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Return to Rema!

Gamebook Adventures 9: Sultans of Rema

Been a bit quiet over here the last couple of months huh?

Well I'm going to endeavour to change that with more regular posts (currently I'm fantasizing that they'll be every week or so but let's see how we go on that haha)

Anyway, today's post is to share my latest released work, Sultans of Rema, the ninth digital gamebook in the Gamebook Adventures series produced by Tin Man Games, which also happens to be their twenty-second digital gamebook release, and the sixth one I've worked on. <- See I've even updated my side banner with these releases, so check them out if you're interested, and while you're there, also lists the others too (I think with the exception of those only released in non-English languages).

Sultans of Rema is the sequel to Slaves of Rema, the third title in the acclaimed Gamebook Adventures series, both of which were written by the talented Gaetano Abbondanza, and subsequently edited / embellished by yours truly… Both works are designed by Gaetano, with modification by me (and a fair amount of input by others I might add), with the aim of balancing combats (so as to be neither too hard nor easy and consistent across differing paths), reducing player frustration (see here for how I seek to re-engineer gamebooks to address such things) and generally being a fun and engaging experience… Based on the reviews so far, like this one for instance, it looks like we got it right J (not that you can ever please everyone of course haha)

Joshua Wright once again lends his excellent artistic skills to bring this work to life (I’ve lost count of how many Tin Man Games releases he’s worked on now, but they include at least the last four Gamebook Adventures titles including this one) and the Tin Man Games team has done a sterling job (as they do!) in pulling it all together…

My summary of what Sultans of Rema is about goes something like “Arabian nights” meets sword-swinging, spell-slinging fantasy in an epic tale of political intrigue, magic and monsters. Which I guess is an abridged version of the app description:

“Your return to Rema takes you further to the east, to the City-State of Callae, renowned throughout the world as a city of great learning. Your final destination is the Emirates of Akbir, ruled by a sick Emir who has remained neutral to Orlandes’ political leanings over the years. His successor threatens to send that relationship into turmoil. You must secretly enter a harsh desert world of political power struggles and strange magics to ensure a stable future for both Rema and Orlandes!”

It’s available now (along with the rest of the series of course) on Android and iOS devices.



P.s. You may also be interested to know that there’s quite a few references in there to things from a forthcoming Gamebook Adventures title (also set in the Reman continent). So it’s with good reason that some things are hinted at but not fully explained… But hey that’s all I’ll say on that for now ;)

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Infinite Universe gamebook now available on Android!

Infinite Universe by Brewin' (Produced by Tin Man Games)

In the fourth millennium, the Mandellian Empire of the Tau Ceti system is at war with the rebel army known as DWORF. And lucky you have been chosen for a dangerous solo mission to kill or capture the rebel leader, through mind-bending loops of time and space. But wait a minute. Just who are you anyway? And how did you even get here? Such secrets you must uncover if you are to unlock your destiny...

(Infinite Universe trailer from 2012 release on iOS platforms)


A newly written story by Brewin’, illustrated by Josh Wright.

An all new sci-fi epic set within an all new universe! Our largest GA title yet!  

  • Nominated for Best Game Writing – Freeplay Awards 2012
  • Includes all the interactive reading and gameplay features found in the previous Gamebook Adventures titles, including an authentic e-book experience, realistic 3D dice rolling, automatic character sheet management, bookmarks and achievements.
  • Original story by Brewin’, editor of the first four Gamebook Adventures titles and finalist of international Writers’ Digest and Indie Excellence awards, that has been specifically designed to take advantage of the Gamebook Adventures engine.
  • Beautifully illustrated in colour by Joshua Wright, with cover and menu art by Dan Maxwell.
  • An exhilarating music score by Hanny Mohamed, world-renowned musician from Black Majesty.
  • Read the story and be in charge of your destiny as you make the choices! Where to go? Who to trust? What to do? The choice is yours!
  • Travel through times past, present and future, through far-flung worlds beyond your wildest imagination, to piece together a series of events that will amaze, amuse and entertain you!
  • New battle mechanics such as ranged and vehicular combat.
  • An innovative all new points-based skill system that is influenced by your own unique narrative. Choose the skills to suit your own playing style!
  • Play as a male or female character!
  • A detailed star map with extensive annotations.
  • An expansive encyclopaedia to cover everything from stars, planets and moons, to important personalities and organisations, to technology, to tips for survival, and more!


* Click HERE to get the App for Android *



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Deconstructing Infinite Universe - Part Two

Infinite Universe Logo
Tau Ceti System
Terran (Sol Centric) Starmap
Platinum Academy - Level One
Space Gobdola
Infinite Universe Flowcharts
Behold the Platinum Medal!


A little later than expected, but I’m back again with Part Two of my deconstruction of my Infinite Universe gamebook, released just over a year ago now on iOS platforms through Tin Man Games, and coming soon to Android, PC and Mac platforms…

If you’ve missed Part One of this deconstruction (where I discuss things such as my objectives in writing it, my evaluation of those objectives and the feedback it has received), you can find it HERE.

