Monday, October 28, 2013

Windhammer Competition Almost Over

Hello all, the Windhammer competition this year is almost over! My feelings around this are very bittersweet this year, as on the one hand, it makes me sad to not have my name in the pool, but on the other, there's some incredible entries. I've really enjoyed reading all of them.

On the plus side, I'm really happy with how some of my projects are shaping up. I'm depressed at how long it's taking to cook, but I think it'll be worth it once I'm done. More on that in a future post :)

While reading through the Windhammer gamebooks, I've also been working on reviews. This year, I'll be rating each gamebook in five categories as described below. If you submitted an entry, keep an eye out for my reviews after the results are published on the 7th of November.

If not, (either way actually) make sure to get your entries in before the end of the month! As a reminder, to vote you must send your top 3 choices to on or before Oct 30. If you vote late, it will not count. If you only send your top 1 or 2 favorites, it will not count. Read them all and submit your top THREE favorites.

Here's the five criteria I'll be using this year for my rating system. Each criteria is worth 5 points, for a total of up to 25 points maximum. I think the highest anyone got last year was 24 (if I remember correctly) and that was for S.J. Bell's wonderful "The Evil Eye." [Edit: Upon checking the records, it looks like I didn't end up doing the numeric reviews last year, because I didn't have time to do it for all of them. But Evil Eye would have gotten 24!]

Ashton's Kickass Gamebook Review System

Opening: This is just a quick response to the initial 3 minutes with the book. Does the opening clearly convey the concept? Does it hook the reader? Does it accurately portray the rest of the book? Is it exciting, colorful or intriguing? In essence, does it make me want to read more?

Flow: All game mechanics fall under this category, most importantly the author's use of player choice to drive the narrative. I consider game mechanics beyond that to be of secondary importance, but they will be noted here if they are outstanding, either in being very additive or very disruptive.

Writing: I'd love to say that it's the story that really matters, but the truth is, half of the story is in the telling. This category covers authorial voice, the use of language to convey mood, the choice of what to include and what to leave out, other writing tricks and techniques, such as foreshadowing and the choice of perspective and tense, and last but not least, the fundamental mechanics of writing.

Story: What's it all about if not to tell a good yarn, eh? This category attempts to look past any flaws (or successes!) in the writing and game categories to the underlying ideas behind the entire thing. Do the characters feel realistic and interesting? Is the setting compelling? How's the plot? Do the events address the theme in a meaningful way? If there's an invigorating twist at the end, it will be acknowledged here.

Secret Sauce: A lot of times there's some special ingredient that just can't be categorized easily. Those things get acknowledged here. Beyond that, this criterion attempts to look past the specifics of the other four categories to look at the piece as a whole. Technique and rigor aside, how does it leave me feeling at the end?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Interview with David Walters about Way of the Tiger

This week, I am pleased to bring you an interview with the esteemed David Walters, author of the Samurai's Apprentice series, as well as several other novels, including the fantasy novel City of Masks, set in an intriguing fantasy universe. He is now working on the Way of the Tiger re-release, which, if you are as eager to see as I am, you can support by visiting the Kickstarter page to claim your copy now.

I think you'll enjoy this interview as much as I did. David had some great insights to share with us!

Thanks for joining us today, David. I've heard a lot about the upcoming Way of the Tiger gamebooks (and the accompanying Kickstarter--congratulations by the way!) There's a lot of excitement about these books, so I'm really glad to have the chance to ask you a few questions.

First, I understand that books 1-6 are being re-released. I understand that's all that were created in the first place, is that correct?

Yes, there were six books released back in the 1980s that formed the Way of the Tiger series. More books were released that were set on Orb, but not as part of that particular ninja series.

Was there a plan, originally, to release more of them? I know with the Fabled Lands series, it was originally supposed to be 12 books, but only six were ever created. Is the same true of Way of the Tiger?

Yes, there were originally supposed to be more Way of the Tiger books in the series, but it didn't happen in the end. That is really for Mark Smith to cover, i have been sworn to secrecy or the ninja will come for me. Mark and Jamie did have a longer term vision for the main character Avenger.

This may be covering old ground, but what would you say sets Way of the Tiger apart, compared to other fantasy gamebooks?

Firstly the setting of Orb is richly detailed. The gods and the cities are very intricate and interesting, and it all feels real.

Secondly, you get to play as a ninja. Not only is this a fun character type to play, but you get to feel like you are a powerful character right from the outset, which is unusual. Grunt level enemies can simply be felled, and even powerful ones can be garrotted when their back is turned...

