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 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
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