The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Gamebooks
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a gamebook is interactive fiction where the reader makes choices which affect the course of the narrative. Gamebooks first appeared in print form in the late 1970's and remained popular throughout the next decade.
Choose Your Own Adventure
The oldest and simplest kind of gamebook is the branching plot novel. This type of book requires the reader to make choices at critical points in the story. The reader's choices affect how the story ends.
The best known example, and the longest running series (at 184 books!), was Choose Your Own Adventure. These were aimed at a younger audience, and occasionally there was the need for a coin toss, but mostly the reader had to make a choice between two options. There were a large number of endings to the stories, usually 20 or 30. Each book only contained 100 pages so each storyline was short, especially as every second page containing a picture.
This was one of the first forms of interactive fiction ever published, and for many people this is what they think of when interactive writing is mentioned. This simple format is mainly aimed at the children's market. Other successful examples of this genre include The Choice is Yours, Time Machine and the Goosebumps horror stories for teenagers. We at Combatdisk have released Puss In Boots, an interactive fairy tale for younger children.
Not all branching plot stories were written for kids. The Cross Roads series consisted of novels set in well known fantasy and science fiction worlds such as Roger Zelazny's Amber and Anne McCaffrey's Pern. Combatdisk's first foray into this arena is an interactive short story set in the world of Redmarch. The inebook Goblin Bane is a tale for readers of any age who appreciate great fantasy writing.
Role Playing Adventures
A new generation of gamebooks grew out of the growth of fantasy role playing games in the late 1970s. The first titles were solo adventures for popular game systems such as Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). Players fought monsters and solved puzzles, often using dice to determine the results, but playing these solo adventures required owning the rule sets for these game systems.
The big leap was to create self contained gamebooks that included simple and easy to understand rules. Enter Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, which were to go on to be a series of 60 books, selling 15 million copies world wide and being translated into 20 languages. These titles contained around 400 numbered 'paragraphs' for the reader to follow. As well as making choices the reader also threw dice to determine the result of encounters with fantastic enemies. There was generally only one 'successful' conclusion to a story, but lots of places where the reader could 'lose' (usually by being killed) along the way. These books would usually contain a dozen or so black and white illustrations as well, repeated throughout the book.
There were many other gamebook series produced in the wake of this success, such as Dungeons and Dragons Endless Quest, Tunnels and Trolls, Sorcery! and Grail Quest adventures. Many well known characters and books were licensed, so we saw James Bond, Star Wars, Middle Earth, Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones interactive novels being released.
A popular variation of these was the Lone Wolf series, the 28 titles selling over 10 million copies world wide. The twist was that unlike the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, which were completely self-contained, these books described the continuing saga of the hero Lone Wolf. This meant that readers were able to continue the character they had played throughout the series of adventures. The details of combat and dice throws were generally more complex than in the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. This concept was very popular, and was also a feature of the Way of the Tiger and Fabled Lands series.
All in all there were well over 1000 gamebooks issued during this period. For the definitive list of gamebooks, and reviews of many of them, visit
www.gamebooks.org. In the 1990's sales of gamebooks waned, and there are currently none in the catalogues of major publishers, although the Fighting Fantasy series have recently been re-issued by Wizard Books.
Legends of Mystaris
At Combatdisk we have long been fans of gamebooks like the Fighting Fantasy series, and once we started developing inebooks one of our aims was to produce updated versions of these classic books.
The first result of our efforts is The Flame of Illean. This fantasy epic was over a year in development. Originally we decided to use the same size constraints as the Fighting Fantasy titles by having the equivalent of 400 paragraphs. However, very soon the scope and depth of the story meant that we took advantage of the inebook format, which allows for many more pages than would be practicable in a printed book. The completed adventure has the equivalent of 1200 paragraphs, far larger than any gamebook title ever produced.
The inebook format itself, strongly influenced by the gamebook concept, lends itself very well to this genre. In a gamebook the players roll dice, write information down and are on their 'honour' as he or she can easily cheat. Inebooks handle all the dice rolling and record keeping, and doesn't allow cheating. Additionally the software keeps track of where the player left off, and allows him or her to restart the adventure at an earlier point if a bad decision is made.
We always intended to use a lot more illustrations than print gamebooks could afford, and The Flame of Illean contains over 130 colour illustrations. The second adventure in the series, The Lord of Blackskull Keep, uses around 180 pictures! The development did not stop when we released The Flame of Illean inebook, either. Once inebooks became available for Pocket PCs, we decided that it was time to add in sound support. There are now over 50 sound effect and music samples in the adventure.
So will there be a rebirth for gamebooks? Here at Combatdisk we see gamebooks thriving on devices such as PDAs and mobile phones. During a crowded commute imagine being engrossed in a fantasy adventure. Inebooks are easy to carry around, and much more relaxing for the traveller than the fast clicking of most modern arcade games. This is a case of matching content to appropriate technology, and we believe that, through inebooks technology, the time for gamebooks has come again.