Saturday, 24 November 2012

PSA: Arcana Agency: The Thief of Memories

I would like to call everyone's attention to a particularly interesting Kickstarter Project which I have just been  made aware of. Arcana Agency: The Thief of Memories is a new 549-paragraph gamebook designed by Megara Entertainment, written by Paul Gresty.
Now what makes Arcana Agency stand out from the crowd is that it will be a 200 page book in FULL COLOR! As a gamebook collector I can vouch for the fact that there are very few full color gamebooks on my bookshelf, and none of which are 200 pages of such. I've always love the extra touch that illustrations have added to gamebooks; especially by incorporating clues that aren't in the text into the images, which helps put the "game" in "gamebook". Not only that but it is going to be printed in hardcover! There are few gamebooks out there of such fine quality.
Arcana Agency will contain a "expansive non-linear plot", an item system, character attributes, codewords, etc. In fact your choices in the first book can also affect you in future Arcana Agency books, meaning your choices have an extremely strong impact on the plot. I look forwards to reading the book, and exploring the American depression-era world the author has created inside The Thief of Memories
On Arcana Agency's Kickstarter page you can see images of the art that will be included in the book, and read more on just how wonderful it is. There you can read a sample of the rules, information about the creation of the book and more. Oh, and did I mention that the forward is written by the legendary gamebook guru Dave Morris?
I encourage everyone who has an interest in gamebooks to help pledge towards making this amazing book possible. Cheers!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

New Gamebook: Eternal

I have recently written a brand new gamebook called "Eternal". In this gamebook you have set out on a quest to discover the secrets of eternal life. However the path to eternal life is not easy. There are many ways the story can end, but the best ending are the ones that are best hidden.
There are 9 different endings, including deaths; see if you can find them all. Also one of the endings was written for fans of Inside UFO 54-40, if you know what I mean ;)

P.S. Also I have planned to write an expansion for this gamebook; there will be 3 new locations to visit, and 3 more endings.

Monday, 17 September 2012


I'm terribly sorry to everyone for my sudden dissapearance for the last three weeks. Let's just say I have some very nasty things to say to my internet provider.
In any case, while I was away I wrote a humorous one page adventure. This is dedicated to a family member who is now starting his time at university.

University Life
By Jake Care

While reading Jake Care’s blog you realize the article is an interactive story! Here you have the opportunity to experience university life again from the comfort of your house. Make your choices, and read the sections corresponding to the number of your choice. Also get a pencil in case you need to note some things down.

1: You’re at your rez. There are some overly loud people day-drinking in the hall, while some anti-socials are locked in their rooms. (Leave? 2) (Drink, if you have “Beer”? 3) (Stay in your room? 4)

2: You walk to the side gates, this connects the student ghetto to the campus (Go to your rez? 1) (Go to the corner store? 5) (Go the center of campus? 6) (Go down to main caf? 7) (Wander the student ghetto? 8)

3: You end up drinking too much and then… some stuff happens and you wake up in a ditch somewhere, naked, with no memory of what happened last night. You can be pretty sure you had lots of fun though! Note down “Wasted” (Go to 13)

4: The room is silent and lonely. If you have “Course Notes” then you get your overly expensive textbooks out and read the boring material before doing some work on your laptop write down “Study”. Of course either way you end up looking at facebook, then some silly games, then just weird shit on the internet. Congratulations; you have no life. (Go to 13)

5: The corner store is filled with some cheep foods, magazines, and best of all; beer. Sadly they don’t sell harder alcohol here, but the beer will do. You may spend your tiny student budget on beer or cheep food, note down either “Beer” or “Food”. In any case you end up leaving even poorer than when you got here. (go to 2)

6: You are in the grand center of the univeristy in all its splendor! A plethora of options is open to you, young student. (Go to the side gates? 2) (Go to a class? 9) (Study in a library? 4) (Leave through the main gates? 10) (Drink at the student bar? 3)

7: The main caf is nice, as far as cafeterias go, though overpriced. If you want you may enjoy a 15$ non-gourmet meal, and note down “Food”. Otherwise you’d best be on your way. (Go up to the side gates? 2) (Go into town? 10)

8: You wander through the small streets. There are appartements, rezs and also the gym is here too. (Go to your rez? 1) (To the gym? 11) (Go to the side gates? 2)

9: You sit in an overly large lecture hall. The lecture has maybe one or two interesting things, which you write down, but then becomes boring once more. You tune in and out of the lecture until it’s finally over. And you weave through other students trying to get out the doors. Note “Class Notes”. (Go outside? 6) (Go to the student bar? 3) (Study at a library? 4)

10:  You walk through the city and inevitably end up on Main St. (Go back to university? 6) (Go to a club/bar? 3) (Go to a restaurant? 12)

11: The gym is alright, however there are many people there who are much more fit than you are, making you feel bad about your body. Note down “Sweaty” (Time to leave. 2)

12: Oh my gosh! The food here isn’t cafeteria food, and it’s reasonably priced! Well at least compared to the cafs. Note down “Food”. (Wipe your mouth and leave. 10)

13: And so concludes another day at University. Look at the chart to see what the words you have written, or haven’t written, mean.

