Friday, August 24, 2012

Slacked off this week...

Hi guys, this week turned out to be a wash as far as keeping up with the blog. Sorry! I'll try to get back on top of it next week. Stay tuned :)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Wayne Densley: Chronicler of Arborell

Continuing with my next community highlight, this week I'd like to tip my hat to Wayne Densley, creator of the world of Arborell, along with accompanying fiction, gamebooks and materials, and host to the yearly Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction.

The Windhammer Prize has been a rallying point for the community since it's inception in 2008. I personally have entered twice, and won merit awards both times. I had always wanted to write gamebooks, but it was the Windhammer Prize which inspired me to actually get up off my rear end and do it. I have another horse in the race this year, and I encourage anyone out there who's like me and thinks about it, but hasn't actually done it yet, to join in and try your hand at writing a short gamebook too!

Wayne Densley is also the talented author of a truly sweeping series of fantasy gamebooks and novellas set in his original world of Arborell. I've read through all the ones that are currently available, and wish there were more. If you want to check out his stuff, I recommend starting with...

Windhammer, his first core novel-length gamebook. This is book one in the Windhammer series, telling of the Dwarvendim thief, Halokim Vesh, pulled from his cell in the moments before his execution to undertake a dangerous quest for powers he neither likes nor trusts.

Shards of Moonlight, a shorter adventure telling the story of a young hero's rite of passage, a difficult test that sends him into the ancient lands of his people. This is part 1 of the Jotun of the West series, which is a companion series to Earth and Stone, Book 2 of the core series. (See the chart.)

A Murder of Crows, second in the Jotun of the West series, tells of the hero from Shards of Moonlight as he sees his own father take the final steps into the next life.

The entire world of Arborell is lovingly built and detailed with Tolkein-esque precision and depth. There are myths, maps, novels, novellas, charts, language primers, glossaries, and more. I prefer to access it all through the Online Portal, where you can see what all is available online with a brief description of what it is. Go explore, and enjoy the fruits of Wayne Densley's rich imagination!

Last but not least, I'd like to mention again the Windhammer Prize. We really have Wayne to thank for this one. Over the last four years, some of the most innovative, fresh and exciting gamebooks published anywhere have appeared on as entries in the Windhammer Prize. It's been as good for the genre as anything else happening recently, giving the community something to rally around. I can't recommend strongly enough going to the Gamebook Archive to check out some of the excellent stories new writers have submitted.

Furthermore, submissions are currently open. Go check it out! If you're feeling adventurous, submit something of your own, or just keep an eye out for all the new gamebooks which will be published live on the 14th of September.

This year, there is an extra, special prize for the three winners: Tin Man Games has agreed to publish the winning entries in a compilation volume! If that's not awesome, I don't know what is.

Wayne, thanks again for bringing us all this great stuff. You are a pillar of the community. Good luck to everyone who is participating in the Windhammer Prize this year!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lone Wolf Book 2 - Episode 7

To catch up on the story so far, see Book One or prior episodes of Book Two: 123456.

"FIRE!" you cry, with all your might, and the ship bursts into activity. Sailors boil from their posts or cabins, carrying buckets of water and wetting large pieces of canvas to put out the fire. You help another man lift the trapdoor to the hold, and smoke surges from the opening, forcing you to fall back, coughing.

By the time you contain the blaze, the sun is noticeably higher in the sky, and all of the ship's food and fresh water has been destroyed. The captain emerges from the smoking hull, soot on his face, and says in a grim voice, "We must talk."

You follow him to his cabin, noticing that he carries a bundle beneath his arm.

Once you're inside the cabin, he makes sure to latch the door securely, then dumps the bundle out on his desk. A cracked earthenware jug and several blackened rag fall to his desk in a tumble of soot and char. The whole arrangement gives of a strange, oily smell.

‘This was no accidental fire,’ he says solemnly. ‘This was an act of sabotage. The forward hold is a food store yet I find this oil jug and these soaked rags upon the floor. Someone on this ship is prepared to risk his life to stop us reaching Durenor.’

You stare at each other across the evidence for a long moment, and then a cry goes up from outside, "Ship! Ship's ahoy!"

The captain rushes outside...

If you wish to follow him, turn to 175.

If you would rather make a quick search of his cabin, turn to 315.

[Treachery! Raise your hand if you're surprised. Anyone? Anyone at all? Save Point: 222]

Friday, August 10, 2012

Highlight: Stuart Lloyd, Master of Gamebooks

Hi All,

So I've been thinking about what I'd like to do with this blog, and I've decided that one of the things I'd like to do is use this space to highlight other people in the space that have come to my attention, either through being remarkable contributors to the genre or just through being awesome people.

