The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Deathtrap Dungeon. Forest of Doom and City of Thieves were joined this summer by Assassins of Allansia, which I snapped up immediately.
I loved FF Gamebooks as a kid, but interactivity comes with a unique set of narrative challenges. Jason Vandenburghe was one of a team of programmers working on a game conversion of Chris Carter’s seminal TV show The X Files. The game clocked up a million in sales but was a flawed piece of work, and Vandenburghe’s assessment of its failings is interesting.
It was composed, essentially, of a series of pre-shot film clips featuring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and the rest of the cast: no expense spared. It worked like this; the player made choices and the game reassembled these filmed clips to tell the story. You essentially got to build your own episode of The X Files depending upon your responses to key events and your code-breaking and deductive skills.
Here’s the interesting thing. “Working on The X Files” says Vandenburghe, “proved to me that interactivity and drama directly oppose each other. That was a devastating realisation. Drama is all about being a helpless witness to events. The moment you give the viewer agency, the emotional spectrum shifts from tension to curiosity.”
And so it did with those Fighting Fantasy gamebooks all those years ago. Tension became curiosity.
I loved playing through Assassins of Allansia this week, but, since curiosity trumps tension in interactive fiction, I did so with all the thumb-in-the-previous-page muscle-memory of a habitual cheat.