Saturday, April 7, 2012

April A to Z - G is for Gamebook Adventures part 2 - an interview with Andrew Drage (aka Brewin)

We have two interviews today.  As well as Neil Rennison, we also have Andrew Drage (aka Brewin) who is the author of the eighth Gamebook Adventure, Infinite Universe (you can read a review of it here).  He is also a novelist, research scientist, owner of a very beautiful website and all round polymath.

As well as Infinite Universe  (get it here!) Brewin has also written two novels - the supernatural horror, The Dark Horde  and the reality bending adventure Evermore (just to clarify, the story is about bending reality.  The book itself does not bend reality).

Q: What was the first gamebook you read (that you didn't write)?
A: I’d like to say it was Warlock of Firetop Mountain, but I’ve got a feeling it was Cave of Time (the first Choose-your-own-adventure).

Q: What is your favourite gamebook?
A: Probably have to go with the gamebook (actually it’s two together) that I played the most, which is Duelmaster 1: The Challenge of the Magi. I must have played that with a friend at least thirty times haha.

Q: What is your favourite gamebook series?
A: (I added this question in as I wanted to say this): I’d have to say Grailquest. I loved everything about that series: The writing, the humour, the crazy ideas that no one else was game to do, the maps and the system.

Q: What gamebooks/interactive fiction would you recommend to a newcomer to the genre?
A: Hmmm probably have to suggest the most well known and arguably the most accessible series: Choose-your-own-adventure. Then if you’re looking for a quality gamebook without dice, try Heart of Ice (available as a free download!) Or if you want something with dice and extra elements, you could start with Warlock of Firetop Mountain or Buffalo Castle to understand where gamebooks began. Or you could try the Lone Wolf series, all legally available for free on the Project Aon site. Or you could try something contemporary on a digital device, where the game system is all handled for you, for instance the highly acclaimed Gamebook Adventures series on iOS devices and soon android as well (plug, plug!)

Q: Summarise what a gamebook is to a newcomer in 100 characters or fewer.
A: A book where you make choices that affect the story and sometimes roll dice to determine outcomes.

Q: Why are gamebooks great compared to games or books?
A: Books, that is experiences created by words alone, give an experience that other forms of entertainment cannot deliver; a unique way of channelling one’s own imagination into the experience of another that is devoid of other distractions. Games on the other hand are experiences that have no fixed outcome; they are different each time, but typically lack the depth of books. Gamebooks like their name suggests, are both game and book and so share all of these advantages. They deliver the unique reading experience and are different each time they are re-read.

Q: You have just released two novels.  What inspired you to also write a gamebook?
A: Ever since I was about seven I’ve wanted to write books, games and gamebooks. Discovering Fighting Fantasy at this age was probably the catalyst for this, and Dungeons and Dragons soon after. It all went from there really… It’s no exaggeration to say that gamebooks and role playing games (the original “pencil and paper” ones) made me the writer I am. The first of my novels (which I first self-published in 2001), actually becomes a “choose-your-own-adventure” story for the ending, and my second novel features a chapter where a child is battling the Werewolf in Warlock of Firetop Mountain. As far as the gamebook I’ve written goes, the original idea for that stems from a series of gamebooks I wrote for kicks and a few friends when I was about twelve I think (about twenty-five years ago). I called the series Space Fighter, which wasn’t the most original name but you get the idea haha. I wrote three titles (the third had about 330 sections) and got half way through the fourth one before I moved onto writing D&D modules and other games.

