The Future of Gamebooks?

May 14, 2015 8 comments

Someone from a Fighting Fantasy Facebook group just asked me whether I thought there could ever be a gamebook resurgence. Is it possible to capture the same lightning in a bottle, 30 years on? Branching novels? Other applications for the numbered-paragraph format? It’s a question I come back to every so often myself.

Here’s what I told him, based on my own experience. What does anyone else think?

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The question you’re considering is one I wrestled with myself back in the 80s. The gamebook phenomenon was so huge that I was sure that there were endless applications for interactive-lit-based learning, fiction, and just about everything else. I tried a few things, from short Choose-Your-Owns for my university museum through training aids for various things, but nothing ever made it past the prototype stage.

At the time, I was mystified, and convinced that I’d missed something. Looking back, I think now that I was focusing on too small a part of the picture. Like the American rail barons who felt safe because there were no other railways but didn’t realize that railways were just one part of the transport industry, and ended up being destroyed by the growing interstates and airlines. We’re really talking about interactive storytelling.

As far as books go, I don’t think gamebooks will ever escape their origins in the young adult section. That mark will stay with them forever, and make it hard – if not impossible – for the format to be taken seriously as a form of adult literature. It’s possible to conceive of Choose-Your-Own-Adventures for adults, but I can’t escape the worry that adult readers would feel they were playing rather than reading, and that would ultimately thin the market for an interactive adult book, no matter its other qualities. But then, books are dying, or so we’re told once a year or more. With that said, though, the trusty Choose-Your-Own format is still used in some educational books for kids: for example, Capstone Press in the States has a line of “Interactive History Adventure” books. I’ve heard nothing about whether kids prefer them to standard format books, though.

Capstone Pearl Harbor

Interactive storytelling is well established in the computer games world, of course, and that’s where it’s flourishing right now. Just the other day I was doing some stuff for a game developer using a program called Twine, which is basically a whiz-bang flowchart system that makes writing interactive stories a doddle. Hypertext-stack text games are an artisan-filled niche these days, but a lot of games still rely on story trees and such.

Back in the 90s, “interactive movie” was a buzzword. As well as theatrical releases, the term was also applied to computer games with a high story content, a branching narrative structure, and ambitions to artistic recognition. We never hear of them now. In games the term was tainted by overuse and frequent association with ambitious and costly failures. In movies, no one could quite get the interface right: I heard stories about cinemas fitted with voting buttons in the seat arms, but either people voted for the wierdest option just to see what would happen (or to try and break the movie), or kids rampaged up and down the aisles pressing every button they could find. Those bugs might have shaken out once the novelty wore off the format, but there was one other problem that I still can’t see a way around, and it applies to all media: in providing options, you have to create a lot more content than any one-time user will ever see. This isn’t too expensive when it’s words in a book or on a hypercard stack, but when you start talking about TV and movies it quickly becomes ruinous. You have to count on people coming back and back to try different options on a movie they’ve already seen rather than choosing to see a new movie, and it’s a very big, very expensive risk.

As to a gamebook resurgence, I think there is one currently under way, but I’m not sure that there’s a new market for gamebooks out there. What I’ve seen has been driven largely by nostalgia (including the heartwarming sight of kids enjoying the same books their parents grew up with) enabled by the community-building ability of social media and the ease of collecting offered by Ebay and other online marketplaces. Plus, of course, the ease of publishing interactive titles on ebook platforms. For a true resurgence to take place and for the medium to evolve into its next phase, gamebooks and interactive fiction/education/whatever will have to do something that makes them truly novel and interesting all over again so they can catch the imaginations of a new generation. That’s going to be a challenge, and in all honesty I haven’t a clue how that might be achieved. I’m intrigued by location-based interactives delivered via mobile devices (imagine a tour of Roman Bath, for example, with the screen showing your current location recreated in Steam or whatever, and NPCs to question about life back then), but that may just be the archaeology graduate in me. The same idea could be applied to all kinds of ARGs, and I think those may be the true successors to gamebooks, rather than a strictly literary or cinematic experience.

