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

Please introduce yourself.
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.

What was your first experience with gamebooks?
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.

How did you start writing gamebooks?
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.

Describe your own gamebook creation process. 
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.

Give us an overview of your gamebook collection.
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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