Jonathan Green Talks Fighting Fantasy and Gamebook Adventures
Fighting Fantasy and Gamebook adventures let you be the hero and choose your own path. Steampunk king Jonathan Green tells us more. Turn to page 400!
Author Jonathan Green is a nimble beast, having written not only for Doctor Who and Star Wars: The Clone Wars but also penning the well-received Steampunk series Pax Britannia (now into its eighth book). What we’re here to talk about, though, is Gamebook Adventures. Jonathan Green has written several popular Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, all worthy successors to the series started by Steve Jackson. He’s also ventured into new mobile territory with his super-thrilling ‘Temple of the Spider God’ adventure, published by Tin Man Games and downloadable as an app. And he’s recently set up a successful Kickstarter campaign for You are the Hero, a history of Fighting Fantasy adventure…
If one of the 23 pairs of chromosomes in your body is ‘geek’, Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks may be exactly what you’ve been waiting for.
YOU ARE THE HERO. How would you describe Choose Your Own Adventure books and Gamebook Adventures to the uninitiated?
Ultimately, they are stories in which YOU, the reader, are the hero. Have you ever read a novel and wanted to take a different course of action from that decided upon by the protagonist? Well, with a Gamebook you can. It’s a story in which you can direct the action; you decide which doors to open, which treasures to take and which traps to brave, and usually which monsters to fight!
What can these adventures offer gamers more used to lavish video games?
Many RPG video games are incredibly linear, and actually give you very little power when it comes to controlling the course of the adventure. The best Gamebooks are the complete opposite of that.
Temple of the Spider God was a heady mix of high seas adventure, Indiana Jones jungle madness, mythology and SPIDERS. And crabs, yeah? But mostly spiders. Do you relish a ‘too much is not enough’ approach to Gamebook action?
I had never thought about it in those terms. What I do try to do is find a particular hook, or theme, to base each adventure around and then make sure that the majority of encounters relate to this appropriately in some way. I suppose I do also try to ensure that the adventure doesn’t flag, otherwise why would the reader keep reading?
In what way are app-based Gamebook Adventures a progression from Choose Your Own Adventure books?
Well, Temple of the Spider God is the first book I’ve ever written to have its own intro movie and soundtrack! But other than that, I think Tin Man Games’ Gamebook Adventures help to span the gap between traditional Gamebooks and video games. You can include unlockable content, achievements, and you can stop the cheaters from cheating. And the device you run the app on takes the headache out of the maths inevitably involved in playing a Gamebook.
Potential failure is part of the charm of Gamebook and Fighting Fantasy Adventures – they’re involving but snacky, and encourage replay. How do you build success and failure into your games?
These days, most importantly I aim for fairness and balance. As a designer, one of the things I like to do is put as much effort into designing the wrong routes through the adventure as the right ones. It helps deceive the player (who may think an involved encounter will only appear on the right route) but it also offers an element of replayability.
For example, in my fifth FF adventure Howl of the Werewolf, you cannot discover the whole backstory concerning the Cadre Infernale on one reading. You have to replay the book several times to uncover every little intriguing detail.
Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy games tend to focus on solid traditional themes (dungeons, pirates, that sort of thing). Do you keep a traditional approach to traditional Fighting Fantasy elements?
In every FF book I’ve ever written, I’ve always tried to include a monster from the Out of the Pit bestiary (sometimes taken from Warlock magazine) to tie the adventure into the FF world, whilst also adding my own monsters. I was once told that my first FF book Spellbreaker wasn’t really a Fighting Fantasy adventure and that stung. Ever since then I’ve tried to include more of what might be considered the traditional FF elements, including playing with the traditional statistics of Skill, Stamina and Luck.
Fighting Fantasy Adventures have a staunch loyal fanbase. Does fan support and feedback help you in your mission?
