Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year! And Where have I been?

Happy new year, gamebookers! It's been a great year, both in the gamebook world and in the world of real life!

I haven't personally updated for a while. Peter Agapov has made some great posts recently that really explore gamebooks to their core, so I suggest you definitely give those posts a good read through.

What have I done recently?

Most of my projects this year have involved finishing things that I had started a while ago.

I decided to write the reboot of Coils of Hate because I read it when I was 10 and thought it was a great idea. I later realised that there were a few problems with it, so I decided to clean it up, using the best bits and adding a few bits to help. You can get it for free from RPGNow.

This is a Tunnels and Trolls solo using the new Deluxe rules which is for any class and any level (it also includes rules on how to do that). This book is all about a quest where you can make your own magic weapon with whatever powers you want. The weapon will also get more powerful as you go up in level, so it is designed to stick with you throughout your life. You can get it for PWYW from RPGNow.

Advanced Fighting Fantasy adventures

I finally finished off and cleaned up all of my adventures to fit all of the rules with the expansions. You can find all of them for free by clicking the link above.

Advanced Fighting Fantasy collection of stuff

This is a collection of all my house rules for Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd edition. You can get it for free by clicking the link above.

A secret project

I can't talk about it. It's a secret. I'll tell you when it's out.

What do I want to do in 2018?

I have two three gamebook ambitions for 2018 and I just achieve these, I'll be happy.

1) Complete a gamebook I am working on with Jeffrey Dean. It's gonna be a long one.
2) Actually write Rulers of the NOW - a book I wrote a sample for in 2012 for the Windhammer competition and over the years, I have made tons of notes and collected lovely pictures for it and now I need to write it. It's going to be a very long one.
3) Relearn how to use underlines on Blogger. I've managed to open a window showing the source for this page four times. This will be the hardest to achieve.

What happened to all of my posts?

Several things happened this year in RL. I left my day job and now I get my income from various random sources, which, while more liberating, means that I had to work harder to get the work done. This is combined with the fact that I finally run out of posts from my stockpile that I built up from 2010 (I had 20 years worth of thoughts on gamebooks and gaming before that). I have other thoughts, but I need to write them down. I also need to revisit old thoughts and refine them with my experience of writing gamebooks since then.

In the future...

There's a gamebook Kickstarter coming out in early January, so save your pennies. There will be a post about it in just over a week. Keep your eyes peeled...

Monday, December 18, 2017

"Fog of War" and Logical Conclusion Choice

Note: "Fog of War" is terminology established by Ashton Saylor in his blog on Gamebook Theory. Unfortunately, he never came up with a specific step by step formula on how to apply the fog of war in a gamebook, so I decided to try analyzing the whole process and arrived at the theory of the Logical Conclusion Choice. While this is, by my own account, the greatest of my achievements in the game design theory, please look at it as a suggestive process instead of an exact science.

Keep in mind that not all the steps listed below are my own invention. On the contrary, most of them have been discussed in depth by other authors and designers, but nobody (as far as I know) has presented them in a form that is clearly defined and easy to apply when writing a gamebook adventure.

I believe that the father of Logical Conclusion Choice is Michael Mindcrime (a nickname of Dimitar Slaveikov). According to his own words, he was disappointed by the arcade approach of blind decisions and random choices in the well established series "Fighting Fantasy" and "Choose Your Own Adventure" and started writing gamebooks back in the 1990s, implementing some innovative ideas, where the choices were based on strong logic and therefore positive outcome of the adventure was a direct result and in direct proportion to the reader's performance quality. He quickly became the best selling author in the genre of gamebooks in Bulgaria and some of his work reached the top of bestseller book charts in the country.

To better illustrate the process below, let me once again use the example of a Logical Conclusion Choice I presented in my last blogpost (this scenario is courtesy of the Bulgarian gamebook "The Master of Darkness" by George M George - a nickname of George Mindizov). Here it is: The protagonist is crossing a wide open field. There are mountains in the distance to the west, with visible caves carved in them. A dark, almost black, thunderstorm front is approaching fast from the east. The choice is between running for the caves or seeking shelter under a nearby tree.

Lets dissect the above example!

Part 1. Hide the danger by applying the 'fog of war'

1. Danger. Design the danger your protagonist would be facing: being hit by a lightning. At the moment, this choice is between being hit by a lightning or taking shelter in the caves: this is a cake or death (too obvious) choice and no self-respecting author would write it in this very form.

2. Clues and Hints. Take the exact wording out of the text and replace it with clues and hints: don't mention a lightning in the text, but provide clues and hints by listing the conditions, under which the danger may exist or occur: thunderstorm, wide open field, the tree is the only tall object in the vicinity. Note: You don't have to start out from a loss point of view. Instead, write a paragraph with a specific gain in mind. Example: dead body with a bag of gold coins next to it. Hide it by writing that there are vultures circling high in the air, far away in the distance. Now, keep in mind that, this is also a warning of a possible grave danger awaiting there, so the outcome, positive or negative, is still a matter of chance, not the result of an informed decision. To avoid such randomness in your gamebooks, adjust the difficulty of the choice, using the steps listed below.

Part 2. Adjust the difficulty of the choice accordingly

3. Move clues and hints. Move some of the clues and hints to previous paragraphs: if you need to make the choice more difficult, move some of the conditions to a previous paragraph. Example: mention wide open field and the lonely tree in the same paragraph as the choice, but move the information of the approaching thunderstorm to a previous paragraph. This step increases the difficulty of the choice by measuring the attention and the memory of our readers.

