Thursday, August 6, 2020

GAMEBOOK ACADEMY _____ How to rearrange the sections in your gamebook (and drive your readers crazy if they try to cheat)

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

Hope you've been having fun creating your original gamebooks! 

This lesson will show you how to rearrange, or shuffle, your text sections, so that they no longer run continuously. 

Why do this? It ensures that your readers have a better chance of enjoying your gamebook, because they are less likely to read ahead before making their choices, whether by accident or because they're tempted to cheat. 

If they're really, really determined, they can still cheat, of course. But by shuffling your pages well, you'll make this a big challenge in itself. Good luck to them, then!

Ready? Here we go.

Lesson 5: How to rearrange the sections in your gamebook (and drive your readers crazy if they try to cheat)

Step 1.
When you start writing your gamebook, just number your sections in running order. In the diagram below, your original section number is shown in red.

Step 2.
Once you're done writing and editing, and you're happy with all your text, make a list of your section numbers. Then make another list next to it with the numbers shuffled up thoroughly. But keep Section 1 as your opening. See diagram below. 

Step 3.
Now go back to the text and add your new section numbers (in blue) next to the original ones (in red). Remember to do this at the top of each section, as well as at the end, where you present your readers with choices for moving ahead. See diagram below.

Step 4.
Go through each section again and refer back to your two lists. Very important: check that the new section numbers (in blue) are correct. Once you're sure, delete the old section numbers (in red). Of course, the more sections you have in your gamebook, the more time this will take. But it's worth it.

Step 5.
Congratulations! Your sections are now properly shuffled. Arrange them in running order now. Your reader should have a harder time cheating.

More Gamebook Academy posts coming soon! In the meantime, you can read our bonus interviews with some awesome gamebook creators, check the full list here.

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Monday, August 3, 2020

GAMEBOOK ACADEMY _____ Meet JOSH BIXLER, he creates gamebooks inspired by role-playing games, and he wants to give his young readers a solid fighting chance to complete the adventure on the first read

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

Please introduce yourself!
Thank you Don for interviewing me. I am from South Carolina. I have been playing tabletop RPGs and gamebooks for most of my life. I enjoy all sorts of gamebooks and RPGs. I love the challenge of learning a new system and its mechanics, and I love seeing how authors are making innovative and unique new gamebooks.

Tell us about your Hero Kids gamebooks. (NOTE: These are based on the Hero Kids role-playing game system.)
I have released two gamebooks utilizing the Hero Kids system: The Magical Armory and The Smugglers' Port. The Magical Armory embraces a familiar high fantasy feel and includes a quest where you will encounter goblins, dragons, magical items, and a small dungeon crawl. The Smugglers' Port is space fantasy, and takes place within a spaceport that evokes similarities with Mos Eisley in Star Wars.

I have written several Hero Kids adventures under the Hero Kids Compatibility License. I started making Game Master adventure modules, which were well received within the Hero Kids Community. After I finished my third module, I wanted to branch out and do something different.

I had been mulling about doing a solo gamebook within the Hero Kids system, but was nervous about attempting it. I love gamebooks, but writing my own seemed like an insurmountable task. In December of last year, Flying Buffalo Games released a solo design guide for their RPG Tunnels & Trolls entitled, T&T Solo Design Guidelines: HOW TO WRITE A SOLO, which is available on DriveThruRPG.

I dug into this book, and when I was finished reading it, I was no longer intimidated by the prospect of writing a gamebook. At this time, I was also playing several of Telltale Games' graphic adventures. When I thought about the storyline of those video games, I realized they were at the core just gamebooks with a convergent path design. With the help of the T&T Solo Design Guidelines, I realized that I could easily model a gamebook with a similar design principle as seen in a Telltale video game.

Why do you think kids will enjoy your gamebooks?
My gamebooks are primarily intended to be fun. I love many of the old-school fantasy gamebooks that I read in the 80s, which was the main inspiration for these books, but these books were highly difficult. When doing a test run with the old-school style, the high death count and tough challenges were met with frustration by my children, and not joy.

I started focusing on a more story-driven approach that still encompassed skill rolls, multiple choices, and combat encounters with almost every numbered entry. I purposely made these encounters easier, but made many of them just enough of a nail-biter that the children playing would still feel properly challenged. Failure is still probable in my gamebooks, especially if poor choices are made, but children have a solid fighting chance to complete the book on the first read.

When test-running this approach with my children, it was met with much more positivity. My children felt that there was a challenge to the book and even with the convergent path that I chose that they were still in charge of their fate and not being railroaded. This was exactly the approach that I was aiming for.

My eldest daughter and youngest son thoroughly enjoyed both The Magical Armory and The Smugglers' Port, and now they are interested in gamebooks in general. I now read a gamebook to my son at least once a week.

