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Wednesday, September 16, 2020
LAST KID RUNNING _____ Welcome to the Scramble shortlisted for Popular's Readers' Choice Awards 2020, please vote, see link below
Monday, September 7, 2020
GAMEBOOK ACADEMY _____ Meet DANE BARRETT, gamebook creator and collector from New Zealand, he shows us some classic gamebooks from his childhood, this is a real treat
NOTE: This is part of a series that explains how to create your own simple gamebooks. More articles here.
My name is Dane Barrett, a gamebook fan since I was a child at the beginning of gamebooks (at least, since the early 1980s). Over the years I've collected as many gamebooks as I could source, which has become easier as the internet developed into the juggernaut that it is now, but was a bit more challenging in the 'old days' when New Zealand bookshops didn't stock a substantial variety of interactive fiction.
I am also a gamebook writer, publishing my first work in 2019 after dabbling in writing Dungeons & Dragons adventures for several decades. As of today, I have written six works of interactive fiction, some with game mechanics while others are based around much simpler choices and puzzles.
My brother introduced me to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain in 1982, the first of many books in the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. My brother and I were already young D&D players, so were excited at the prospect of books where we could engage in a similar adventuring experience at a solo level. We then began to collect every book in that series that was released (in New Zealand) until they became scarce many years later as stores stopped stocking them. I completed the collection much later, thanks in part to the internet.
I'd been writing D&D modules and adventures for several years, both in pen-and-paper format as well as later on with the video game Neverwinter Nights (the original version, not the later one). When I found out in 2019 that I was going to be made redundant from my regular job of 20 years (in Telecommunications, where I often performed technical writing) I decided it was time to put some of my original ideas to paper and release a couple of gamebooks.
I'll imagine a story in my head, then plot several plot-based encounters. Then I'll start piecing those together with a narrative, with more ideas often popping up along the way.
I have 460 gamebooks at the time of this interview, including the complete Fighting Fantasy collection, complete Grailquest series and the first twenty Lone Wolf titles.They are stored in plastic wrap or bags and put away inside several drawers located in a very dark place, which is one of the reasons I can't share a 'shelfie' picture of my collection (that, and my bookshelves are already choked full of old literature, not leaving any space for gamebooks).
Aside from my classic collections, I also have a large and ever-growing collection of new gamebooks (that is, released after 2010) as I consider it important to support the newer writers out there as much as the old. So many gamebook 'fans' are actually just collectors of the older books (sometimes never even reading them), and do not support the industry as a whole as they show no interest in any new books or writers. Because of this, I like to support new books and authors as much as possible, helping to promote their content as well as purchasing the volumes for myself.
My own dream, rather than remaining a writer, is to some day start my own publishing company to give interactive fiction authors the best chance they can get at being successful, so that they can focus on writing without having the hassle of promotional work. eBay has especially made it much easier now to collect the older books, though often the sellers will price gouge to astronomical levels. I'd prefer to see re-releases of older books such as what Dave Morris did with almost all of his books.
And now here are some highlights from Dane's personal gamebook collection, the titles featured are suitable for young readers. Enjoy!
|Just a small selection from Dane's massive collection|
The Oregon Trail: Choose Your Own Trail series, by Jesse Wiley
The first four books, 'The Race to Chimney Rock', 'Danger at the Haunted Gate', 'The Search for Snake River' and 'The Road to Oregon City' all serve to act as a single storyline, where the books that follow (none of which I have yet) are spin-offs.
Released in September of 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers.
These books, while fairly simple by Interactive Fiction standards (only having one true path with several premature endings) is actually quite educational, teaching the reader much about the obstacles encountered on the Oregon Trail the same way the computer game of the same name did in the 1980s. The story is told from the perspective of one of the younger members of a family, so younger readers will be able to relate to the character and recognise the responsibilities they would have had if they had lived through travelling the Oregon Trail.
Choose Your Own Adventure: Spies 'James Armistead Lafayette', by Kyandreia Jones
Released May of 2019 by Chooseco.
Choose Your Own Adventure books can be hit-and-miss at times, and while the other initial book in the 'Spies' series, Mata Hari, was a weird and wacky trip through an almost psychedelic myriad of odd mysticism, I felt that the 'James Armistead Lafayette' book actually stayed more much grounded and closer to what it may have felt like to be in the famous spy's shoes (if you ignore one particularly strange moment in the story that involved small animals hiding under hats!). You not only get to experience what it may have felt like to be a spy during one of the older war conflicts, but you also need to contend with racial issues among the soldiery. There's nothing too drastic or inappropriate for children, though, and they should find this quite fun (and way less weird than Mata Hari).
Choose Your Own Adventure: Journey Under the Sea, by RA Montgomery
Released 1977 and republished 2005 by Chooseco.