4. Inform the Reader. Make the dilemma a little bit easier: inform the reader that the tree can't provide full protection against the forces of nature (this is a wide term that doesn't directly hint towards a lightning) and let him guess and decide what those forces could be and how much damage they could possibly cause. Note that without this step, the player could be tricked into making the wrong choice and that is something an experienced author would never do to his readers.

5. Partially Reveal. Make the choice harder: if we stop at the previous step, the choice could be a little bit too easy (which could be acceptable early in the adventure), so we may want to adjust it to more difficult (especially later in the adventure) by forcing the reader to choose the lesser evil from two bad outcomes. To do so, we could reveal that if he decides to run for the caves, he will suffer the loss of 10 points of health due to exhaustion. Alternatively, we can design paragraphs where the player chooses the greater good from two or more positive outcomes. The dilemma is now similar to a lot of everyday choices we face, where one of the outcomes is well defined and expected, while the other outcome could be better or worse due to unknown or unforeseen factors.

6. Adjust Further. Adjust the difficulty further by mixing and matching more of positive or negative clues in step 4 and step 5 as much as you think is necessary. Why not adding some positive to each negative like this: there could be provisions or gold left under the tree by other travelers, who took shelter under it or rested there, but at the same time, there are probably artifacts hidden in the mountain caves. See what we did back there? "A thunderstorm is approaching fast. There could be provisions or gold left under the tree by other travelers, but it can't provide full protection against nature's forces. However, if you run for the caves, you'd lose 10 points of health due to exhaustion, but you've heard that there are artifacts hidden in the mountain. Do you take shelter under the tree or do you run for the caves?". Now we have a choice between the lesser of two evils and the greater of two goods. How about mixing them in order to make the choice less obvious? The lesser evil provides the greater good and vice-versa. Actually, to make the above example more difficult, I would move the information about the artifacts to an earlier paragraph, where another person tells you a legend that there are artifacts in the mountains and I wouldn't even mention them in the paragraph where the choice is.

Part 3. Provide deserved feedback after the choice was made

7. Explain Yourself to the Reader. Very limited number of authors inform their readers how and why the consequences of each choice are in direct proportion to the performance and logic during gameplay. It wouldn't hurt to tell the player that while he is running for the caves, a lightning hits the tree under which he had a chance to seek shelter. While subtle enough, that information provides necessary feedback to the player that he chose wisely. In the opposite scenario, feel free to openly criticize the reader extensively for choosing to go under the tree. Inform him that he missed very important clues and tell him that he is running the risk of being hit by a lightning. Keep the feedback short when a good choice was made, but explain in detail why the player is being punished for a mistake he made. This is the only way to provide your readers the satisfaction that they are in control (the human creatures looooove to be in control) even when they are being punished and, and at the same time, teach them a lesson they may benefit from sometime in the future. Teach good and valuable lessons in your games! Being the adventure designer, you are the God of their game world. "With great power comes great responsibility". Use it wisely!

8. Punish or Reward Appropriately. Lets be fair, but also realistic: a lightning can't cause partial damage, it is a total annihilation event. Tell the reader to subtract 10 points of life due to exhaustion, if he chose to run for the caves (you promised him that in the previous paragraph), and also reward him with a magic sword, but don't tell him that the tree was hit by a lightning, if he decided to seek shelter under it, and then ask him to reduce his health points by 40 or so! That is simply not realistic. Instead, give the player some provisions, which he apparently found under the tree and then inform him that he made a mistake, so he will be facing the grave danger of being totally fried up. Then apply, what I call, the rule of God's Forgiveness.

9. God Forgives. Most authors agree that instant death in gamebooks should be reduced to a minimum. If the reader gets to a dead end, it must be the result of multiple bad mistakes and unsatisfactory performance (he dies only after he loses all points of health) or it should be a combination of extremely bad choice and unfortunate luck (the later approach is the God's Forgiveness approach). For the purpose of applying this rule, I suggest that the author tells his reader that, even though being hit by a lightning is a very likely outcome, the chance of it is only a 1/3 or 33% and then ask him to roll a die. If the roll is 1 or 2, the protagonist gets annihilated by a lightning in an instant death, but if the roll is greater than 2, God (the designer of this world) forgives the mistake and allows him to move on. I believe that most readers would see this as a very fair mechanic.

10. Add a layer of emotional and moral choices: Add more implications to make the choice more interesting: having two final goals in a gamebook instead of just one would be a great addition to the difficulty and will add another layer of game mechanics: balancing between two goals, which also provides a much greater replayability value. I love it when authors add a romance plot to another well defined ultimate goal. Let just say that the cop is not only asked to do good in the world and get to the mafia boss in town, but is also given a parallel plot of meeting a beautiful woman, whom he is supposed to attract. It should be nearly impossible to achieve both during the first read, but gaining more knowledge about the game world should allow the player to achieve complete success in both plotlines after a couple or three consecutive attempts. More on the subject of Emotional and Moral Choices could be found in the blog of Ashton Saylor here.

Classification of Hints and Clues:

General Knowledge or Storyline Specific. General Knowledge hint is a piece of information, which is assumed to be a well known fact in the real world. Example: lightnings strike during a thunderstorm. Storyline Specific clue is information received in the course of the adventure. Example: the village elder tells you that there are artifacts hidden in the caves up in the mountain.