Not written

You starve to death.

You are fat and ugly.

You have no friends.

You fail your classes.

You had fun!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Page-Sized Gamebooks

So after Kurthl33t commented on my Format of Gamebooks post I started thinking about all the page-sized adventures out there, and decided to write one myself. I find these teeny-tiny gamebooks to be a lovely way to use a minute or so. It's interesting to see how authors use their lack of space; what they consider important to the story, and what can be omitted to make more room. 
Here are a few page-sized adventure links for you to enjoy:

You can download this adventure in the proper page-size format on the My Works page, and here.

A Tiny Adventure by Jake Care
Items you may collect are in italics, note them here

You are reading Jake Care’s Gamebooks blog at your computer, when suddenly you realize that you have shrunk to the size of a mouse. (Send an email for help? 6) (Climb down to the floor? 2)

Your room is kinda messy, making it a difficult terrain to navigate. (Go under your bed 3) (Go to the bathroom? 9)  (Go to the kitchen? 14) (Out the window, if you have a grappling hook? 5)

Under your bed there is a copious amount of dust and other crap. The only thing of use you can lift is a pen cap. (Get back to your room? 2) (Go into the air duct? 4)

The ducts are claustrophobic, even for your tiny size. From here you can get to pretty much anywhere in your house. (Go to the basement? 8) (Go to your room? 2) (Go to the bathroom? 9) (Go to the kitchen? 14)

Outside you make your way through the grass that surrounds your house. With your small stature the tall grass seems like a forest around you.
(Run out into the street calling for help? 6) (Go into the garden? 10) (Climb the vine into your house? 2)

It isn’t long before people come over to see you in your shrunken state. You end up being in the newspaper and having your name in all the records books and weird phenomena archives. You live out the rest of your days with scientists doing tests on you and people taking pictures of you. The end.

The kitty pounces on you. It plays with your for a bit since you are so much fun before it claws you to death. Good kitty. The end.

Your basement is cold and dark. In one wall you see a mouse hole, other than that is empty. Better get an exterminator if you ever return to full size. (Go into the mouse hole? 11) (Go into the ducts? 4)

Your bathroom is nice and clean, however with your stature using the facilities is out of the question. You climb up your laundry hamper to the sink. There you find some dental floss and a safety which you make into a grappling hook. (Go to your room? 2) (Go into the ducts? 4) (Go to the kitchen? 14)

The garden is wondrous to explore at your stature; it’s like some kind of jungle. Suddenly through the brush a giant cat bursts towards you. (Throw it a piece of chicken, if you have one? 12) (Run? 7)

The mouse hole leads you through a labyrinth of passages until you come a strange dead end. All the passages seem to meet up and continue in circle except this one dead end. You tap on it and find a hollow sound. (Knock it down with a blunt instrument, if you have a pen cap? 13) (Get out? 8)

The cat runs after the chicken, leaving you to run off. As you are running through the garden you see a key lying beside one of the flowers. This key is small enough to fit into your shrunken hand, oddly enough. You may take the tiny key if you wish. (Run out into the street calling for help? 6) (Climb the vine into your house? 2)

The wall gives way and leads you into a strange alcove with a glowing box. There is a keyhole in the box and no other clues as to what to do with it. (Put the key in the keyhole, if you have a tiny key? 15) (Find your way out? 8)

Your kitchen hasn’t been cleaned. As soon as you return to normal size you’d better do that. In fact you find a small piece of chicken you must have dropped last night. You may take this chicken if you want. (Go to your room? 2) (Go to the bathroom? 9) (Go into the air duct? 4)

You put the key in the lock and turn it. Suddenly you feel yourself growing larger. You expand until you can't fit in the room! You feel the wall break behind you as you spill out onto your basement floor returning to normal size. Looking back at the remains of the wall you just broke out of you can’t find the strange box. How on earth are you going to explain this to the home repair contractors? Your house insurance sure as hell won’t cover this. The end.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The 2-Player Gamebook

Though the majority of gamebooks are designed to be solo, there are a few gamebooks that support multiple players. Before writing this article I did a little bit of research into the background of 2-player gamebooks. Here is what I gathered of the history of the multiplayer gamebook:

Of course after gamebooks became popular as solo adventures, people started wondering how they could share their gamebook adventures with a friend. There were plenty of RPGs that were almost always designed for a group of friends to play, but what about a gamebook that allowed just two players to play together without a GM? In response to this a few different game companies came out with “pre-programmed adventures” for their board games, which were similar to gamebooks, as in there were little booklets that told you which room what monster in then, albeit there wasn’t much plot nor was there much in the way of text and decisions. In 1983 the first series of published 2-player gamebooks came out; this was the Lost Worlds combat series. The books were plotless and essentially allowed the players to fight against eachother using different kinds of fantasy characters. In 1985 the first 2-player gamebook series with a hint of a plot came out; this was the 1-on-1 adventure gamebooks. The characters actually had some back ground and you were given a reason why they were fighting. More 2-player series bloomed shortly after that, including Duel Master, Combat Heroes, Double Game, Clash of the Princes, and others.

