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
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