I stay close to fans and frequent various forums when I can, and I’m a member of certain FF Facebook groups as well. I have also taken their feedback on board which is why my later Wizard-published FF adventures (Night of the Necromancer, Stormslayer and Night of the Necromancer (Fighting Fantasy)) are very different from my earlier Puffin-commissioned titles (Spellbreaker, Knights of Doom, Curse of the Mummy and Bloodbones), offering greater replayability in particular.
YWhat ages are Gamebook Adventures and Fighting Fantasy Adventures aimed at?
FF books were always intended for the 7-12 market (in other words, Upper Primary in England). However, there is now a significant fanbase when it comes to Gamebooks of people in their 30s and 40s. When I write an adventure Gamebook now, I write it as much for 40-somethings as I do for children. Because of that, I believe that many more recent Gamebooks are more mature than those first published back in the 1980s.
For example, when I was writing Knights of Doom in 1993, I wanted to have a dissected corpse get up off the slab and attach the hero. This was deemed too gruesome and so was changed. However, when I wrote Howl of the Werewolf I tried to include the idea again. On this occasion, not only was it considered acceptable, the scene even had a full-page illustration to accompany it!
I always hugely cheated when reading Fighting Fantasy Adventures. Never rolled dice, kept fingers in pages for a save spot, always won fights. Did you do the same? THE TRUTH, MIND.
Absolutely! That’s why my early adventures were so hard – I was trying to beat people like me! These days, I take the attitude that the cheaters will always cheat (and if they do so simply to enjoy the story part of the Gamebook, does that really matter?), so I write the adventure to be winnable by somebody playing by the rules.
TURN TO 400. The words evoke a shiver of delight in Fighting Fantasy fans. Gamebook Adventures seem to be 500+ sections long. How do you plot your adventures?
I start off by making pages and pages of notes. From that I create maps (not necessarily of physical places) and then I write up a scene-by-scene proposal. Then, when I come to write the adventure, I create flowcharts of each scene. It’s not the only system, but it’s the one I’ve found, over the years, works best for me.
You’re a man of many projects. What have you got coming up?
Well there’s a new Gamebook Adventure, a couple of new Kickstarters (one a graphic novel/picture book and one a Gamebook based on the epic of Beowulf), a couple of novels coming out from publishers I’ve not worked with before, and more Moshi Monsters books!
For your Kickstarter history of Fighting Fantasy, will you be talking to fans and/or creators for your research? When do you see it being completed?
Both. In fact I’ve conducted a lot of the interviews already. I would like to have the book ready by the end of the year, ideally in time for World FantasyCon in the autumn.
Have you done any steampunk Gamebook Adventures yet?
I’ve been proposing steampunk Gamebooks for years, and am currently in talks with another publisher about developing a steampunk series with them. And I would love to turn Pax Britannia into a multimedia franchise. I suggested a video game years ago as well, and an RPG has even been suggested.
Check out Jonathan’s Pax Britannia steampunk novels.
You once considered dying your hair green for a Steampunk convention. For the next one, will you have cogs shaved into your hair? Suits you, sir…
No cogs, but I’ve not completely dismissed the idea of going green at some point in the future.
YOU ARE THE HERO. You venture along the marshy track until Deepmurk Mansion stands before you, a jagged silhouette in the mist. To your left, a trail of sturdy vines curls up to a high window. A drawn-out sigh rises from the swamp just behind you. What do you do?
1 – Enter the mansion through the front door
2 – Attempt to climb the vines in the hopes of opening the window
3 – Turn around to see what could be making the sigh
4 – Something else entirely
Enter the mansion, with sword unsheathed just in case.
Lastly, is there something we should have asked you, but were too selfish to do so?
I’m going to be at the Sci-Fi Weekender in North Wales (1-3 March) where I shall be hosting panels, and Q&As, as well as promoting Pax Britannia and my latest Kickstarter for Clemency Slaughter and the Legacy of D’Eath. How’s that?
Yeah, that’ll do. That’s actually kind of awesome 🙂
Visit the Jonathan Green website.
Get the Temple of the Spider God app from Tin Man Games.