|He didn't see that one coming.|
This isn't Forest of Doom, you know.
Most gamebooks have sudden death paragraphs or another risk of you dying in some way such as through combat. However, in some gamebooks, your death may come completely out of the blue after you have done something that you thought would have perfectly innocent consequences. In other gamebooks, there is a constant sense of menace and danger which make you think that death lurks at every corner but you may be pleasantly surprised when some failed luck roll or springing a trap only results in minor damage. There is a difference between gamebooks that give a sense of danger and gamebooks that are dangerous.
Since feeling dangerous and being dangerous are too separate things, there may be a discrepancy between
how much danger I think I'm in and how much danger I'm actually in. One example is in Grailquest 2 when you are given a map
and offered the choice to enter several nondescript cottages. If you CHOOSE WRONG
, you might get this little message.
|You can also go to the well. I bet there's nothing|
dangerous in the well. That's why it's called a well.
Because it will all go well.
There was no warning there. I was in a deserted village, so the worst I was expecting was some monster who had eaten all the villagers to attack me, but instead I got a cottage to collapse on top of me. I can't even think of any logical reason to do this in the real world at least. Grailquest is humorous, so it may have been an attempt at a joke but I did not enjoy it. Now in Grailquest, death is strictly not the end, but it does mean you have to start over with new rolls and buy new stuff, so it might as well be and this will increase the tedium factor
This is an example of a situation that does not feel dangerous but it actually is dangerous, and it made me frustrated.
The other situation with discrepancy, a situation that feels dangerous but actually isn't could be most of Daggers of Darkness or Fangs of Fury.
In both books, you have to brave a huge unstoppable army led by an all powerful sorcerer alone in order to reach victory. You also have a time limit which results in your death if you go over it. Most of the decisions you make have completely unexpected consequences and you end up in some pretty precarious positions. In Daggers of Darkness, if you board a ship, it is attacked by dragons and sunk (as a sidenote, I could probably count on one hand how many sea going vessels that you board in gamebooks aren't
sunk). In Fangs of Fury, you are knocked out and wake up to see a goblin about to chop your head off. Oh and you also have to go into a volcano, which, thankfully, is the only volcano that is not filled with magma. However, in all of the above situations, you survive through a series of improbable events and the worst you face is a tough, but not impossible combat. This is also the only reason I can think of why it is possible to ride two tigers across a river one handed**.
I find both of these books a lot of fun as they remind me of a Rincewind
style romp where you constantly find yourself in way over your head yet just about escape by the skin of your teeth. However, once I found out that actually, despite, appearances, I probably won't die, the books lost their sense of danger.
In the cases where the feeling of danger agrees with the actual danger, there is less of conflict of interest. In non dangerous situations that aren't dangerous, I will have a predictable yet boring time, such as buying stuff from a shop. Very few whole gamebooks are like this, though I can play Fabled Lands this way if I spend all my time buying trade goods and ferrying them from one place to another.
In dangerous books that feel dangerous, I will probably make decisions that get me killed and take several attempts to win the book, but I can't feel annoyed about it because it's clear that the situation is deadly. Take Deathtrap Dungeon. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It's a dungeon. Full of deathtraps. And no one has made it through before. So I can never be surprised if picking up a goblet or prising a gem from an idol (I can never remember which one) is going to get me killed. Nowadays, anything that says 'By Ian Livingstone' comes under this category. It doesn't matter if his next gamebook is called 'Cuddles with Fluffy Bunnies', you'll probably still die before you've read your fourth paragraph.
|He hopes you get the point.|
To summarise this post, I have made a diagram:
Does not feel dangerous
Dying is expected and met with acceptance.
Victory is sweet and a good reward for my hard work.
E.g Deathtrap Dungeon.
Dying is met with frustration as it is usually unexpected.
Victory is met with frustration as I did not expect to take so long.
E.g Chasms of Malice.
Is not dangerous
Dying is expected but won’t usually happen. Instead, I get the feeling of tension with
my decisions without the punishment of sudden deaths.
The excitement may wear off when I realise that most decisions have
E.g Fangs of Fury.
I am probably not questing but playing some simulation of life in a
E.g Fabled Lands if I spend all my time trading.
In summary, the most frustrating situation is one that does not feel dangerous but actually is dangerous. However, situations that feel dangerous, but actually aren't, whilst being fun for a time, eventually lose their magic. This can be remedied by having a few instant death or high consequence situations just to keep the players on their toes.
Situations that feel non dangerous and actually aren't dangerous might result in boredom. Of course, in these situations, there is probably some tension besides life or death struggle, such as how much money you make, how powerful you become or how high some score you have becomes, so it can still be intersting as long as you are not expecting life or death situations.
Situations that feel and are dangerous, whilst they may result in lots of character death, should not result in frustration as I should be able to see it coming.
So there we are. I would like to make my books feel dangerous, but the clincher is not making them frustratingly dangerous or boring once the player realises that they can do anything and not die. I'll need to get the balance right.
*I am loving the fact that there is now enough material about gamebooks on the internet that I can link to it with examples to highlight my opinion. You're great gamebook world!
**Is it even possible to write about Daggers of Darkness without mentioning the cover?
Once again, I intend to do the April A to Z challenge
in the same format as last year I would like to interview people in the gamebook world. It creates a lot of exposure as over 1700 bloggers signed up last year and as well as writing blog posts, we also surf the other blogs. I will be emailing some people in the gamebook world soon for interviews as there is plenty of gamebook goodness to look forward to in 2013. If you would like to be interviewed, please leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll interview you and then assign a letter to you so that I can cover all the letters. I look forward to it!