Friday, May 30, 2014

Bad news and good news

Hello gamebookers!

Today, I bring you some news about Lloyd of Gamebooks, which I have brought before, but not really followed through.

Here's the bad news - due to life changes, I am going to tone down my contributions to this blog.  There is just too much to do - I have a job and a family and as well as writing this blog, I have been contributing to Fighting Fantazine and writing actual gamebooks.  There are also plenty of other things that I cannot do that I wish I could.  I get people emailing me their gamebooks asking me to promote or give feedback on them.  I would love to do them all, I really would, but I can't.  So, I am going to post here maybe once a month from now on.  To be honest, I don't know how I have kept it up

However, here's the good news - there are plenty of people out there who love gamebooks.  Some have even started their own blogs and posted in forums.  In order to keep momentum going, I have invited people to write posts for this blog.  I don't want to lose the community I have built up here, so I thought, why not include it more?  I have noticed plenty of gamebook blogs where there are only a few posts a year and so the readership falls off.  Probably because these bloggers also have jobs, lives, families and/or secret crime fighting alter egos.  Blogs that don't produce much content will eventually lose their readership.  However, if the posts were all in one place, there would be plenty of content and plenty of people to read it.  In addition, I'm going to try to make sure that people know about the big gamebook community places so they can add their two cents.  I bet there's a lot of people out there with two cents and nowhere to put them, but if everyone gave their two cents, we would all be rich.  There are plenty of gamebook places out there, and I wanted to focus them all in, so that we know about all of them, and talk about all of them.

In addition, if you have sent me a gamebook to look at, I would love it one day, if there was a 'writing circle' in one of the forums where budding gamebook writers submit their work and get it critiqued (kind of like Windhammer, but all year round).  It might be a long way off, but a guy has to dream.

In the long run, eventually, this blog will change its name as it becomes an ensemble piece.  You will still be able to get to it from the old URLs so that no one will get lost - they will just be redirected to the new place.  I will also create a new Twitter account for me personally, so that my current one can be pure gamebook and then I will make a new contact email account for the writers on this blog, separate from my personal one.

It's been a great journey, ladies and gentlemen, but it is not over yet - it's moving on to a new phase - one that you could be part of, even if you don't think you can do it.  Remember, the whole reason this blog was born was because I wanted to write a better Windhammer entry, but then it just carried on from there leading to me meeting all of you great people.  Even the longest journey starts with a single step.

So there we go.  My dream is more conversation amongst the gamebook community.  It might be a long way off, but a guy has to dream.  And maybe you can help the dream come true...

If you want to contribute, email me at

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Computer games - Battlemaster (the Atari ST game)

Game cover.
Battlemaster was a great RPG/strategy game which I discovered via a demo on an ST Format cover disc.  It was very ahead of its time in many ways for a game in 1990.  It is nothing to do with the MMORPG of the same name.

There's more backstory than the standard 'explore a dungeon and kill the sorcerer' plot of most RPGs.  You live in a world where Orcs, Elves, Humans and Dwarves are in a constant war with each other.  However, there is a legend that if the crowns of each race could be bought to the Tower of the Watcher, then the war will end.

Sometimes you get a helpful message in the bar below the
screen.  Sometimes you don't.   
However, each race jealously guards its crown in heavily fortified castles which you have to fight your way through in order to get them.  Before you do that, however, you have to survive the hostile wilds and assault the other settlements of your enemy races.

At the beginning of the game, you choose a character from one of the four races and you also choose a profession from warrior, mage, thief and merchant.

You can organise your soldiers into a file in order to
get them across bridges and retreat faster.  
You control this character with a top down display and you can either use a ranged weapon or a hand to hand weapon to slay your opponents who mill around firing arrows or swinging swords.  You can also pick up new weapons, gold and food which restores your health.

An innovative aspect of Battlemaster's gameplay is your ability to hire and command a squad of underlings.  You can give them formations and orders to suit the combat situation that you are in.  It takes a lot of practice since it is a real time game and you cannot pause it and give actions in advance like in Neverwinter Nights.

The levels that you fight through and the options available to you gave me lots to think about in terms of gameplay and strategy.  Each level had something different in terms of monsters or how to solve a particular problem.  It provided me with a lot of entertainment.

You can read another
review of Battlemaster
However, the innovation does not stop there.  If you do manage to retrieve the four crowns and get them to the Watcher's Tower, then you get rewarded with the ending where the Watcher brutally kills you and takes the crowns to use for his own dark ends.  It's a downer ending, but the game puts a positive spin on this by saying that as you die, you realise that the world goes round in cycles and you are happy knowing that you will be born again in a more peaceful time or something like that.  I guess the game doesn't want you to focus on the apocalypse that you have brought upon everyone.