This article is broken into three sections: Design, Additional Content and FAQ. So let’s talk about the design first:


DESIGN (Overview)

I’ve already discussed the “overall” aspects of the design (my objectives, evaluation of those objectives and how I’ll approach a sequel, etc) in my first article, but now I want to talk about specific elements.

I certainly am inclined to put a lot of effort into the design of my works, planning etc. For instance, my first novel Evermore: An Introduction becomes a “choose-your-own-adventure” for the final third and I structured the choices therein to “maximise the length of the reader’s journey” by making it such that each path has minimal potential for repetition (I could expand on this point but let’s not get side-tracked). My second novel The Dark Horde features a host of characters with distinct story-lines that I’d pre-planned and mapped out separately before blending together. In writing The Dark Horde I paid careful attention to things such as the pacing of events (including the number of deaths that increase throughout the book), the timing of events (even to having all chapter times add up to multiples of thirteen) and the detailed backstory that is to form a separate work: a “musical project” entitled The Calling, due to be completed sometime later this year or next. Most of these design aspects are hidden from the reader, but in my 2012 Windhammer submission, I designed and wrote Trial of the Battle God where the extent of my design efforts were more obvious, for there you have a gamebook that can accommodate up to six players moving independently through a dungeon, along with another seven “NPC” combatants that are also moving through the dungeon just as you are. All this culminates in a complex dungeon design where the dungeon and the state of your opponents are not static, and the paths of eight of more participants needs to be tracked and managed as the trial progresses.

Given this background, it’s probably no surprise then that there’s a hell of a lot of design that went into Infinite Universe: much of which is “under the hood” and hidden from the reader, and some of which wasn’t even included in the released version.


DESIGN (World)

As much as I am enamoured of the gamebooks by Herbie Brennan, Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone etc, my approach was more similar to that of Joe Dever in terms of creating a fleshed out and consistent “universe” before even starting to write. I compiled a lot of notes on places, histories, politics, personalities and technologies that I would use to underpin the story, much of which wouldn’t be directly relevant to the story being told but would add more depth to the world as a whole.

Underpinning this approach was a series of fantastic articles that steps the creator through each aspect of world design in order to create a detailed and consistent universe. These articles, by Michael James Liljenberg, I’d recommend to other authors creating fantasy or science fiction worlds and can be found HERE.

With this resource I was able to generate the following Tau Ceti system map, which of course was used to generate the much nicer looking system map in the App itself:

Having fleshed out the Tau Ceti system in this way, I also needed to locate this system in the context of other systems, particularly the Sol “home system”, and along the way, flesh out those systems too.

As part of this process, it was important to me to ensure that everything, from the makeup of systems to the layout of stars, was based on actual astronomical understanding. Hence you have the Tau Ceti system having less planets and heavy metals than our system, but considerably more dust and asteroids, and you also have the star map of our local neighbourhood, which is actually derived from 3D modelling of exactly what is around us and where (as generated and made available by Winchell Chung HERE):

-Again a much nicer-looking version of this map is available in the App itself, along with the Bloggopedia that provides details on numerous systems, planets, moons, organisations, personalities and technologies. (Note that the player only gains access to the Bloggopedia and the system and star maps after completing Part One of the gamebook).


DESIGN (Locations)

In addition to mapping and detailing the neighbouring region of our galaxy and the systems therein, I also mapped and compiled notes for some of the locations in the gamebook. You may recognise some of these layouts (and they may even help you orientate yourself in the book):

Platinum Academy – Level One.


Space Gondola.




Aside perhaps from Trial of the Battle God, I’ve yet to write a story that is “self-contained” and Infinite Universe certainly falls into the category of a story which is but part of a “bigger picture”. You may have noticed therein that there are a number of references to events past and present, which are due to be fleshed out in more detail in forthcoming works. Here’s a short list of some of the things I’m referring to here that give some insight into what’s to come:

  • The post-apocalyptic near future of Earth and the future some thousand years later.
  • The main character’s future selves and their involvement in future events.
  • Krusher Kane, the Oracle and your former lover; and their relationship to you and the plot in general.
  • A few other locales and events hinted at in the first book which are the subject of future ones (that I won’t detail further here just yet).



As discussed in Part One of my deconstruction, Infinite Universe was written “backwards” in that Parts Four to Six were written before Parts One to Three. Parts Four to Six are set before the events of Parts One to Three and are how the story was initially intended to start. Initially, what you now read as “Part Six” was “Parts Three to Five”, before I restructured the order of Parts and cut out most of the material that was then used: some 250 odd sections worth and over 40,000 words.

The flowcharts for final design span sixteen A4 pages as can be seen in the (blurry) photo below. In addition, on the right are two A4 pages containing the flowcharts for the removed sections, and the Tau System chart that you’ve already seen.