Imagine 22 cover

If you’re just talking about books, though, I can’t say I’m optimistic. Although gamebooks did exist (just about) before the 80s, the “perfect storm” of D&D/RPG frenzy, game system, and portability is what launched the phenomenon – and also made them a kid-teen product rather than an adult one. (If you can get hold of a copy or a scan of Imagine #22, there’s an article by me and Colin Greenland analyzing the gamebook phenomenon as it stood in 1985 – it might have some pointers.) Today, there are better ways to do everything gamebooks can do, and none of them involves books. To create a true gamebook resurgence – in any market – you’d need that same combination of zeitgeist-driven content, ease of use, and novelty of presentation. Whatever that might look like, I’m guessing it wouldn’t be on paper.

My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography

May 1, 2015 7 comments

I recently had occasion to put together a complete bibliography of all my work on Warhammer, WFRP, and Advanced HeroQuest, so I thought I’d post a copy here for anyone who’s interested.

If I have time later on, I might add my work on Warhammer 40,000, Epic Scale, and related games, but for now this is just the Warhammer Fantasy related work.

WFB logo

Warhammer
Products
Warhammer rulebook, 3rd ed. (1987) – Colour text
Warhammer Siege (1988) – Colour text
Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988) – Contributing writer
Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned (1990) – Contributing writer

Articles
“Crush, Crumble and Chop,” White Dwarf #103, Aug 1988
“The Crude, the Mad and the Rusty,” White Dwarf #83, Dec 1986

Box Backs
Skull Crusher Goblin Trebuchet
Lead Belcher Goblin Organ Gun
Great Fire Dragon
Green Dragon
Blue Dragon
Elven Attack Chariot
Harboth’s Orc Archers
Man-Mangler Orc Mangonel
Great Imperial Dragon
The Nightmare Legion
Bugman’s Dwarf Rangers
The Skeleton Horde
Orc War Wyvern
Goblin Battle Chariots
The Dragon Masters
Skarloc’s Wood Elf Scouts
Gob-Lobber Dwarf Onager
Roglud’s Armoured Orcs
Prince Ulther’s Imperial Dwarfs
Skeleton War Machines
Snotling Pump Wagon (magazine ad)

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Products

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3rd Edition
The Enemy Within (2012) – Co-author
The Edge of Night (2010) – Author

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2nd Edition
Plundered Vaults (2005) – Contributor (reprint)
Paths of the Damned: Ashes of Middenheim (2005) – Author
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Second Edition (2005) – Contributor (adventure)

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1st Edition
Fear the Worst (2002: Hogshead) – Developer
Dwarfs: Stone and Steel (2002: Hogshead) – Developer
Corrupting Influence (2002: Hogshead/Warpstone) – Contributor (reprint)
Apocrypha 2 (2000: Hogshead) – Editor/contributor
Gamemaster’s Screen (1997: Hogshead) – Author (insert booklet)
Apocrypha Now (1995: Hogshead) – Contributor (reprint)
Castle Drachenfels (1991: Flame) – Developer
Death’s Dark Shadow (1991: Flame) – Developer
Warhammer Companion (1990: Flame) – Editor/contributor
Doomstones: Dwarf Wars (1990: Flame) – Developer
Doomstones: Death Rock (1990: Flame) – Developer
Doomstones: Blood in Darkness (1990: Flame) – Developer
Character Pack, 2nd edition (1990: Flame) – Author (insert booklet)
Doomstones: Fire in the Mountains (1989: Flame) – Developer
Lichemaster (1989: Flame) – Developer
Empire in Flames (1989: GW) – Contributor (author brief)
The Restless Dead (1989: GW) – Contributor (reprint)
Something Rotten in Kislev (1988: GW) – Developer/co-author
Dungeon Lairs (1987: GW) – Developer (insert booklet)
Warhammer City (1987: GW) – Contributor
Character Pack, 1st edition (1990: Flame) – Developer (insert booklet)
Death on the Reik (1987: GW) – Co-author/developer
Shadows over Bogenhafen (1986: GW) – Author
The Enemy Within (1986: GW) – Developer
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1986: GW) – Co-author/developer