However, massive kudos to the Watcher for propagating a lying legend that if he got all of the crowns then he would solve the world's problems.  This means that he has tricked lots of others to do all of his dirty work and then bring him the crowns.  That shows real long term thinking and he would get a good mark for diabolical genius.

The orc could have hired soldiers so he
wouldn't have got into a situation like this.  
There weren't many games at the time which had plot twists, and especially ones where you snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

There is one bug in the game which you can exploit.  If you are not hostile towards other races, you are giving the option of parleying with them.  This allows you to sell your items and buy any items that you could find on the level, including the crowns of each race.  And they don't even cost all that much.  So you can complete the game quite quickly with very little bloodshed.

Battlemaster showed me that you can take games further - just because certain aspects are repeated in games does not mean that they are essential.  You don't need a completely happy ending (such as in Heart of Ice) or do the game solo or fight a lot (although I think the ability to purchase the crowns is more of a bug).

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What makes a gamebook stand out for you?

Two weeks ago, I took a list of the things that people from my April A to Z interviews had told me spoils a gamebook for them.  This week, I list all the things that makes a gamebook stand out for them and ask what makes a gamebook stand out for YOU!?

No gamebook is going to be perfect, but to be considered great it needs to have something special about it.  If the special thing is particularly good, then it may mean that any flaws in the book are forgivable.  For example, Creature of Havoc is full of instant deaths, but it is still considered great for its detailed background, great characters and having the satisfaction that you can finally beat it.  Lone Wolf can sometimes railroad you a bit, but its rich story more than makes up for that.  In some cases what makes this book special could be seen to be a flaw, but it is done so well that no one cares  For example, Fabled Lands doesn't have a narrative, but no one cares because there's a huge world to explore.

Also, trying to do too many special things in a gamebook will just spoil it.  And in some cases, putting more docus on one aspect will have to take away from another aspect.  No one gamebook can appeal to everyone, but if there are people who love it, it will do well.  As Mark Rosewater says "If you make a game that everyone likes, yet no one loves it will fail."

Mark didn't mention anything about hate because it doesn't matter if someone hates something as long as there are people who also love it.  That's the whole reason Marmite still sells.

So here are some things that make a gamebook special.  Which ones do you think are most important?

Being meta and self aware.

Interesting plot.

Interesting choices.

The "feel"

Story and quality of writing

Balance between plot and puzzle

Strong central storyline and detailed setting

Plenty to explore

Getting into the characters

Having decisions that make a difference to the outcome

Special rules

Depth and breadth of choices

Meaningful choices


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bonus april A to Z interview with Leena Van Deventer

Hello, people of the gamebook world!  today, we have Leena Van Deventer, editor and writer for Tin Man Games.  Her book, Alice's Story, about an American exchange student in Japan will be out soon.  Keep your eyes peeled for it!  But Leena isn't just a writer an editor.  She does far more things than just that.  Take a look at her blog to find out.

Tell us about yourself.

I'm 29, from Melbourne, I have 2 sons and I make a mean peppercorn sauce! I love making imaginary worlds with my eldest boy (he's 6) and we love diving into gamebooks together. He loves anything with combat, I love anything with a tricky moral dilemma.

What do you do in Tin Man Games?

My first job for Tin Man Games was editing Temple of the Spider God, the 7th in the Gamebook Adventures series. After that I was asked to write the book I'm just finishing up now (turns out having a baby and requiring another separate surgery slow things down? Who knew!), called "Alice's Adventures". It's a bit different to anything TMG have done so far, set in a Japanese high school with an American exchange student protagonist/player character.

What is the best thing about your job?

My work with TMG is my favourite out of any work I do, hands down, no contest. They're truly wonderful humans and I feel safe and nurtured. Neil knows how to bring the best out of people, and is very patient and honest. He does this great balancing act between knowing videogames aren't the most important thing in the world but also treating them with the respect they deserve in order to make them good, and takes making good games seriously. That's harder than it sounds! As for the work in particular, I love how utterly stupid interactive fiction can get. It was terrifying at first, all those tangents and loose ends to keep an eye on, but now it's invigorating and exciting. I love putting multiple paths down in front of people.

What makes a gamebook stand out for you?

I like a bit of a meta-story if possible, or at least some arc of some kind. A lot of the older books (some of the first) feel like "walk around, fight some stuff, walk around, fight some stuff" and while they're fun, they're more the "popcorn movies" to the more serious "films", to me. If a game has some overarching plot advancement it's more interesting to me. If the notion of choice is important to the actual themes of the book that's really satisfying, too.

What spoils a gamebook for you?

