Gamebook store

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Infinite possibilities

And this week's Bookseller makes it official: now the outside world (well, the publishing world, anyway) knows that our Infinite IF series is launching in just eight weeks or less under the aegis of the Osprey Adventures imprint. The whole OA line is geared at that overlap between myth, legend, gaming, fantasy and history - and if that doesn't put a full charge in your barysal gun, I don't know what will.

I'm putting final touches to my four books this week, and Jamie is just finishing up on Avenger. While these new ebook editions are substantially unchanged from their earlier paperback incarnations, we are adding extra material. Heart of Ice has a new alternate ending (thanks to Romain Baudry for pointing out the need for that) which gave me the always-welcome opportunity to write another hommage to Blade Runner, and the other VR books also have a bunch of new sections. Once Upon a Time in Arabia even has an all-new prologue to reflect the change in tone and title.

The biggest bonus comes in the Way of the Tiger books, however. Because the ebooks don't feature dice-rolling (which regular readers will know is one of my pet hates in digital media) Jamie is writing all the moves and outcomes for the fights. So instead of a 3 and a 5, you get:
You crouch as if to wrestle with Gorobei who tenses, ready to throw his extra weight against yours, but then you jab unexpectedly towards his midriff - and hit home. Gorobei gasps, winded, but he's tough. He won't give up that easily.
These books are all about the narrative, you see. So despite Jamie's howls of protest, we're keeping him chained to the desk until he's written the flavour text for every single fight.

I could show you some of the colour art, but let's not spoil all the surprises. Let's just say that if Jeremy Clarkson doesn't end up wanting his own Manta car, I'll be very surprised.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Face off

I can never look at this picture from Necklace of Skulls without seeing red.

That's not Russ's fault, I hasten to say. It's always an honour and a delight to have one of my books illustrated by him. I can still remember the thrill I got whenever a package of new pictures from him would drop through the letterbox. He is, as I have said before, the consummate visualizer of fantasy worlds, and the only reason he's not doing the illustrations for the new editions is that I didn't negotiate the contract.

In the case of Necklace, I'd just returned from honeymoon in the Yucatan. Russ handed in this picture. Everyone was happy except for the art director, who declared that the faces of the children at bottom left were "too oriental", the ridiculous implication being that this was potentially racist. Evidently she was unaware of the racial provenance of pre-Columbian peoples. At any rate, she had Russ repeatedly Tipp-Ex (oh yeah, none of your fancy digi-drawing in those days) and redo the faces. Finally he delivered what you see here. To begin with the kids had looked just like the Mayan children I'd seen on honeymoon, and very charming they were too. Now that they had more Anglo-Saxon features, the art director declared herself satisfied. She pulled the same trick on another child's face in the same book. I don't know why the art directors in British publishing so often mess up everyone else's work (I refer m'lud to numerous exhibits including the logos of Golden Dragon and Blood Sword) but they do. I usually have to wait for the French edition to see how the artwork should have been treated.

Anyway, short of setting up my own publishing house and hiring the art director myself (now there's an idea) I am resigned to such farragos. Here's a little bit from the early part of Necklace in case you don't want to buy it now and would rather wait for the iBooks edition:
The high priest winds a white cloth across your eyes and leads you through to the inner shrine. A deep chill abides here; the thick stone blocks of the Death God's temple walls are never warmed by the sun. The sweet tarry smell of incense hangs in the air. You feel a hand on your shoulder, guiding you to kneel.  
A long period of utter silence ensues. You did not hear the high priest withdraw from the chamber, but you gradually become sure that he has left you here alone. You dare not remove the blindfold; to gaze directly on the holy of holies would drive you instantly insane. 
A whispering slithers slowly out of the silence. At first you take it for a trick of your unsettled imagination, but by straining your ears you begin to make out words. 'The way to the west lies through the underworld,' the whispering tells you. 'Go to the city of Yashuna. North of the city lies a sacred well which is the entrance to the underworld. Take this path, which is dangerous but swift, and you will emerge at the western rim of the world. From there it is but a short journey back through the desert to your goal.' 
The whispers fade, drowned out by the thudding of your heart. Frozen with terror at the words of the god, you crouch motionless on the cold flagstones. The cloying scent of incense grows almost unbearable. 
Suddenly a hand touches your shoulder. After the initial jolt of alarm, you allow yourself to be led out onto the portico of the temple, where the blindfold is removed. You blink in the dazzling sunlight. You feel as weak as a baby and the smell of incense clings to your clothes. After the cool of the shrine, the heat of the afternoon sun makes you feel slightly sick. 
The podgy priest is looking up into your eyes. 'You heard the voice of the god,' he says simply.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Frostbite in the Sahara

I'm right in the throes of testing the digital versions of the first four Infinite IF books, so no time right now for that big post I've been meaning to do on how most videogames get interactive storytelling all wrong (Jurie Horneman has been blogging about that), nor the other one on how I'll adapt Blood Sword for the 21st century. Instead, I've been working up this sketch map for Heart of Ice to serve as a guide for the IF series artist, Bruce Hogarth.