What are some interesting responses you have received so far?
The responses I have received so far have all been positive. A reviewer for The Magical Armory enjoyed a gameplay loop that I created about two-thirds of the way through the book. The reviewer commented on how much his child enjoyed going through the gameplay loop. The reviewer said the gameplay loop was "seemingly intentional."

Initially it was not intentional. When I was editing my gamebook, I ran across the loop, and was intending on closing it off. After reading through the loop several times, I realized that it worked fantastically, and made the gamebook more fun, so I ended up keeping it.

Summarise your Hero Kids gamebook development process.
I map out 5 areas, including the start and end, where the story's paths will all converge upon. I then write all the paths to get to those points.

How did you first get interested in gamebooks?
I began reading Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books frequently in elementary school. I was exposed to Fighting Fantasy as well, but these were not as popular in the States, so I was not able to play too many of the FF series. I fell in love with gamebooks, and I read them so much trying to figure out all of the different paths, that I almost missed the school bus on some mornings.

As I got older, I moved on from gamebooks, which I believe was to my detriment. I enjoyed reading novels, but I missed the freedom of being able to steer the narrative on my own.

I joined the military when I was 17, and I am currently serving as a senior non-commissioned officer in the US Army. On my first deployment to Afghanistan, my wife signed me up for an organization that sends books to troops. In the first box I received, there was a book called Fabled Lands Volume 1: The War-Torn Kingdom. It was an open-world gamebook that I immediately started reading, and I quickly fell back in love with gamebooks.

While on that deployment I starting consuming as many gamebooks as I could get a hold of. I started reading the Tunnels & Trolls gamebooks, Fighting Fantasy, and Lone Wolf. If it was a gamebook, I read it. I loved seeing the different storylines and unique gameplay mechanics that authors would bring to the genre.

Why do you think kids should be encouraged to enjoy gamebooks?
Gamebooks are fun and unique. This type of book provides an experience where the child gets to be in charge of the narrative. Instead of a novel that leads you through a series of pre-determined set pieces, a gamebook lets children take charge of the hero's destiny and forge their own fate. It fully engages the mind, because you constantly have to make decisions. Some of these decisions can be tough, so it allows the child to experience making hard choices in a safe environment. Gamebooks also stimulate the brain. It allows the child to look at a narrative in multiple ways, so it helps them think abstractly. This furthers creativity.

My DriveThruRPG Publisher Store Front (this is where you can purchase my games):

Bix Six Adventures Facebook Page:

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Don Bosco's Gamebook Academy
Read all posts here

Thursday, July 9, 2020

GAMEBOOK ACADEMY _____ Meet JERRY BELICH, creative technologist and inventor of the Choosatron interactive fiction arcade machine, he says the journey, not the destination, is what's most important

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

Please introduce yourself!
I'm Jerry! I'm best known for my design and development of alt ctrl, or alternative controller, games and experiences. I've been a creative technologist as long as I can remember and have a deep love for narrative and world building. My current professional work includes narrative design, technical producing, alt ctrl prototyping, and my current contract is doing escape room design and implementation.

Do tell us about your Choosatron.
The Choosatron journey started nearly eight years ago. I was working at an agency leading a mobile development team and doing research and development on a few of the special projects that came through our doors. One was a huge installation for the Cosmo Casino in Las Vegas where we (the agency I worked at) designed and implemented the software managing the install (syncing simulations across 384 hi-def monitors). One day during a call with the content team (a separate agency), I asked them how they go about prototyping their physical + electronic installations. They told me about Arduino, the hobbyist microcontroller, which I had heard of but never got around to trying. A week later a package arrived from them, a brand new Arduino as a gift!

I'm a fairly methodical person when I start something new, so I went online to Adafruit and Sparkfun and read through their respective catalogues of parts, one by one. I made notes of parts that I thought were interesting to revisit, but it was the thermal printer that really grabbed me. When I ran across the coin acceptor it all clicked. I stopped and said aloud to noone, "I want to make an interactive fiction arcade machine!". A month later, I had! It was built into the cardboard box from some Amazon order and stopped working every time I moved it, but it worked. I was invited to bring it to a local literary event so I built a second one that was more likely to survive. This continued until more and more folks were nudging me to do a kickstarter for it. Fast forward a few years and I had raised $75,080 USD, manufactured about 600 units, and shipped them all over the world. I won't lie, it was an extremely stressful experience and not entirely successful. I never managed to finish and ship the interactive fiction book that was part of the kickstarter, and the authoring software never got to where it was supposed to me. I had a lot of help, but ultimately it was a one person team and that is not how to run a kickstarter or a company.