I won’t go into detail here about just what was in the removed content, but let’s just say that it won’t be going to waste… It’ll probably be used as something of a “side adventure” in the sequel… Probably J



The “main” Infinite Universe track (that is the track you hear playing when reading the book) started out quite differently from what you hear now. It has electric guitar for a start, a lot more melody and originally went to three and a half minutes in length as an instrumental track. But following feedback from the play-testers, the track was considered too disruptive to reading, and so it was dramatically pared back to not be so intrusive… But I’m quite proud of the track in its original form(s), which my good friend Hanny Mohamed of Black Majesty put together (with my input / direction I guess). It’ll come as no surprise that I prefer the two versions I’ve linked below (especially the full-blown “power metal” version), but then I’m used to reading and writing with heavy metal playing non-stop… You’ll hear that influence in the tracks below, and even a bit of “Manowar-esque / Conan the Barbarian” kind of stuff J


Infinite Universe - Main Track (Unreleased Alternative Version) 




Infinite Universe - Main Track (Unreleased EXTENDED Alternative Version) 




FAQ (Includes Spoilers!)

So the last aspect of this “deconstruction” is to answer some of the questions that readers have asked… Some of these are game solutions or detail plot devices used or to be used, so I’d suggest you stop here if you haven’t read the book yet and don’t want to have any “secrets spoiled” J


Q: Does every skill have a medal?

A: Yes.


Q: Can I earn more than one gold medal?

A: No. Like all medals, you either have earned it or you haven't. It isn't possible to get medals multiple times.


Q: How can I learn new skills after the first time I choose at start of Part Two?

A: At the moment you can't... But yes you’ll learn new skills at the start of the next gamebook ;)


Q: What do I do with the medals I earned after the start of Part Two?

A: These medals, including the Platinum medal if you’re lucky enough to earn it, affect the sequel and you gain their benefits there.


Q: Can you list how each and every medal is gained?

A: Below is a semi-detailed (but full) list of where to get each medal:



* Part 1: Heal Kane.

* Part 1: Lose to Kane in melee combat.

* Part 2: Successfully treat your snakebite.



* Part 1: Successfully bluff the cloaked alien (when it confronts you).

* Part 2: Successfully bluff Betty.

* Part 2: Successfully dispute the fare with the taxi-driver.

* Part 2: Present wrong identification to the guards and then successfully bluff them to accept your own identification instead.



* Part 1: Evade the cloaked alien by running into the grand chamber.

* Part 1: Evade the Greycloaks firing at you in the grand chamber.

* Part 1: Run past the Battle Bot to outside the Academy.

* Part 1: Evade the laser fire when escaping with Dan.

* Part 2: Outrun Judas when he goes to attack you.

* Part 3: Run out of the Sky Gondola Bay before the steel shutters close.



* Part 1: Successfully dive through the closing exit door, after choosing to leave Kane as the Bluecloaks approach.

* Part 1: Successfully jump from the crawl space into the control room, after choosing to let Kane enter the crawl space second.

* Part 1: Successfully jump from the pillar to the balcony when escaping with Dan.

* Part 3: Leap clear of the explosion of the rocket fired into the Geostation by the rebel spacecraft.



* Part 1: Successfully haul yourself into the crawl space, after choosing to let Kane enter first.

* Part 1: Successfully climb the pillar in the grand chamber when escaping with Dan.

* Part 3: Successfully climb the wing of the Hungry Raven when entering the craft from out in space.



* Part 1: Successfully hide amongst the bodies when discovered in the second chamber by other (hostile) Greycloaks.

* Part 1: Hide from the Greycloaks firing at you in the grand chamber.

* Part 1: Sneak past the Battle Bot to outside the Academy.

* Part 2: Sneak out of Betty's house without her noticing.



* Parts 1-3: Fight any enemy in melee combat where you have NO melee weapon.

* Part 2: Defeat Judas in melee combat (you must defeat him rather than just fight him, even though you have no melee weapon for this fight).



* Parts 1-3: Defeat any enemy in melee combat where you have a melee weapon.

* Part 1: Defeat Bluecloaks in melee combat (even if you have NO melee weapon).



* Parts 1-3: Defeat any enemy in ranged combat.

* Parts 1-3: Successfully shoot any enemy.



* Parts 1-3: Defeat any enemy in ranged combat.

* Parts 1-3: Dodge laser fire from any attacker.



* Part 3: Defeat the Mandellian Lancer in ship-to-ship combat.

* Part 3: Evade the Mandellian Lancer.



* Part 3: Defeat the Mandellian Lancer in ship-to-ship combat.



* Part 1: Stay alive with Kane until the conclusion of his plans in Part 1.

* Part 1: Escape the Academy.



* Part 3: Get all of the above thirteen possible medals in a single play-through. There's a few different ways to do this, but it requires a lot of planning and a bit of luck to figure out how to do it ;)

It is possible though, look here’s proof:



Q: Is there a sequel?