A game could be a lot of fun and very sexy if well designed
Storyline Specific hints have two subcategories: Storyline Revelation and Immediate Paragraph hint. Storyline Revelation is information received sometime earlier in the adventure, which could be of help to the reader for the choice he is facing in a later paragraph. Example: while at the tavern, you hear a legend about a magic sword, which could be found in the cave to the left (use that information when you get to the mountains). Application: this kind of hint normally has a higher difficulty level and is used to measure the attention and memory of the player. Immediate Paragraph clue is information presented to the reader, directly related to the choice he is facing in the current paragraph. Example: there is an immediate danger of a thunderstorm front approaching very fast from the east. Application: this kind of hint usually has a lower difficulty level and doesn't require the use of memory, it measures only the reader's attention instead.

A very good alternative of Logical Conclusion Choices is the School Test Choice (Statistical Probability Choice), which is created by finding (in your memory or in a textbook) the correct answer to a question, modifying it to fit the gamebook storyline, coming up with the wrong answer(s) and then designing the outcome punishment and reward. Using this approach doesn't even require the application of hints and clues, the author could even openly warn his readers of the positive and negative outcomes. Example: "Our hero must hurry to the rescue of a beautiful princess, who is held captive in a cursed castle to the north. Should he go in the direction moss is growing on trees or the opposite way? Is moss growing on the north side or the south side of trees (given the adventure is taking place in medieval Europe)"? If the reader chooses South, we punish him by lowering his health 10 points due to being lost in the forest. If the reader goes North, we reward him with successfully finding the dame in distress.

The most difficult choice for every gamer: Save the World or Coin and Cleavage?
At the end of this post, I'd like to point out that Logical Conclusion Choice is one of many possible  mechanics in the genre of gamebook adventures. A book based entirely on Logical Conclusion Choices could feel like taking a test at school, bringing back some unpleasant memories. However, this kind of choice is one of the very limited amount of mechanics in the genre of gamebooks that keeps the player in full control over the outcome of the adventure. Al Toro pointed out that an author must never cheat the player into the wrong decision by applying false clues. He also criticized me that I didn't mention choices that are not absolute, where the same choice could be either good or bad depending on the current stats of the protagonist. That would be the Strategic Choice approach Ashton Saylor had already talked about and I strongly recommend reading his post on the subject. Before you go off wandering to his blog, let me point out that Strategic (also known as Tactical) Choices also require application of "fog of war", hints and clues, because it should never be too obvious which way the player should go, otherwise there is no choice, it is simple "if - then" statement.

The Adventure Map of Short Gamebook Adventure

Here is a very Short Gamebook Adventure designed entirely on Logical Conclusion Choice Theory. You can also follow the step by step process of creating it at my personal blog 

Please remember, whatever you do, don't ever make your readers feel that the final outcome is the unjustified result of pure chance and blind guessing rather than a product of good performance and informed decisions.

Peter Agapov
Game Designer at
President and Chief Executive Officer of American Limo Naperville
Former Road Captain of Marine One at Operation "Welcome You Home"

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Gamebook Mechanics: Meaningful Choices

In my last post on Gamebook Theory, I covered the basic structure of any game (input - test of performance - feedback) and compared the mechanics of gamebooks to the ones in the genre of video games, ultimately arriving to the conclusion that choices are the only possible active gamebook input method. The rest of the input such as rolling dice, keeping track of stats, skillchecks or even flipping pages, I insist to move to the passive mechanics category, because they don't provide means for measuring skills or performance and therefore they don't allow the player to influence the outcome of the adventure one way or another (except if you believe that you are very skilled at rolling and re-rolling dice or keeping track of previous paragraphs, just in case you decide to change your decisions later, but I call all that cheating).

Please, don't take the controls out of the reader's hands
All that being said, we can summarize that choices are in fact the single most important game mechanic in the genre of gamebook adventures. The writer may have a great story to tell, but without meaningful choices in the course of the adventure, the book is not a gamebook, it is just a book with multiple endings. Of course, the exact opposite, bunch of choices without any story, is just as bad, because the player isn't provided enough information through narrative to be able to make a good educated guess about the possible outcomes of the decisions he is going to make during the game. Just like everything else in life, the goal here is to achieve good balance between narrative and choices.

I remember reading an article on writing gamebooks some time ago, which was listing the struggles new authors in the genre run into. To my surprise, I found out that most of them were having the problem of coming up with too many possible choices (up to 10 per paragraph) their readers had to pick from. Honestly, I've always had the opposite problem. It's always been difficult for me to create many enough choices, because I want every single one of them to result in meaningful consequences and therefore to provide a positive or negative impact over the course of the adventure.

See, the choices we can make in real life situations are practically unlimited. When standing in front of a door, a person could choose to knock on it and wait for response, they could choose to open the door and storm in, they could also choose to turn around and leave (especially if this is the office of the boss and the intention was to ask for a payraise), or they could even decide to start jumping in one spot (it sure doesn't make any sense, but it is still an option anyway). Of course, in a gamebook adventure, the last option wouldn't even be presented to the player as it is meaningless, because it, first, doesn't make any sense, and second, it doesn't change the course of the game in any way. I tend to believe that the option to 'turn around and leave' should also not be available to the player, because he's already made the decision to go to the office of the boss and the only question is 'in what fashion does he want to go in'. Even if a writer prefers to provide many choices with the intention to create the illusion of freedom, consider all the additional work he has to do in order to provide all the paragraphs for each outcome of those meaningless choices. That is a huge waste of time and writing space - a luxury most game designers are forced to stay away from. It is also worth mentioning that making a choice, which is changing the immediate narrative path without affecting knowledge, stats or the final outcome of the adventure one way or another is not a gamebook mechanic. What I am trying to point out is that choices which are ultimately neither good or bad create an interactive novel, not a game. If there is no way to fail, the experience is still there, but there is no gameplay.