There are two main types of multiplaye gamebooks; there were the multiplayer-single-book type, such as Bloodsword or Quasar-Saga series, in which there was only one book per adventure, and was designed to be read out loud by one person, which all the other players make decisions for their individual characters, who travelled together as a group. These types gave more of the “RPG board game” feel.
The other type was the strictly 2-player gamebooks. These gamebooks came in sets of 2 and were designed so that one player would read the first gamebook, while the other player would read the second gamebook. Often these 2-player only gamebooks could be played solo as well, with a slight variation to the rules. In order to keep the player’s adventures in sync the players would call out, or write down codewords and special number, and by cross referencing these in each of the players books, they could see if they met up somewhere or if their actions affected eachother. There are 2 subcategories of 2-player only gamebooks; those in which players can play cooperatively, and those in which players can only fight eachother.
In this article I will be focusing more on the “2-player only” type gamebooks, rather than the “multiplayer-single-book” types.

The authors of these gamebooks had to create special mechanics and rules to allow for multiple players to play and keep their adventures coordinated. Here I’m going to be talking about the “2-player only” type gamebooks. There are three major things authors of 2-palyer gamebooks need to coordinate: Location, Speed, Events, and Combat. Different authors use different techniques to achieve this.
To Coordinate Location: The players of a 2-player gamebook are usually in different locations most of the time, only staying together to fight, or to cooperate. Authors of 2-player gamebooks have to make a system so that players know when they meet eachother. This is usually done one of two ways; either by telling the other player where they are, or by writing down a codeword or number that corresponds to a location, and if the players match, they must turn to a special reference giving them options on how to behave towards the other player’s arrival. I find that both these systems are flawed because a player’s location is always revealed, whether by directly calling out their location, or by giving a number that references what location they are at.
To Coordinate Speed: Some readers may be faster than others, so in order to prevent the faster reader from getting ahead of the other authors often break their 2-player gamebooks into sections; after completing a small section of the book a player will read text telling them to wait for the other player to finish reading their small section of the book as well (by small section I mean like exploring a location, or dealing with a situation). When both players reach the end of their individual sections they may be asked to reference eachother to see if they are at the same location, and if so what actions they’d like to take. Afterward players move on to the next section of the gamebook independently to continue their quest.
To Coordinate Events: Sometimes players may leave traps for their opponents, or take items ahead of the other player. There are two ways authors deal with this; either via codeword, which will tell one of the players to turn to a section letting them know that they have fallen into a trap, or that the item they came for is no longer there. Or, if the players are simply telling eachother what location they are at, one player may simply tell the other that they have fallen into one of their traps.
To Coodinate Combat: in cooperative adventures players may sometimes fight against an enemy together. The author will have to choose how to do this; whether to split the enemy into to combats; one for each player, or to have them both attack the enemy at the same time, or to have the players decide how to go about fighting their enemies. Sometimes authors will even present cooperative players even more interesting choices; for example in Clash of the Princes when you are going to raid a cottage full of goblins, you may make tactical decisions, such as letting the warrior burst through the door, while the wizards casts spells through the window.

I myself enjoy playing 2-player gamebooks with my friends, though I think the mechanics could use some improvement. I’d like to see more tactical choices given when entering 2-player cooperative combat, as well as a more effective system for coordinating location, without giving away one’s location to the other player.

Now I want to hear from YOU! What are YOUR favorite multiplayer gamebooks? What is YOUR opinion on them? Would YOU like to see more multiplayer gamebooks published? What do YOU think the ideal design for a multiplayer gamebook is?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Format of Gamebooks

These days gamebooks are available in many different formats: we have our classic prints, with softcover and hardcover, and our newer electronic format, with text file and game. Some gamebooks are very short, like the ones I have posted so far, while others are large mammoth books. Some had a plethora of illustrations, while others are text only. Some come with extra materials required for game play, such as special cards, dice, etc. While others can be played without needing any other materials at all. In this post I’m going to discuss different aspects of gamebook formats.

Print or PDF?
I’m going to start off with the big question that’s being asked in today’s digital era. Print or PDF? Gamebooks were originally published in print, with a few select titles being turned into electronic format; for example the first few Fighting Fantasy gamebooks were made available for ZX spectrum. There were also text adventures, which were very similar to gamebooks, such as Zork, which actually had a gamebook spinoff series. Today many of our old favorite 80s series are now out-of-print, but there now seems to be a rise in electronic formatted publications. So what are the advantages of each?

