell me what I've got.  Eyes on the prize, people!

I guess part of the reason why some victories are short is because of the original aim of the adventure.  If the aim is to slay the warlock to save the world and you have just beaten the warlock in the fight, then what more is there to add apart from 'You saved the world'?  I guess the endings are efficient.  They could be written like this.

'Let's look back at the aims of today then, shall we.  Right, one.  Capture mad scientist.  Check.  We've done that.  Well done!' 

However, even if the book has a simple aim and it's obvious when you achieve it, you can still add more to a victory.  Books involving Zagor do this well.  The aims are always simple - slay Zagor.  However, the endings are not short and simple.

In The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the aim is simple and it is not too surprising to find a ton of treasure in Zagor's chest, but then there is also his spellbook.  Ah.  Do you take the treasure or do you stay and rule over Firetop Mountain?  The rest of the story is left to your imagination.

In Return to Firetop Mountain, after you slay Zagor, you return with some villagers to gloat over Zagor's corpse, only to find the left arm missing dun dun DUN.  Cue sequel...

In Legend of Zagor, you kill Zagor for good by dropping him in a chasm full of fire (although in the novels, even this isn't enough to off him) and you are told that you land is still a very trouble place but you have given it a chance of survival. 

Some gamebooks treat your victory with an in depth epilogue full of people telling you how great you are.  All Lone Wolf books and Grailquest books have this kind of ending with all but one Lone Wolf book (Masters of Darkness) giving you the title of the next adventure to look forward to.  That is what I'm talking about.

Some gamebooks have endings that are good because they are intriguing as well as complete.  Slaves of the Abyss does not end as you would expect, but it grows (literally) into a bigger story.

Finally, I'd just like to point out the ending to Night Dragon which has me thoroughly confused.  You have defeated the eponymous Night Dragon and leave its mountain to have the Lord of Dragons fly you somewhere.  However, you are not told where.  You are merely told that while you are on the Lord of Dragon's back, you fall asleep and that when you awaken ' will be glad that it was a dreamless slumber.'

What the hell does that mean?  Answers in a comment please.

I was going to write about death endings at this point, but this post is long enough.  I will put them in a separate post.


  1. I agree with many of your reflections here. Re-reading numerous gamebooks as an adult I discovered that the final paragraph often rewarded the character (fictional cash and prizes), but not the reader. Naturally I found this very unfulfiling. Therefore when I write my gamebooks I always make sure I am giving the reader something, which usually means a lengthy passage letting them know how things end, and if it is a humerous story, trying to leave them with a laugh.

  2. Your article brought to mind the same issue, but concerning computer games. After toiling away at a game for hours and winning, I was left rather flat when the ending sequence was short and/or boring.

    After I read this I immediately thought of my own two completed gamebooks, and how their endings were, using your comments as guidelines. I came to the conclusion that the successful ending to my first book was fair (but could have been better) and that my second one was short (although the adventure itself was also short).

    Thanks for your comments. I have them in my mind for my next two gamebooks (which happen to be a duology).

  3. @ Ulysses: Hi Ulysses, nice to see you following my blog. I love the Diamond Key and the Wrong Way Go Back Series. Your endings certainly are great.

    @ J P Barnett: Ah yes, computer games! One of my friends was telling me that the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire game just went back to the main menu when she answered the million pound question. She was not very happy about it. Even Microsoft Solitaire has all the cards dance about when you win.

    I'd like to order your gamebooks sometime - I've been loitering on your site for a while now.