The decisions people make, in real life or during a game, situations like the one in the example above, are not related to the door itself. They would rely on previously gained knowledge and the expected outcome of each available choice. The action must depend on the possible consequences of opening that door (getting a raise or being yelled at, or fired even) and the statistical possibilities of the given outcomes (I doubt you would ask the boss for more money if your chance of getting the raise is only slim to none, while the possibility of being fired is much greater).

It is of extreme importance that the game designer provides enough information and presents multiple clues ahead of time, so the choices his players make are the product of strong logic and calculated risk, not the result of blind guessing. Then and only then, the final outcome depends on the performance and the input from the gamer instead of being the aftermath of pure luck. For an example, if the player finds himself facing a door or multiple doors, never mentioned before, there is no way for him to make an educated decision, weighting in advance the possible consequences of his actions. There is nothing meaningful in such situation.

The main problem with meaningful choices, all authors run into, is the balance between not providing enough information (which door choice) and providing too much information (cake or death choice). Here is an example of [which door choice]: "You are standing in front of three doors. Only one of them will lead you to success. The other two lead to certain death. Choose one!"; And here is an example of [cake or death choice]: "You are standing in front of two doors. There is a Deadly Demon hiding behind the left one. Behind the right door you would find gold and glory. Choose one!"

The answer to the problem above is called applying some "fog of war". The game designer must hide the possible consequences and "only have the roughest outline spelled out", but should also leave enough clues buried in the text, so the reader is given the opportunity to apply his skills of observation, paying close attention, critical thinking, risk management, memorizing important details, educated guessing, weighting possibilities and drawing logical conclusions.

When the "fog of war" is applied appropriately, the choice becomes a "Logical Conclusion Choice".

My favorite example of a Logical Conclusion Choice is one, which I found more than 20 years ago in the fantasy style epic hero gamebook "The Master of Darkness" published in Bulgaria by George M George (a nickname of George Mindizov). My protagonist found himself in the middle of a wide open field. There were mountains with carved in caves standing proud far to the west and there was a dark, almost completely black, thunderstorm front approaching very fast from the east. The choice was between running for the mountains, so the hero could take shelter in a cave or hiding from the rain under a tree with thick crown, which was standing alone nearby. My logic was to avoid getting soaking wet and possibly ill from the cold rain while fleeing to the cave, so I decided to wait out for the storm to pass under the tree. I learned a very valuable lesson: Lightnings hit the tallest objects around and very unfortunately for my protagonist, that was the same tree I sent him to. Needless to say, that was a gravely mistake and it resulted in the instant death of the hero (see, no self-respecting author will make their reader lose 50 points of health when hit by a lightning - this is a total annihilation event) and while I was upset about the mistake I just made and the punishment I was forced to suffer, I felt that it was fair, justified and completely deserved. The immediate danger of being hit by a lightning wasn't even mentioned in the text at all, but I should have deciphered the 'fog of war' hint in the word 'thunder' before the word 'storm'. The instant death punishment was very logical under the existing circumstances.

Annihilate your player only if he makes a gravely mistake

Please keep in mind that not every single choice in a gamebook should be a Logical Conclusion Choice, because that would make the readers feel like they are taking a test in school instead of enjoying a good compelling story of a great adventure, but there must be a good number of Logical Conclusion Choices present throughout the book, so the player is kept in full control of the final outcome and ultimate victory.

Remember, the author should never take away from his readers the satisfaction of feeling that success is direct result of good performance, not random guessing and pure luck.

This is all for today, but I promise to give you a very detailed guide of how to create Logical Conclusion Choices step by step in my next blogpost here on LloydOfGamebook. Until then, as Stuart likes to say, 'Happy Gamebooking!'

Peter Agapov
Game Designer at
President and Chief Executive Officer of American Limo Naperville
Former Road Captain of Marine One at Operation "Welcome You Home"

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Shady Brook: Twin Peaks like Visual Text Adventure

Welcome to Twin Peaks
I still remember the Twin Peaks series from back when I was a teenager and all the fear I felt after watching each episode of this horror mystery drama. I was quite surprised and excited when I found out that Showtime started a new season of this TV series in the spring of 2017. To be quite honest, I don't remember most of the old show, but I recall that it took place in a small town where almost every resident had some kind of strange secret. Add some supernatural phenomenons such as a killer demon, who moves from the body of one citizen to another as he pleases, and an FBI agent, who is trying to investigate a murder of a young girl up there in the mountains and you would get the basic idea of what the show was about.

About 18 months ago I read a post on facebook by one of my friends announcing the release of a "Twin Peaks like game" that takes place in a small, peaceful country town where everything seems idyllic until some mysterious deaths start occurring. Being a follower of the TV show, I was naturally interested in playing the game. Add the fact that I live in Chicago now and I miss the small community feel of my hometown very much, I just couldn't wait for the game to come out on the market.

Welcome to Shady Brook
When I purchased Shady Brook for the very affordable price of $3.99, I was immediately teleported to a quiet small community and quickly met with the very few residents there. I was fascinated with the depth of the characters and the fact that I was able to start relating to them on the spot. I quickly developed favorites and I was hoping to make some friends while exploring the map, but strange things started happening and soon I realized that it was better to keep to myself until the mystery was unfolded. However, my curiosity was already triggered and I felt that I had to investigate and get to the bottom of a master plan as evil as it gets.