Articles

“The Gong Farmer,” personal blog (https://graemedavis.wordpress.com), August 2013
“Secrets of the WFRP Writers, Part 2,” Warpstone #15, Winter 2000-2001
“Secrets of the WFRP Writers, Part 1,” Warpstone #14, Summer 2000
“Secrets of the Warhammer Artists,” Warpstone #6, Summer 1997
“The Warpstone Interview,” Warpstone #5, Spring 1997
“Nastassia’s Wedding,” Pyramid #19, May/June 1996
“Pit Fighting,” White Wolf Inphobia #57, August 1995
“Social Level Rules,” White Dwarf #138, Jul 1991
“The King Beneath the Hill,” White Wolf #26, Apr 1991
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #135, Apr 1991
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #133, Feb 1991
“Ironstone Pass,” White Dwarf #132, Jan 1991
“The Great Hospice,” White Dwarf #130, Nov 1990
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #128, Sep 1990
“The Emperor Luitpold,” White Dwarf #122, Mar 1990
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #121, Feb 1990
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #120, Jan 1990
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #119, Dec 1989
“Marienburg” (ed.),White Dwarf #118, Nov 1989
“On the Boil” (ed.),White Dwarf #103, Aug 1988
“On the Boil” (ed.),White Dwarf #102, Jul 1988
“Fimir,” White Dwarf #102, Jul 1988
“On the Boil” (ed.),White Dwarf #98, Mar 1988
“On the Boil” (ed.),White Dwarf #97, Feb 1988
“A Rough Night at the Three Feathers,” White Dwarf #94, Nov 1987
“A Fistful of Misprunts,” White Dwarf #92, Sept 1987
“Oops!,” White Dwarf #91, Aug 1987
“Onwards & Upwards,” White Dwarf #89, Jun 1987
“Hand of Destiny,” White Dwarf #88, May 1987
“On the Road,” White Dwarf #85, Feb 1987

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AHQ logo


HeroQuest/Advanced HeroQuest

Products
HeroQuest (Milton Bradley, 1989) – Contributor (initial consulting)
Advanced Heroquest (1989) – Developer
Terror in the Dark (1991) – Author

Articles

“Treasure,” White Dwarf #139, Aug 1991
“Henchmen,” White Dwarf #138, Jul 1991

New Resumes

April 27, 2015 Leave a comment

The next couple of months will see me finishing a batch of projects, and I still have some availability in the second half of the year. I’ve updated my resumes (link at the top of the page) so get in touch with your needs or leads.

I am particularly interested in projects involving history,  myth/folklore, and historical fantasy. As well as games,  I am looking to expand my work in fiction and nonfiction.  I will consider tabletop game projects, but only if they pay exceptionally well. As much as I still love tabletop games, I have found it’s a very tough way to make a living.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully I’ll be back with something more interesting in a little while.

Categories: writing

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Werewolves

March 31, 2015 Leave a comment

index

My Osprey book Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide was released last week. To celebrate, I’ll be posting and tweeting a fact a day for ten days: just a few of the things I discovered while researching and writing it. I’ll also be updating this post each day with a new fact. You’ll find more information in the book itself, and you may never look at this stock horror monster in quite the same way once you’ve read it. I know I don’t.

Like its companion volumes on Zombies and Vampires, Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide collects a lot of deeply-researched information gathered from all times and places and presents it in an accessible and well-organized form for gamers and general readers alike.

For more on this book:
The first review (scroll down to the Comments section for more links as I find them).
A post about Werewolves and my most recent Osprey Myths and Legends book, Theseus and the Minotaur.

