Tuesday, December 29, 2020

GAMEBOOK ACADEMY _____ Meet Keith Phillips, a Fighting Fantasy author who's now helping kids create an epic fantasy-adventure collaborative gamebook, you can support them via Crowdfunder, read on for the details

NOTE: This is part of a series that explains how to create your own simple gamebooks. More articles here

Please tell us about yourself.
I used to play Dungeons and & Dragons with my friends back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We used to make incredibly complex campaigns with hugely rich worlds and mythologies. When my friends weren't around and when I wasn't devising my own campaigns or tinkering with electronics or what used to pass for computers back then, I played Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf.

I was studying maths and physics and had no creative ambitions, but one of my D&D mates - seeing the success of Fighting Fantasy - suggested we try writing and self-publishing our own gamebook. Which we did. It was called The Fortress of Morphillus. Sadly, nothing remains of it, so I have no idea whether it was any good or not. We certainly didn’t make any money!

After I graduated, I started working as a maths teacher, but I found it didn’t scratch my creative itch, so I decided to give gamebooks another go, and started pitching ideas to Puffin for inclusion in the Fighting Fantasy series. After several attempts, they finally accepted my pitch for Siege of Sardath.

For me, gamebooks are about isolation. The protagonist has to be stranded somewhere, or be burdened with a destiny. In my case, with Siege of Sardath, the protagonist is the only one with the knowledge and skills to save the land.

Whilst I was writing, I also retrained as an English teacher. I much preferred this to teaching maths, and I’ve been teaching creative writing, filmmaking and video game design ever since.

How did your current Crowdfunder gamebook project come about?
In 2015, me and a colleague set up a company called Digital Writes to do gamebook and video game design projects in schools. It’s great fun and an amazing way to make a living. Funding is hard, though. There’s a constant cycle of grant applications.

Which is where this project - A Moral Paradox - comes in.

Back in the winter of 2019/20, it was business as usual. We were cultivating partnerships with schools, educational charities and our local library service, with the view to doing a project to write and publish an actual physical gamebook. (Our previous projects had always been digital.) It was shaping up to be a brilliant project. Our funding plan was to apply to the Arts Council, backed up by a grant from the library service and a crowdfunding campaign. Your readers may not know this, but Arts Council applications need to also have match funding in place to show a breadth of support from the community. Crowdfunding from the gamebook community would have been perfect - not only for the money, but as a genuine audience for the young people’s work. The application went off, and we started working with students on the crowdfunding video. And then, just two weeks before we were due to hear from the Arts Council, Covid hit, and they stopped all funding in favour of developing an emergency grant for companies hit by lockdown. So that was it…

Or so we thought. Because we applied for an emergency grant and were successful.

What's your development process like?
The first thing we had to do was develop a huge - HUGE - set of policies and procedures for working with young people through Zoom and so on. That involved months of study, safeguarding training, researching legal issues, privacy law and so on. 

And then, in September, we got the young people together again - this time over Zoom - and resumed work on A Moral Paradox.

This project started with genre. And the students decided they wanted to do a simple fantasy game.

And then Lauren came up with the core idea that would kick the whole thing off: the protagonist would have a pet dragon that would grow and change depending on the moral choices you made throughout the game. Because of this ability, the dragon would be called Paradox. It didn’t take much more discussion to settle on the title: A Moral Paradox.

The next step was to find the protagonist’s isolation. After a lot of discussion, involving the theory of The Hero’s Journey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero's_journey) and protagonists from literature, the students came up with a young magician who, whilst an expert in magical theory and magical languages, is not so good when it comes to the real thing, and experiences some bullying. But when a young dragon of unknown species is found, the protagonist is the only one who can communicate with it, and they decide to go on a quest to find out where it comes from and return it home. But there is a much bigger story going on, that this quest will being them to the heart of.

We have developed quite a few scenes already. This involves talking about the scene, developing the overall arc, coming up with ideas, developing options and paths through the scene. This often involves drawing flow charts. The young writers then write the detailed content, and the young artists draw the illustrations.

As you can tell, this is a very rich story. They have produced some great work, but there is still a long way to go. But, sadly, our Arts Council grant finished at the end of 2020, so now we are returning to crowdfunding to raise the money to finish the book and print it and publish it.

We had a great Christmas and are already 20% of the way towards our basic target. But we need a lot more help.

How can people support your Crowdfunder?
Your readers can help in many ways.

Obviously, a donation would be great. But it doesn’t have to be huge. It would be amazing to get a load of £20 Kryokinian level donations. Donors at this level will get a paperback copy of the book, and we will swell our numbers of genuine readers (as opposed to just friends and family).

The other way your readers can help is to spread the word. Tell everyone. This is an amazing project. Young people are writing and publishing their first real book. How often do young people get this kind of chance? This could set them up for life.

The final way people can help is by helping us recruit more young writers and artists. The project is totally free to join (thanks to this crowd funding and the funding from Arts Council England). We need to build our army or young creatives to help complete the book. Participants don’t have to make a big commitment. If you just want to contribute one illustration or just write a few paragraphs, that would be a huge help. And you wouldn’t be on your own - you’d be working with me and the other tutors, so there’s no pressure. (Regrettably, since part of the funding was from ACE, we can only accept participants from England.)


