Including motivations as choices

April 7, 2014


Is it acceptable for a gamebook to describe what the reader’s character thinks, and feels? I believe it can be. Certainly if these feelings are somewhat universal, applicable to all but the most hardened psychopath. In the Way of the Tiger series, for instance, when Avenger learns of his foster father’s murder at the hands of the monk Yaemon, I think it’s reasonable to assume a desire for revenge on Avenger’s part. Without that, there’s no story. True, Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson never explicitly describe Avenger’s rage, or sadness. But that initial, very human, impetus for Avenger to seek out Yaemon is present.

Writing a gamebook, I’m happy to make some very basic assumptions about my reader, and my reader’s character, that permit me the liberty of describing thoughts and feelings. Most importantly, I assume that the gamebook character is essentially a real, human person. I assume he cares about other people, even if just a little bit. I have no interest in writing a story told from the perspective of a maniaical butcher, who slaughters his way through life. That’s not a story.

I did receive a review a while back that slammed my first app, The ORPHEUS Ruse, for not allowing the player to be more callous and murderous. Not my problem, vicious reviewer man. Take your bile elsewhere. There are heaps of first-person shooters to cater for your tastes.



So, yes… If a loud noise goes off next to your reader’s character, it’s okay for the writer to say that it startles him, and he jumps.

Another possibility: in the app that I’m currently writing, MetaHuman Inc., I’ll also sometimes describe the character’s feelings – but here, I do so with the reader’s permission, by allowing the reader to choose his character’s motivations as well as his actions. Take a look at the screenshot above, and specifically at the final two options in the choice list. The player is asked to carry out a mercy killing. If he chooses to do so (and he doesn’t have to, of course), he may hate himself for doing it, or he may feel a cold indifference. Here, by allowing the reader to define his motivation for this act, I, as writer, have received tacit permission to describe the feeling it provokes in the following section. Admittedly, in the example above, motivations are implied rather than stated outright. Still, I’m imposing nothing; rather, it’s a collaboration between writer and reader.

And no, I haven’t included an option allowing the reader to joyfully stave in another man’s skull. To reiterate: if that’s your bag, I highly recommend Grand Theft Auto.


(picture credit:

So, 2013 happened…

April 4, 2014


I’m not one of the world’s fervent bloggers. The time I can devote to blogging tends to be inversely proportional to the time I spend working, or parenting. With a little more time, I might be a more active blogger. For similar reasons, I’m currently not one of the world’s fervent shavers, or sleepers, or cleaners either.

The very fact that my roundup of 2013 is coming in April is testament to my blog inactivity. So, 2013… busy year. Megara Entertainment published my gamebook, Arcana Agency: the Thief of Memories. I wrote an app for Choice of Games, The ORPHEUS Ruse, and had that published as well.

Yeah, that’s right. I learned to code in 2013. Rock on, me.

So, 2014… Looks to be a busy year as well. At time of writing I’m about halfway through another app for CoG. I’m hoping to hand that over sometime in May or June. More news to come.



And the greatest ninja of all time is… This guy!

October 30, 2013

A couple of days ago I posted about who was the all-time greatest ninja in the universe. I made a shortlist of three super-cool ninja warriors. One of them had green skin.

I have finally made my decision.

The greatest ninja ever to have lived is this guy: -

There's the ninja. There. On the right. Next to the lamp.

There is a ninja in this picture. The first person to spot him wins ten English pounds.*

That’s right, it was Secret Option number 4. By definition, you don’t know who the greatest Master of Darkness is. That’s the sad truth. Hell, you may not even know the full name of your next door neighbour. I don’t.

David Walters – author of the Samurai’s Apprentice series, and co-author of the forthcoming new Way of the Tiger gamebooks – has quite fervently insisted that the greatest ninja master of all time may be Hattori Hanzo. Who actually existed, and probably didn’t eat much pizza. Okay, I’ll allow Master Hanzo an honourable mention.

The Way of the Tiger, you say? Oh, that’s right. Megara Entertainment’s Kickstarter bid to relaunch and expand the phenomenal ninja-themed Way of the Tiger gamebooks has less than 48 hours to go! So go. Pledge. Buy yourselves an all-updated version of some of the best gamebooks ever. You’ll love yourself for doing so. And I may – just may – love you too.