Print: There’s nothing quite like the feel of a good book in your hands; being able to flip through pages allows us certain things a digital copy might not afford us, like being able to appreciate all the artwork as you skim through, hidden ending like those of UFO 54-40, and a more general idea of how the book is laid out. Although a book can get scuffed up, dirty and damaged, it is a medium that will never go obsolete; in the future programs required to read today’s digital gamebooks will be extinct and it will be impossible to play those old favorites, however we’ll still be able to read our old print gamebooks no matter how much technology changes.

PDF (or other electronic format): This adds a lot to the simplicity of play; hyperlinks and automatic die rolls make things much easier for the player. Also certain mechanics can be hidden from the player when needed (for example in citadel of chaos when you are asked for the password you are given a list of options to guess the password, when realistically a guard wouldn’t give you a list to guess from). Also this format makes gamebooks more portable; you can carry a library full of gamebooks in your pocket in ebook format. Also all the automatic die rolling make it so you can play on the go easily; you can be sure to lose a die when playing a gamebook on the subway.

I can see the appeal for both, however I myself however prefer print; it’s easier to add to my collection, if ever my phone or computer stops working I won’t lose my precious gamebooks. I also like to be able to fudge some of the die rolls if they are too unfair (e.g. roll a two on 2d6 or you die). And I like to browse through them and see what paths I missed after reading them.

Large or Small?
Does size matter? When gamebooks first came out there were usually quite short and without many options. Some series have continued this way, such as choose your own adventure, which can be less than 100 pages long with a significant about of linear sections of pages. Since then it seems authors have been determined to expand in size, today we have our recent Legion of Shadow at almost 700 pages. There exists a wide variety in the lengths of gamebooks; there are some gamebooks that are around 1000 sections long, and over 500 pages, while others (usually fan written) can be around 10 sections and only a single page. So let’s take a look at the different advantages and disadvantages of large and small gamebooks:

Large: while large gamebooks do have more room for interesting narrative, sections and choices, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the authors will fill it up with that. There are some full length novels that will simply give the reader a choice of two ending at the very end, just barely qualifying to be called a “gamebook”. I also find that the largest gamebooks usually contain a variety of different plots within them (example: Life’s Lottery, Pretty Little Mistakes, and all the subquests of Legion of Shadow and Fabled Lands). For those who want one strict story line to follow and finish your gamebook with no stone overturned, this is not the type for you. However, that being said, for those who like to explore and love long text with detail, then reading a short gamebook just doesn’t cut it when compared to some of the larger gamebooks out there. Having a larger gamebook with more sections allows the player much more freedom and a lot more options, plus a good deal of replay value.

Short: It can be fun to pick up a small gamebook in your spare time and finish it all in one go, exploring everything it has to offer. And being short doesn’t necessarily mean the player doesn’t have many options: some of said page-long adventures will include many sections on that single page leading the player all around to different locations with a myriad of choices on each section, though there probably won’t be many locations to visit aside from the ones listed on each section.  However these are only really good as quick stories or games; you aren’t going to get a big role-playing adventure across the land with complex in-depth plots in a short gamebook.

In my opinion, while I do enjoy the occasional short gamebook, because they can be fun and quick adventures. This is the style I have gone for in all the adventures I have written thus far. However most often I like a nice big gamebook because I enjoy having a wider variety of options, more complex plots, and a larger area to explore.

I’m just going to mention this one quickly because I believe that we can universally agree that the more illustrations the better; they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and they might just be right. Illustrations can help the player really see what the author was trying to create with their writing, while still using their imagination to elaborate on the illustrator’s drawing. I find this helps in bringing the gamebook to life. Illustrations can also act as puzzle for the player, such as in The Forgotten Spell, and give clues to the player as well (like in Siege of Sardath section 332 where the text describes Sorrel as having a scar over his right eye, but in the picture it is over his left, meaning it is a trick!). Vivez l’Aventure had lovely two page illustrations, for each section, proving that it’s impossible to have too many illustrations.

Extra Materials
For extra materials I am including play aids, tables, adventure sheets, cards, dice, etc. Everything other than the text itself you need in order to play. There are a variety of different types; there are common household game items, like dice and pencils, there are tables to refer to in the book or print out, also some old gamebooks even had plastic “filters” to reveal certain hidden sections of text. The question is do they have a positive or negative effect?

Extra Materials: On one hand, play aids can be used to add a lot of depth and interesting mechanics to gameplay; in fact most of these play aids provide most of the “game” in today’s gamebooks. In order to add elements of chance to the story and game authors most often use dice to give the player random outcomes, which helps keep things interesting and unpredictable. Authors also use the adventure sheet keep record of what a player has done so as to cause a player’s past action to affect them later in the story i.e. to add consequence.

No Extra Materials: On the other hand, sometimes game items can be difficult to use when on the go. As I said above; it’s kinda difficult to roll your dice and write on your adventure sheet when you’re on a crowded bus. Also there’s nothing wrong with reading a plain old CYOA without the fancy dice and character creation. Many of the best gamebooks are written like that; Life’s Lottery, a Million Little Mistakes, and Endless Quest are all playable with nothing else but the book in your hands.