A: A sequel is in the works… But it’s still a least a year away from being completed. (At the start of this sequel you’ll have the items, skills and medals you earned in Parts One to Three, and choices you made in Parts One to Six will affect what happens in “Part Seven” and beyond. It’ll also be possible to play the sequel without having read the original).


Q: There’s a lot of loose leads left unresolved at the end of the first book. Will those be addressed in the sequel and which ones?

A: By design, the story of the first book is but a fraction of the larger story. I won’t give too much away about some of the leads addressed in the sequel (and those beyond that) but I’ll give you three words as hints on what’s to come in Bloggs’ near future:

Nanobase. Clone. Oracle.


…So that concludes my deconstruction, which hopefully addresses anything you wanted to know about Infinite Universe but didn’t yet (let me know if not!)

And whilst I get the sequel and numerous other projects sorted, there’s plenty of other gamebook goodness out there as apps, including Zach Weinersmith’s sci-fi comedy gamebook Trial of the Clone that’s just come out on iOS and Android J


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Deconstructing Infinite Universe - Part One

Infinite Universe Logo
Illustration by Joshua Wright
The Platinum Academy - Illustration by Joshua Wright
Illustration by Joshua Wright
Gamebook Adventures 8: Infinite Universe on the App Store
Illustration by Joshua Wright




Wednesday, March 13, 2013 AD.

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

Road trip to the red centre of Australia. From your home city of Melbourne in the south-east corner of the continent, west along the coast to the church city of Adelaide and then inland north to Uluru, otherwise known as Ayer's Rock. It is known as the dusty heart of Australia and just to make it there, you had to travel some two and a half thousand kilometres. Once you arrived, well you'd figure out where to next. The journey itself was to be as epic and exciting as the destination.

Trouble was, most of the journey was through the vast Australian desert, otherwise known as 'The Outback'. Perhaps the most desolate and uninhabited expanse of land outside of Antarctica on the planet, stretching across the belly of the continent for millions of square kilometres.

If it wasn't the oppressive heat that beat down on you relentlessly during the day when 45 degrees Celsius was normal, it was the constant presence of swarms of harassing flies. If it wasn't the boredom of the endless red and ochre sands, punctuated by clumps of spinifex grass and the occasional defiant saltbush, it was the sense of isolation that came from being on the road alone for days, uninhabited land stretching to the horizon in all directions. And to top it all off, you've lost your wallet somewhere along the road hundreds of kilometres back...

(Illustration by Joshua Wright)


Thus was how the story of my gamebook Infinite Universe began, that was released as part of the Gamebook Adventures series through Tin Man Games almost exactly a year ago. So to mark the anniversary, and to pay homage to the journey Captain Comet began around this time in a parallel universe, it’s probably about time that I did a blog post about it. (Been a hectic last three months for me with the demands of the “day job” mostly, but I’m back to more regular posts now). I have split this article into two parts: the first part (this post) is about my design objectives with regards to the work, my evaluation of those objectives following feedback and how I’ll be approaching a sequel. The second post will go into the design elements in more detail, FAQ and additional content that wasn't used.



If you’ve read any of the books or gamebooks I’ve written, you may notice that they tend to be quite different from not only each other, but also from the “established norms of the genre(s)” they’re in. This isn’t accidental. At risk of sounding like a complete wanker by saying this, I am driven to create works that “would not have been created had I not created them”. In other words, I go out of my way to do things differently and forge new paths. Such an approach carries significant “risks”. -By straying away from what readers would typically expect from the genre, there is a tendency to get a greater polarisation of views than would otherwise be the case if you stuck to the “established norms of the genre”. Some people love your work for how different it is from what they’ve read before… And others, well let’s just say that some can be quite vocal in their condemnation ;)

Not that I am easily deterred, in fact I’m quite renowned for being stubborn and having conviction in my own abilities and ideas, regardless of criticism. Sometimes that’s a good thing (certainly you need a lot of self-belief to follow projects through to their conclusion and release to the world), but yes it can also mean that you are prone to self-indulgence at times and can misjudge your audience… And I think I may be guilty of that.

But really, any creative work, regardless of how good or bad it is, will be loved by some, treated indifferently by others, and disliked by others. The degree to which this occurs depends on a lot of things, only some of which are to do with the work itself. Other factors include publicity, timing and preconceptions/expectations of the work.

But enough with the vague preamble, it’s time to talk about specifics!