Q: How did you get involved with Tin Man Games?
A: A strange twist of “fate” that was. A work redundancy at the end of 2008 when the GFC bit gave me a chance to re-evaluate what I wanted to do in life and that was to write and make games, not build databases haha. So in 2009 I began a programming course specifically for computer games at the AIE in Melbourne. I did the first year but decided at the start of 2010 to pull out of the second year as my passion was really for writing and designing, not the programming so much. I had one book published a few years back and another manuscript ready to go, and about six or seven drawers full of other stories and game designs. It was time to do something… Only a few weeks after I dropped out of the course, the local games community (the Melbourne chapter of the IGDA) were having an open mike night for people to promote themselves. I figured I had nothing to lose, so gave it a crack even though I was the only one taking part who didn’t have a demo as such to show of my work. It was just me talking about who I was and what I wrote and designed.
(Okay I’m getting to the answer now): It turns out that Neil of Tin Man Games also spoke at the open mike night, telling about what he was doing (he’d just released the first Gamebook Adventure title at this point) and that he was looking for interested authors and artists.
I had an OMG moment. That was totally what I wanted to be a part of. Shit, I even had my first novel with me (the one that ends as a “choose-your-own-adventure”) and game designs for my role-playing games. My teacher Caswal from the AIE programming course was there too and said to me “You need to speak to Neil!” –“No shit!” I replied and so was promptly introduced to Neil (who’d actually missed my talk and had no idea who I was)...
I think I bailed Neil up a bit then as nerd-frenzy overwhelmed me and I did my best to impress upon him how awesome I thought his “gamebook adventure” was and how much it was something that I was into and wanted to be a part of… I mean like what are the chances of being in Melbourne on the arse-end of the planet and have this taking place where you happen to be? Anyway, I guess I can’t have made thaaat bad of an impression as from there I went on to edit the next three titles (and re-edit the first), assist with world design, game balance and not least write my own gamebook haha.

Q: What role have you played with Tin Man Games?
A: Oh whoops I’ve kinda already answered this one haven’t I? Well I’ll just add that as “editor” for the first four Gamebook Adventures, I had to do a lot of gamebook re-balancing, restructuring and particularly in the case of the third and fourth gamebooks, rewriting. It is not without a sense of irony (and yes frustration!) that I read of some reports from Gamebook Adventures fans that they found the writing in Infinite Universe to be of a lower standard to the previous titles. I say irony because the very titles (particularly GA3 and GA4 which are favourites among many) that they’re comparing Infinite Universe to, I wrote much of as well haha. I haven’t really responded to the criticisms since it’s not worth “feeding trolls” as such, but what I think they mean to say is that they didn’t like the style in which I wrote Infinite Universe, which is certainly quite different from anything Tin Man Games have released before. Regardless, it was only a handful that said such things… And anyway I digress!

Q: Where did you come up with your ideas for Infinite Universe?
A: A tough one to answer given that I find myself constantly assaulted by and sifting through ideas, so it’s hard to pin down where they came from or how they came into mind… But having said that I did set out to create something that was the “spiritual successor” to the Space Fighter gamebooks I wrote as a child. And in deciding to take on the sci-fi genre; both because it was something that fans were asking for and something I wanted to do; I decided that my take was going to be “stupid or wacky sci-fi” rather than hard, serious or gritty sci-fi. So time travel, faster-than-light interstellar journeys, laser weapons, space ships and aliens were all going to part of the humorous mix; never mind whether the scientific consensus deemed it plausible or not, it’s a gamebook after all right? And so the emphasis was to be on fun not scientific plausibility.

But in working out how I was going to execute the story, I grappled with the problem of just how do you set a story in an imagined far-future where the character understands the world but the reader doesn’t? For example, in a “typical” fantasy you don’t have to explain what a sword is, what a horse is, what a tavern is, even what dwarves and orcs are etc. But in a sci-fi world where there is no “typical” sci-fi setting, you have to explain everything for the sake of the reader as there isn’t much in the way of “established norms” of the genre. -The sci-fi universe of Star Wars is completely different from Star Trek for example, which is in turn completely different from Foundation, which is completely different from Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

So my solution was to have the character come from our world and time, to be projected into the far future. This way you can justify explaining the world in the narrative as it’s new to the character as well as the reader. So away I went, creating an epic sci-fi tale and got to about 500 sections before I had a “creative crisis”. I considered that not only was my story “too epic” (in that it was taking too long to actually get to the “real story”), but also it took too long to get to the actual sci-fi bits, and consequently readers might drop off before they got to this… So after cutting out some 250 sections (they may return in another form someday), I re-engineered the story so that you were still a character from our time, but now you actually started in the far future in the midst of sci-fi action. How did I justify this in the narrative? Easy: Your character begins with their memory having been erased such that you have no memory of your past, how you got there or even who you are. Much of the way I initially began the gamebook would still be used by virtue of travelling back in time to re-experience your past. It was these elements, combined with the story being very very loosely based on the first Space Fighter gamebook I wrote that was called Rebel Base, that basically provided the crux of the story… Well sort of, I kept embellishing it with ever more crazy ideas as I’m inclined to do haha. I could go on to detail the thinking behind some of these but maybe I should save that for my blog, since it’s an article all of its own haha.