So now in my opinion,  while it is nice to have easily usable gamebooks out there that can be read and enjoyed in almost any situation, I enjoy taking advantage of all the interesting mechanics play aids have to offer. I encourage gamebook authors to take advantage of all the different extra materials they can incorporate into their works, but to also write a simple CYOA-type every now and then.

While I like gamebooks in just about every format they come in, whether print or PDF, large or small, illustrated or not, requiring extra materials or being stand-alone, there are certain formats that do seem to be preferable to others. I would say the ideal gamebook format would be a print hardcover, that was extremely long, filled with illustrations and using a variety of extra materials to add spice to its mechanics. That isn’t to say authors shouldn't experiment with the format of gamebooks and try a bit of everything.

Now I want to hear what YOU think! What is YOUR favorite format for a gamebook? Which series do YOU think presented the best format of gamebook? What do YOU think of my opinions?

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Windhammer Entry: Emancipation

I have just released a new short gamebook by the name of Emancipation. It is also my entry to this year's Windhammer Competition. The Windhammer guidelines don't say anything about posting your entry in other domains, so I have put it here to show you. Emancipation was written in late April early May, and hasn't been released until now due to the number of errors and details I needed to add.
Emancipation is much more "Story" and less "Game". To give you a one sentence summary: You wake up in what you perceive as hell, and must figure out why you are there and how to escape. Those who manage to find their way to the last section won't be disappointed. 
Looking at the mechanics based on my posts about Linearity and Combat Mechanics.
I would classify this gamebook as Convergent under my linearity rating system, however it has a GCI of infinity. This is because is uses a mechanic similar to La Cité aux 100 Mystères of having the reader explore in a divergent way before having them return to where they started, albeit more knowledgeable from their explorations. La Cité aux 100 Mystères used this mechanic to give the player the sense of exploring a full city, while I used this mechanic to create the feeling of being trapped and helpless.
There is no combat system and therefore no character attributes; the story didn't call for character attributes and playing out combat, so I didn't add any of that. There are codewords and items to collects, though it can be quite difficult to figure out when and where to use them.
Please read it, review it, comment on it, vote for it in the Windhammer competition and enjoy it!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Combat Mechanics Showcase: The Battle of Bamajeda

In my last post I talked about combat mechanics, and what criteria must be followed to make a good gamebook combat system. I also promised to post a micro gamebook showcasing my try at a "perfect" system. After a few quick (admittedly slightly rushed) editing rounds I am ready to present to you The Battle of Bamajeda! The Battle of Bamajeda is very short; it serves only the purpose of demonstrating my combat system, i.e. if you are looking for a shocking story line you'll have to wait for my Windhammer entry. TBOB is actually part of a larger gamebook I am writting; The Battle of Bamajeda is just one of the combats that I thought would interest you, so I set it apart for you to preview.
I would love to have as much feedback as possible, tell me how I did in following my own criteria, as well as how well it satisfied your combat system standards. What should I do to improve it? How close is my system to, and how can I make my system into, the perfect combat system? I want YOU to leave YOUR comments!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Combat Mechanics

Most gamebooks out there feature some form of combat system. The gamebook authors intended for you to do what most adventurers do best: fight monsters. These combat systems range drastically in complexity, from Fighting Fantasy’s roll 2 dice and compare, to DestinyQuest’s choose your combat ability, roll dice, compare, and apply passive damage and other effects. The challenges gamebook designers face is to design a combat system that is simple, fair to both player and monster, and most importantly: entertaining. Here I have a criteria for making a good combat system, and I am going to compare the combat systems of a few popular gamebooks in each of the following categories:

Simplicity and Quickness
Most players want to be able to resolve their combat fairly easily and quickly; it can become rather tedious to have to roll a series of dice for you and your opponent, add, subtract, multiply and divide (and don’t forget to round down!) different scores, compare to a chart and then find out you’re only dealt 2 damage to your opponent with 100 HP. Now do it all over again 50 times. This can be reconciled if the combat system is very entertaining to the player (see below), but even the best combat systems get redundant after the 50th die roll.
Good Examples: Lonewolf did a rather good job with this; subtract your opponent’s Combat Skill from your Combat Skill, then pick random numbers and compare on table to find out what happened; you didn’t need to sit there working out the numbers in your head, which for some younger readers could be especially tedious.
Bad Examples: Car Wars gamebooks tried to make their system way too complex and just ruined it with trivial calculations and rolls. I remember my experience when I played Badlands Run. I had to keep track of my weapons, where they were facing, how many weapons I had and how much damage they did to my enemy, add my combat bonus, which was made up of a multitude of other scores like “Gunnery” and a targeting computer, roll dice compare to opponent’s Defence Class, watch out for recoil, then see if I did Special Damage, roll on the Special damage chart and apply the effects of that, see how much damage that did to the vehicle, how much damage that did to the weapons, and to the driver, and don't forget to subtract armor scores and saving rolls. Then I had to go through the same process for my opponent. Did I mention I was facing 4 opponents at the same time, for whom I had to do the same stupid calculations for? Oh, and I wasn’t even using the “Advanced” rules.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like math and all, but a million stupid plus-minus calculations while I’m trying to play a game just gets boring. I also appreciate that the game designer was just trying to give you more freedom and make things more realistic by letting you and your enemy choose what part of the cars you attack. But come on, really?