As I mentioned above, the storyline is very immersive and it is very easy for the player to get sucked into it. As the story evolves, more clues are presented to the reader and it gets more and more interesting until the very end of the adventure. Just keep in mind that not every choice changes the final outcome. As a matter of fact, the decisions you make during the game alter the experience, but they don't affect the very core of the story and there is only one available ending. The only reason I mention all that is to avoid the feelings of guilt you will inevitably feel after making some difficult choices. Those bad things would have happened to some good people anyway, so just relax assured that you haven't done anything wrong and enjoy revealing the dark secret of this small country town by solving the very well designed logic puzzles.

I must add that the existence of a love triangle, which causes a whirlpool of feelings due to the decision to sacrifice one of two very important people, provides further depth and involves the player to a point where this game almost starts feeling real. I believe that this is probably the strongest design trick of the whole Shady Brook experience.

The only serious complaint I have about the game is that at the very end, the player is stuck in a 'Game Over' loop until he or she finds the right action and the exact moment to get to the very end of the adventure. Even though, as a fellow game designer, I have a hard time finding another way of looping the game sequence at that very moment to avoid the 'Game Over' message, but I still think that such approach must be avoided at all cost, especially in a game where the player associates with the protagonist to such extent.

On a positive note, I truly enjoyed deciphering some of the cryptogram puzzles in the game. Those definitely were my favorite, but there is plenty of other kinds of puzzles built into the game. Most of them are challenging, but not impossible and a player with just a little bit of experience and a lot of logical thinking would be able to solve all the puzzles without external help (such as a walkthrough). The story is extremely well written with some completely unexpected twists and turns. The music suits the virtual environment very well and the limited graphics are very pretty as well as perfectly balanced without taking the attention away from the storyline and text based engine of Shady Brook.

So, if you are a fan of gamebooks or adventure games, or even if you aren't, I strongly recommend playing this visual text adventure.

Peter Agapov
Game Designer at
President and Chief Executive Officer of American Limo Naperville
Former Road Captain of Marine One at Operation "Welcome You Home"

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

New Tunnels and Trolls solo

Hello all! Long time no blog. Just a wuick one to say that I have finished a Tunnels and Trolls solo. In this one, you go on a great quest to make your own personalised magic weapon that grows with you. It works with Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls rules and can work for ANY level and ANY class.

And it is Pay What You Want.

You can get it here.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Game Tale - kickstarter for gamebook aimed at children aged 3-9

Hello all! There's a new kickstarter in town. This one is called Game Tale, a beutifully illustrated children's gamebook aimed at 3-9 year olds. It looks absolutely delightful and you should definitely check it out and back it over on the kickstarter page.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Want to write a gamebook? Then here's a reading list.

Whassup! Here is the fruits of my labours on a little project I was working on. I wanted to collect a definitive  list of gamebook analysis that anyone who wants to write a gamebook has to read. So far, I have come up with the following blog posts and links to give you a good grounding in the art and science of gamebook writing. Enjoy!

EDIT: The links weren't working because I had pasted hyperlinks in from a Word document (!?) but I have re-inserted the links so they should all work now.

Grey Wiz
Andrew Drage

Ashton Saylor

Sam Kabo Ashwell

Jake Care

Paul Gresty
Dave Morris have-downside.html

Richard S. Hetley

Jon Green write-adventure- gamebook-part-1.html

Heather Albano from Choice of Games

Adam Strong-Morse from Choice of Games

Dan Fubilich from Choice of Games for-designing- great-stats/

Emily Short

Peter Agapov 

Just about anything on his blog. It's all so in depth.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Coils of Hate - cutting the Gordian Knot

Hello all - this is about the free reboot of Coils of Hate that I have created with Mark Smith's permission. It contains all the best bits of the original with more added on. And it's freeeee!

In case you don't know, Coils of Hate was the 3rd Virtual Reality Adventure, written in 1993 by Mark Smith. It was set in the city of Godorno, a fantasy analogue of rennaisance Venice. You are a member of the Judain religion, a group persecuted by the overlord of the city. One day, you are forced to flee Godorno. However, eventually you return (if you don't it's game over) and find that Hate itself has become a physical form and is bent on destroying the city.

As Dave Morris writes, the book had a really strong atmosphere, but it also needed the flowcharts sorted out. They were a tangled knot which lacked logic at times. Of course, someone could have tried to unravel the knot to make it easier or, like the Gordian Knot, someone could have just cut it. That was my approach. Instead of making sense of what was given, I went through the books, took all the stuff I thought I should keep, added my own threads to link these pieces together and retied it to make the creation I have to offer you (for free!).

Ironically, I had to remove the bit where you get the codeword Gordian, however. As Per Jorner points out in his review, it is quite unrealistic to be carrying around a huge chain used to link together a bunch of prisoners.

I will be writing more about Coils of Hate and how I wrote the reboot in the future. For now, enjoy the new version (for FREEEEE!).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mechanics of GAMEbooks (input - test of performance - feedback)

Before we start talking about Gamebook Mechanics, we should first recognize the very basic elements of any game. In theory, a video game (or any other game) consists of two major events: input and feedback. In simple words, the player takes any action such as tilt the joystick, hit a button or move the pawn in a board game, etc and we have an input. For every input, there should be positive or negative feedback such as moving the character on the screen, hearing a sound or something else that provides the player with a clue if he or she is doing well or not.

Here is the basic structure of any game: INPUT - PERFORMANCE TEST (test of the input) - FEEDBACK

In my previous blogpost, I already mentioned that one of the most disturbing articles I've seen so far is the one named narrative is not a game mechanic by Raph Koster and based on his theory many people consider that games and story don't mix coming to the wrong conclusion that it is impossible to write a book which is also a good game.