(The Platinum Academy - Illustration by Joshua Wright)



Having been “in the right place at the right time” to become involved with what you might now call the “Gamebook Adventures juggernaut” (a story I’ll skip for now for the sake of brevity), I pitched my idea for a gamebook (actually a series) which had the original working title Space Saga. The idea was approved, (for the first title anyway) but really it was another year or so before I had a chance to work much on it. The reason for this delay was that apart from anything else, I was editing, designing, re-balancing and writing for the first four Gamebook Adventures titles. But I’ll get to that point somewhere later on in this article, as it puts an “interesting spin” on some of the comments made about Infinite Universe

Basically, my objectives in designing and writing Infinite Universe were as follows:

·     It would be science fiction. Not “gritty” science fiction however, but “zany” science fiction. I.e. more like Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy type sci-fi, than 2001: A Space Odyssey type sci-fi. It’s a gamebook right? I didn’t want to be bogged down by the impracticality of interstellar travel (light speed is a bugger) and scientific things of that nature. Nope, just lasers, space ships and star gates that let you easily traverse the galaxy and time.


·         It would be epic in nature. “Epic” is a bit of a vague term really that could mean a lot of things, but what I mean by this is that I wanted it to have an epic story that took a lot longer than a single gamebook to tell (but is largely “set-up” in the first book). And epic in terms of the word count too; more novel-like in length and time to read than is typical for a gamebook.


·     It would be comical. Some of my favourite genre works (for instance the Grailquest gamebook series, the Red Dwarf television series, and movies like Shaun of the Dead) have a comical take on an established genre… And this includes parody and poking fun at it - and this is what I did too in writing Infinite Universe - sarcasm and self-depreciation were to be part of the approach taken.


·         It would be set in a fleshed-out and consistent “universe”. The setting details are based on actual astronomical data and many more places are detailed in the “Bloggopedia” that accompanies the gamebook, than in the gamebook itself. And then there are the significant figures and organisations that form part of the story, each with their own personalities and agendas. Not to mention world-specific technology as well.


·         I wanted the hero of the story to have a detailed history. This differs from most gamebooks, where the reader can easily “imagine themselves as the hero” as the hero’s background and personality is so vague. But no, I wanted the hero to have a strong sense of their own identity, background and personality (even if they have to discover what this is over the course of the story).


·        wanted the story to be underpinned by a system based on the Gamebook Adventures system, but with enhancements (namely skills and stat purchases, ranged and vehicular combat) that enabled the reader to customise their hero according to their own play style. And in addition to this, cater for both male and female readers, rather than simply assuming that the main character is male for example.


·    I wanted the difficulty to be calibrated towards the “easy” end of the spectrum, to minimise the frustration caused by death after reading many pages and having to start over again. And also to facilitate the reader reading to the end, and subsequently a sequel if there was one (the sequel or sequels even, would then progressively get harder).


·    And yet I wanted the work to have a high degree of replayability. For instance, whilst you may get successfully get through the gamebook to the ending, you may not have acquired many medals and therefore skills in the process. You may find yourself replaying through Part 1 in order to acquire more skills for later on. And because Part 1 is the Part most read (especially because it is free!), it is also the most open and has the highest number of distinct paths: spanning some 250 odd sections. Beyond this, there’s a number of items that you can accumulate in later Parts and events that occur, that will affect sequels, but I’ll talk about this more at a later point.


·      Giving reward to those that achieve more than just getting through the gamebook. For instance, it is quite difficult to get through the gamebook and have a jetpack at the end of it for the sequel. It is significantly harder to obtain the Platinum Medal. The reward for achieving these things however is more something you get in the sequel, rather than this one (I’ll talk about this point in more detail later). 


·     Making it such that with maximum stats it was still quite easy to “fail” and yet even with minimum stats it was possible to succeed without toooo much difficulty. It is my personal belief that not enough gamebooks achieve this: too often gamebooks are virtually impossible without maximum stats and I sought to avoid this.


·    And finally, to loosely base the work on a gamebook series called Space Fighter that I wrote over twenty-five years ago as a childhood fan of things such as Fighting Fantasy, He-Man and Star Wars.


(Illustration by Joshua Wright)



·    It’s true that some readers were hoping for sci-fi that was “grittier” or more “serious” than Infinite Universe. For instance, some lamented that it wasn’t more like the excellent gamebook Star Breed – Episode 1, or more like Warhammer 40K or something, but this wasn’t the sort of work I set out to write. But really, you can’t please everyone can you? -Not that I can’t do “serious” if I want to, and in fact I already have (well sort of)… My novel The Dark Horde for instance is “supernatural horror”, complete with intense and shocking R-rated horror, violence and sex. -The few I’ve spoken to that have read both works, have commented on how widely different these two works are and that they would never have picked that they were written by the same person…