This is what ninja masters looked like, before Polaroid cameras were invented.

This is what ninja masters looked like, before Polaroid cameras were invented.


(* = not a guarantee)

Who is the Greatest Ninja of All Time?

October 28, 2013


Megara Entertainment’s epic relaunch and expansion of The Way of the Tiger gamebooks is nearing the end of its Kickstarter bid. So go. Go now. Pledge, and unlock some of those very, very juicy stretch goals. I would very much love to see a map of Irsmuncast-nigh-Edge created by legendary fantasy artist Leo Hartas. The Kickstarter bid ends 1st November. 

In honour of this momentous event, I’m conducting a quick quiz to decide… THE BEST NINJA OF ALL TIME!

Contender 1: Storm Shadow


Storm Shadow works for COBRA. I’m sure that’s a real acronym that means they want to take over the world, or something (Conquest and Obedience Butcher the Rights of All? The Conceited and Opinionated Bureau of Regulated Administrators?). Anyway, COBRA want power, because they’re an evil organisation from the 80s, and that’s pretty much the norm. But Storm Shadow was never really a team player. Yes, he might help COBRA to achieve their wicked goals – or he might betray them so he could save the life of his mute brother, Snake Eyes (is Snake Eyes a great ninja? No. He uses a machine gun.)

Most mold-breakingly, given the ninja credo of embracing the dark, Storm Shadow wears white. That’s not going to help him hide anywhere, outside of the Antarctic or a Man From Del Monte lookalike contest. But then, he doesn’t need to hide. He’s Storm Shadow.

He was also in the new GI Joe film. Apparently. I didn’t watch it. Or rather, I refused to watch it, because I could see from a mile off that it would crap all over my childhood.

Contender 2: Donatello


The mutant turtle-man, that is, not the Renaissance sculptor that he’s named after. Donatello was by far my favourite of the Teenage Mutant Ninja (/Hero) Turtles. He used a bo staff. He was smart and techy. He wasn’t as bossy as Leonardo, or as irritating as Michaelangelo.

Contender 3: Sub-Zero



Sub-Zero is one of several ninjas from Mortal Kombat. He fires ice blasts, and slides along the floor like Ice Man. He’s officially my favourite, favourite Mortal Kombat character. Apart from Rayden. 

Who will I pick? Who, after due consideration, will I decide is the greatest ninja of all time? I shall give my answer before 1st November.

(Hint: it’s not Sub-Zero.)

Coolest. Gamebook. Paragraph. Ever.

October 21, 2013


I’ve worked out what the coolest section is in any gamebook, ever. Just so you know.

It’s not in Robot Commando, when you’re riding round in a giant, transforming robot. And fighting dinosaurs. Though, truth be told, that’s fairly badass. Nor is it in Lone Wolf 12, the Masters of Darkness, when you fry Gnaag to a crisp. Hell, if you’ve played your cards right, you won’t even see a COMBAT SKILL for that guy.

It’s not even in Sorcery! part 3, The Seven Serpents, when, studying the magical parchment, you suddenly realise, ‘Oh, right – ‘LIX’ is Roman numerals’. I’ll confess that one took me a while to figure out.

It’s this: -


This is from the very first page of the first book in the Way of the Tiger series, Avenger. And seriously, how many other gamebooks actually carry a warning? If you attempt to replicate any of the feats in this book… YOU MIGHT DIE.

Of course, this kind of warning is like catnip for overactive schoolkids, and my childhood friend Kevin Greene can attest to what it feels like to receive a Winged Horse kick in the testicles. Sorry, Kevin. I hope you now have children that are healthy and whole.

Ostensibly forbidden youthful hi-jinks aside, I truly feel that the presence of this warning on the first page of the Way of the Tiger books is indicative of one of the major strengths of the series – its credibility. The ninja Avenger – the ‘you’ protagonist of the series – is pretty much just an ordinary guy. Who’s really good at kicking people, and throwing metal stars into their faces. Yes, the world of Orb is a fantastical place, inhabited by awesome monsters and terrifying wizards – but it is at all times logical, and believable, and inhabited by people who are… ordinary guys, pretty much.