Thirdly, there were some wonderful characters in the series, really fleshed out from years of Mark's role playing game sessions. Fans to this day still talk about Foxglove, and characters such as Tyutchev who goes all the way back to Talisman of Death and appears in Way of the Tiger.

Finally the gamebook rules are wonderfully slick: simple but with depth. For example the combat felt like a martial arts fight: you can choose which martial arts move to use, whether you add your 'chi' inner force for extra damage, and also you can try to block counterattacks on you.

I understand Way of the Tiger is set in the world of Orb, the same world that the old book Talisman of Death was set in. Full disclosure: I LOVED Talisman of Death as a kid; that's basically the book that ignited my passion for gamebooks. Will there be any tie in to Talisman of Death, or are they in completely different parts of the world?

Talisman of Death was my first ever gamebook (same for others I know too), and it was set in the same world as Way of the Tiger. The Way of the Tiger series did not go to the city of Greyguilds like Talisman of Death, but you could interact with the same gods, classes and characters in both. For example you fight a monk of the Scarlet Mantis in Talisman of Death, and the same sect of monks play a key role in Way of the Tiger. Tyutchev, Cassandra and Thaum are in both series as well.

You'll just have to wait and see if book 7 of Way of the Tiger goes to Greyguilds.

Are there any other books set in the world of Orb that we should know about?

The Duelmaster series was set there, plus Coils of Hate and Falcon book 4. Orb is a big, detailed world and has hosted many gamebooks by the original authors. By supporting the Way of the Tiger series you may be able to convince the original authors it is worth re-releasing those, if not expanding them.

How much have you, as a contributing author, had a chance to further develop the world of Orb? Are you creating new material within that world, or was it already pretty well fleshed out before you got there?

I have set the prequel on the Island of Plenty on Orb, which is an island with a strong Japanese theme. This was visited by Avenger in the series before, but only in passing, so I have been able to really flesh it out from what we already knew and Mark's notes. You will be able to journey across the whole island in quite some detail, and on repeated play through can visit every city on the island.

Like the other books in the series, there is a strong story at the heart of the book, and because this is a prequel you can get to know (and interact with) old and new characters a lot more.

What would you say you love most about the world of Orb? Why should we go there?

There are lots of reasons, but as a fan and a writer I'm going to say the characters. There are some fabulous personalities there, and they really drive the story and make the world a more interesting place. These characters came out of thousands if hours of role playing in that world.

The gods are wonderfully complex too, and how the beliefs of the characters affect them is interesting and believable to me.

I understand Way of the Tiger has a very Far Eastern flavor, which is your specialty, as the author of the Samurai's Apprentice series. How does this series differ from your own works in Samurai's Apprentice? How is it similar?

My samurai work is based on the real world Edo period Japan. For Way of the Tiger I was able to bring all of the mythological elements to bear on the work that I could not use in the real world setting. The Japanese psyche has created some truly horrific monsters in their legends, and I've been able to tap into that for the Way of the Tiger prequel book, to use all that mythology I have come across in my research.

The similarity is you need to have a strong, interesting story, with complex characters and fast paced action. Although in the case of a gamebook you need to have multiple stories, and I've been able to see interesting facts and references in all kinds of areas, even the dead ends...

I've heard murmurings of a Way of the Tiger roleplaying game to be released as well, in addition to the gamebooks. Is that still in the works? Any updates?

The RPG is very much alive and progressing, hopefully out next year. I've written two adventures for it, and others in the team have been expanding the gods section and other areas from Mark's notes. For the RPG we have a whole history and geography for the Island of Plenty, which I was able to use for the prequel book. As well as the prequel being part of the gamebook series, it also links to the separate RPG adventures I wrote, so it forms a seamless whole. It all builds to the civil war we see in book 2 of the Way of the Tiger, and I give signs and portents all the way, and can show through different stories how it all builds to culminate at that point.

Anyone wanting more background on the setting of the prequel should consider the RPG as it will have all the source material in it.

If the Way of the Tiger RPG is happening, what would you say sets apart the Way of the Tiger RPG from other popular fantasy RPGs on the market today?

It has had Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson role playing in that world for 35+ years, building and refining the history and characters of the place. It also has a dozen or so quality gamebooks out there as source material, which are adored by fans to this day.

Finally, can you clarify exactly what your role is as a contributing author with the Way of the Tiger books? I understand you're involved with both the prequel and book 7, but I've heard different things about how much you'll be writing of each of these.

The prequel is written solely by me, under the strict supervision of Mark and Jamie. Book 7 is being co authored by all three of us. I'm equally excited about both!

Any word of whether there will be additional books beyond 7, and whether you may be involved in those?