1. There are five distinct types of werewolf
As I read various ancient myths and medieval trial reports, I discovered something completely unexpected: not all werewolves are the same. I finally counted five distinct types, all of which I’ve covered in detail with histories, detailed descriptions, and case studies.
The five types are:
1. Viral Werewolves;
2. Cursed Werewolves;
3. Shamanic Werewolves;
4. Sorcerous Werewolves;
5. Obsessive Werewolves.

2. The Roman Empire helped spread lycanthropy across Europe
Until the first century, viral lycanthropy was confined to a small area of eastern Europe which became the Roman provinces of Moesia and Dacia. As Roman officials, merchants, and tax gatherers opened up the region, some of them contracted the virus and spread it throughout the Roman world.

3. St. Patrick may have rid Ireland of snakes, but he created the first documented Irish werewolves
The snakes of Patrick’s legend are a metaphor for Druidism, according to some writers. Another legend tells of certain pagans who drowned out his preaching by howling like wolves – whereupon he cursed them in the name of God, and they became the first recorded werewolves in Ireland.

4. Suleiman the Magnificent purged Constantinople of werewolves in 1542
The city was so overrun with werewolves that the Ottoman Emperor called out his Janissaries to deal with the situation. Over 150 werewolves were killed in one hunt alone.

5. Russia used werewolves to destabilize Sweden in 1790
The Swedish province of Calmar was overrun by a plague of wolves in 1790. Russia and Sweden were at war, and it was rumored that at least some of the creatures were werewolves that the Russians had created using Swedish prisoners. Sweden eventually sued for peace.

6. Buffalo Bill encountered a werewolf in 1906
According to the dime novel The Wolf Demon: Or Buffalo Bill and the Barge Mystery, the great scout and showman battled a wolf-like creature in Wyoming’s Wolf River Canyon. Cody claimed it was a werewolf, though some scholars believe it was actually a skinwalker from the local Arapahoe people.

7. The “Hounds of God” were an order of werewolf witch-hunters
At his trial in 1691, one Thiess of Kaltenbrun claimed to be a Hound of God, dedicated to protecting his community from supernatural threats. The Hounds were said to conduct raids into Hell itself on three nights of the year.

8. Britain and Germany both developed werewolf special forces in WWII
Germany’s Werwulf guerillas are fairly well-known, but Britain’s Talbot Group was founded in 1941 near Llanwelly, Wales and served throughout the rest of the war.

9. Vampires may be undead werewolves
According to a Greek tradition, a dead werewolf can rise from the grave as a vampire. However, the Greek word vrykolaka can mean both werewolf and vampire, which confuses matters somewhat.

10. Benjamin Franklin organized a werewolf militia
During the American Revolution, Patriot werewolves used their wolf forms to bring back valuable intelligence on British movements and troop strengths.

Thor Hits U.S. Libraries and Schools

March 20, 2015 Leave a comment

Rosen Thor Cover

I’ve just received a hardback edition of my Osprey Myths and Legends book Thor: Viking God of Thunder, published by Rosen Publishing in New York for the American schools and libraries market. It is available by itself or as part of the Heroes and Legends set, which also includes the Osprey volumes Dragonslayers, Hercules, Jason and the Argonauts, King Arthur, and Robin Hood.

The inside of the book is the same as the Osprey edition, but Rosen’s solid hardback binding makes it more durable, and it lies flat without breaking the binding and scattering pages everywhere. And Rosen’s cover design is great. It keeps Miguel Coimbra’s fantastic art of Thor battling the frost giants, but turns the god’s name into a stony logo wreathed in lightning. I’m very, very pleased with it, and it’s strangely appropriate that my comp copy should arrive on the International Day of Happiness – another thing I knew nothing about until this morning!

I enjoyed working on this book immensely, and I’ve posted about it before. Here are some links for anyone who is interested:
Rosen Publishing (Thor)
Rosen Publishing (Heroes and Legends series)
Osprey Publishing (Thor)
Early reviews (scroll down to comments for more)
A more recent review

Nintendo and Smart Devices

March 18, 2015 Leave a comment

Image borrowed from the Italian news site VG24/7.