What's wrong with Leo Hartas's original map, you may be asking? Nothing. In fact, as that one is in colour it's what we'll put into the ebook. But Bruce is working up black and white art and maps for the print editions of the books. Hence this sketch of mine, put together with the aid of Google Earth.

In other news: Roxlou Games's mouthwatering game concept Unwritten made its Kickstarter target. Guide your own tribe across the tundra, creating the defining stories of their oral history as you go. Think Cave of Forgotten Dreams meets strategy gaming with a dance and a song by a shaman to help it along. Seriously, this does look like interesting and original interactive storytelling (or story creation, rather) and shows that Kickstarter can actually fund some genuinely 24-carat original concepts.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Here be dragons

Jamie and I have been thinking a lot about maps lately, what with six gamebooks being released in a few months in the Infinite IF series we're publishing with Osprey, and hopefully another couple of dozen after that if they prove popular. We began with the plan of just doing black and white maps, and those are fine for the print books but they're hardly going to excite on a tablet. (I prefer the term slate, but must bow to the common usage, I guess.) Colour will be needed. Lots of it.

Anyway, that's just by way of a preamble. Out of the blue, and completely unconnected with the Infinite IF books, Dragon Warriors player Lee Barklam got in touch to ask about our maps for Tetsubo, the Oriental version of Warhammer that never got published. Lee creates his maps using Profantasy's Campaign Cartographer. (And I might well have to look into that for the Infinite IF series, unless somebody knows of a really good fantasy map artist?) You can see Lee's maps of Legend and of Yamato, the setting for Tetsubo, over on his site The Cobwebbed Forest.

So, I mentioned to Lee that my own Legend campaign is currently set in Crossgate Manor, the sort of disaster-prone fief whose level of violent death would reduce Brother Cadfael to carrying a repeating crossbow. Crossgate is in western Ellesland close to the Albion/Cornumbria border (the red dot on the map). And lo! Lee came back only a day later with this rather super colour version based on my scrappy original sketch below.

Crossgate was the setting for "Silent Night", my Christmas special adventure in December 2011, and I'll run that on the blog next Christmas. In the meantime, here's an overview:

The manor of Crossgate is the largest of three (the others are Moyses and Garrow End) held by the Keppel family from Lord Maldupine, Marquess of Westring, whose lands stretch from the Cornumbrian border to the Vindar Hills.

The Keppel family are originally from central Albion, but took over these lands from the original lords almost a century ago. Many still refer to them as “the new lords”. The last of the old ruling family was Lord Duruth, who was killed 90 years ago.

The priest overseeing the local parishes of Moyses (where he’s based), Crossgate, Garrow End and Torstum (a village in the manor of Sir Eustace of Viridor, a neighbouring lord) is Father Lanarius, a cousin of the Keppel family. The rector of the small church at Crossgate is Father Gules.

Across the Stonestruck Lake is Redfern Abbey, with a mixed (segregated) community of about thirty monks and nuns.

Crossgate is a village of about three score households. The population of 300 comprises 10 manor servants, 40 freemen (including the priest and sexton), 200 villeins and 50 cottars. Notables of Crossgate are:

  • Sir Palagius Keppel, “Lord of Crossgate and Moyses”, 29 years old
  • Lady Perdita – Sir Pelagius’s wife, 19 years old
  • Lady Olivia – Sir Pelagius’s mother, 55 years old
  • Ryger – Sir Pelagius’s cousin, a squire, 25
  • Ogen – the steward, a little over-familiar in a daft-headed Luna Lovegood way
  • Hywel – a blind Cornumbrian bard, about 40
  • Rodwulf – the reeve (spokesman for the villeins) huge shock of red hair, burly, intelligent 
  • Father Gules – village priest

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The votes are in

It looks to me as if Biggles and the Martian Manhunter are thinking about ordering the lobster, but no doubt Falcon fans will explain what's really going on in this picture.

Anyway, we ran a poll to decide how the series should end, and although the response was about on a par with support for a sequel to John Carter, the results are decisive:

57% want to see multiple endings for the final book, and 42% asked for a more upbeat ending. Presumably the other 1% are content to be reduced to the ranks because field agents have more fun.

I think it will be a while before we get around to the Falcon books. There are Blood Sword, Way of the Tiger and a few others to come first, but Jamie and I will take it on board. One nice thing about fully interactive ebooks is that it's very easy to add new sections - I've been putting lots of extra bits into the Virtual Reality series.

Talking of which, here's the mock-up cover for Heart of Ice. I now have this running in iBooks and all it's crying out for is colour art and maps. Those who clamour for print should not panic, however - that version is typeset too, though it won't have the new material that's in the ebook.