Some Thoughts About Gamebooks

IF Comp’s coming up soon. Guess it’s time to blow the dust off the ol’ blog. Let’s see, what have I been playing lately? Mario & Luigi Dream Team: fun if samey. Writing isn’t as crisp as previous entries. NPC dialog is especially dire. SMT IV: was enjoying it a lot but lost interest when I got to Tokyo. I donno, I’ll come back to it soon. Presentation is out of this world, especially considering it’s all talking heads. The 3DS is turning into quite the little system, if you didn’t know. Great year for it. Luigi’s Mansion 2 was incredible. So full of personality and charm. It’s basically everything I ever want in a game. Dark Souls is eating up a lot of my mindspace. It also is everything I want: deep, subtle, engrossing. But I don’t play it much because it’s so intense. I literally walk away from play sessions shaking, so I tend to have month-long hiatuses between bouts of playing.  I just got to Anor Londo this week and I’m having dreams of pristine empty corridors and metal giants. Maybe another hiatus is due.

Okay, enough of that. The real reason I’m resurrecting this blog is I want to talk about gamebooks. I’ve gotten into them in a big way this year. I would like to say “gotten back into them” but I never had a lot of experience with them as a youth. I played one of the Gray Star books and I’m pretty sure I had a copy of Cities of Gold and Glory (I vividly remember the cover, if none of the contents), but otherwise I didn’t know gamebooks were a thing. “Gamebooks?” you may be asking? “What are you going on about?” Well, my imaginary, ignorant friend, gamebooks are like Choose Your Own Adventure novels, but with stats and inventories and dice rolls. Lots and lots of dice rolls. They were big in the 80’s (especially in the UK and Australia), then faded away as video games became more sophisticated. But in the past couple of years they’ve seen a reemergence. Mobile OS platforms are a great fit for them, there have been several wildly successful Kickstarter campaigns for new books, and there’s even a small but passionate amateur community online.

I don’t know why I’m so attracted to gamebooks in this age of big production game experiences or deep play like in Dark Souls. The writing in them is almost uniformly terrible, and the “gameplay” aspect is riddled with problems. There’s just something about the combination of CYOA “you are in control of the action” decision making and stats-keeping pulls me in. I find even the worst gamebooks fascinating. There’s just something about them.

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August 26, 2013 · 5:36 am

IF Comp ’12: Spiral, Kicker, The Lift, Last Minute

And so we enter the last days of the Competition, where I kick myself for ignoring it for the past few weeks and try to finish as many of the remaining games as possible. Spoilers follow.

 

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IFComp ’12: Fish Bowl

Fish Bowl by Ethan and Joshua Rupp is a short and simple bit of horror. It’s about a destitute beach comber to whom weird, somewhat unnerving stuff happens. It’s not very long and the action is railroaded. This presents a problem as its not always clear on what action needs to be performed to move the story forward. I was a little miffed I had to turn to the walkthrough at one point. What I needed to do should have been obvious, so maybe I’m just an idiot. On the other hand, it wasn’t clued at all which is a big whiff in my book. The there’s a few standout bits of writing but for the most part its fairly awkward with clumsy lines both opening and closing the game. Implementation issues border the game on all sides. I especially liked

>sleep
You are getting more exhausted.

You aren’t feeling especially drowsy.

There’s no ABOUT command so it’s unclear if Fish Bowl was beta tested. If it was it could have used a little more to help round out the experience. What’s here is okay but it’s pretty thin and there’s not much to see or do.

As for the story… eh. Weird stuff happens and then you find out why. I wasn’t particularly affected or creeped out, but as far as slightly unnerving weirdness goes it does establish a tone and feel. I just wish it had pulled me in more, spent more time establishing the mundane or character before letting the feeling that something was not right slowly seep in. Overall, not a waste of time, but doesn’t stand out in any way.

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IFComp ’12: Living Will

Living Will by Mark Marino is a hyperlink game made in Undum. In it you explore the will of E. R. Millhouse, the founder of a world-wide network company, as one of his heirs. A counter keeps track of your inheritance which rises or falls depending on which links you follow, which heir you play as, and if you choose to claim the other heir’s benefits as your own. The actual numbers seem to be randomized. I played the same path two times in a row and got wildly different outcomes, but the game isn’t about making the most money. It’s about encountering a life. I don’t have much to say (as the meat is exploring for yourself) except that I was enthralled, playing over two-dozen times building a picture of Millhouse and exploring variations. Recommended.

On the other hand, “Downtown Abby?”

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IFComp ’12: The Test is Now READY

The Test is Now READY by Jim Warrenfeltz is a series of moral what-ifs. My high school science teacher used to love these things. “What if a terrorist was going to blow up the world unless you shot your baby in the face?” Coming from him (and being in high school) they seemed like important examinations of my morality. Plus they were abstract enough to quash creative answers. “I’d call the cops!” “Can’t do that shoot your baby or blow up the world.” The situations in TTiNR instead try to be plausible scenarios and in that they lose their power.

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IFComp ’12: Castle Adventure

I’ve been in the mood for a good old fashioned treasure hunt and hoped that Castle Adventure by Ben Chenoweth would be it. The game starts:

Welcome to Castle Adventure!  Written and directed by Ben Chenoweth (Copyright 2002 Grinnan Berrit Software).  Adapted to Inform 7 by Ben Chenoweth, 2012.

and I’m already confused. Apparently this is an Inform adaptation of a unreleased (?) 2002 game. But it plays like something from the dawn of text adventures. Is it supposed to be a homage? The help text says that only two-word commands are recognized but it seems to just be the standard Inform parser, so I doubt that any specific coding was done to make the game more archaic on purpose. What we have is just a really sparse, lazy game.

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IFComp ’12: Escape from Summerland

Escape from Summerland  by Jenny Roomy and Jasmine Lavages.

Ugh, what an awful title. It conveys nothing about the game aside from “escape” which suggests some kind of big pulpy adventure, but then Summerland? Is is an amusement park? The name of some fantasy place? Its bright and cheery which is at odds with escaping. What I pictured was some sort of sci-fi setting where you had to get free from a place where happiness is enforced. That’s the not the case, but upon starting the game it’s not really clear what the setting or situation is either. It’s not for a good handful of turns before it becomes clear that this game is about three unconventional protagonists trapped in an abandoned circus. Once the groundwork is established Escape turns into quite the nice little puzzler. But yeesh that beginning.

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