Fairness and Predictability
Many of the early gamebooks had problems with making their combats either way too easy, or way too difficult for the player. Especially because combat was so unfair, it was also predictable, and made the player inclined to just skip the combat because they know they would inevitably win without taking damage, or get absolutely destroyed. A good gamebook has combats that will leave the player biting their nails hoping to come out alive, making both success and failure real possibilities. Authors must also take into account how much a player may be damaged from previous encounters. However writers must either allow you to heal after your fights, of make the combats sufficiently easy; you can’t have your reader just barely defeat his last enemy, hanging in the balance between life and death, then have another monster jump out straight afterwards with an opportunity to heal.
Good example: Most Tunnels and Trolls books made their monster’s MR be a function of the player’s level and/or combat adds. By doing this the authors have managed to make players of lower levels still able to vanquish their enemies, and players of higher levels still have difficulties. Thus a veteran player with a magic sword won't be yawning the whole way through, and a newbie won't get squashed before they get anywhere.
Bad example: For the bad example I’m actually not going to talk about everyone’s favorite unfair gamebook, Crypt of the Sorcerer, but rather everyone’s second favorite: The Crimson Tide. At the very beginning you are faced with a Giant Mudworm. Now in this FF title you start off as a kid and so are weaker than a full grown man; you roll one die for your skill, but don’t add anything. So your skill is 1-6. The Giant Mudworm is given 12 skill. Even with the highest skill possible, your enemy is still at least 6 above you. I don’t believe there has ever been such an unbalanced combat in the history of gamebooks, especially for the very beginning. Now of course people went up to Paul Mason and were like “What the hell man?” and so Mason confirmed it was a typo; the Mudworm was only supposed to have a skill of 6. But still if I roll a 1 for my skill I’m facing an enemy who’s got 5 more skill than I do. I might as well start rerolling my character already.

Balancing Choice and Randomness
Having a combat system that takes into account the reader’s choices is absolutely essential to me. Unfortunately very few systems do this well, most are just a series of die roll that I have no impact upon. For most gamebook combat systems you could easily write a computer program that you would put your character and your opponent’s character’s info into, and then have the computer instantly give you the winner. When I see a combat system like that, I often ask “Why even bother? I read this gamebook because I wanted to have an interactive experience, and this system is not doing it right.” Choices that a player could use to affect combat could include being able to use spells, abilities, techniques, and movement. On the flipside a combat must have a small degree of randomness. If there is no randomness, then the player could easily just win all their combats by knowing the right series of choices to make. For example the cyclops from Seas of Blood is a fantastic example of giving the player choice, however, once you play through the combat once, you’re going to know the exact series of moves you need to kick that cyclops’ ass the next time ‘round.
Good Example: Wizard Outcast, a gamebook that has not received the attention it deserves, did an excellent job with blending choice and randomness. The player got to choose what spell they cast, or what weapon to use when attacking an enemy, they would then roll a d20 to determine how effective their attack was. The player has to be strategic in choosing what attack to use. Some spells take up more mana than others. Some spells can hit multiple opponents at once, while others will give more concentrated damage against one opponent. Also the player must roll the d20 to see what the enemy did. The player might have to change their attack tactic to counteract their opponent’s move. A very good blend of Choice and Randomness.
Bad Example: I mentioned this book in my last post about liner gamebooks, well this book also has a liner combat system as well. Quest for the Dragon’s Eye, (which, as you can guess, is one of my least favorites) also features a combat system where you have to just roll the dice and see what happens. Even in Fighting Fantasy you were given the choice of using luck, albeit it only meant the difference of 1 stamina point, and who was really going to waste their precious few luck points on combat anyway? But in Quest for the Dragon’s Eye there is absolutely nothing you can do to affect combat.