The Kickstarter is clear in the stretch goals that the higher we reach the more able we are to look at producing more books. Jamie is an award winning author with his Dark Lord series, and Mark is the director of his own company, so they have to be sure that the demand is there first before they commit to more books in the series as their time really is at a premium.

As for me, I'd love to do at least one more Way of the Tiger gamebook. I do have an interesting idea for book 8... I have a lot of projects on though, and am in the fortunate position of turning work away, so we'll see how it goes.

I'm delighted to see that the Kickstarter has met it's core funding goal and is working on stretch goals. What's your favorite stretch goal of the ones still upcoming? What do you really hope we'll get to?

As a minimum I'd like to see us hit $35,000 so we can get the stretch goal of a map of Irsmuncast by famous fantasy author Leo Hartas. Irsmuncast is a highly political city full of intrigue and religious schism, so I'd love to see it get the beautiful map it deserves. In book 4 of Way of the Tiger you get to run the city, something of a first for a gamebook, really groundbreaking stuff for its day.

At higher pledge levels, there are even greater things to unlock.

For readers who haven't come across your works before, but would like to check out what else you've done, where would you suggest they start?

I'd recommend they give Samurai's Apprentice a go and see if you like it. It is a relatively quick read and it is available on Amazon for little over a dollar. There are plenty more books in that series if you do want more.

My other books cater to different settings, but all with a far eastern theme. City of Masks is set on a fantasy world, whereas Dragonwarrior: Tao of Shadow is set in the modern world and ancient China.

What do you have coming up next, after Way of the Tiger? Anything exciting we should be looking forward to?

I've completed the prequel, so there is Way of the Tiger book 7 and the role playing game.

I'm producing an exclusive print run of Samurai's Apprentice which will be illustrated, with a foreword and a new chapter. Look for this pre-Christmas.

I'm also writing Samurai's Apprentice 5 at the moment, likely due next year now.

Anything else you want to share with our readers?

It is nice to be important, but more important to be nice.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Gamebooks World in Six Months

I've been mostly offline for a while now, so today I'm doing a quick look at what I've missed over the last six months or so. Edit: After compiling this list, I'm almost a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of awesome new stuff available for gamebook fans today. I'm pretty sure three years ago, we had no where near this selection! Enjoy :)

Fabled Lands LLP

The guys over at Fabled Lands did some great gamebooks back in the day, and many of those are being re-released. Here's some descriptions, often using the author's own words as portrayed in this blog post.

Heart of Ice is an apocalyptic road tale with "operatic sweep and pragmatically amoral heroes."
Down among the Dead Men "is an adventure with pirates, magic and the undead."
Necklace of Skulls takes readers through a Pre-Columbian underworld of dream-logic, set against a historical backdrop of the fall of Teotihuacan.
Once Upon a Time in Arabia is "a whirlwind of encounters with a 1001 Nights flavor."

Fabled Lands along with Megara Entertainment

The Way of the Tiger Kickstarter is a current project! The guys at Fabled Lands are collaborating with the elegant Megara Entertainment team and renowned ninjophile author David Walters to re-release all six of the original Way of the Tiger gamebooks, set in the oriental-flavored world of Orb, along with a brand new prequel and an original book 7 written by David Walters. The kickstarter is taking off, so make sure to get over there to grab yourself some stretch goals before the time's up!

Megara Entertainment

Arcana Agency: The Thief of Memories was in progress last I checked in. According to their website, it is now available for 35 Euros, including shipping worldwide. This is supposed to be a beautiful gamebook... I may go grab a copy myself.

Tin Man Games

Tin Man Games has been remarkably prolific, with new releases coming out regularly in a variety of series' and genres. Here's just a few:

Fighting Fantasy: These three titles re-invigorate the old Fighting Fantasy series, bringing some old favorites and one brand new adventure (Blood of the Zombies) to a digital platform at last.
Blood of the Zombies
House of Hell
The Forest of Doom

Gamebook Adventures
GA 8: Curse of the Assassin: Gamebook Adventures 8 takes us back to Orlandes to continue Tin Man Games' acclaimed fantasy series.

Hex Boyfriends: A sequel in the same style as "Vampire Boyfriends," with humor and strange loves.
Trial of the Clone: The wildly successful first gamebook by SMBC author Zach Wienersmith, this comes with OPTIONAL VOICE NARRATION BY WIL WHEATON.
Forgotten Spell: An interactive fantasy set in the original world of Suidemor, with puzzles and magic. Looks very cool.
Judge Dredd: Countdown Sector 106
Les fils d'Uruzime: Apparently a lovecraftian horror in french. Who knew? Damn, I wish I spoke French.
La Bataille de la Drang: A gamebook about the Vietnam War, I think? It's in French. If you read French, please elaborate to me what this is about.

