You have republished a lot of your old gamebooks. Do you think you will write a new gamebook?
Never say never, right? I think any interactive story I produce in future would be designed as an app, so it may be questionable how much you could call it a gamebook. I have a couple of audio gamebooks in the planning stage. I just need to find a coder for those, and actors and an audio guy. They’d be very different from the gamebook apps that are out there at the moment, though, and I don’t know if there’s a market for that.
I also started work with Leo Hartas on a very ambitious gamebook app set in the world of Legend that I created for Dragon Warriors. It’s actually more of a tablet RPG than a gamebook. Think of something like Sorcery, where you’re moving your character around the map, but it’s more zoomed in and there’s a real plotline going on with multiple NPCs. So you don’t just have an encounter and move on – you’re finding clues, going back to talk to characters, returning to locations. All this while the clock is ticking. I’ll tell you what it’s like: a gritty, medieval, low-fantasy The Last Express.
The snag is that we’ve got a coder who only gets time to tinker with it in between other jobs, so although I’ve written quite a chunk of it I can’t say if or when it’ll all be put together.
Paul Gresty is currently writing the next Fabled Lands book. How is that going?
Just great. Paul has more cool ideas than he has time to work on, so we’re pretty lucky that he cleared his schedule to do this.
I’m also roping Paul in to write a new gamebook app that I’ve planned in partnership with Cubus Games. There’s going to be a Kickstarter campaign for that running throughout April. It’s partly steampunk (that whole aspect of it is coming from Cubus and Paul) mixed in with an RPG universe of my own creation, which originally was conceived as Regency/Victorian SF and not steampunk at all. But everything has to be a known genre these days, especially to get any traction on Kickstarter. If it wasn’t steampunk it would have to be Cthulhu.
The gamebook is based on my Frankenstein’s Legionsuniverse, which was originally created for a PC RTS back when I was working at Eidos around 2000. It later evolved into much more of a character-based mission game (Dynasty Warriors meets GTAin a Regency setting) and later still into a movie script and a comic book. Then I hired John Whitbourn to write a novel set in the Frankenstein’s Legionsworld, where England and France are at war in the mid-1800s using technology that allows them to stitch together the bodies of the dead and resurrect them for battle.
As I said, Cubus want this (renamed The Frankenstein Wars) to have a steampunk flavour, which isn’t what the concept was originally about, but that’s fine by me as I’ve had to bow out anyway to work on another project, so Paul Gresty will bring the FW airship in to land. I have given Paul about 50,000 words of notes, background info and storylines, including the complete movie treatment, so he’s got a lot more to work with already than he has for The Serpent King’s Domain.
Are there any issues with continuing a series after such a long hiatus?
I’ll admit that I never quite get why there’s so much demand for more Fabled Lands books. Jamie and I would love to have completed the series back then in the ‘90s, but the publisher called a halt then, and if I sat down to write something similar now I’d start over with a new setting and try to evolve the concept a bit. Fallen London and 80 Dayshave already moved on a long way with the same basic gamebook structure as we used in FL, so why try to step back in the same river?
We also have the problem that there is no single ongoing plot, character or timeline. The whole point of Fabled Lands is that it’s a sandbox environment where you can pick your own goals and have hundreds of adventures. So we can’t move the story on twenty years the way I gather Joe Dever did with Lone Wolf. New FL books just make the world bigger really, like additional levels in an open-world CRPG. But that’s what the fans want – or, at any rate, the Kickstarter campaign will tell us if that’s so.
How much input have you and Jamie had to this new book?
We’ve given Paul our old notes and some story ideas, and he’s showing us what he’s doing, so we can give him as much feedback as he asks for. But I have a dictum that the surest way to kill a project is to have too many people in the creative loop, so mostly we’re keeping out of Paul’s way and letting him drive the project.
The Keep of the Lich Lord has been republished as a Fabled Lands adventure. Do you have plans to write/modify existing books to make more adventures?
I would if there were any left that we could adapt that way. The only standalone gamebook I haven’t yet re-released is Eye of the Dragon. I was holding that back because I feel it that in a post-Witcherera it needs much more work done on the player-character’s background. That “here’s your adventure” ethic of ‘80s gamebooks looks really old today. But would Eye of the Dragonwork as a “Fabled Lands Quest”? I suppose it could be done as an adventure for a Dweomer scholar. But what if you didn’t want to be that kind of character?
Necklace of Skulls has been released as an app. Do you have plans for more book releases as apps?