·   Infinite Universe certainly turned out to be “epic” in length. The overall word count is about 170,000 words, not including the encyclopaedia. And then consider that over 200 written sections were removed from the final version (maybe another 40,000 words worth or so). However, this length and the wordiness of some of the sections irked some, even whilst others said that they preferred that the sections were longer and more detailed, rather than just a paragraph or two per Section. If I were to rewrite the work though (a hypothetical that is unlikely to ever actually happen as I’d rather create new works than revisit old ones), I’d probably only cut the length slightly. In fact, it’s really only the section at the start of Part 4 that I would cut significantly. That particular section (really it’s two sections; one version for when the hero is male and the other for when they’re female) was actually how the gamebook initially began. -This partly explains its length, as it “sets the story” by detailing your character, their background and the current situation. If you’ve read the gamebook, you’ll know how I still managed to use this section halfway through the story, but still I think it wouldn’t have hurt much to cut it down a bit; even if it is all about defining who you are and what your motivations are so that the subsequent story has context beyond being a “generic hero”. –And yes, I’ve certainly set the story up for a sequel: perhaps if you finished Infinite Universe you have already suspected what that’s about ;)


·      On the comedy aspect, well it certainly did include elements of parody, sarcasm and self-depreciation, but this is difficult to do in a way that “satisfies all markets” (and Stuart Lloyd wrote an excellent article discussing some of the challenges of doing this in a gamebook here). Of particular interest to me is the observation that the North American markets (and I’m generalising here) have a different appreciation of comedy than the Australian and UK markets for instance: sarcasm and self-depreciation (at least as the Australian/UK markets understand them) are less prevalent in North American comedies, and thus this style of comedy doesn’t tend to translate so well. (Consider for example that most? Australian and UK comedies are re-written and re-cast for the US market, presumably to broaden their appeal there, whilst that rarely seems to happen the other way around, in Australia at least).


·      The setting of Infinite Universe was certainly detailed, and scientifically accurate: underpinning the story and those to follow… Not much to evaluate there really, but I’ll talk more about the design of the setting more in my follow-up post to this one.


·     The character’s history and personality are certainly quite detailed with much more depth than is typical for a gamebook, which is what I set out to achieve, but I recognise that this is a liability to some: especially if (as some have reported) they didn’t “like” the main character. By having a more “generic” hero (and typically one that is more sure of themselves and less cynical), the reader is more able to imagine themselves in the role. There’s a reason why the Fighting Fantasy mantra “YOU ARE THE HERO” has such resonance…


·     The ability to play as either a male or female character seemed to go down well though, and I know of a few female readers that appreciated being able to play a main character of their gender for a change, rather than having to accept that “male leads have more interesting stories” or something like that, as there’s no reason at all why female leads can’t be just as interesting. That there isn’t more gamebooks with female leads is more to do with the fact that most authors are male, and that the target market is viewed as being predominantly male than anything else I think, and I’m happy to have contributed to changing that (as I also did with Trial of the Battle God).


·         Having crunched the numbers, I already knew that the gamebook was quite “easy” in comparison to other gamebooks (and possible to complete with minimum stats). My emphasis here (and in stark contrast to Trial of the Battle God which is opposite in many ways) was on “story” over “game”, and this meant keeping the reader in the story. But I also wanted to provide incentive to replay via achievements such as the hard-to-get Platinum Medal and the different skills that can be acquired. But I actually think that there’s some things there that I could have done better: in particular to address the perception that “whatever you do in the first three Parts becomes irrelevant for the subsequent three Parts” but I’ll get to this point in more detail below.





The reviews to-date on Infinite Universe have mostly been very good, but also they’ve been quite polarised in some quarters, and arguably more so than with any other of the Gamebook Adventures titles. Quite a few rated it the best of the series to-date, whilst quite a few also rated it the worst, and considered that it had poor writing among other issues. I have already made the point above that I set out to do something quite different with Infinite Universe, and that this in itself generates a greater polarisation of views, but there’s more to this story… I knew (as Tin Man Games knew in taking a gamble with me to let me do this) that taking a different approach would go down well with some and not with others, but you don’t capture the interest of new markets by doing things the same way do you?


I will admit that I was surprised by some of the negative comments though, in particular the ones that cast negative judgement on my own ability (as opposed to the delivery chosen for this work), and yet were fans of the other Gamebook Adventures titles… Sure there was plenty of praise too, don’t get me wrong, but I’m inclined to focus on negative feedback as that’s where I see the greatest potential to learn from is, and those passionate enough to write a bad review are often among the most passionate fans that you can potentially win over, so let’s see if I can:


·     The first point I want to make to put this into context, is that as “editor” for the first four Gamebook Adventures titles, you may be surprised to learn just how much of the content of those titles was actually written or designed by me.

