Tuesday, April 28, 2015

April A to Z - X is for eXtra stuff from Andrew Drage

Hello lovely gamebookers! Today, we have Andrew Drage, writer, gamebook creator and editor and all round genius who is going to talk about his latest creations. You can read Andrew's blog here.
Q: What are you working on right now (both gamebook and non gamebook related)?

A: You've probably noticed I've been quiet of late on creative/social media fronts... That's mainly been because I've been busy (and a bit overwhelmed) with the "day job" that's often taken up days, nights and weekends, until recently anyway... Then I've just been taking a break from promotion etc. Sometimes you need to do this (we're all in this cos we want to be and it's fun right?) but as I think any creative person will understand, you never really stop being creative (it's something you're compelled to do), it just finds expression in different ways... Lately a lot of my creative energies have gone towards the running of an "old school" Greyhawk D&D campaign, which I'm enjoying very much. I say "old school" since I'm using the rule set I'm most familiar with - second edition (with the Player's Options added in for "something different"). If I was new to the game, fifth edition does indeed look like a good rule set to play with, but for me I can't be bothered learning a new set of rules (and besides the rules matter far less than the story and roleplaying anyway)... Furthermore I've got boxes and boxes full of first and second ed material haha.

Having said all that, I am working on a couple of different gamebook-related projects at the moment (I'll decline to say anything about those just yet) and still in the process of finishing "The Calling" - which is the musical prequel to my horror novel "The Dark Horde" (see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ty92GrHoxg)  -Was planning to have this finished of course by now, but sometimes real life can cause delays, and ultimately it's better to have something as good as you can make it, than rushed out to meet some arbitrary deadline :)

Q: You have some really in depth analysis of Windhammer entries. Is there anything that has cropped up that people definitely should not do?

A: Yes and I've still got half of last year's entries to get through before I can post my latest reviews... Sorry about that! But to answer your question, and of course this is all just my (somewhat informed) opinion, I would sum up what writers shouldn't do as simply "do not break the contract that they have with the reader". What I mean by that, is that by getting the reader to commit to the reading/playing the writer's story, they have made a "contract" with them that implies that (a) the reader will be able to follow the story, (b) that sufficient care/effort has been taken to merit the reader taking the time to invest in and experience the story and (c) that the reader will be treated fairly and has a "plausible" chance of being able to complete the story if they "play fairly". Anything that violates these implied principles (whether that be because of broken/unclear links in the story, poor writing quality, bad game balance or near-impossible odds), I would argue is to break this writer-reader "contract". Most other things are more down to personal preference I guess, but I did cover such a list in more detail on my blog here:  http://www.thebrewin.com/blog/entry/the-brewin-guide-to-writing-better-gamebooks

Q: What about something people definitely should do?

A: Hmm I'd suggest that's both harder and easier to identify. Harder because I think that there really isn't a "magic rule" to follow of what you should do, and easier because the only "magic rule" to follow is that there really isn't one haha. As I recall I've said in previous interview with you (and a point I've made numerous times elsewhere), regardless of how good or bad anything you release is, or how you go about executing it, there'll be some that love it, some that hate it and some that have a reaction somewhere between those two extremes. Yes the degree to which you'll get positive reactions over negative ones will vary depending on how "good" the work is, and your publicity, but ultimately it's important to understand that you'll never please everyone (I don't believe there's ever been a creative work of anything in the history of humanity that "everyone did or would like", nor ever will be). Which to me means that you only really need to please one person - yourself - and anything beyond that is a nice bonus haha. Okay sure, you do want to build and keep your audience, but ultimately you should be creating the work that you want to create in the way that you want. This can mean "following established conventions", but equally it can mean taking risks and trying something completely different from what you and/or others have tried before (which is certainly my preference). There is no "failing" as such, there is only the "failure to try".  

Q: You have written some in depth posts about turn based games. What do you look for in a good turn based game?

A: Yes and that's another blog post series I've yet to finish! But anyway, yes it is quite clear to me what I do look for in such a genre (something which is even more apparent once you know what are my personal all-time favourites, but I'll keep you in suspense as to what those are for now!) and that is as follows:
  1. Familiarity. Not an essential thing by any means, but the one thing my top three turn based games all share is that they're based on games that now at least twenty years old and were games that I was already intimately familiar with. Playing a game based on a world you already know and love, with rules you already knew is like reuniting with an old friend where it seems like it was only yesterday rather than years ago when you last caught up - you just seem to pick up from the last time you left off without any effort, and the experience is much the same with such a game... Most games however, won't be able to take advantage of this however, but there's still plenty they can do to "be awesome".
  2. Modularity. Having a game with some epic story is great, but ultimately it's "one story" and that once you've finished it, you can only ever redo the "same story" (in different ways yes, but ultimately it's still the same story with probably the same conclusion). For me the truly awesome games, that can be replayed hundreds, even thousands of times over many decades, are those that exhibit a high degree of modularity - their elements can be changed and recombined to form an endless number of stories. It is the most modular of games that I continue to play decades after their original release...
  3. Other things I like in my turn-based games, in no particular order, are a decent AI (too often the "hard" mode isn't actually very hard and easy to anticipate and beat), only having as much text as is needed to follow the story, not having ridiculous amounts of inventory - most of which isn't actually used, and having variety in the enemies and scenarios that require different tactics.

Q: What other influences do you draw on to aid you with your writing and game design?

A: With writing, my influences are all things horror, fantasy and science, but I suppose heavy metal has its influences there too haha. With game design my influences are these same things, with the additional influences of my background in statistics, mathematical modelling and zoology. My greatest work (still at least a couple of years away from release), which fills about four drawers is the ultimate culmination of all of these things I think - hopefully one day soon I'll be able to talk more about that, but let's wait and see ey? :)

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