Entertainment and Enjoyment
This is the most important category. All the flaws of a combat system can be forgiven if it is entertaining. The purpose of a game is to have fun, and so if a gamebook is providing you with entertainment, it is doing its job wonderfully. I find that combat systems that are less abstract and give the player a better mental image of what how their combat is going down tend to be more entertaining for me. I personally also really like systems that are really interactive and (secretly) prefer systems that are slightly more on the player’s side. What can I say? I like to win, and I like to earn it. To each his own of course.
Good Example: Of all the gamebooks I’ve played, I must say The Legion of Shadow had one of the most entertaining combat systems out there. I loved being able to use the abilities provided by my equipment to strategically take my enemies down, while having to work around my enemies abilities which were keeping me back. Combat was really exciting, I could imagine my character using the special abilities against my enemy and vice versa, and when I finally defeated my enemy victory felt earned. Sure there are a few flaws, but all in all one of, if not the best gamebook combat system out there.
Bad Example: I’m sorry Fighting Fantasy, but most of your combats are just too abstract and unentertaining for me. You can say that I have a poor imagination because I have difficulty imagining my enemy’s swipe miss me, while I manage to stab my opponent every time I roll higher than my opponent, but really I don’t find a simple die roll inspiring. Some FF titles included tables for some special monsters where you’d roll a die any time you got hit to see exactly how your enemy attacked you, which I enjoyed, but for the most part the combats were rather dull, unbalanced and uninteractive. This has lead me to skip a combat many a time in my days.

There a lot of Gamebooks I have not yet played, but supposedly have good combat systems, for example Eternal Champions. I am unable to comment on how well designed those are, but thus far I have not found a perfect combat system. Even Way of the Tiger got predictable after you used a move twice and The Legion of Shadow was way too easy for rogues who would just use their speed to kill their enemies without being touched. Many do come close to being perfect though, my top three would be DestinyQuest, Blackstaff Adventures, and Way of the Tiger.

Because I haven’t yet found perfection, I myself have tried to write a “perfect” combat system. I am hoping readers will find it satisfies all of the above criteria. I will be releasing a micro gamebook to showcase my new combat system soon. (All is written, just needs editing and play testing to make sure it is completely balanced.)

Last but not least, in my opinion a gamebook doesn’t actually need a combat system to be good; in fact almost all of the greatest gamebooks out there are known because of their plot, rather than their mechanics. Examples include Life’s Lottery and Pretty Little mistakes, which are essentially CYOAs for adults with great designs and plots. Also Heart of Ice and The Forgotten Spell, which had great mechanics and plots, but no actual combat with die-rolling.

I would love to hear what YOU have to say about this article. What would YOU add and/or change about this article? What do YOU find most important in a gamebook combat system? What are YOUR favorite combat systems in gamebooks? And are combat systems essential to a gamebook? So please leave comments!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Classifying and Rating Linearity

When most people are reviewing a gamebook, I find that they often comment on its linearity, and quite often gamebooks that are considered linear are given negative reviews. But so far I haven’t seen anyone really give an in depth analysis as to how linearity works and what the different levels are.
I myself enjoy a gamebook that is as non-linear as possible; I want my decisions to have impacts on the plot; if I wanted a linear plot, I would have read a regular book. So I have come up with a classification system to help define the different levels of linearity and non-linearity. Included are images of plot trees showing roughly how each classification of gamebook would look if it were mapped out. The circles with the numbers represent pages/sections, and the arrows show decisions and the direction of the arrow shows which direction they lead.

Linear gamebooks are essentially regular books that may have added in die rolls and combat, maybe giving you the option of one or two choices along the way that do not affect the plot whatsoever. One might also consider books that allow the reader the choice between two endings on the very last chapter to also be linear.
Examples: Of all the gamebooks I have played I have to say Quest for the Dragons Eye was by far the most linear. Honestly I think there were maybe three choices available to the player the whole way and each converged back to the main plot after only one page. At the beginning of the book there is a map of the dungeon. It’s essentially a straight line. Enough said.

Gamebooks that are Convergent are the kind that may give the player a variety of options and a small area to explore, before bottlenecking the different paths the player may have taken so as to force the player to follow a specific path in the end. This level of linearity isn’t really that bad seeing as it usually required to structure a gamebook with a good plot; it may not be a good thing to let the reader run too far away from their main mission.
Examples: Most gamebooks, such as Fighting Fantasy, Virtual Reality, Lonewolf and Spellcaster are structured this way. Take for example the beginning Citadel of Chaos; there are many routes you can take when crossing the courtyard, but no matter what you will always end up at the gate on the far side with the rhino man asking you for the password.

 A Divergent gamebook is one in which few, or none, of the plot strands you may choose to follow ever meet up with any of the other plot strands. If you are given the choices A and B, then few or none of the pages you can reach after reading A will be the same as any of the pages you can reach after reading B. This forces the book to contain many unique outcomes and ending all revolving roughly around the same plot. One thing about Divergent gamebooks is that internal consistency is never an issue; in one plot strand a character may be completely different than in another plot strand, this allows for a lot more replayability.
Examples: Choose Your Own Adventure, Give Yourself Goosebumps, Pretty Little Mistakes and most other gamebooks that only feature choices without other game mechanics are structured this way. A good example is the first gamebook I owned The Deadly Experiments of Dr. Eek, in which depending on the series of choices you make you might find that Dr. Eek is doing experiments on monkey, or on dogs, or that you’re in the wrong building and that it’s Dr. Ek you’ve encountered, not Dr. Eek.

