Time to give those Harpoon Flies another shot… 5. Dead again. Okaaaaay, roll again… 2. There. Now we may proceed. If we had rolled a 3 or a 4 we would have survived as well, although with a loss of 6 Stamina and 2 to our Skill (!) AND we would be forced to drink one of our doses of healing potion (and be denied it’s Stamina restoring effects). As it stands, we only lose 4 Stamina and the dose of potion.
I think of these kind of encounters as Gatekeepers. They lie along the One True Path and must be negotiated. The Harpoon Flies are a particularly egregious example. They present a significant chance at instant death (if we were playing fairly we would have had to roll three new characters in the space of about ten minutes), they hit our stats by a not insignificant amount even when the roll goes our way, and worst of all is that we have no agency when dealing with them. It’s entirely up to the luck of the roll. No choice or item or character stats has any bearing on the encounter. We’re not even given the satisfaction of resolving combat. If choice is the heart and soul of the gamebook experience then the Harpoon Flies are the ultimate sin. They disregard the core of the format in favor of a bit of randomness.
Of course we could chose to avoid the flies altogether (and considering that even the best outcome of the encounter results in a penalty, a ignorant player might deduce that doing so is the correct course of action), but that would just doom us later on. As we replayed and learned the shape of the book we would find that a meeting with the flies is inevitable.
Oh well, we’re past them now. Let’s continue.
I wrote I would post more about gamebooks, and then I didn’t. I’ve been playing through the Windhammer entries. There’s some good, some bad. I have lots of thoughts about them. But as a competitor I feel like I should wait until the competition has concluded before I start making my opinions public. If you are interested in criticism right now, Crumbly Head Games is doing daily reviews.
There’s a lot of gamebook playthrough blogs out there and they’re always fun to read. The seats on that bandwagon look mighty comfy, so I figured it might be fun to try one myself. And what better place to start than the infamously difficult Fighting Fantasy entry “Crypt of the Sorcerer?” Known as the most difficult Fighting Fantasy title, the last encounter has something like a 5.5% percent chance of success. And that’s not counting the punishingly narrow correct path, dozens of lucky rolls needed, and masses of unfair encounters en route to the end boss. Sounds like fun!
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.