  • For An Assassin in Orlandes I only did essential editing (it’d already been released for a start) and restructuring to ensure the reader was likely to get a specific needed item (at Neil’s direction based on feedback), some rebalancing of stats, and ensuring that readers had the option to explore all areas at a given location before being moved onwards by the narration (something I’m always seeking to address in gamebooks as I outlined in my take on gamebook design here).
  • For The Siege of the Necromancer I didn’t do much more than what I did for the first GA title… I wrote a handful of the deaths and rewrote some of the passages a little, like the Goblyn Trickster’s speech and his illusionary forest. To put a number on it, I maybe wrote 5-10% of the final text…
  • For Slaves of Rema, well I probably ended up writing about 50% of it. This includes the beginning (basically up to you entering the arena), the ending, the deaths, the political elements, some of the scenes, the rebalancing and bits like the “Big 60” dice game that was from a game I had in my D&D campaigns twenty years ago (Gaetano’s original design for the gambling game wasn’t feasible at the time). In saying this I don’t want to take any credit away from Gaetano Abbondanza, the author of the work who wrote and designed such a fantastic work in the first place. -I just built on it, introducing the political details after brainstorming them with Neil Rennison (where we decided on where to take the story). As part of this process, and with Neil’s input, I also drew up the political boundaries of the differing nations and city-states that make up the Reman continent, named them and wrote up their histories.
  • For Revenant Rising, I ended up expanding a lot of the descriptive or dialogue passages in that too, and Neil rewrote the beginning, such that I’d estimate I probably wrote a quarter to a third of that too. Again I’m not trying to take credit away from Kieran Coghlan’s great work here, just point out that my contribution to that too was substantial…


·     It’s taken me a long time to make the above points publically, as the trouble with defending yourself is that, well you come off as defensive. But I felt I had to point out my contribution to the previous Gamebook Adventures titles sooner or later, as I think it helps put criticism of Infinite Universe into context, given that many of those who were critical of the writing in Infinite Universe, loved the writing in Slaves of Rema or Revenant Rising, and they may actually be comparing “apples and apples” and not have known it J


·         The other point on that is that were it not for the writing accolades I received last year, for both The Dark Horde and Infinite Universe (see here), I would have had more cause to give weight to those negative reviews, as they may have been right. But having won international awards now, I’m encouraged that at least some think I’m doing things right…


·         But all this raises the question then, which I’ve asked myself many times, and have some answers for, but haven’t fully resolved: If it’s not the writing, then why the negative reviews? Whilst I do go out of my way to “do things differently” (Trial of the Battle God being another good example, as is the genre-bending Evermore: An Introduction), I am in the game of trying to write for the broadest market. So it’s important for me to understand the reasons for the negative reviews, and to consider what I can do next time to address those perceptions, whilst staying true to my own vision and recognising that “whatever you do, not everyone is going to like it anyway”. In short, I think the main reasons for the negative reactions are as follows:

  • Free to download. This was the one that was expected. You make a title free to download and you get a lot more downloads. But as a result you get a lot more negative reviews as a result by those who wouldn’t have liked it (or paid for a full version) anyway… Mind you I think the average rating for Infinite Universe is on par with the other Gamebook Adventures titles anyway, so if anything this effect was less than expected.
  • Humour. As discussed above, the sarcasm / self-depreciation thing is more akin to Aussie and UK markets (at least as they understand it), than the North American ones.
  • A main character with a strong personality. As discussed above, this was one of my objectives, but this approach can be off-putting to some readers if they don’t “like” the main character and/or cannot identify with them.
  • Linearity of the story at times, and word length. Consistent with my objectives, I wanted to emphasise the story elements over the game elements: something halfway between a novel and an interactive gamebook if you like. This appealed to some, but not so others. Yes I could have allowed more choice in certain parts, but this would have further increased the word count of a work that was already 170,000 words…
  • The way in which the story flowed. A slight spoiler (nothing too drastic if you haven’t read it though) is that Parts 4-6 of the gamebook are actually set before Parts 1-3, such that you do not have any of the items or skills that you gained in Parts 1-3, in Parts 4-6. In designing the gamebook I hadn’t initially meant for this to be the case (and actually I’d written almost all of Parts 4-6 before I started writing Parts 1-3), but since Part 4 is set in 2013, when it’s meant to be a “sci-fi gamebook”, the decision was made to start in the sci-fi future setting, and return to the past only once the reader had invested in the story. If the free download of Part 1 had been mostly set in our time, some would have questioned whether it was sci-fi or not and may not have bothered to read on… But the whole “lose everything you had in Parts 1-3” thing irked some. Sure they get it all back after Parts 4-6 (on the final section of Part 6 basically), but Parts 7 and beyond haven’t been released yet, so the point of all that is currently less appreciated than it will be later… But I’ll talk more about the details of these designs later in the follow-up blog post.


(Illustration by Joshua Wright)



·         So where does this leave me now? Well I can certainly cite a few things that will be tackled different in the sequel (which is at least a year off with nothing concrete confirmed, and I’ve got plenty of projects to complete in the meantime anyway). The summary of these things as they float around in my head, are as follows:

  • Less humour and a less “defined” character. Given how the first book ends (which I won’t spoil for you if you haven’t read it), it’s actually pretty easy to set up the character of the sequel being quite different. This character won’t have the same personality as the original in the sense that I won't include their often cynical/dismissive mental thoughts. Instead, their personality will tend to be only expressed through the character's actions, which are decided by the player. Basically this is accentuating what I do in the first book, the idea being that if the player wants to play the "brash bold hero who saves the universe" they can, but equally they can still play "the fool" like in the first book too. Everyone wins J
  • A faster more concise delivery. Rather than the long story-building narrative style of the first, there’ll be more emphasis on action and crazy events and places. This was always intended by the way (Parts 1-6 in many ways simply set the scene for the “actual story” to follow) and I think this will further broaden the appeal.
  • A more open design. Consistent with the emphasis being taken away from the “story” elements, there’ll be greater opportunities to explore the world than in the first, where the reader will be encouraged to find their own “side-missions” and their own way to ultimate victory. (This too was always intended).
  • Continuity. And of course all those items and skills earned in the first book will carry over into the sequel. The impact of various choices in the first will also have repercussions in the sequel: consider yourself warned!


