Spreading the Love!
…The indie love!
As part of the Spread Some Indie Love Blog Tour I’m here today not to talk about myself or things I’m working on, but on the wonderful work of some other indies.
Being quite enamoured of, and involved in, the “gamebook” genre myself, it makes sense that I should choose three indies who also work in this genre – all of which are doing contemporary gamebook works that have impressed me for their writing ability and creativity – and deserve the recognition!
(I was only supposed to showcase one indie author for this blog tour, but that was too hard! Oh and I might add that I’ve committed to doing reviews of works by the three indies below, but alas that’ll have to wait!)
First of all, for those arriving here in this strange land and wondering just what the hell a “gamebook” is, let me summarise them as a fiction story where the reader directs where the story goes by making choices (typically the reader is playing the role of the protagonist in the story). Beyond this definition (which describes well-known books such as the Choose Your Own Adventure series and the Goosebumps series) I’d also add that what distinguishes a “gamebook” from “interactive fiction” in this sense, is the inclusion of game mechanics. These game mechanics typically involve character statistics and dice rolls according to given rules, and also include things like a character sheet with an inventory of items carried and even a selection of differing skills. The eighties are generally thought of as the time when gamebooks were at their peak (the Fighting Fantasy series being the most well-known, but just one of the many series around at the time), when computer games were less able to provide such experiences than now… But lately, thanks to the efforts of indie developers like Tin Man Games, Inkle and Megara, gamebooks are coming back in a revitalised form to smartphones, tablets and computers: a second revival if you will.
So now onto the three indies I’ve chosen for their work in creating some of the best gamebooks I’ve read in recent times (and yes, there are plenty of other recent gamebooks that I thought were also amazing or just haven’t got to yet, but these are the ones I choose to showcase):
In some ways, leading with David Walters is a strange choice considering (at this point in time) I’ve probably read less of his works than the other two I’ve listed here. Nevertheless, I thought I should open with David since he doesn’t have his own blog and needs the support, plus he’s also done a guest post about one of his works on this site HERE.
David Walters is the author of seven novels and at least two gamebooks. He is an expert on Japanese and Chinese ancient and military history, and his writings tend to focus on these settings. As you can see HERE on Amazon, he has a series of Samurai themed books, another based on the Chinese Dragonwarrior monks, and another fantasy novel, City of Masks, about an assassin society. –I’ve read the first book, Samurai’s Apprentice, in his Samurai series and it is an enchanting tale of a farmer’s boy thrust into the life of a samurai where he must learn their code of honour and discipline against the backdrop of a war-torn land. David’s mastery of the topic is evident and his writing and characterisation are exceptional. I was somewhat reminded of the mystique and drama of the Conan’s early adventures in Hyboria as I read this, albeit with a distinctly different circa 16th century Japanese setting.
David’s first gamebook, Day of Dissonance, part of the Windhammer 2012 gamebook competition was an excellent, atmospheric tale with great twists as I discussed in my review of the entries HERE. He was to follow this up with the prequel to one of the most popular gamebook series of all time, The Way of the Tiger, written in collaboration with the authors of the series itself, gamebook “gods” Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson, and produced by Megara Entertainment in beautiful hardback with gorgeous full colour illustrations. This work, entitled Ninja!, is available to order from Megara while stocks last.
The indie group Megara Entertainment, recently concluded a highly successful Kickstarter campaign to bring the entire series of The Way of the Tiger to life in full colour, hardback glory, and the indie group Tin Man Games, with whom I have worked on seven released gamebook titles and counting, is also bringing the The Way of the Tiger series to the digital platform sometime soon!
Paul first appeared on my “gamebook radar” when he wrote Ookle of the Broken Finger for the 2012 Windhammer gamebook competition. I was stunned, for he had written one of the best short gamebooks I had ever read (in my humble opinion of course), as I gushed in more detail on my Windhammer reviews HERE.