And those are only the ones available for Android! Like I said, Tin Man Games is making it happen.

Choice of Games

Choice of Games is another PROLIFIC producer of gamebook fiction. I won't list them all here because A) there's a lot, and B) I've had mixed satisfaction with the quality level of their works. But they're definitely worth checking out, and if you find some gems, please point me toward which ones I should read!

Among their roster you'll find works about superheros, vampires, ninjas, Renaissance Italy, Kung Fu, spaceships, aliens, ghosts, and lost mythology. Damn.

Other Goodies

There's so much else, I'll just name a few things here. If you want more, check out the very comprehensive news section of Fighting Fantazine (referenced below.)

To Be or Not To Be is apparently an interactive take on Shakespeare's Hamlet, by Ryan North. After a smashing success in the Kickstarter, it's now available on Amazon.

There's apparently a new movement of erotic gamebooks, which startles the innocent 12 year old inside of me who's still reading Fighting Fantasy books under the covers with a flashlight. But if you're interested, check out the author Amanda Clover on Amazon for a good start.

Fighting Fantazine has released its twelfth issue, including interviews with gamebook authors, news and updates, a couple articles on history and trivia of gamebooks, and one wholly original 206 page adventure, "Starhunt: Void Slavers" by Ian Brocklehurst, illustrated by Angela Salamaliki, all available absolutely free for just the trouble of clicking the link to download it.

Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction: As I've mentioned previously, the Windhammer competition is currently up and running, with 14 original gamebooks available for free. All you need to do to get involved is send an email to with your THREE favorites. Winners receive a cash prize, and publication with Tin Man Games!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Back from the dead?

Wow... sorry it's been so long without posting! Life has been pretty crazy. I've started grad school and, well, legends speak of those who go down that path. They are never heard from again...

Anyway, I'm writing because the Windhammer Prize is mid-stream, and if somehow you've been living under a rock and haven't noticed, you should absolutely head on over there to check it out. There's 14 brilliant works of short interactive fiction, and if you read them before Oct 30, you can vote on your favorites!

Go. Go now:

I've always enjoyed Windhammer because of the innovation it shows, and from what I've managed to glance at so far, this year is no exception. As my past blog posts show, I'm very interested in innovation in gamebooks, and I regret that I haven't taken the time to get more involved in some of the very cool discussions going on in the blogosphere this year about innovation in interactive fiction.

That said, I do hope that I'll be able to show some of my own ideas about innovation in interactive fiction in my own current works. More on that later.

Which leads me into a difficult explanation about a difficult decision...

As you have no doubt noticed, despite being a three-time Windhammer Merit Award winner, my name is not on the list of entrants. It wasn't easy for me to restrain myself from taking the time and energy to write up a new submission for this years contest, especially since I was bursting with ideas about what I could do. But at the end of the day, it just didn't make sense, for three reasons.

First, I feel like I've done my time. I've won a merit award the last three years running. If I were going to win first place, I would have done it by now. Winning another merit award would feel anticlimactic at this point. And if I didn't win at all, that would just be sad. At this point, it's time for me to step aside and make room for some of the other talented authors in this space.

Second, I've gotten what I needed to out of the contest. My successes in Windhammer have helped me get recognized by the community and landed me some truly incredible writing opportunities. What I needed from this contest was a leg up into the community, an opportunity to prove myself and gain some credibility. I've done that. Now, if I want to keep moving up, I have to follow through with the real-world writing opportunities that Windhammer has helped me get to.

Third, and possibly most important, now that I've been offered some incredible writing opportunities, I feel like I need to prioritize working on those. I'm working on two interactive novels and an android game, as well as some side projects of my own. All of these people are expecting me to produce, and though the time scales are flexible, I'm in grad school. I only have so much bandwidth to put toward this, and it's time for me to put my money where my mouth is and actually come out with some of this stuff. At this point, definitely more important to work toward completing professional projects rather than submitting yet another Windhammer entry, no matter how much I enjoy them.

On the plus side, I do feel very optimistic about the projects I'm working on. It's frustrating that they're moving more slowly than I would like, but now that the school year is in full swing, I'm definitely hitting my writing groove. Stay tuned.

I'm going to try and get this blog started regularly again, posting my thoughts about the Windhammer entries (once the voting is done!), more gamebook theory, and updates about interactive fiction products and authors, as well as information about my own works as they come along.

If you have anything you'd like me to post about, a project you're working on that you want to promote, or a recent release you'd like me to review, feel free to let me know!