Any shitty gender politics will generally ruin anything I spend any time on :P But apart from that I really dislike being punished for something I didn't know was a thing. Getting the choice of collecting 3 items without any hint as to which is the "right" choice early on, only to then get three quarters or even further into the book to find out you grabbed the wrong one and now you're dead kinda bums me out. But it's actually growing on me somewhat as a trope… I think if you do it in a self-aware way you might win me over with the lulz!

What is the most exciting thing about writing/editing a gamebook?

I enjoy doing the copy more than the design, when writing a gamebook, I have to admit. But that feeling of finishing the design brings such a high that it is really nipping at the heels of writing copy I'm happy with. It may become my favourite as I get more experienced with it. When I plot out the whole story, in sections, in the engine, it feels amazing. It feels like you put together a whole lot of gears and you finally get to watch them turn, and it works.

What is the hardest thing about writing/editing a gamebook?

Sometimes it feels like the hardest part is getting the time to do it! I have 2 small kids and they're absolute maniacs. But honestly the hardest part is letting go of the way I used to write when I was writing non-interactive fiction. You don't have as strict a control over the reader experience, because they could take paths you haven't considered and come across different encounters at different times, so it was really tricky for me to let go and let them explore and play in the playground I write for them, instead of drawing out a corridor for them to walk down.

What advice would you off to someone who thinks that they want to write their own gamebook?

Totally give it a go! Plot it on paper and experiment with it. The only way I could really get my head around it was making it, and I made heaps of mistakes along the way, so embrace that and go nuts. Also concentrate on letting go of all the "rules" for writing other types of fiction, it's a whole new ballgame! But that's pretty liberating, really.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a gamebook for an app?

Writing a gamebook for an app means you can use music to help with tension and pacing, which is really cool! It can be hard to get the pace going in a way you would when writing a novel, as it's all in the player's hands. But music and visual effects can really help change the mood of the whole thing.

What future projects do you have that you can talk about?

I can talk about one in particular because I haven't even talked to anyone about it yet… but I have an idea for a gamebook that deals with player choice and reader agency in a really brutal way. I want to write a book that rips your heart out with some moral dilemmas. I have this weird morbid obsession with places like Mt Everest and the tragedy of Pompeii and Titanic, and I think it has a lot to do with being interested in what we as humans do when we know we're going to die, so I think I'd like to write a book exploring that. I don't want to go into too much detail about it, but I think it could be something really cool! Definitely a nice change from the sentient sushi and giant dragons in the current book. ;)

What non-gamebook projects do you have?

I'm also writing a handbook for women in digital spaces to help them when their online environment turns toxic, and doing some teaching this year, and a few public speaking engagements. It's going to be a super exciting year!

And there we go.  Take a look at Leena's Twitter feed and blog and keep an eye out for Alice's Story!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

SilkWords - a new romantic interactive fiction site

Hello, gamebookers!  I've just had an email from Keri Multerer, who has started her own interactive fiction website called SilkWords.  This website offers interactive fiction in the romance genre.  Take a look at it, and find some great romance.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

What never to do in a gamebook and when you could get away with it.

Hello all!  I'll be doing an April A to Z reflections post next week, but for the moment, I want to do some analysis from all my lovely interviewees from this year's April A to Z.  I asked all of them what spoils a gamebook for them.  the reason I did this is to make sure that future gamebooks do not get spoiled by something despite being very good otherwise.  In some cases, it could just be one small thing that could ruin a gamebook.  My post is bought on by this post on Facebook where Richard Penwarden listed a lot of things that could be in gamebooks and asked us what we would like the most.  This also opened up discussion for what people did not like in gamebooks.  So, here is a chance for people to say what we should never do in a gamebook.  However, there are some caveats:

1)  There will always be an exception to every rule.  there will always be someone who likes something that 99.9% of the audience hate.  In these cases, it will be interesting to see why, just in case we are writing a gamebook where the rare situation for doing something that everyone normally hates should be done.

2)  Avoiding doing all the main mistakes that you can make in gamebooks will not necessarily lead to a great gamebook, merely a functional one that doesn't annoy anyone.  It will need something that makes it stand out as well.

Put your pet peeves in the comments below.  There are some responses here to get you going:

Instant death paragraphs with no warning.

Poor spelling, punctuation and links.

Boring sequences/poor plot/2d characters

Unfairness/difficulty/improbable dice rolls needed to win

Inconsistencies in the world (sometimes referred to as a Schrodinger's gamebook where your choice changes the situation)

Lots of equipment lists/writing

Having to replay large sections of the book (digital)

Choices that don't matter

Being told what to think or feel


Rules that aren't explained

Gamebooks that should be novels

Bad/no artwork