Don’t get me wrong, Orb is not the only fantasy setting so artfully constructed. But rarely have I encountered a gamebook protagonist whose actions and abilities I can so easily understand. I think the Lone Wolf series is great, and I’ve played through those books many, many times – but by the time you’re trucking about in book 20, Lone Wolf is essentially a superhero, who can transform his face, regenerate his arms and legs, and fry people with the power of his mind. Oddly enough, there’s no warning on the inside cover of Lone Wolf 20: ‘Danger – an untrained user who attempts to use Kai-Blast might cause people’s brains to explode’.

Now for the really good news.

The Way of the Tiger series is back. Megara Entertainment, publishers of my own gamebook Arcana Agency, have launched a Kickstarter bid to republish and expand the series. At the time of writing, Megara have by far surpassed their initial target of 10,000 dollars. Books 1 to 6 of the original series will be republished; so too will a prequel – Way of the Tiger 0: Ninja! (by David Walters/Jamie Thomson/Mark Smith). And, perhaps even more importantly, so will Way of the Tiger 7: Redeemer! Avenger has been clinging onto that web at the heart of the Rift for 30 years. At last, he’ll have a chance to climb out.

Now, Megara are looking at stretch goals – complex character histories, drawn from Mark and Jamie’s original roleplaying sessions set on Orb, as well as a detailed map of Irsmuncast-nigh-Edge, Avenger’s adopted home. And those are just the next ones on the list.

Go. Click on this link. Pledge to get these books. In all truth, I wish I had a mind eraser to delete them from my brain, just so I could enjoy reading them for the first time all over again.

The Kickstarter bid ends on 1st November, by the by. Hurry.

I just hope that Megara ramp up the safety warnings in the front of each book, this time around. I’ve spent so long copying those martial arts diagrams that my hands and feet have become lethal weapons. And that’s a hell of a responsibility to bear.



Shamutanti Magnificanti

March 24, 2013
The ebullient Steve Jackson shows off the ultra-rare Shamutanti Hills box set (which I own) and the new Shamutanti Hills app (which I don't)

The ebullient Steve Jackson shows off the ultra-rare Shamutanti Hills box set (which I own) and the new Shamutanti Hills app (which I don’t)

Bit of news. This weekend I was lucky enough to meet Steve Jackson at the Salon du Livre publishing trade fair in Paris, and I managed to convince him to give me a peek at the forthcoming Shamutanti Hills app, produced by Inkle.

Inkle are still finishing off the game, so I wasn’t looking at a final, final version. But so far, it looks fantastic. It’s very different to Inkle’s Frankenstein app, by Dave Morris, which was released not so long ago. Whereas Frankenstein was text-only, with a few illustrations dotted about, The Shamuntanti Hills is a mix of text and graphics – when you’re wandering about the region, you switch to a full-colour animated map, where you can trace the progress of your character until he runs into a main area, or encounter.

Ah, screen glare. My old nemesis.

Ah, screen glare. My old nemesis.

Steve – he and I are on first-name terms now, y’see; he likes to call me ‘Tickles’ – mentioned that there will be a lot of new content in the game. The Inkle website has stated that opponents in the game will be a lot more intelligent, each one adopting different strategies. The Shamuntanti Hills will, it seems, be bigger, longer and deadlier than ever before.

Right now, the Inklewriter game engine doesn’t allow game writers to transfer stats / variables from one game to another. Nor does it provide any sort of ‘character sheet’. For me, these are two big points that need to be included in an adaptation of the Sorcery books. But I have faith that Inkle will cover these bases – certainly, the engine for The Shamutanti Hills already seems markedly different from the Inklewriter that’s up on the company’s website.

I’m looking forward to this game a lot. I only hope it’s iPhone compatible, and I don’t have to buy a tablet to play it.

Because, y’know, I might.

Animated Irritants of the 80s

February 16, 2013

Ah, the 80s. Transformers were still made of metal, and Knightmare was the best show on TV. Sadly, the 80s also presented some low points. The Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Falklands War. Cabbage Patch dolls.