Well I think over 4000 words is more than enough for one blog post, so I’ll finish here. The follow-up post (sometime soon!) will give a more detailed examination of the design aspects of Infinite Universe: including some maps not revealed before, additional content, music tracks that weren’t used, and some of the FAQs (such as how does one get the Platinum Medal)… Thanks for reading!


Click here for Part Two

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Brewin's Gamebook Combat Simulator!

Brewin's Gamebook Combat Simulator Screenshot

Well this is something I put together for another gamebook system EDIT: which I can now announce is none other than J.H.Brennan's classic Sagas of the Demonspawn series, that is to be digitally released through Tin Man Games as announced HERE. An experience that is quite surreal for me since J.H. "Herbie" Brennan is my favourite gamebook author and a childhood idol: to say it's an honour is a massive understatement! ...So having done this work, it was a "relatively" simple thing to adapt it to other gamebook systems that I know others are/have writing/written for: namely the Fighting Fantasy and Gamebook Adventures systems. (The GA system involves quite a lot more calculation though, although from a player point of view, it's only slightly more complicated than the FF system).

So if you're ever writing for either of these systems, and want a tool to help you determine how hard a particular combat is, how long it will last for etc, then this is what you need... Or maybe you're just curious to know what your chances are of surviving a particular combat or series of them in XYZ gamebook. This tool will give you a pretty definitive answer... And yes, it also demonstrates points I've made before about how well balanced (or unbalanced) these gamebook systems can be.

I'll spare you the detailed analysis, as you're now able to crunch out the numbers yourself. With this tool, you can set Player and Enemy stats yourself, or use Max/Min/Average/Random Player stats, set a number of other variables for the combat, and then run 10, 100, 1000 or whatever number of trials you want and get a stats summary that can also be written out to a report as well if you wish.

Hopefully you can figure out how to use it (I've tried to make it a simple as possible). All you need is Excel 97 or later (maybe Open Office will work too, I haven't tried) and to enable macros...

Let me know what you think (and if you'd like additions)

Happy number crunching :)

Download Brewin's Combat Simulator - Ver 1-0

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News from the Land of the Brewin'

Yep... I can relate to this ;)

…I think one of my issues to address is that I don’t talk enough about what I’ve done, I am doing now or will be doing soon… I’m too busy actually doing it rather than talking about it.


So dear reader, I shall endeavour to tell you more about what’s been happening in the “Land of the Brewin”, which is quite-a-bloody-lot haha:

  • Gamebook Adventures 8: Infinite Universe gets Freeplay 2012 Nomination for Best Writing in a Game:
    This is news is actually a week old now, but it’s the biggest news of the moment for me. “Freeplay is Australia’s longest running independent games festival exploring the intersection of indie development, culture, arts and education.” (That’s the description from the Freeplay site). And each year they give awards to what is judged the best game in a variety of categories. Only three entrants are short-listed in each category, so out of 115 entries for the Freeplay awards (more than triple the previous year), it is a special honour to have my Infinite Universe gamebook nominated as one of them… (I think I’d be a shoe-in to win the award if it was “Most Writing in a Game” haha but unfortunately “Best” and “Most” are two quite different things).
  • The Dark Horde October promotion for Fiction Frolic / All Hallow’s Read:
    In order to boost the profile on my horror novel, The Dark Horde, I’m doing a lot of things over October, including the above promotion and many of which I am (somewhat frantically) organising now. In conjunction with hundreds of other blogs, there’ll be book giveaways, t-shirts, a book trailer, and hopefully a few blog articles about The Dark Horde, and some of the amazing reviews thus far. But before then there’s a few things to still get finalised, including distribution channels and newsletters, so stay tuned on that one.
  • 2012 Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction:
    One thing I’ve gotten around to this year is to write an entry for the annual Windhammer competition, which as far as I’m aware is the world’s biggest gamebook competition. Competition is fierce with 22 awesome entries: more than double last year. Anyone can vote up to October 30, so check it out!

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Camping at a friend’s property on the banks of the Murray River (and wearing a silly hat).


Do you like my blog so far? Nah seriously it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s a great pleasure to welcome you all to my blog…

How many clichés can I start my first ever blog post with? Haha.

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