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!