There will definitely be some readers out there who disagree with me, especially those who dislike the late RA Montgomery's style of writing, but I adored this book when I first read it (and still quite like it now). As I was already a fan of such adventure stories as "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (so much so that I even have an ancient viewfinder reel for that story!), I immediately took to 'Journey Under the Sea' as it has a similar overall feel to those old tales. As the book is set under the surface of the ocean in a submarine which is probably still considered the stuff of science fiction, RA Montgomery was able to allow his imagination to run wild, but unlike some of his other books which just boggle the reader's mind with why extraterrestrials seem to show up at the oddest times (I'm looking at you, 'Abominable Snowman"!) everything seems to work here. The book also contains one of the better looping path designs that were used in CYOA books, as you can switch back-and-forth between paths, allowing for a bit more freedom of exploration than is known for this series of books.
Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson
Released in 1982 by Puffin, 2002 by Wizard and 2017 by Scholastic.
This is the book that started the whole gamebook fandom thing for me, as it tapped into my enjoyment of D&D-style adventuring without requiring a massively in-depth storyline or game system to bog down the pace of the quest. While CYOA books had already been around for some time before the Fighting Fantasy series was released, this was one of the first books (if not the first) to use a dice-based combat and skill system so that the reader felt more like they were playing a game rather than 'just' reading.
To this day I credit this book (and others in the series) with helping me get into reading. Previously I had struggled with focusing on words, but after being introduced to gamebooks, I eventually went through all forms of school to subsequently qualify with English and Literature as my best subject. This is why I will always recommend gamebooks to parents of children who struggle to read.
Twistaplot: Midnight at Monster Mansion, by Steven Otfinoski
Released in 1984 by Scholastic.
Even though the Twistplot series is quite old, this book was a recent read for me and turned out to be both entertaining and hilarious. It covers the age-old story of 'broken-down car, visiting a mansion looking for help and ending up being embroiled in a dark plot involving several monsters and fiends'. Several classic Universal Studios monsters appear in this story, so it should also appeal to anybody who used to watch (and enjoy) old Hammer Horror films. The content is pretty harmless, though, so will be fine for children.
GrailQuest series, by JH Brennan
Books featured: The Castle of Darkness, The Den of Dragons, The Gateway of Doom, Voyage of Terror, Kingdom of Horror, Realm of Chaos, Tomb of Nightmares and Legion of the Dead
The first book was released in 1984 by Armada.
Of all the gamebooks I enjoyed as a child, this was my favourite series of the lot. Herbie Brennan's fantastic sense of humour comes across superbly in what would have otherwise been a tale of adventure set in Arthurian times, though much of those legends are made fun of here. While the books are comedic, they actually contain a fun game system and engaging adventure story (with a hilarious recurring character named 'The Fiend'), and though they are shorter than any Fighting Fantasy books, I never found them lacking.
While I collected all of the original editions in this series, they are one group of books that I wish would see a re-release. I'd do it myself if I ran a publishing company!
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Wednesday, August 26, 2020
GAMEBOOK ACADEMY _____ Meet MELISSA BOUNTY, associate publisher of Chooseco, which publishes the Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks, she says they have an assignment for prospective writers that is pretty tough, and also she enjoys working with poets for their new titles
NOTE: This is part of a series that explains how to create your own simple gamebooks. More articles here.
|My production editor, Colleen Alberti, and I (left) taking a break on a press check in 2019.|
My role at Chooseco is the Vice President and Associate Publisher. I manage the writers and artists who produce the creative work we publish, and I also manage a team who handles book production, printing, and rights licensing with our content.
My very first job was as a page in my hometown’s local library. The page returns the books to their shelves. I recall vividly getting very distracted as I put away copies of The Lost Jewels of Nabooti and Mystery of the Maya.
I had gone to college in Vermont, and taken a summer job I had every year of college with the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth summer program. That last summer after I graduated I worked in Los Angeles, and I vowed from there I would not return to Vermont. I wanted to live someplace warmer with a different climate and culture. I received a job offer in Honduras that seemed ideal, but then I noticed a striking job posting back in Vermont. I said to myself, “if I get that job, I’ll go back. But only for that job!” And that’s what happened.
|Here I am at a press check for the first Chooseco printing of Choose Your Own Adventure, in late 2005.|
Have you ever written a gamebook yourself?
No, I enjoy editing gamebooks more than writing them. I have lent a hand when short passages or summaries are needed. There’s a lot of fun work in my job that involves writing, but I’ve never authored a gamebook. The other parts of the process appeal to me more!
There are a few ways this happens. One is what I think of as the old-fashioned way: a writer has an idea and pitches it to us, and we agree to publish that idea. But that type of process is more common at a traditional publisher, and we are a bit special in that we are a publishing company formed by authors, purpose-built to be dedicated to interactive books that are part of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. So while we do work with authors who have good ideas, we are also always talking about what the Choose Your Own Adventure series means and how what we publish each year best serves our readers.
