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Turn to Paragraph 400

I didn’t intend to leave such a long gap since my last post, but I’ve been buried in work. I wish I could tell you about it, but I can’t. Suffice it to say that I’m working on three – count ’em, three – video game projects for a top developer, developing IPs and creating storylines for games that I actually played and enjoyed before these contracts came along. It’s very exciting.

My first freelance contract – as opposed to unsolicited submissions – came along at about this time in 1985. Gamebooks were all the rage back then, and out of the blue I got a call from a publisher called Scribos, who had been contracted by Oxford University Press to develop two six-volume series of fantasy gamebooks that used the read-comprehend-decide activity loop and the appeal of fantasy gamebooks (Fighting Fantasy was everywhere at that time) to help encourage teenagers with reading difficulties. I’ve never actually seen the resulting books, The Adventures of Kern the Strong and The Adventures of Oss the Quick, but apparently they did well enough for the first series to be re-released as interactive CD-ROMs a few years ago.

Although the gamebook phenomenon receded in the face of the video-game explosion of the 90s, the faith is still alive. Fighting Fantasy titles are being reprinted by Wizard Books, the Lone Wolf series is being reissued by Mongoose Publishing, and Choose Your Own Adventure titles are still being published. I have even seen some moves to take gamebooks over to smartphones and tablets, another portable format that some fear may replace books altogether. Will they work out? I don’t know, but a gamebook app might include place saving and some kind of dice function, which would address the two greatest weaknesses of the original gamebooks.

It may be premature to speak of a “gamebook renaissance,” but the interest is definitely there, alongside the growing movement for “old school” roleplaying. Fighting Fantazine, a free, downloadable PDF magazine dedicated to gamebooks, recently interviewed me on my work with gamebooks, Games Workshop, and video games. The magazine also carries a wealth of information on the state of the gamebook hobby these days – and it’s healthier than I expected. If you spent any time in the 80s, you may find yourself getting a little misty as the memories come flooding back.

  1. September 28, 2011 at 11:58 am

    What a strange coincidence! Look what we found in a book sale at the village hall in Newtown Linford this weekend…

    The covers were pretty dreadful, I’m afraid, and didn’t have your name on, so I didn’t snap them.


    • September 28, 2011 at 11:59 am

      Oh… HTML fail. 😦

      You can see the pic here.


      • September 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm

        That’s as much as I’ve ever seen of them. The meanies never sent me publisher’s comps, and online mentions are as rare as hen’s teeth. Thanks for the picture!

  2. RogerBW
    September 29, 2011 at 3:33 am

    Computerising the Fighting Fantasy system would, I fear, make the combats even more flavourless than they are already – “Do you want to flee yet? How about now? Oh, too late.” On the other hand one could add some procedurally-generated colour text to describe the progress of the fight…

    On one hand, actually implementing the rules would mean that people couldn’t ignore the results and pretend they won anyway – but on the other, having no fights at all would make the whole thing feel more deterministic (which of course it is anyway, but one wants to encourage the illusion of freedom).

    The game books I remember most fondly were the ones that had interesting side mechanics as well as the basic choice system – Sorcery‘s spellcasting, Lone Wolf‘s selection of powers.

  3. September 29, 2011 at 9:27 am

    graemedavis :
    The meanies never sent me publisher’s comps…

    If I’d known, I’d’ve bought them for you… 😦


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