We’d love to do the Fabled Lands series as apps. If you think about it, Sorcerywas only ever designed as a traditional linear quest, and yet that works pretty well as apps. FL, as an open world where you can travel anywhere you like, is really crying out for that kind of treatment. But the world has only one Inkle – and, truth be told, I’d rather see an FL app go more towards Diablo anyway. It’s not literary the way my Frankenstein app was, so why retain the text at all? Really we need to find a CRPG developer to work on it with us.
Tin Man is going to be releasing a couple of apps based on the Way of the Tigerbooks at some point. Jamie wrote lots of new flavour text so that every kick/punch/block combo is completely unique – so as text-based gamebook apps go, that should be pretty special.
We’re also talking about some apps based on the two-player Duel Mastergamebooks that Jamie wrote with Mark Smith, but it’s early days for that project just yet. Reallyearly, in fact – I sent Jamie an email about getting it under way just before replying to your questions here.
Are you going to write any more interactivised versions of classic books for Inkle?
Actually, I wrote Frankensteinfor Profile Books. Everybody thinks Inkle were the publisher, but their role was providing the writing tools and the art – and a very lovely job they made of that, by the way. Later on, the toolset had a neat pull-down menu interface added, but I got it at the valves-&-wires stage, so I was just given a list of markup codes and I wrote the whole gamebook straight into Word putting the markup in as I went. I didn’t even do a flowchart. I’ve done so many gamebooks that all just unfurls itself in my head as I write. Then I’d send the text file off to Inkle, they’d compile it in their engine – and I could do the same with the copy of the engine they gave me. I think there might have been one error in the whole 150,000 word file. (And how sad it is that I’m boasting about something like that?)
But you asked about doing more interactive classics. I pitched the classics concept originally to Profile Books as a series, but they wanted the follow-up after Frankensteinto be Dracula. I wasn’t interested in doing that. Frankensteinis a genuine literary classic, Draculais just a good horror adventure yarn. They’re only linked by the Universal and Hammer movies; as novels they are light-years apart.
Instead I wanted to do either The Odysseyas an epic poem – well, an interactive epic rap song, really – or a very loose take on Kafka’s The Trial. Neither of those appealed to Profile – though I have to say that, although getting people to read The Odysseymight have been a hard sell, the concept I had in mind for the Kafka story was exactly the sort of left-field experimental literary approach that Profile are supposed to specialize in. They rightly realized, however, that there’s a lot more money to be made in videogames than in interactive literary fiction!
How about Dragon Warriors? Will there be any new releases for that?
Currently the print RPG rights in Dragon Warriors are licensed out to a company called Serpent King Games (no relation to the seventh Fabled Lands book) but unfortunately SKG have been dormant if not stone cold for the last few years so there have been no new Dragon Warriors releases. That said, we had a pretty good innings when the rights were with James Wallis’s Magnum Opus Press, and I’m hoping that eventually we can get all the beautiful new edition books that James masterminded back into print.
And there’s the Legend-based interactive story I mentioned earlier, of course. Leo and I don’t quite know what to call that. Map-driven gamebook? Tablet RPG? Sandbox narrative? Visual novel? I guess putting a name on it is the least of our development worries…
You have a very eclectic knowledge base – a science degree coupled with an extensive knowledge of myth and history from many cultures. Are there any books that you could recommend?
Thirty-some years after college, I still think of myself as a physicist. The Feynman Lectures are pretty awesome, and I think they’re all online these days. I’ll read anything by Richard Dawkins, but my favourite is Climbing Mount Improbable. I need to find time for Jim Al-Khalili’s Life on the Edge and Frank Wilczek’s The Lightness of Being. Science is a moving target, of course. You have to keep up or everything you thought you knew is out of date. Which is what I like about it, in fact.
I have whole shelves bent under the weight of mythology books – which, as books go, tend to be the real heavyweights. If you’re in training, try lifting Anthony S Mercatante’s Encyclopedia of World Mythology & Legendand Henri L Joly’s Legend in Japanese Art. Less likely to cause microfractures and torn ligaments: Jacqueline Simpson’s Scandinavian Folktalesand Katharine Briggs’s Dictionary of Fairies.
As for history books, I turn often to G G Coulton’s Medieval Panoramaand Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval Englandwhen designing Dragon Warriors scenarios. And for role-playing in general – which is to say, the subject of absolutely everything – I recommend Humanityby Peoples & Bailey; the second edition is the best.
Do you have any other plans for future gamebook/Dragon Warriors releases?
Other than the apps I already talked about, I’d like to find time to write Jewelspider, which is the world of Legend six hundred years on from Dragon Warriors. Smallswords and flintlocks, no steampunk. But wait – didn’t I bring the game universe to an end with Doomsday on the first dawn of the second millennium? Oh, that’s a detail.