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Don Bosco's Gamebook Academy

Thursday, December 10, 2020

GAMEBOOK ACADEMY _____ Meet Ben Clark, he wants to gamify the reading experience, and he's created a digital gamebook set in a fairy tale kingdom

NOTE: This is part of a series that explains how to create your own simple gamebooks. More articles here

Please introduce yourself.
I’m Ben! I’m a game developer and writer who uses the power of gaming and comedy to encourage reluctant readers. My books are played on mobile devices and PC which helps me pack a lot of content and features into my books that would be impossible to manage in print. I also hope that by creating highly replayable stories that change every time you play, I can help parents and teachers by making stories more affordable.

Tell us about your Kingdom Catastrophes gamebook. 
Kingdom Catastrophes is a fully illustrated story set in a fairy tale kingdom that is destined for disaster. 1-4 players have a week to explore 20 locations, make choices in randomised stories, build their stats, unlock hidden story lines, destroy entire locations, earn and spend gold on useful items and generally try their best to prepare for a catastrophe. After a week of ominous clues alluding to what the disaster will be, it strikes! And players must choose how they will respond and hope they have the collective strength, magic or charisma to save the day. There are over a hundred endings and you can receive a gold, silver or bronze trophy depending on what state your heroism leaves the kingdom in! I’ve had lots of fun writing about the various ways players can screw up, too, and I use a complicated system of player action tracking to create personalised endings for every player that focus on their life after they either save the kingdom or usher in a post-apocalyptic age. I’ve tried to make the story and endings as funny as possible. I want players to have fun trying to win, but more than that I just want them to have fun and get a laugh out of the experience, no matter what happens.

What inspired you to create Kingdom Catastrophes? 
I wasn’t the strongest reader when I was young, and fortunately my English teacher mother had the sense to let me read whatever I wanted so long as I was reading – so I ended up reading a lot of comics like Garfield, and joke books for kids. Recently, I discovered gamebooks, and I thought that the art and comedy elements from comics and joke books would really help enhance them and create a potent package that even the most reluctant reader would find hard to resist. By using game engines, I can randomise hundreds of stories, so the book changes every time you read it. And because you build your stats as the game progresses, encountering the same story on day one is a completely different experience to encountering it on the last day. 

What advice do you have for anyone looking to make gamebooks?
Gamebooks are stories first and games second. Your focus should always be on telling an interesting story. Choices and game mechanics only engage readers when they are entertained by the outcome. I think gamebooks can only broaden their appeal to a wider market when authors focus on making gamebooks for the audience instead of for themselves. That means you’ve got to gamify reading, not writing, because no one will care how many endings, sections, and choices your game has if the story isn’t as compelling as competing linear books. Sell your world, sell your characters, sell the comedy, drama, action, horror, or mystery that your gamebook offers. If readers love these things, of course they’ll want to play again and again! So lead with this and keep it foremost in your mind when writing. What am I doing right now to keep my reader engaged? That’s the question writers should be constantly asking themselves. If the answer is “adding more choices and complicated mechanics with no pay off” – you’re in trouble.

What is your current gamebook creation process? 
I create a balanced story structure, hide it behind funny stories and art, hold it all together with code, and finally I test and market the gamebook. 

What are your future plans for Kingdom Catastrophes? 
This game is sort of like a pilot episode for me and, if people like it, I would like to make it the first entry in a series of wacky worlds you have to save from disaster. It’s taken me quite a while to put together because my background is in writing and publishing, not coding and game development – but now that I’ve done the first one, I could do it much more quickly the second time around. It would be nice to make another game and be able to focus on the artistic and entertainment side of the project now I have the code base and hard-won skills I needed. 

I’m in the final stages of testing, so you can actually play it right now by visiting kingdomcatastrophes.com on your mobile device and downloading it straight to your iOS or Android device. I imagine I’ll have to put ads in it eventually, or else learn to eat dirt, but for the moment the game is uninterrupted and free. I just want feedback so I can make the game as enjoyable as possible and perfect the format so I can keep writing more books like it.


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Don Bosco's Gamebook Academy
Read all posts here

Monday, December 7, 2020

LAST KID RUNNING _____ Join us this weekend for the Popular Readers’ Choice Awards 2020 live stream

It’s time once again for the Popular Readers’ Choice Awards. Every few years a book of mine gets nominated, and I post live photos from the ceremony at Suntec City. A real highlight in my life as an author. This year my science fiction gamebook Welcome to the Scramble has been nominated for the Children’s Book category, and the event has gone virtual due to social distancing measures, so you can all be a part of this too! Looking forward to hanging out with all my fellow authors on this live video stream next weekend. And if you join us, do participate in the chat, that’ll be fun. :) Here's my post from back in 2015, the first year one of my books (Lion City Adventures) got nominated, and we won First Prize in the English (Children) Category as well as Best Book Cover, English (Children) Category. Have a great week, my friends!

– D

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