It's my pleasure to say that Stuart Lloyd is a bit of both. As one of the most active members of the gamebook community online, he is an avid enthusiast and a talented writer himself, being winner of the 2010 Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction with his excellent adventure, Sharkbait's Revenge.

Stuart is currently working on several other projects, including a full-length gamebook, an entry for the 2012 Windhammer Prize, his weekly, "Gamebooks Update" newsletter, and a new, original RPG called Adventurer designed for supporting solo-adventures. As I've had the same idea myself a number of times, I personally, can't wait to see it :)

Stuart's blog,, is also one of the best places to keep up on current activity in the Gamebook scene. He frequently posts about newcomers, new publications coming out, and new blogs showing up, along with reviews and articles about gamebooks, making his blog effectively a one-stop-shop for keeping up with everything gamebook.

To boot, he's an awesome, friendly dude. Say hi; no one on the internet will be nicer.

Stay tuned next week for a highlight of the Windhammer Prize and its architect, Wayne Densley, along with a look at Wayne's epic, ongoing gamebook series set in the original world of Arborell, a world of dark, sweeping fantasy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lone Wolf Book 2 - Episode 6

To catch up on the story so far, see Book One or prior episodes of Book Two: 12345

The sky darkens as the horde of dark creatures descends upon the Green Sceptre. Kraan slam into the mast and rigging, setting the ship to rocking. A Zlanbeast lets out a trumpeting roar, and drops a net full of Giaks onto the deck of the ship!


Some of the Giaks are crushed in the fall, but many others fight their way free of the tangle of ropes and limbs and emerge, weapons bared, slashing at nearby sailors.

Bravely, you leap forward to engage the Giaks single-handedly!

[Roll: 2, we lose 3 hp, they lose 8] You slash ferociously at the crowd, felling a Giak with every swing, but the little monsters fall in, surrounding you, and several of their blades bite you from behind.

[Roll: 3, we lose 2 hp, they lose 9, killing them.] You dodge and weave, taking only a few more scratches before you are able to lop of the head of the last of them. You stand panting and clean your blade, looking around the deck for your next foe.

Kraan rend the sails with their claws and teeth, their batlike wings beating a storm around the ship. Giaks swarm over every inch of the deck, but the sailors have mounted a defense now and fight back, huddled in clusters.

A tremendous roar catches your attention, and you look up to see a fierce Drakkar charging one of the knots of sailors! Those men are already pushed to their limit by the Giaks, if the Drakkar gets to them, it could spell doom for your allies!

You leap forward and dive into a roll, coming up running to intercept the Drakkar with a cut to the leg. It dodges with surprising nimbleness and whirls on you, it's breath stunning you with the noxious stench while its  huge, notched blade whistles by your head. You must fight!

[Roll: 10! At our combat skill, that barely makes it to instant kill!] Siezing the moment without delay, you step up under the Drakkar's guard and sink your blade to the hilt in the man-thing's belly, slicing up, under the ribcage, to pierce its heart. The Drakkar coughs blood, and dies.

You kick the slumped form off your blade and look up to see the Giaks all staring at you, fear in their eyes. You smile malevolently, and the little beasts fall back, emitting shrieks of terror.

Captain Kelman, siezing the advantage, calls to rally his men and they charge the Giaks! You join the battle, and the Giaks die by the score. Those who do not die, leap into the ocean to avoid their fate. The day is won!

‘Our thanks, Kai Lord,’ the captain says and shakes your hand. ‘We are proud and thankful to have you with us.’

A cheer resounds along the deck as the crew voice their praise.

Though it takes most of the day to clean the deck of the signs of combat, Captain Kelman swiftly brings down the damaged sails and replaces them with fresh ones, allowing you to continue your journey without delay.

Several days of travelling pass without event, allowing you to fully heal from the wounds you received in the battle. However, on the fourth day you exit your cabin to a strange sensation--sniffing, you identify the smell of smoke!

You rush to follow the smell, and find smoke pouring out through the cracks in the door to the ship's hold!


If you wish to enter the hold, turn to 29.
If you wish to shout ‘Fire!’ turn to 236.
If you wish to warn the captain, turn to 101.

[Save Point: 240.]

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lone Wolf Book 2 - Episode 5

For the story so far, see Book One or prior episodes of Book Two: 123, 4.

Clear weather and good winds bless your departure from Holmgard. The Green Sceptre slides through the waves like steel on silk, catching a full wind that zips her ahead. You get your first good nights sleep in what feels like months, since before the raid on your monastery.