One example is that 3-4 years ago we attended some library trade shows where we spoke with educators about how interactive books would better suit their needs. Our takeaway was that educators and librarians wanted to see more historical scenarios in our books. They also raised the issue of inclusivity, and featuring characters from diverse backgrounds. At first it seemed really difficult: how can a gamebook really “show” history? The main objective of a gamebook is to show multiple potential scenarios but history only told one story. Our second challenge was in featuring more diverse characters, as our main character has always been “YOU” who is not defined by race, gender, or other identifiers so every reader can imagine themselves in charge of the story.
I had an idea when my I saw my best friend’s daughters dressed for Halloween. They had hilarious costumes: trench coats, big sunglasses, funny hats. I didn’t know what they were though! They told me they were “Spies,” just in general. Their concept of what spies looked and acted like was just so funny that I thought: this is how we can connect these dots. The one true story of most spies’ lives is lost and we can fill in the blanks with historical fiction. We selected some spies from history and were careful to consider spies whose stories may not have been as widely known, and who came from many different backgrounds and cultures. The SPIES subseries was born, and has been one of the more popular offerings Chooseco has made to the gamebooks category.
Writing an interactive book is not easy! We receive a lot of outreach from writers who are interested in writing a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and we have a standard assignment for prospective writers. Very, very few people get beyond that first assignment. Interactive writing combines traditional storytelling methods with nonlinear thinking, and that’s pretty complex. I’ve actually had a great time developing new Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks with poets, who are very open-minded to broken narratives. We have some technical tools to help our writers but they aren’t entirely universal. The ways our writers’ minds formulate the interactive framework do vary, in a way that is fairly fascinating. The same way novelists have different methods for plotting and developing characters, interactive writers do as well.
Those gamifications are fun and we have nothing against them! We have developed two really fun board games with Z-Man Games and Asmodee, and you can find some of that type of gadgetry and game criteria added to two of our classics books, House of Danger and War with the Evil Power Master. I also wouldn’t rule out that we would one day publish a book that incorporated gaming criteria directly into the story. Between digital publishing, print publishing, and other new media, the ways we can imagine storytelling are always evolving and gamification is such a fun way to add a layer of challenge to the material.
When I first started at Chooseco, I learned about the core of why Shannon Gilligan and R. A. Montgomery believed in the books. R. A. Montgomery had done work in book publishing and education, and he had also been involved in simulation development for the Peace Corps. He was sensitive to the needs of reluctant readers who did not find reading active and engaging. The idea for Choose Your Own Adventure, and what it meant as a series, was more defined than simply books with choices in them. The Choose Your Own Adventure series values empowering its readers to really experience the thrill of high-stakes decision-making in the safe environment of a book. I really value presenting that to all types of readers, and have been so inspired by kids who share that they have connected with Choose Your Own Adventure books.
|CYOA school talk|
|Some recent CYOA releases|
It’s never too young to start! We see the baby books as a fun way for parents to connect with young kids and babies while they look at books together. We also envision that parents, or friends of parents, might like to share something they enjoyed from their childhood.
NEW: Chooseco has created a full Choose Your Own Adventure "Blank Book" for you to make your own gamebook, for personal use only. It's a fully formatted digital file, you just need to add your story's text and illustrations. There are a few pages at the back with useful tips. You can download this Blank Book here. Have fun!
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We celebrate International Gamebook Day 2020
Click here for a free digital gamebook! (PDF)
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
GAMEBOOK ACADEMY _____ We're celebrating International Gamebook Day 2020 with a free digital edition of The Secret of the Chatter Blocks, download your copy now, link below
NOTE: Remember to visit my Gamebook Academy for free lessons on how to write your own gamebooks! Click here.
What a lovely surprise, there's actually an International Gamebook Day for us gamebook geeks. It's on 27 August. Yay!
My kids really love playing games together: computer games, board games, card games, everything. So back in 2017 I was inspired to turn our story ideas into interactive fiction, aka gamebooks, to see if we could create something special together. And it's been a real adventure.
Our first title was The Secret of the Chatter Blocks. We released a simple ebook edition. It's for younger readers, 7 to 10 years old. Read about it here.
This year we published the paperback edition, which is now sold all over the world. It has really cool pixel art illustrations inside, very much like a fun computer game. Details and sample pages here.
I'm currently working on my Last Kid Running science fiction gamebook series. It's published by Penguin random House, and it's for middle grade readers, 10 to 12 years old. Book 2 will be out later this year. See photos from my book launch party here.
I'm also creating a series of free online lessons to share our gamebook writing technique. It's called DON BOSCO'S GAMEBOOK ACADEMY, and you can read all the articles here. I hope you try to write your own gamebooks too. It's a lot of fun!
To mark this very special day, I'm giving out a free digital edition of The Secret of the Chatter Blocks, you can download your copy here (Google Drive, PDF). Have fun solving the mystery! Do share this gamebook with your friends too.
Happy gamebooking, everyone! :)
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DON BOSCO’S GAMEBOOK ACADEMY