April A to Z – A is for Amateurs part 2 – an interview with Robert Douglas

It’s begun.  The April A to Z has kicked off and I will begin our gamebook journey with amateur writers.  Why do amateur gamebook writers make gamebooks great?  They keep the fandom entertained when there is a dearth of official books.  It is also great to be an amateur writer for many reasons – you can hone your writing/gaming skills, you can get great feedback about your book and you can go through the pleasurable process of creating something.  

On great website that showcases amateur gamebooks is www.ffproject.com.  This website not only has gamebooks in doc and pdf form but you can also play a lot of those gamebooks online.  I put some questions up on the guestbook of  ffproject and some of the authors were kind enough to give me answers.

Robert Douglas is the writer of four amateur Fighting Fantasy books – Snakeland Scorpion, Prison of Pestilence, Below Zero Point and The Curse of Drumer  (a great sequel to House of Hell which you can play online here)

What was the first gamebook you read (that wasn’t your own)?
‘Star Strider’ in 1985.
What is your favourite gamebook?
I have about twenty favourites – and can’t choose between them!
What gamebooks/interactive fiction would you recommend to a newcomer to the genre?
‘City of Thieves’ or perhaps ‘Scorpion Swamp’ would perhaps be the most basic for first-timers.
Summarise what a gamebook is to a newcomer in 100 characters or fewer.
An adventure of a lifetime lies within your hands!
Why are gamebooks great compared to games or books?
Whilst offering an exciting story with great characters, gamebooks are more interactive; defeating monsters, discovering valuable items, and solving puzzles gives the player a sense of achievement.
Where did you come up with your ideas for gamebook stories?
Lone Wolf, Freeway Warrior, and perhaps the entire FF series has influenced my writing in some way or another. Steve Jackson’s ‘Fighting Fantasy – An Introduction to the Roleplaying Game’ had some helpful tips and suggestions when creating a gamebook adventure. The Advanced (Dungeoneer, Blacksand, and Allansia) expanded on gameplay ideas. The story/dialogue elements inspired by Peter F Hamilton’s sci-fi novels and Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series. Certain films and tv series also influenced my writing ideas.
Where did you come up with your ideas for gamebook game systems (in this case additional rules for FF)?
‘Below Zero Point’ features Armour, perhaps from ‘Legend of the Shadow Warriors’. The Magic in ‘Prison of Pestilence’ came from a mix of Sorcery! and ‘Citadel of Chaos’. ‘Snakeland Scorpion’s’ Lore skills are similar to several other titles in FF and using a Bow is from Lone Wolf. Fear is a continuation in ‘Curse of Drumer’, its Guns idea borrowed from ‘Freeway Fighter’ and ‘Freeway Warrior’.
When it comes to writing a gamebook, what’s the most important thing that you do?
I have a general idea in my head of what I want to do, then plan it loosely from the very start, coming up with the plot direction and obstacles as I go along. I bear in mind frequency of die rolls, number of enemies, inserting certain items for player to discover as bonuses, penalties for carelessness.
What inspired you to write an amateur gamebook?
Serious attempts after reading Joe Dever’s style, and gaining valuable literary experience from Peter F Hamilton.
What has writing a gamebook taught you?
Questioning the journey itself as opposed to the destination.
What have you got coming up in terms of your gamebook projects?
My 90 entry gamebook for the Windhammer Competition was completed two months ago (waiting for the official green light, 1st August). Currently working on second instalment in the Sean Calibre Case Files. Considering a sci-fi idea set on modern-day Earth – if that makes any sense to you!
Do you have any websites/blogs/Twitter feeds?
No website – at the moment I’m quite happy being a contributor.
What do you think the future of gamebooks is?
It’s difficult to say. But through the internet and downloads on to Kindle and E-books are the best way for them to be preserved; no concerns over ‘out of print’ titles! And of course: online (amateur) gamebooks, including reviews, articles, and other information, would certainly be kept alive by constant community interest. If FF is discontinued for the second time, then popular websites will be upholding the gamebook hobby. I believe there’s always going to be fans – perhaps for decades to come…?
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6 thoughts on “April A to Z – A is for Amateurs part 2 – an interview with Robert Douglas

  1. Hi JP! Sorry to cause any undue alarm, but I was just speaking hypothetically. Wizard isn't publishing as many new titles at the rate that Puffin did; posing a grim possibility that FF could be discontinued a second time (although not for some time…IF it happens). I didn't want to come over as a fatalist, more as a realist. Despite FF currently being sold in their millions, worldwide, it didn't prevent the discontinuation of 1996. Joe Dever's Lone Wolf series soon shared the same fate. As an ardent fan myself, however, I hope that such a calamitous event doesn't occur any time soon!

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  2. Yes! Good old Jon G came into Puffin's FF series a bit late – yet had written some great adventures. But I found them very difficult! They could be compared to Ian Livingstone's style of a knife-edge path combined with a long list of items essential to completing the adventure. And you're quite right: his recent titles such as 'Howl of the Werewolf', 'Bloodbones', and 'Night of the Necromancer' have been well received by the FF community. Very much enjoyed reading them myself! 🙂

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