Q: As someone who has tested gamebook systems, what do you think is the most important thing to keep in mind when making a gamebook system?
A: Any gamebook system (or RPG system for that matter) strikes a balance between realism and simplicity/playability. Too often I think, RPGs (Rolemaster comes to mind as a classic example if you know it) try too hard to make everything as realistic and detailed as possible, when really I think what matters is the story, and by extension the world and the characters that fill it. I think the same principle applies to gamebooks. A gaming experience is memorable not because there was a massive set of rules to cover every scenario, but because you enjoyed the story/world itself. Besides all that, I think it’s a bit of a lost cause trying to make a system “realistic” because it will never be. I think therefore that the most important thing in making a gamebook system (or any RPG system for that matter) is to focus on making a system that “facilitates the fun”. By that I mean one that supports the telling of the story and the world, that gives the players enough flexibility that they can feel in control of their destiny through strategic choices that increase their chance of success, and that allows them to shape their character the way that they want and adopt a play-style that is to their taste.

Q: When it comes to writing a gamebook, what's the most important thing that you do?
A: I would say keeping foremost in mind that you are creating an experience for the reader that is meant to be fun. Anything that is liable to frustrate, confuse or bore the reader should be avoided. After all, it is for their sake that you are writing a gamebook (or should be I think!) –To put it another way, I used to GM (Gamesmaster) RPGs in the same way that gamebooks used to be (often) written: Ruthlessly. Adventures were challenges for my players to see how few times they could die before getting through it. It took me a while to realise that this reduces it to a game where the players had little care for their character and by extension the story itself. It was all about not dying and getting the best stats/items. Over time, I found it was more entertaining for all involved if the world felt fair, if it wasn’t a competition to see who died the least number of times, if their characters had more depth and history, and that they could go one from epic story to the next, in control of their fate.

Q: What have you got coming up in terms of your gamebook projects?
A: Well in between trying to push back “the demands of the database day-job” that’s paying the bills and promotion for my published works (which you can never do enough of), I’m currently involved with Tin Man Games on another two forthcoming Gamebook Adventures titles as “editor, balancer and world-builder”, with at least another two in the potential pipeline, plus an “interaction fiction project” with another developer and more gamebooks (and books) of my own on the boil. It has more to do with how much time I have available really, than anything else: If I had infinite time I’d be blogging and producing a story or gamebook every day haha.

Q: Do you have any other sites besides
A: Yeah, although hopefully by the time this interview goes to print, the addresses for these sites will just take you straight to current site instead. My old site is a bit like the Voyager space probes haha that were launched in the seventies; I lost control of my site years ago and it’s travelled alone on its course through the internet netherspace ever since, all I’ve done is keep it alive through a financial lifeline.

Q: What do you think the future of gamebooks is?
A: The power of the written word to convey story, I think will remain as fundamental to the human race as language itself. Therefore books will always be read and stories will always be told and this includes gamebooks, which I see as only increasing in popularity. Whilst for most of the last two decades, gamebooks (and pencil-and-paper RPGs) have lived in the shadow of their former glory, this is now reversing I think or at least has great potential to in the near future. Now we have “the ebook revolution” that is making works more achievable than ever before, opening up further possibilities and markets. Plus gaming itself is evolving to become evermore social and interactive. I see a future where “social” and “interactive narrative” games allow for evermore immersive solo and group experiences on a digitised platform; and gamebooks will surely be a part of this! ;)

Buy Infinite Universe from the Apple store.
Get The Dark Horde  and Evermore for the Kindle from Amazon.
Visit Brewin's very pretty website.


  1. Just wanted to say many thanks Stuart for all the great work you've been doing on your blog (particularly this month!) to promote the glory of gamebooks! Thanks for this interview and thanks for adding in the links to my other works too! :)

  2. In an alternate reality, I would probably be doing this kind of thing right now. The closest I came to it in this life so far is a friend who was into Warhammer. I played it with him one afternoon. It may be something I'll get into in the future.