Just take another look at the basic game elements! Narrative is a form of feedback, isn't it? I think that, not only narrative IS a game mechanic, it actually is the best form of feedback. Raph Koster argues that "games can and do exist without narrative". He is absolutely right, they do, but... Remember the old arcade games where the gameplay was always the same except the opponents speed increased in every consecutive level? Sure, that did make the game more challenging, but how much closer to the final goal did it make you feel and how much feeling of accomplishment did that design approach provide to the players? "Kill as many enemies as possible and move on to the next level" was the motto of all games back then and there was no ultimate goal for us to achieve. My personal opinion is that having some storyline and narrative such as "You just left the Old Village on your way to the Ancient Forest. You can see the mountains standing proud out there beyond the tall trees and you are now a step closer to finding and killing the Dark Wizard, who has been terrorizing your people for centuries... You won the battle against the Dark Wizard and you are successful in your mission to free your people from evil! Everybody in the Old Village will live happily ever after"? Sure, a good narrative limits the replayability of the game as nobody wants to read the same paragraphs multiple times, but how many times do you want to replay the same scenario in the countless levels of a jump and run or a shooting game that doesn't have any narrative? We, the human beings, like diversity and we love having a final goal to reach, and the answer to those challenges in the art of making games lies in providing the player with an interesting storyline that includes diversified encounters and a clearly defined ultimate goal. Those vitally important needs were hardwired in our brains by mother nature through the evolution process of our species (you can read more about my views on that subject in my earlier post about psychology of games).

If I have to summarize, I'd say that for the purpose of reaching the final goal of the adventure, the actual form of the feedback in games doesn't matter all that much as long as the player is given a clear idea if his performance is satisfactory or not. The feedback could be in the form of a sound, movement of an object on the screen or simple description in the form of text narrative. That being said, the real difference in mechanics between gamebooks and all other games is found mainly in the input methods, so next I'd like to compare for you how overcoming an obstacle in video games drastically differs from overcoming the same obstacle in the genre of gamebook adventures and to do so, I am going to use as an example the all-time-favorite Super Mario game and more specifically, how to test the player's performance when jumping over a deep chasm.

Jumping over a chasm in Video Games

Here is the way artificial intelligence would test the gamer performance by checking his speed and coordination:

1. IF the jump button is hit too soon THEN Super Mario will fall into the chasm;

2. IF the jump button was hit too late (after Super Mario walked off the edge) THEN he is going to fall into the chasm;

3. Ideally, IF the jump button is hit at the correct time (between too soon and too late) THEN Super Mario will make it safely to the other side.

Leaping a chasm in a Gamebook Adventure

Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of testing coordination and speed of the player in this genre. The only input method available to the author is the logic of the reader. Since it would be dumb to ask the gamer if and when he would like to jump, to make gamebook adventures dependent on the input, at this point, the designer must test the stats of the protagonist. The same stats that would have been built up earlier in the adventure through meaningful choices based on strong logic.

An example of such test looks like: If your strength stat is greater than 10, you successfully make the jump. Otherwise you fall down to your death.

A more complicated example would be: Add the number of your Stamina stat to your Strength skill. If the number is higher than 15, you make it to the other end and the adventure continues. If you fall short, your protagonist dies here.

It is also very common to integrate some randomness: Roll 2 dice and add your strength skill to the result. If the number is equal or greater than 20 then you succeed and your adventure continues. If the number is lower than 20, you fall down in the chasm and die.

Please note that skillchecks, dice rolls, flipping pages and so on, are not game mechanics. All of the above examples would be completely meaningless if the author failed to provide proper ways of increasing the protagonist stats earlier in the adventure. This is where the game part of a gamebook happens. For an example, there could have been an option to purchase a headband of strength earlier in the adventure or there could have been a paragraph where the reader had to choose between eating a good meal or picking up a fight at the tavern and the outcome turns out to be increased strength stat from eating the meal or loss of strength points due to the injuries suffered.

See, the input in Gamebooks happens in the form of choices and decisions. It is up to the author to make sure those choices and decisions are meaningful and that they are based on strong logic rather than random dice rolls and player's blind guessing due to lack of relevant information.

I believe that there are two forms of narrative feedback in gamebook adventures: instant and delayed. In the examples above, leaping over the chasm is a form of delayed feedback (the gamer performance up to this point would be considered satisfactory if the protagonist is successful in the jump). A form of instant feedback is the instructions to increase the character strength by 2 points after making the choice to eat the meal instead of picking a fight at the tavern.

As I already pointed out in my previous post, I am not claiming that Gamebooks represent the best of all game genres nor I am claiming that they are any better than video games. All I am saying is that due to the lack of other game mechanics, Gamebook Adventures provide the most diverse storyline and force the player to make the most meaningful choices, because they provoke critical thinking and force the gamer to assess different situations and then select the most rational action for the best possible outcome. I just wish that more of this kind of game mechanics, providing a lot of learning and personal improvement value to the player, would be implemented in video games. Just imagine how much more interesting and exciting an adventure like Diablo 2 would have been, if it was putting the gamer in situations that require certain meaningful and important choices altering the outcome of the story one way or another.

In the next post I will talk about the most important Gamebook Mechanic: Meaningful Choices.

Peter Agapov
Game Designer at
President and Chief Executive Officer of American Limo Naperville
Former Road Captain of Marine One at Operation "Welcome You Home"

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The great potential of Gamebook Adventures and what is wrong with them

The following article is an excerpt from Peter's Gamebook Theory blog.