Image borrowed from the Italian news site VG24/7.

Four years after CEO Satoru Iwata urged develpers to ignore smartphones, Nicholas Lovell’s blog on Gamasutra covers Nintendo’s change of attitude toward smart devices and explores some of the challenges they will face. The article is a good read, and although it’s not possible yet to determine exactly how Nintendo will affect the app market over the next few years, it’s certain that their effect will be significant.

I’m especially gratified to see this move taking place, since I raised the possibility myself four years ago in one of this blog’s first posts. I wonder if Iwata-san read it? I know, it’s far more likely that he studied the developing app market and tracked the increasing pressure it’s been placing on the market for dedicated gaming devices, and came to the same conclusion that I did. But still: Iwata-san, if you’re reading this, thanks for all the games, and good luck!

Phil Gallagher: The Rest of the Enemy Within Campaign

February 28, 2015 1 comment

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People ask me about the Enemy Within Campaign a lot, and I can’t always answer their questions. Sometimes I used to know but the answer is lost in the mists of time, but more often I never really knew to begin with. Jim and Phil did most of the planning for TEW, and I wasn’t always privy to the longer-range plan. I’ve already blogged about what I do know/remember, but last October I met up with Phil for the first time in over 20 years at the Oldhammer 2014 event in Maryland. I asked him to help me fill in a few details (fill/Phil! Ha, ha! What – nothing? Please yourselves…) and he was kind enough to agree.

Phil and me (at left) at Oldhammer 2014.

Phil and me (at left) at Oldhammer 2014.

So here we go:

What was the original plan for the Enemy Within Campaign after Power Behind the Throne?

The original plan? We had a plan? I think the “plan” was to keep creating linked, campaign-style rpg adventures with some great role-playing scenes, and plenty of action…

Did you and Jim get as far as a plot for The Horned Rat? If so, what was it? How far did it get? Anything else you can tell us about it?

The Horned Rat idea was all mine. Mine, I tell you. Who knows how it might have panned out, but I had this idea that a bunch of Skaven were developing a means of bringing Morrslieb down to earth… and/or they had created a portal to enable them to teleport to the surface to mine it… Chaos-mutations a-plenty!

In particular, what was the plan for the Purple Hand? They kind of vanish after the events in Middenheim, but it seems to be implied that they have active cells elsewhere.

The Purple Hand were supposed to be just one of a number of underground cults all working to related but slightly different ends – a sort of SPECTRE for the Warhammer world; probably never the focus of a scenario, but always there in the background to complicate life for the PCs.

How close was Carl Sargent’s published Empire in Flames to the original intention? Did you have much input into the brief Carl worked from?

Jeez… Empire in Flames… I’ve no idea… that was you and Mike, Graeme – all you and Mike! ;) I think it was probably the usual convoluted Carl Sargent adventure, that you and/or Mike undertook to shoe-horn… er… adapt to fit into the existing campaign.

Hmm… I don’t think it was me, so it must have been Mike. I must remember to ask him one day.

Apart from The Horned Rat and Empire in Flames, were there any other Enemy Within adventures planned that never came to fruition?

Any other ideas? I’m sure there were – but it’s all so long ago, now… it was all probably going to come to a head with a major chaos incursion and a WFRP-meets-WFB big climactic battle…

And I’m sure that any digressions and random memories you feel like throwing in would be more than welcome, too.

Random memories: it was Hal that gave the Drakwald forest its name. He was taking the piss for the way we came up with names for places in the Empire. He suggested that all we were doing was taking English words, changing them a bit, and then adding “-heim” to make town names, and “-wald” to name forests, “So, the Dark Forest, could be Drakwald?” he joked. And so it did.

Many thanks to Phil for taking the time to reply. If you want to read more of his WFRP memories, check out the interview he did for the excellent Realm of Chaos 80s blog.

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