Reflections on game design and Fighting Fantasy games


#1

Yesterday night I was trying to motivate myself about my WIP, and decided to re-read Freeway Fighter, which I loved as a teenager (the memory of it and seeing the new Mad Max were the inspirations for Highway Marshall, my WIP, though it must be well over 20 years since I last read it). It was nice, and I got some inspiration for some short scenes (even when the structure of my WIP is pretty much determined, and the last major big piece being written comes more out of a horror film than mad max).

Now, within fighting fantasy Freeway Fighter is known to be a short novel, but it still struck me how quickly I managed to finish it (granted I didn’t get out any dice, and was just going for the best outcome every time, I doubt I would have managed to finish it otherwise as it appears VERY hard). Essentially I think I finished in less than an hour (can’t remember exactly the time, but it must have been even less than that, maybe 30-40m?). Word count of one playthrough must have been very short, and I get it branches out much more than CoG or hosted games.

I’m not sure exactly where I am going with this (not sure it is just more than a reflection). Maybe I just wanted to get a discussion going? Probably the audience of those books is different to that which reads games on this platform, and different age groups/expectations from gamebooks. Essentially I guess I’m just thinking about how much my games should be “games” (and clearly after re-reading this fighting fantasy were games, given the amount of chance involved), and how much novels. Not sure I’ve arrived at any conclusion yet though (maybe never will, seeing other such comments and discussions in this forum by various authors and regular posters)


#2

I loved Freeway Fghter as a child and played/read through it many time.


#3

I think the CoG universe can be expanded and different “types” of games can be made successfully; it will take a groundbreaking author to do so - to show others the way.

The publishing unit of CoG will have to expand further then “Hosted” and “CoG” titles eventually and I believe some other changes will need to occur. Yet, there will always need to be the groundbreaking titles first.

Some of the more ambitious yet not as “successful” titles most likely can be re-imagined as well - and even some of the classics, eventually will thrive re-imagined as well.

It just takes the right author to take on a project.


#4

My experience with the old game books was that they were more try not to die, than true choices (I too cheated and just went for the diceless route).
I can only think of one game book that had multiple endings (when you don’t count die gruesomely) and that book had a much more definied protagonist.
In the end most of them boiled down to, down to one right path through it all and if you strayed off the path no gods had mercy on the poor protagonist soul.
I had fun with it, but it is not necessarily something I want a cog to be if I am honest.


#5

From what I can remember from my youth (which is a long way away) the books were very linear, but it was the story that got you hooked. I think a good story in a COG is essential rather than relying on complex choices and code. if you are not made part of the story, you stop reading and it just becomes a click to see where you finish. if you really want too some of the Fighting Fantasy books have been produced as electronic version so you can relive the past without the “oh dam, what page number was I supposed to be on.”


#6

I don’t think I would actually want to play it electronic. Cheating and writing down the numbers were a huge part of it for me. I don’t think I would find it funny if I had to start from scratch every time I made a mistake.


#7

I get your point, cheating…sorry being creative with the rules was a necessary tool, although I was never intelligent enough to write down the page numbers, I just kept my finger wedged in the last page I read so that when I made a mistake, (which happens quite a lot when you are dyslexic) I could quickly flick back and start again.


#8

Ah yes, the FF series. Got hooked on those and similar imitators back in the day. I still download the digital versions (And their Tinman successors). At the time I always found them superior to the traditional Choose Your Own Adventure books which I never cared for as much.

That being said, I’m actually not fond of writing things using the FF layout or stats in general. I learned a long time ago when I wrote Legend, I found the “game” aspect not all that fun to write personally. It ended up becoming a tedious slog and I always felt like it impeded the story which I liked writing more.

So I stuck with writing the story focused CYOA format from that point on. I also sort of learned that it wasn’t so much that I disliked the traditional CYOA format, it was more the case that I just didn’t like most of the protagonists you got put into the role of as opposed to the typically more “violent” role you got to play in a FF book. (Basically if the CYOA books had more protagonists like the ones I write, I would have enjoyed the books a lot more. Lol)

The protagonists in FF were typically blank slates and there was less story (other than a basic plot) but it didn’t really matter (The old CYOA books DID often have really good death endings so those were always fun finding) since they were more action driven due to the whole dice combat thing.

Even if you got forced into the role of being an outright hero, it wasn’t that bad since you were still killing stuff and everything was so bare minimum for your background most of the time that you sometimes came off as just more mercenary than anything else. (Sea of Blood was cool departure since you got to be a pillaging, slave taking pirate)

Granted making a protagonist that has his/her own personality traits and constricting choices in favor of story or a “set path” is always somewhat of a risk, especially in a more limited format, but it’s obviously a risk that still paid off for the most part, if the success of the CYOA books are any indication. The FF books were also popular so there was always room for both styles. (Story over game, and game over story)

I’d say first and foremost, focus on writing the aspects that you’re going to actually enjoy doing. It doesn’t help you if you’re writing something that you’re not really interested in writing or worse hate doing completely.

As for Freeway Fighter, I liked that one too since I like post apocalyptic settings, but the multiple times I had to find more fuel got really annoying.


#9

Its interesting to see that part of what we all liked about these games was the “cheating” component (I though I would have lost the skill, but soon found myself with a couple of fingers wedged at the last few choices, amazing how the reflex came back after so many years!)

Re-reading them also made me think about how violent they were, and how much of it was based on combat (not so much fun to write about?)

I also have fond memories about Sea of Blood, it was a really nice (if unorthodox) book. I was also toying with the idea of writing something similar after I finish Highway Marshall (which also has that fuel element, though I hope I’m handling it better, Freeway Fighter was very annoyingly difficult in this respect…). However, I guess I have too many other WIPs in my head…

But, who knows, maybe somebody round here will one day write something along the lines of the FF formula? (maybe even there is a WIP or published game that looks similar?)


#10

I love the Fighting Fantasy series, but I will admit - I always, always look ahead. I nearly always like to know what’s going to happen when I play any sort of role-playing game (D&D and other table-top games are obviously a little different, as there are other people involved), and I think it’s because while I do sometimes like to be “in my protagonist’s shoes” and experience things as they happen, I generally prefer to create a good story as I play.
The books with a strong story and setting are definitely my favourites. I love the ones by Jonathan Green - Howl of the Werewolf, Night of the Necromancer, Stormslayer etc. They always have a really strong theme and are packed full of little references, and while there’s only one successful ending, there are generally a few more options as to how to reach it. They often have a unique “stat” to keep track of - in Howl of the Werewolf you have a Change score which measures how much of a hold your lycanthropy has on you. I enjoyed Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! series as well - it was less forgiving of alternate routes, but I found the setting really interesting and it was fun being able to cast spells.
Much as I love the series, though, there are recurring elements I find incredibly annoying - another reason I look ahead. I’m thinking of the instant death options of the “turn left, fall into a pit and die” variety. And the plot coupons…
"Because you never opened the third door to your left in the Maze of Doom fifty paragraphs ago, you never found the magical pixie dust and are utterly defenseless. The dragon laughs at your misfortune as he roasts you with his fiery breath."
I’m exaggerating, but not much.
The hardest one I ever played was Creature of Havoc. It had a horribly convoluted pathway and so many ways to die, but there’s one thing that just takes the proverbial cake. I won’t give specific details in case of spoilers, but in order to win you need a particular item… which you can only obtain if you go down a specific route right at the beginning. And at the beginning your character is a ravenous monster… and your decisions are determined by rolling the dice. That’s right. Your chance of success rests entirely upon a dice roll at the very beginning of the book.