Ah, my own Legacy of the Zendari. I was so proud of it when I had completed it, and it did serve me well. But I think it also has some weaknesses that I didn't completely realize when I had just finished it.
It may seem strange to review my own gamebook, but I think there is some merit. Objectivity? Throw that out the window--not happening. But as the author, I can also offer a unique insight into the thinking behind it, as well as share with you the conclusions I've drawn regarding the story in the time since I completed it, watching it go through the competition, win a Merit Award, and get ripped apart in feedback by several of the other talented authors in our little community.
The thing that stands out most starkly to me about this is that it has a bit of a "young adult" vibe, especially compared to some of my other works. This was actually to a certain extent intentional--my friend's 12 year old son read a bunch of my gamebooks, and The Grimlock's Cave was among his favorites. I took this as being a sign that that kind of clear, straightforward, and lighthearted adventure had a lot of merit, and so I attempted to go back to that style to a certain extent with Legacy of the Zendari. Without consider the fact that he was, in fact, a 12 year old boy, and so it is to some extent unsurprising that he would love the most "young adult" of my works.
What this means for me, now, is that I feel to a certain extent unsatisfied. I find myself, now, looking at post-apocalyptic settings in fiction or movies and thinking, "ooh! I should do a gamebook in a post-apocalyptic setting!" and then realizing, "wait... I just did that!"
But it doesn't feel like it. What I love about the post-apocalyptic setting is the gritty gravitas that it can have. The dark, heavy despair of everything being gone. And LotZ does not really do more than hint at that. Sure, it's mentioned a few times that there was all this damage, but at the end of the day it reads more like a kid's adventure story than like an adult's post-apocalypse story.
Now, theoretically, this could be good, if my desired audience is in fact 12 year old boys. (I haven't gotten the chance to show this yet to my friend's son--I'm looking forward to finding out what he thinks.) But if I want a piece with a little more depth, this may not be it.
That's not to say it doesn't have it's kind of depth. I did go out of my way to show life surviving, to show the little pieces of the world still moving, when and how they can. To show love and fighting and living still continuing. But it was all a little bit 2 dimensional. Even the big moral dilemma at the end; I'm happy with it for what it is, but it's just a little bit 2 dimensional.
(This is making me wonder, now, about the possibility of including a small short along with the gamebook in the TMG publication of it, something to capture a more "adult" or, hopefully, 3-dimensional view of this leftover world.)
Some of the feedback I got from others was that it had several cliche elements. Like the Colonel. And of course the mecha and aliens themselves are wholly unoriginal. I blatantly mimicked some of the "giant robot" anime of the 80's, Robotech in particular.
I also got feedback that the prose seemed occasionally "weak or rushed." This may go hand in hand with the writing containing a few too many cliche's. I'm not sure, but if anybody has any specific feedback on section numbers that seemed weak, cliched or rushed, I would love to get particulars to get more insight on where I can improve.
There are also questions I have for the group: Was the time mechanic successful? My intent was to use that to ratchet up tension to build intensity toward the end. Was it rewarding, or just frustrating? Or did it simply not matter, as you finished well within the limit anyway?
Did you enjoy the moral dilamma--such as it was--at the end? Some people (SJ I'm looking at you) did not enjoy it at all, describing it as a mass of cliches and melodrama. Other people I think did like it. What made the difference, and how could it be improved?
I was disappointed to find that no one found the "perfect" ending that allows you to end with all 12 medals of achievement. At least one reviewer declared it was impossible. I'm confused, because I would swear I did it myself without cheating! Of course, it's always easier for the creator of a game to do well at it because you know all the ins and outs... this is apparently a lesson for me to, if I want to include challenges like that, perhaps make them a little bit easier?
I also got mixed reviews on the combat system. Some people liked that it was very simple, others found it simplistic to the point of being ludicrous. At least one person said he really liked being able to choose which part of your mecha takes the damage. This made him vividly imagine moving the mecha to use some body part to protect other body parts. More than one person did not like (at least one of them vehemently) the snowballing effect of taking damage to your combat stats. If you're winning, it's easier to continue winning. If you're losing, it's easier to keep losing. I can definitely see the disadvantages of that.
A good combat system in a gamebook is still something I'm searching for. It seems that being able to choose where you take damage was rewarding, but becoming less combat-effective as you lose battles was not loved at all. Choices in combat are ultimately what makes it interesting. The question is, how to give players those choices? We had a lot of experimentation with that in a lot of the Windhammer entries this year: Swordplayer, Trial of the Battle God, and Ravages of Fate all come to mind immediately. Some of that experimentation is more successful than others, but it's all worthwhile. This year's competition has definitely given me a lot of food for thought in designing my next gamebook combat system.
The other facet of Legacy of the Zendari that got very mixed reviews was the Random Encounters along the way. Most people hated them; a few people loved them. I'll *probably* skip it next time? Consensus seemed to be that it wasted valuable time that could have been spent on furthering the story line. I would be very interested in hearing more thoughts on this topic. If you haven't told me already, please feel free to comment to share what you think of the random encounters?
Of course, it's also never going to be possible to please everyone. Better to pick a style and try to do that style as well as you can. People who don't like that style won't like it, but if the people who do like that style love it, then you've done your job well.
I'm still trying to put my finger on what exactly makes Legacy of the Zendari feel a little bit... immature. Any individual piece I look at, I like, but something about the whole is bugging me. Earlier I described it as being "young adult" in nature, but even young adult books can deal with very heavy themes and issues successfully. Here, something just seems missing, and I can't put my finger on what exactly.
Regardless, I must have done a pretty good job, because it was voted up there with Zachary Carengo's vividly descriptive Final Payment, and Marty Runyon's excellent Academy of Magic, both of which I loved. I attribute this to Legacy of the Zendari being, despite flaws, a very polished piece of work, with a clear, evocative setting, passable characters and dialogue, a clear goal and hook to rope the player in, and tension that builds over the course of the story. It's not perfect, but it must be the best I've done yet to have won an award in this crowd.
Thank you guys!
For anyone who feels inspired to comment, here are some questions for you:
* What did you love most about Legacy of the Zendari?
* What would you like to see different in a revised version of it?
* Are there any mechanics you would cut, change or add?
* Did you find the random encounters rewarding?
* And last but not least, what would you like to see more of from me in future gamebooks and other written works?
Stay tuned to see Legacy of the Zendari (complete with Anthony's beautiful artwork) coming out through Tin Man Games along with the other Windhammer award winners for 2012!
And once again, despite my occasionally vitriolic responses, everyone here did a great job, and I'm proud to have competed against each and every one of you!