Let me make it clear, I am not claiming that Gamebook Adventures is the best genre of them all nor I am saying that it has the greatest potential. I am simply stating that I have found Gamebooks to be teaching the most meaningful lessons of all the games I've played so far. This genre, probably for the lack of other game mechanics, puts the character in many different situations and the player is given a limited amount of possible actions to choose from. Making such a choice must be based on critical thinking, educated guessing and calculating the risk of possible negative or positive consequences for the character on the way to achieving the final goal of the adventure.

Meaningful choices haven't always been part of the Gamebook Adventures. Just take the arcade approach of the first Fighting Fantasy books for example! They are filled with "Which Door", "Cake or Death" and "Shell Game" choices (more on this terminology can be found in the blog about Gamebook Theory by Ashton Saylor) and the only way to get to a good ending in those books was to explore the adventure land, filled with countless instant death chapters and way too many battles (too much of the adventure outcome was left to pure chance), through trial and error until the ultimate path was eventually discovered.
The very first Fighting Fantasy Gamebook: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain
Fighting Fantasy Book 1

Please, don't get me wrong! I have a lot of respect for the pioneers in the genre, the legendary writers Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. They laid down the basic foundation of something that captured the hearts of millions around the globe and has been keeping the love for adventure alive in many generations now. All I am saying is that gamebooks have come a very long way since the dawn of the genre back in 1982 when "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain" was released in Great Britain. I believe that the ultimate example of how much gamebooks have improved since then, is the great work of Stuart Lloyd presented at the Windhammer Competition for Short Gamebook Fiction that is ultimately leading to his mobile platform game Asuria Awakens developed by the computer and marketing geniuses Neil Rennison and Ben Britten at Tin Man Games, for (not to be confused with my current project Visual Gamebook Adventures).

So, what is wrong with Gamebooks? While I was doing my research on the genre, I ran across quite a few posts that discussed the problems with Gamebooks and how we could fix them. Some were even saying that they can't be fixed and we should leave them in the past. Especially disturbing is the theory that narrative is not a game mechanic and therefore it's impossible to create a book that is also a game. Not only narrative IS a game mechanic, it actually is the best possible form of feedback! (see my next post)

This is what I have to say about it: There is absolutely nothing wrong with Gamebooks and they don't need fixing. The problem lies in the countless amateurs, who want to write a game, without willing to put enough effort into research and without willing to invest time in learning the techniques of a good adventure. That is exactly what happened in Eastern Europe in the late 90s when the whole genre there was brought to a halt, simply because there was too much junk on the market. The situation is the same with the mobile platform games of all genres right now. There is way too many mobile games available and most of them are just plain horrible, so the consumers often get lost in the huge variety and they become disappointed with the questionable quality. The bottom line is that the market suffers, because people quickly lose interest after a few failed attempts to find something worth their time, but instead they discover nothing else besides pure frustration.

There is another aspect of video games which I dislike very much nowadays. The "free to play" games with in-app purchases are the worst thing that has ever happened to the gamer, because winning the game is now based on the amount of money you spend rather than on the skills and qualities you learn and apply. These games are despicable money generating machines that focus on the economic aspect instead of rewarding the gamer for good performance. Put in other words, they could be "free to play", but they are definitely not "free to win" and I am very glad that this system can't be implemented in the genre of Gamebook Adventures.

To summarize this post, I am going to say that narrative and gameplay mix just fine, given that we have the right author to mix them correctly. Just take a good look at the amazing adventures written by Ashton Saylor and Stuart Lloyd and you'll see exactly what I mean. Both of them have excellent blogs on Gamebook Theory that I would strongly encourage you to read if you are planning on writing a short adventure or even a long gamebook. Their thoughts about how to start writing an adventure, how to approach the design process and what NOT to do to the player (such as instant death and many other bad things) are priceless, but for some reason they don't talk in detail about the mechanics of a good Gamebook Adventure. That is the exact subject of my future posts as I will be trying to build on the foundation Ashton and Stuart have already laid down for us.

Peter Agapov
Game Designer at
President and Chief Executive Officer of American Limo Naperville
Former Road Captain of Marine One at Operation "Welcome You Home"

Sunday, April 30, 2017

#AtoZChallenge Z is for Zines and news

Hello lovely people! The last April A to Z post is a couple of places to find the latest gamebook news. The first is Fighting Fantazine, a high quality Zine full of great stuff which is FREEEE!

Second is an awesome looking website called Gamebook News which has all the latest err, gamebook news for you. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

#AtoZChallenge Y is for YOU ARE THE HERO 2 and other wonderful things

Jonathon Green is doing great things for the gamebook world. First, he is organising FIGHTING FANTASY FEST 2 on the 2nd September in London which will be AWESOME!

Also, you should look out for the Wicked Wizard of Oz, an awesome gamebook based on Frank L. Baum's the Wizard of Oz. You can pre order it from Amazon and it will be available from the 1st May.

Also, Jonathon is writing YOU ARE THE HERO part 2 which was recently funded on Kickstarter.

The awesome Lone Wolf gamebook series now has an RPG!

Megara entertainment is releasing great new gamebooks including Autumn Snow - a new Lone Wolf spin off. It has also released Templre of the Flame - the 2nd Golden Dragon gamebook - with 100 extra sections written by Mark Lain.

Micabyte continues to kick ass with its awesome apps - you should check them out.

Also, check out the Explore-A-Quest series by Anthony Lampe.

#AtoZChallenge V is for very large numbers of gamebook stuff

Hello all! Here are more links in the world of gamebooks.