Cartoons too came with high and low points in the 80s. That decade brought us excellent cartoons such as Thundercats, Visionaries and, uh… Transformers. And yet these cartoons, and their Japanese creators, had some strange ideas. Again and again and again we saw annoying sidekicks that were supposed to provide comic relief, but instead provided only – if you’ll excuse the Americanism – lameness.

So, find below a brief collection of the more vexatious sidekicks.

1) Orko, from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

Orko worked for many years to overcome his handicap of being born with feet or a face.

Orko worked hard to overcome his handicap of being born without feet or a face.

Orko was a floating, blue-eared rat. He verged on being considered a ‘main character’, rather than simply a sidekick. No less annoying for all that. Multiple He-Man plotlines centred around one of Orko’s spells going wrong. That storyline was funny for the first 50 or so episodes of Bewitched. It’s been old ever since.

2) Uni, from Dungeons and Dragons.

Dungeon Master gained his powers from his enchanted pointy skull.

Dungeon Master gained his powers from his enchanted pointy skull.

Uni sounded like a sheep, and contributed inappropriate cuteness to a show aimed at young boys. Quick test: which of the following Dungeons and Dragons characters is the least cool? a) Venger, b) Tiamat, the seven-headed dragon, c) Hank, the ranger with a magic bow, d) Uni, the bleating baby unicorn.

3) T-Bob, from MASK.

T-Bob transforms into a motorbike. No, really.

T-Bob transforms into a motorbike. No, really.

Scott Trakker was the Wesley Crusher of MASK - young, irritating, frequently menaced by villains and receiving an inordinate amount of screen time. And T-Bob was his sidekick. He was an android that transformed into a scooter. Scott was allowed to ride around on him without a helmet, which is somewhat indicative of what the rest of the MASK group really thought of him.

4) Nono, from Ulysses 31.

What's worse than a robotic sidekick? A robotic sidekick that sings.

What’s worse than a robotic sidekick? A robotic sidekick that sings.

Ulysses 31 was a sci-fi interpretation of various Greek myths. Hey, you remember the myth in which Ulysses, the king of Ithaca, volunteered to fight Hector during the Trojan War – and the whole time, a whingeing, cowardly red robot was trailing around behind him, complaining non-stop? No, neither do I. Nono attempted to provide poor comic relief, and his ear-discs popped off his head whenever something freaked him out. ‘Nuff said. Still, at least he gets to sing the final verse in the Ulysses 31 theme song.

5) Oon, from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.

Robot designers in the future will decide that fighting machines must be a maximum of one and a half feet tall.

Robot designers in the future will decide that fighting machines must be a maximum of one and a half feet tall.

Robot sidekick number 3 is Oon, who wanted to be a knight of some kind, and who carried around a gaudily-painted lance that was about twice as tall as he was. He was basically a metal Scrappy-Doo. The least memorable part of that show.

I’m not counting the actual Scrappy-Doo as an 80s irritant, by the by, as he was no more annoying than Scooby-Doo or Shaggy.

6) Snarf, from Thundercats.

Poor Snarf suffered from a dreadful verbal tic.

Poor Snarf suffered from a dreadful verbal tic.

Good God. Snarf.

For the 2011 Thundercats remake, Snarf can’t talk. That is a small improvement – though the creators have gone for the ‘cute’ vibe instead, which is hardly better.

7) Niddler, from Pirates of Dark Water.

Some sort of bearded monkey-bird thing. Jesus.

Some sort of bearded monkey-bird thing. Jesus.

Pirates of Dark Water was a cartoon about a guy who discovered he had some sort of mystical destiny, and had to sail round the world looking for 12 amulets, or something. I forget his name; I’ll call him Keith. Parts of the ocean itself had transformed into ‘dark water’ – living, black, evil goo. That’s a pretty badass idea. Keith, our tanned hero, conscripted a freaking bizarre talking winged monkey to help him – the only winged monkey not currently in the employ of the Wicked Witch of the West.

8) Needle, from Conan the Adventurer

Needle, companion of Conan the Heterosexual Barbarian.

Needle, companion of Conan the Heterosexual Barbarian.

Needle is orange, screechy, and talks about itself in the third person. If I were Conan, I’d crush it with a brick.


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