Gamebook store

Monday, 19 April 2010

Shadow King

Having opened the Pandora's Box of material Jamie and Russ and I developed in our days at Eidos, I'm surprising myself with how much of it there is.

This is from Shadow King, which was originally conceived as a Max Payne-ish action-adventure game for the PC. A bullish Victorian adventurer travels in time and returns to a world completely devoid of people - or so it seems at first. In this timeline, Dracula has driven the few remaining humans into hiding. Our hero wanders through a deserted, half-overgrown London, defending himself from hunting vampires while trying to find a way to repair what has befallen his world. Russ pulled out quite a different style for this one.

After leaving Eidos, we pitched it to Flextech, who liked it except they wanted it completely changed, so out went the vampires and in came some sort of plot about the world suffering an apocalypse in the middle of a Big Brother eviction night, and all the survivors were the rejected TV contestants. Or something. (It was 2000 and every hip dude in television could think of nothing but Nasty Nick.) Needless to say, Jamie and I decided to forego the pleasure of working on their reinterpretation, figuring that one day we may do it properly as a comic or a novel.

This snippet of script gives you some idea of the flavor:

Through falling snowflakes, an aerial view of London. Not the city we know, but a sprawl of fantastic Gothic edifices that stand, dark and silent, over streets white with frost and a sprinkling of snow.

Down, to find a single figure in the whole vast empty city. He’s curled up in an alleyway under a few sacks. JOHN SANGRAIL is big man, well-fed and full featured. He wears the fine clothes of a Victorian gentleman, only now they’re shabby and torn.

We watch as he sleeps fitfully. Our point-of-view drifting like a detached retina as the snow swirls past. We might be God looking down on him, or a guardian angel. Or his tormentor.

He tosses and turns, talking in his sleep.

SANGRAIL (softly but urgently)
No, no. Something’s gone wrong.
CUT TO a ball in the early 19th century. A woman turns, looks across the ballroom at us, and reacts in horror –

She could see me –
An overhead drifting view of Napoleonic soldiers slogging along through the mud. Desaturated colors. The way the soldiers are walking is strange, stiff. Late afternoon sunlight casts long shadows ahead of them.

Something went wrong with the past.

Our POV tracks over the soldiers and down, turning so that we’re now facing the way they have come. An overcast sky and a long road stretching back to bleached-out sunset.

I know. I was there that day...
The column goes marching inexorably past us, away from the sunset. Their collars are turned up, faces downcast. We know there’s something sinister about them, but we can’t see enough to be sure...

How could that be? I wasn’t born yet.

A figure appears in the middle distance, cresting the hill, striding confidently through the anonymous throng. His greatcoat flaps behind him in the wind. His peaked cap is like the one Napoleon wore. We can’t see his face yet, but he’s approaching at a swift relentless pace.

It was the day he came back.
The figure looms towards us and into close-up. Closer, closer...

The monster ... the loup-garou. The day he returned from hell.
And he lifts his head towards us and now we see the face under the peaked hat. A hollow-cheeked, sallow, dead white face with glistening fangs. SMASH CUT to

Sangrail sitting up, suddenly wide awake. For a instant, the vampire’s face lingers like an afterimage superimposed on Sangrail’s face.

In a panic, Sangrail slaps at his neck. He looks at his fingers - no blood. The vampires didn't find him in his sleep. Heart racing after the nightmare, he heaves a sigh and sits watching his breath steam in the cold air.


  1. Sounds like it would be perfect material for 2000ad, alongside their zombie-apocalypse-1666 story "Defoe"! Does the character name "Sangrail" have special meaning by any chance...?

  2. Wow, that's cool! Love the pix by Russ - shades of Ian Miller and Ralph Steadman!

  3. Yes Andrew, Russ really is a lot more versatile an artist than most people would think if they're only familiar with his gamebook pics.

    Jiminy, well spotted :) As we as the obvious connotation, Sangrail is the name of one of Saki's anti-heroes, which fits because our Sangrail is a rather spoiled, selfish character to begin with:

    "Our hero is John Sangrail, Edwardian adventurer. A big man, heavy-set but agile. The kind of man whose physical presence in a room is hard to ignore. He fills a doorway, takes up more than his share of space at a bar. His boom of laughter has been heard across the lounge of many a London club. And his voice, echoing loudly from a curtained box, has been known to drown out many a performance on the West End stage. Large and loud – and impulsive. Like the time he swam the English Channel on the spur of the moment because a lady friend had asked if he would take a message to Calais. Or when he stole into the Tower of London by night and came away empty-handed – because he had merely wanted to leave his calling card tucked in among the Crown Jewels.

    "Despite his youth, Sangrail has undergone many extraordinary adventures in Africa and the Far East. He has levitated with the Dalai Lama, and used martial arts learned from an opium-addicted Shaolin master to battle pirates on the South China Sea. He has a sword cane carved from a Masai witchdoctor’s totem staff. And he knows how to use its magic as well as its blade – given time, he can hold a séance and summon the witchdoctor’s spirit to advise him.

    "His elegant clothes, insouciant manner, and soft aristocratic features suggest he’s led a pampered existence. The impression he gives on first acquaintance is of a spoiled and rather overbearing young man. It would be easy to overlook the steely gaze in those heavy-lidded eyes, and the powerful muscles that support his well-fed frame. But Sangrail’s sole weakness in fact is overconfidence. Charming to friends, he makes a dangerous enemy. Even for Dracula.

    "We have deliberately given Sangrail qualities that are not easy to like. The best and most compelling heroes in drama are not the ones with every sympathetic virtue. The extraordinary situation in which Sangrail finds himself – alone in a haunted world – is more than enough to create audience empathy. As we experience adversity and horror along with him, and as our advice subtly steers his decisions,we will grow to care about him as a well-rounded character who celebrates the foibles as well as the virtues of humanity."