Free Roaming
One of my favorite forms of gamebooks, but sadly one of the rarest is Free Roaming. In Free Roaming gamebooks the player is allowed to do what they please and is usually given a plethora option to choose from, as well as a number of locations they can explore at their leisure. This level of non-linearity really gives the reader the wonderful feeling of being able to explore the authors world and truly “living” in it. The only drawback is it can be difficult to add in plot to a book when the player is given such a large amount of freedom, however most of the great gamebook authors I know have managed to add good plot elements while keeping such a high degree non-linearity.
Examples: Fabled Lands, Tunnels and Trolls, Scorpion Swamp and À Vous De Jouer! Are examples Free Roaming adventures. Fabled Lands is one of the best known examples; in the six interconnected books you can go on quests that will take you across the lands, interfere with the politics of the regions, and fight monsters for treasure. Or you can simply buy yourself a nice home, stay as a guest at a castle and go sailing around the coast. Whatever you would want to do in a fantasy land, you can do in Fabled Lands.

This rating system is not perfect, especially because many books will be a somewhat blend of two of the levels. For example The Legion of Shadow can be considered Free Roaming because the player is given their choice of where to go on the map and what they do in the cities. However it can also be considered Linear or Convergent when the player goes on a quest because most of the choices quickly lead to the same plot of each quest. I would also say that Lonewolf is also slightly more on the Linear side of Convergent, while Virtual Reality is more on the Free Roaming side of Convergent.

Lastly the mathematician in me has a few comments to make and ideas to share: it might be possible to create a formula to give gamebooks a quantitative rating of non-linearity, as opposed to the qualitative rating system I have given above. This could be done my counting the number of paths it is possible to take through a gamebook from start to each of the endings (this would probably have to be done by a computer due to the number of ways some gamebooks allow you to mix and match different subquests) Then use this number to classify how linear the book is; it would give a index of how paths there are through the book. We could call it a Gamebook Path Index (GPI). A Free Roaming gamebook would be instantly recognizable because it would a GPI of infinity. A regular non-interactive book would have a GPI of 1. I may try to use this method to classify the short adventures I have written so far seeing as they are short enough that applying this method of classification should be manageable. Note that GPI would be affected greatly by the length of the gamebook, and for some gamebooks may not give an accurate idea of how linear the gamebook is: I am working on a formula based upon GPI to be more accurate.

I would love to hear what YOU have to say about this classification system, what YOU would do to change it and/or improve on it. Do YOU prefer gamebooks that are Linear, Convergent, Divergent, or Free Roaming? So please leave comments!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Initial Ideas

Hello all. In this post I just want to introduce some of the ideas I wanted to blog about in the future. The things I want to share with you most are:
-Reviews: especially of lesser known works that may not have been given the spot-light before.
-Attributes of gamebooks: story-driven vs. game-drive and how to balance there two.
-Style and presentation: Print vs. PDF, does size matter? Etc.
-Gameplay and mechanics: open-world adventures, combat design, items design etc.
-Ratings and Honorable Mentions: my favorite gamebooks in different categories, and why.
-Do not read and Didn’t Deserve. Gamebooks that I thought were terrible and not worth your time getting; especially gamebooks that I have heard others praise, while I found to be crap. (Not to offend any of the fans of those mediocre gamebooks)

I’ll be adding more to the list, but for now these are the main subjects I’d like to touch on with my blog. Cheers!

Introduction: Why Gamebooks Are Superior To Books

Gamebooks, interactive fiction, solo RPGs, choose-your-own-adventures, whatever you call them; I love them all. I was introduced to the concept a while back and was immediately hooked; I began collecting any form of the genre possible. Slowly my bookshelf grew as I added more and more titles to my collection. Eventually I started writing my own titles so that I could add to not only my own collection but those of others.
In fact with the rate that my collection has been expanding I have a large number of unread gamebooks on my shelf, which I have been slowly making my way through. In fact these days my personal reading material is almost completely comprised of either gamebooks are physics books.
The reason I find gamebooks so superior to normal books is that they are kind of like the evolution of the book: In the same way that we were once simple one celled creatures but now we have become complex multi-cellular creatures, stories were once linear with one plot but now we have complex multiple plots and endings within the same book. Gamebooks come in many forms with different writers using different styles and technique which is shown through writing, the choices you are given, as well as game design and mechanics. The new complexity and levels on which stories are now providing entertainment is to me an advancement like that of the introduction of the computer; it shows how we as humans are developing. In fact the gamebook boom was in the 80s, which was around the same time the personal computer was starting to become popular. You can tell me if you think that was a coincidence.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Beginning

Greetings everyone. My name is Jake Care, and I love gamebooks. I am a writer and mathematician, who is multilingual; fluent in English, French and Spanish. The purpose of this blog is to share my view on gamebooks, promote the interactive story medium, promote my own works and allow me to take a more active role in the gamebook niche.
During my spare time I write short gamebooks in a variety of genres with a variety of subject matter. I shall be putting up a few of my works on this blog for free download, and I plan to publish a book with a collection of my short interactive stories.