I delivered as best I could, burnt myself out, and moved on to designing many more alternative controller games and I found a new career direction for myself. I needed space from the Choosatron project but I continued selling units over the years to museums and other customers. About a year ago I finished doing an MFA and teaching at a university and so for the first time in years started revisiting the Choosatron. Microcontroller designs have made some huge leaps in just a few years, not to mention lowered in cost. That combined with everything I've learned in the meantime gives me a lot of confidence that I could accomplish what I had hoped to back in 2013. So I'm working on new designs and tools in the direction of Choosatron but I'm also not going to rush myself.

What's the most interesting response you've had from kids?
They love touching the Choosatron; pressing buttons, handling the growing length of paper, the tactile nature of it all. I think the most interesting was how kids would take their completed stories and compare the lengths, implicitly valuing longer stories over shorter ones. I think that is fascinating and wonderful because what they are saying is, the journey, not the destination, is what's most important.

Why did you decide to work with interactive fiction?
I loved interactive fiction as a kid and read dozens of those kinds of books over and over. Plenty were the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure brand but there were many others. Though even as a kid, I felt like the writing was subpar. I was reading the likes of Tolkein and Douglas Adams at quite a young age so the quality of sci-fi, adventure, and fantasy I was hungry for was high. As an adult I realized I didn't really know of much interactive fiction written for adults, or at least, written with deep care for the narrative and choices being made. I wanted to see if I could change that.

What does it take to write a cool piece of interactive fiction? In under 30 words.
ADHD? I kid, but I think it is one reason I'm able to write it rather quickly. Ok real answer: Recognize the agency of your reader; don't abuse the reader or play tricks on them without a payoff. Craft the story with them, for them, not just at them. Write.

How will interactive fiction authoring skills be useful for kids in the future?
I think it's useful for anyone that gets into a field involving design; that is, creation of an experience for other people. It's great practice in the ability to craft an experience that is inclusive of the user / player / reader, paying attention to their role in what is unfolding. Thinking about the audience as a vital component to design I believe also helps creators develop more empathy toward their audience. I think we need more of that in the world, everywhere, and always.

What's next for you?
As a way to dip my toes back into the Choosatron waters, I've been finishing up a Choosatron story player for the Playdate, a strange and wonderful new handheld game system by Panic. I was lucky enough to get a device early so I could develop for it and it has been a joy. My plan for it is two phases really... First, finish a parser for Choosatron stories as they currently exist (a custom binary format I designed so IF (interactive fiction) stories can be played on very restricted memory systems) which I have already completed. Second, reevaluate the current state of IF writing tools and design a new format that properly bridges the gap between authoring tools and interesting platforms to play the resulting games, such as a new Choosatron or the Playdate. The screen on the Playdate is incredibly sharp and easy to read (it is in fact a SHARP Memory Display, a screen type I've enjoyed prototyping previous to the Playdate). I'm hoping to collaborate with Panic even further to create a strong presence for IF on their platform!


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Don Bosco's Gamebook Academy
Read all posts here

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


I recently created a video talk for the Singapore Writers Festival, and it went live earlier this week. Maybe you watched that and decided to come by. In which case, a very warm welcome to my website! But if you haven't seen the video, here it is:

VIDEO: Where Ideas Come From with Don Bosco
Calling all budding writers! Get inspired with unusual ways to write original stories with author Don Bosco! Join him as he shares the writing process using examples from his published books. Download fun writing activities after watching the video and let your creative juices flow to write your own stories.

Remember to download the free handout that comes with this. It contains story writing tips and a few easy exercises for creating your own stories. This is the same technique that I use when writing my books. Let me know if it works for you too. Get the handout here.

The handout also includes a free story, Murtabak's Mystery Club, about a young detective named Murtabak Lee. It was illustrated by my younger son. Hope it makes you laugh!

Recently I've been busy making gamebooks. A gamebook is a story where you get to choose what happens along the way, so it's like you're playing a game. 

This is my The Secret of the Chatter Blocks gamebook, part of the Toy Mystery series, for readers 7 to 9 years old. More info here.

And this is my Welcome to the Scramble gamebook, part of the Last Kid Running series, for readers 10 to 12 years old. Book launch event photos here.

I've also started a Gamebook Academy to teach you how to make your own gamebooks! Check out the free lessons here, and have a go. It's a lot of fun!

To find out more about me and my books, start here, and then explore the different sections in the sidebar on the right.

Last year I celebrated 8 years of Super Cool Books by featuring 52 fellow kidlit creators. They were really awesome. Read their interviews here.

All this should keep you busy for a while! Thanks for dropping by, and I look forward to meeting you at one of my events.

Take care, and happy writing!

— Don