Then he followed up with Arcana Agency: The Thief of Memories, which was produced by Megara Entertainment (in full colour hardback once again) through another successful Kickstarter campaign. ED: He also has written The Orpheus Ruse - a gamebook app where you "infiltrate the enemy as a psychic spy, leaping from body to body by touch." I’m not entirely sure if the below picture does this work justice, but it’s possibly the most beautifully constructed physical gamebook I’ve ever seen (mind you, The Way of the Tiger hardbacks Megara followed up with might top that). The artwork and layout is exceptional and the story and characterisation is incredible. If you’re a fan of the 1920’s/1930’s New England setting, you really shouldn’t miss this. The gamebook mechanics are easy to manage even for a “gamebook novice” and the way the story unfolds with distinct and memorable characters and the interactions between them is fascinating. You play a team of paranormal investigators, so if you’ve an avid fan of The Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game like I am, with its emphasis on investigative and deep stories set in just this time and place, it ticks a lot of boxes. Then add in that Arcana Agency: The Thief of Memories features exceptional writing and artwork, underpinned by a simple yet ingenious design that rewards character development and detective work over lucky dice or “blind choices”, then you have what is for me, one of the best gamebooks produced. EVER. (And there’s rumours of a follow-up too!)
Hardback copies are still available from Megara while stocks last, so don’t miss out on such a great work!
Michael J. Ward
In a very short (and recent) space of time, Michael has created quite literally an entirely new breed of gamebooks by combining the “traditional gamebook” with the gameplay seen in “MMOs” (otherwise known as MMORPGS or Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Games). If you ever wondered what World of Warcraft or even Diablo would be like as a gamebook, then Destiny Quest is your answer.
Michael originally self-published the first Destiny Quest book, The Legion of Shadow, which was then picked up by the imprint Gollancz, who re-published this work, released the sequel The Heart of Fire in 2013 and is due to release the third title in the series, The Eye of Winter’s Fury in 2014.
That Michael was able actually able to make this work a reality is quite a stunning achievement. Not only is each work MASSIVE in scale (the books are huge with over 650 pages each and a word count of around the 200K mark) but they feature hundreds of different skills, items and careers with which to build your character and battle a seemingly endless variety of foes, each with different strategies. Not only this but the system is well-balanced (no easy feat with so many thousands of possible character builds) and even the writing itself is awesome: descriptive and efficient with little “filler” and numerous memorable events and set-pieces to underpin an exciting, epic tale. There’s even an online forum where readers can compare and critique their character builds and battle each other.
As you may have guessed, Destiny Quest is combat-heavy with quests revolving around what new items and skills you’ll get to upgrade your character with. And given the huge plethora of combat options available it’s not something for those wanting to just enjoy the story, even though that itself is quite an exciting, action-packed and epic tale. But if games where you explore, build your character up over progressively more difficult quests and try different strategies against opponents in combat appeals, and you like reading, then this will keep you enthralled for weeks, if not months and years.
And just to give you an idea just how big these books are, here's a picture (that I stole off the interweb) of the first book in the series placed next to a couple of other gamebook classics:
So now that you've got this far, did you know that as part of this blog tour there's a HUGE give-away of a ton of free indie books, including two of my own? Well now you do, here's the give-away where entering is as easy as a couple of mouse clicks:
'Arcana Agency is one of the best gamebooks EVER?' I'm pretty proud of it, but it's up against some very high-level competition. Kind words about me nonetheless, and much appreciated. I notice that the (gamebook-style) app I wrote for Choice of Games last year, The ORPHEUS Ruse, slipped past you: https://www.choiceofgames.com/orpheus-ruse/
Well I guess it's quite possible that on a different day, I might not be so dramatic as to say "Arcana Agency is one of the best gamebooks EVER", but the sentiment is there right? I LOVED it, presentation, story and design
Looks like I gotta update the post too, to add in The Orpheus Rise, (and now that I'm aware of it, get to reading it!)