Tunnels and Trolls is an awsome RPG system which I have loved for many years. The classic solo Arena of Khazan has been updated and rereleased on RPGNow.

It was also Ken St. Andre's birthday yesterday, so be sure to wish the creator of Tunnels and Trolls happy birthday!

If you fancy writing your own gamebook, try out GBAT! - the Gamebook Authoring Tool.

Also, Dave Morris is still very active on the Fabled Lands blog, so check out all of his AWESOME stuff.

Also, check out Delight Games and Unimatrix Productions.

Also, Ivailo Daskalov has written the Hwarang and Kumiho an awesome gamebook app.

J Pingo Lingstrom is writing some awesome gamebooks for the Random Solo Adventure series.

#AtoZChallenge X is for EXtra help needed for gamebooks

Hello lovely people! Demian Katz, the mastermind behind and the Vupop 2 academic conference on interactive fiction has been updating his lovely site. However, he has a huge amount of data to put into gamebooks, such as various editions of other boks and deal with titles that change from series to series. If you would like to help, email Demian at


Thursday, April 27, 2017

#AtoZChallenge W is for Michael J. Ward

Hello all! Today, I have some very exciting news from Michael J. Ward, creator of the Destiny Quest series. So far, there are 3 wonderful books full of exploration and awesome combat, but now there's more...

Who are you and what have you written?
I’m Michael J. Ward and I’m the author of the DestinyQuest series of gamebooks that launched back in  2011 with The Legion of Shadow (gosh, was it really that long ago?!). There are currently three books in the series, with a fourth soon to be in the works. 

So book four is going ahead?
Short of any major disasters, then yes I am due to start the writing in July with the aim of completing the book by Christmas (that is my optimistic timeline, anyway). As it has been a while since I penned any fiction then it may well take me some time to get back into the swing of things! 

And the new book is going to be published by Megara Entertainment?
Yes, while I was attending Manticon in Germany last year, I was lucky enough to meet Dave Poppel who was there representing Megara Entertainment. He asked me what my plans were for Book Four and explained that they were very keen to publish the series.
Obviously, I was over the moon with the news. Megara produce some beautiful gamebooks; real collectors’ items, with hardback covers and colour maps etc., so I am extremely excited by the possibilities. 

You mention maps. In Book One and Two there were three maps/acts, but in Book Three there were only two. Will Book Four continue the trend of only having the two maps?  
I found the two act structure very difficult from a story-telling perspective. The only reason I dropped to two maps in Book Three was because my publisher wanted to print the maps on the inside covers. I have been assured by Megara that I am allowed to have three maps and return to the normal three act structure. 

Each book introduces something new and different. In Book Two it was team battles and in Book Three we had the special death moves and the sled races. Can we expect new mechanics in Book Four?
Oh yes, there are going to be a lot of exciting new things. Obviously, it is early days and I can’t go into too much detail, but pets and summoning will be making its debut, giving you further tactical choices in combat. There will also be a ‘vault’ where you can store weapons and equipment, so you no longer have to suffer the soul-crushing loss of destroying that favourite item when you swap it out. There is lots of other new stuff too! 

With each book it feels as though you have been refining the combat and the character classes. What can we expect from Book Four?
My goal with DestinyQuest was to always have the three paths (rogue, mage, warrior) play very differently. It was a difficult aim to achieve and I wasn’t satisfied with the results in the first three books. This time around, I went back to the drawing board and planned the three paths from the ground up, so to speak, especially how their abilities interact. I am pleased to say that I think I have cracked it – and all three paths should genuinely ‘feel’ very different to play now. Each path now has a couple of dedicated builds (i.e. playstyles) that have abilities that play into that. So you could focus your character into one playstyle or take a mix of the two. I think this approach offers much more synergy with abilities and I hope will be much more satisfying to play. 

Will team battles make a come-back?
I’m not sure yet, as there is so much going on with Book Four that adding in the team battles might just be overload for newer players. But don’t rule it out. One thing I can promise though – the legendary monsters are getting a buff for Book Four. Trust me, they are gonna be big, bad and ugly, and present a real hardcore challenge for the dedicated. 

Book Three had the death penalty system to add consequences to losing a combat. Will this see a comeback in Book Four?
The death moves and the death penalty system suited the character and the themes of Book Three, but they don’t really have a place in Book Four.  Instead, your character will have a new special ability (that will link to a new chain of abilities) , which they can use. Again, this will add to the tactical options you have in combat. 

With each book, the choices you make and the paths you can choose have become more complex. What can we expect from the storytelling and options in Book Four?      
I hope to push this as much as I can. I’ve learnt from games such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead, just how powerful character interaction can be – and how that can weigh heavy on your choices. I really want to offer readers a cast of characters that they care about, and choices that will have real and meaningful consequences. While I am still in the very early planning stages, I sense that Book Four will have more in common with The Heart of Fire, in terms of its structure and storytelling.
There was mention on your site of a kickstarter for Book Four. Can you tell us more about this?
Nothing is set in stone as yet, but I know Megara are very keen to run a kickstarter towards the end of the book’s completion. That could be the end of this year, all being well. Megara have already run some very successful campaigns, so I am hopeful and excited that it will be successful – and hopefully offer up some great rewards for DQ fans. We all love shiny loot right?

Sounds awesome. How can readers stay up to date with the latest news?
The news section of the DestinyQuest website is the best place to check - - as well as my Twitter and Facebook pages (you can find the links at the bottom of this page - ). As the book progresses I will be posting regular updates as well as some sneak peeks at the new paths/careers and build mechanics. Exciting times ahead folks!