DestinyQuest – Putting The Game Back Into Gamebooks
We are teaming up with our friends over at Gollancz to giveaway 3 sets of the two DestinyQuest books currently available, The Legion of Shadow & The Heart of Fire. All you have to do is leave a comment in the comments section for your chance to win! Preferably something witty… or Gamebook related
Dice clatter across the table. Our brave adventurer smiles, his pencil-stub deftly adding numbers to his hallowed parchment, their cryptic meaning known only to the dedicated few. Pages rasp as they are flicked back and forth. An intake of breath. Eyes scan the spidery print, knuckles whitening from the tension. The whole world holds its collective breath….
Then the fated adventurer lowers his mighty tome and speaks.
“Oh crud, I just got my legs ripped off by a giant cockroach!”
Back in the eighties, such scenes were commonplace in schools and homes across the UK as nerds like myself discovered the delights of interactive fiction. At last, here was our chance to leave the real world behind, and set out on an exciting adventure – a chance to become someone else entirely and have our choices make a real difference. The power of life and death was, quite literally, in our own hands.
Gamebooks (like Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy) became popular at a time when other forms of interactive entertainment were still in their infancy. As teenagers, we didn’t have the likes of Skyrim or World of Warcraft to immerse ourselves in. If you were lucky, you might have a friend with a BBC Computer who had a copy of Hunchback (imagine Sonic but on a zimmer frame).
When the Atari 2600 came out, it was something of a gaming revolution – the first popular and truly dedicated console. It had Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Asteroids… There was no levelling of characters, no assigning of skill points, no questing or story progression – hell, there wasn’t even any achievements to unlock (I feel the entire modern gaming world shudder). You played these games for the sheer obsessive delight of beating your highest score.
So, gamebooks and table-top roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons (which I discovered by watching ET: The Extra Terrestrial – thank you Mr Spielberg) provided what computer games could not. They gave us choice – and at a time when game graphics were ugly planet-sized pixels, they also let us the play with the greatest 3D card ever – our imaginations.
But times change. As consoles and computers became more advanced, gamebooks – while still enjoying a devoted following – were inevitably superseded by the flashy interactive worlds on our television and monitor screens. Today, we don’t really need to imagine anything for ourselves. We have a myriad of stunning 3D worlds to explore, hand-crafted by talented designers and artists. Hit a button or a key and your character will perform the associated action in the blink of an eye – no page turning, no dice-rolling, no cursing as you smudge your much-loved character sheet. It’s all done for you. And I’ll admit, as an obsessive gamer, I’m not sure I would ever want to look back…
But wait. I’m a gamebook writer. Fair cop. Time to raise my hand and come clean. So, what made me change my mind and go all retro? Let’s rewind a little…
I became addicted to online gaming – World of Warcraft, to be precise. I wasn’t far off becoming one of those people you read about, who end up losing their job and friends, living on a diet of energy drinks and junk food, and using a mop bucket for ‘bio-breaks’. Fear not, I didn’t quite hit that point, but I was playing 40-50 hours a week. On the few occasions I did venture out into the (un)real world, blinking like a new born, I was always slightly unnerved by the fact that there were no quest givers to gravitate towards. What the hell was I meant to do? I was confused.
During this time, when I wasn’t playing Warcraft, I found it difficult to concentrate on books. They couldn’t hold my attention anymore – and there were genuinely times when I was too exhausted from playing, and didn’t want to stare at a screen a moment longer – and yet I still craved that same type of experience, just not sat in front of my monitor.
I detoxed from Warcraft (the sensible part of my brain finally kicked in and said, enough is enough). But I still couldn’t shake the feeling that there was ‘something’ I could do to recreate that gaming high, but in another medium. At the time, I was working as an editor for a teaching magazine, so had chance to visit a lot of schools and talk with teachers. It was becoming apparent through these interactions, that getting children/teenagers to read (particularly boys) is becoming more of a challenge. Understandable if you consider how much technology we have at our finger tips, vying constantly for our attention. Seeing the teenagers of friends and family spending hours on their consoles rather than picking up a book, made me start to think.
For the record, I’m not on some crusade to get people to turn off their computers and consoles, I love gaming as much as the next guy (or gal). But I think, what I have recognised through my own experiences, is that gamers have moved on – their expectations are different. Show them a traditional gamebook nowadays and they would probably nod their heads, go ‘that’s pretty cool’ then go back to Assassin’s Creed III to eviscerate another bear.
So I came up with DestinyQuest.
I wanted to make dice-rolling cool again. Yep, I did use the words dice and cool in the same sentence. To make it cool, you need a good solid game system – simple to understand, but also has the complexity to please the most hardened 21st century gamer. In traditional gamebooks combat was a bit of an afterthought – you were simply fighting the same battle over and over again – the only thing that would change is the opponent’s name and a few stats. In DestinyQuest I wanted to change that. I wanted every combat to have its own narrative – off the page. The opponents you face each have their own special abilities, strengths and weaknesses – and you yourself have a veritable armoury of powerful items you can employ to pull off creative combos and attacks, just like you would in any button-mashing action romp.
I also wanted to give the player rewards for defeating each opponent, or by completing an objective. Like Diablo and WoW, players can customise their DQ heroes from the many hundreds of different loot items scattered throughout the pages, allowing you to unlock deadly new abilities and take on greater challenges.
My first DestinyQuest book, The Legion of Shadow, met with a positive reception from both the gamebook fraternity and the wider gaming public. My second title, released this week, The Heart of Fire, pushes the format further, with the introduction of factions, multiple side-quests and even ‘raid-style’ boss encounters. But of course, at the end of the day, you also have to tell a compelling story. With DestinyQuest, each novel offers a stand-alone adventure, but when combined, they tell an epic story – one in which you play the main protagonists and get to decide the fate of a world.
I still believe our imaginations are the best 3D card ever. That means, technically, DestinyQuest could be the coolest, most visceral, hyper-frenetic game you’ve ever played – because you call the shots.
And so, to the big question: can ‘paper and dice’ gamebooks ever become popular again – particularly in an age when there is a plethora of apps competing to do the very same thing? I guess, that’s the special achievement I would love to unlock. Time will tell, but I’m up for the challenge.
So next time you’re taking a screen break from the latest multi-format blockbuster, consider giving DestinyQuest a try.
Like computer games, the gamebook has moved on too, you know.
To find out more about the DestinyQuest series, visit the official website.