The next morning, you come out on deck to the smell of the sea and the sound of seagulls cawing above you. The wind is brisk, and seems to wash away your worries. You treasure the moment, knowing that it is not likely to last.

Captain Kelman joins you on deck and says, "If this weather holds, we'll be to Port Bax within a week."

You smile, and congratulate the captain on his good sailing. After a few more moments, he points out a rocky point up ahead says, "See that there? That's Wreck Point. It's the southernmost tip of the Kirlundin chain. That isle's Mannon. Made of rocks, it is, and deceptive to many a sailor. Here, have a look."

He passes you his brass telescope, and you focus on in the rocky point ahead. The shattered hulls of more than a dozen trading ships litter the rocky point like great skeletons. A shiver runs down your spine at this chilling reminder of how fragile you all are, at the mercy of the open ocean.

"Is there any danger for us?" you ask, passing the telescope back. The captain looks up, shading his eyes against the blue skies, and replies, "Danger? Always. But on this trip, I think there will be no trouble. This sea helps us along, and the winds are right."

Following his gaze into the sky, you see a storm cloud gathering in the distance. You point it out, saying, "What about that storm?"

The captain looks where you point, and his face darkens. He whips out his telescope and looks at the cloud, which seems to be growing darker by the minute. Then he spits a curse and folds up the glass.

"What is it?" you ask.

"That's no cloud, Lone Wolf. Those are the armies of the Darklord. They're coming for us."

The Captain goes off, shouting orders to his men to prepare for battle, while you take the telescope and look for yourself. Sure enough, you see a swarm of Kraan and Zlaanbeast, large enough to darken the skies.

The alarm is shouted along the deck: ‘Prepare for battle!’

If you wish to stay on deck, ready your weapon and turn to 146.

If you wish to return to your cabin, turn to 34.

[What is your will? Save point: 224.]

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Game Design Principles

I've been working on a game-design related project recently, and so I've been thinking about what core principles are important to keep in mind in designing any game.

1) Don't annoy the player

Many people would put something else in the #1 slot, but I'm really of the opinion that if you annoy the player, nothing else matters. They won't play your game, no matter what awesome x, y or z it has.

Things that annoy players
--> Having stuff they've earned taken away from them.
--> Dying arbitrarily
--> Ever being forced to replay through content they've already played. (ie. dying and losing a lot of progress.)

You get the idea. I'm sure you can add in your own pet peeve here.

2) Mechanics. Mechanics. Mechanics.

Story is great and all, but if they just want a story, they'll read a book. Once a player cuts through the fluff, it's the mechanics that will keep them hooked or chase them away. Good game mechanics challenge the player, force them to think, react, and choose. Good game mechanics teach a skill, and then test them on that skill. (School really should be more fun. People love doing this shit.)

3) Create interesting choices

Interesting choices are ones in which the player doesn't know the correct response, but has enough information to make an educated guess. The results of the choice should make sense in hindsight. Sometimes there isn't one right answer, but the better answer depends on your specific situation and goals. There's often an advantage, and a cost, to each choice, which makes you weigh your options and your strategy, and players like doing that.

4) Deliver meaningful challenges

Meaningful challenges essentially ones which are balanced to the player's skill level. There's a lot that goes into that, but that's essentially what it comes down to.

As we discussed above, a game essentially teaches a skill, then tests that skill. This skill may rely on logic, or reflexes, or both. (Racing games teach you when to swerve and gun it or brake. Fighting games teach you to use button combos. RTS's teach you a high level of game-specific strategy, and also just to click really fast.)

At the end of the day, whatever the skill is that the player is being taught and tested on, the Most Important Thing is that each test be just the right level to challenge a player, forcing them to learn and get a bit better in order to pass it, but not so beyond their current skill level that they can't do it.

That's essentially good game design. Teach a skill, test the skill. Test it harder. When they pass it, now harder. Okay, now even more difficult.


5) Last, but not least, build your game for a story

Basically, generic games aren't as interesting. At the end of the day, most games are a complicated way for adults to trick themselves into playing "Let's pretend" like they did when they were five. I mean, this isn't strictly required--there are many excellent games with weak stories, and many weak games with excellent stories--but the very best games bring the two together in a way that takes the player to a mystical land of wonder and beauty.

To reach this magical place, you need three things:
A) A compelling story with a strong mood, theme, and pitch.
B) Excellent game mechanics (see above.)
C) The secret ingredient: without sacrificing either of the above, use the mechanics to help tell the story.

If you can do this, and if you're very lucky, then for a minute or two you can make the player feel like they're really there.

At the end of the day, that's what it's all about.