Thursday, February 11, 2010

Now on the iPhone: Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks -- WARLOCK OF FIRETOP MOUNTAIN



Searching my through my favorite interwebs sites the other day, I stopped by the Official Fighting Fantasy gamebooks website and discovered, much to my pleasure, that Wizard Books was releasing several of the Fighting Fantasy titles as iPhone applications. The first book in the series to see release was the classic Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the book that started the whole Fantasy Gamebook phenomenon back in the 1980s when I was a wee lad.

The Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks were a book series created by Games Workshop co-founders Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (who are that rare breed in the gaming industry game designers and keen businessmen) that combined the reader interactivity of the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books with the game mechanics of early role playing games. Readers of Ian Livingstone's Dicing with Dragons (Signet), a book Livingstone wrote to introduce audiences to the role playing hobby, it comes clear that Livingstone was inspired by the solo adventures offered by Flying Buffalo in support of the Tunnels and Trolls role playing game.

Here's how Livingstone describes Tunnels and Trolls, one of four games he thought "worthy" of introducing neophytes to:

If Tunnels & Trolls (T&T) did not have one special feature (apart from the general ease of play), no doubt it would have achieved little in the way of popularity -- indeed, its author claims that it was originally designed purely for his own entertainment and that of his friends. Role-playing is generally a gregarious pastime -- one person is the referee and designer of the locations to be explored, and several more are needed as players. However, many people are keen to engage in role-playing but for one reason or another cannot participate in groups of like-minded enthusiasts. An isolated geographical location or lack of free time or transport, or work involving unsociable hours can all conspire to produce the solitaire role-player. In common with some other RPGs, Tunnels & Trolls has a considerable number of ready-to-use adventures, but, unlike most others, which are generally designed for normal group play, most of the Tunnels & Trolls adventures are specifically designed for solitaire play, and thus fill a distinct need in the role-playing market.

Emphasis mine.


Two things emerge from reading this paragraph. First, that Livingstone admires what St. Andre accomplished with T&T -- both in simplicity of rules and in innovation. Second, that Livingstone looks at role playing as an industry. That paragraph reads like part of a SWOT analysis someone might write as background for the introduction of a new product line. Livingstone and Jackson have always been at the forefront of new technologies when it came to integrating role playing and media. Interactive 900 line rpg adventures, video games, books, mass market paperbacks, board games, and miniatures war games are all in the line of products in which they have been directly involved. Now we can add to that long list -- iPhone application translations of their gamebooks.

While Livingstone and Jackson may have received inspiration from St. Andre's T&T both in the idea of a solo adventure market and the importance of simple rules, their Fantasy Gamebooks truly took T&T's solo adventures to the next level. Where the solo adventures by Flying Buffalo typically came in around 32 - 64 pages, the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks were the size of full length paperback novels -- around 220+ pages -- something that enabled them to add greater narrative to the stories making for "deeper" interactive experiences.



Warlock of Firetop Mountain, which was drafted under the working title Magic Quest, was the first Fighting Fantasy Gamebook released into the market. It featured very simple rules, later products demonstrated how "deep" these simple rules were, and a relatively simple story. You were a warrior in search of wealth and glory who has climbed to the peak of Firetop Mountain in order to claim the treasure of the Warlock Zagor. You didn't have a very heroic motivation, and the world wasn't very well developed. The book was very much an early D&D style module translated into solo play. Go into a hole, kick down doors, kill things, and take their stuff. At least that's how it seems at first.

You see, there is only one real "solution" to the book -- other books in the series would have several possible solutions -- and it wasn't an easy solution to discover. You had to map your progress, especially considering there is a maze in the middle of the adventure. If you map it, the maze isn't complex, but if you don't...the frustration is substantive.



The latest application for the iPhone is a direct translation of this first gamebook -- a very good direct translation. I was able to use my old hand drawn map as I played through the encounters, and thus was able to find some nice enhancements and some minor glitches in the game.

I have to say that after playing one of these as an app, I'm going to buy whatever books they release in this format. It works better than flipping back and forth, and I can't cheat when fighting the battles -- it maximizes the play aspect by keeping track of all of the combat information and your equipment. The app limits your options to those you genuinely have available to you and you can't flip back and forth to see which choice is superior. You really have to play the game as it was designed.



I also appreciated the way that the app incorporated and enhanced the artwork from the original book. The app has the original line artwork from the book, but if you touch the images they get enlarged and become color images. The transformation from line art to color shaded art work makes for some very impressive images. The ghoul and the cyclops statue were two of my favorite images in the original, and they look even better in color.



As much as I loved playing through, I did notice two significant flaws -- likely corrected in the current updates. When I "lost a point of Skill" after looking into a portrait of the Warlock, I performed an action which should have returned the skill point to me -- in fact it should have returned up to two lost Skill -- but my skill remained at the lower rating. Additionally, when I acquired a magic sword, I was prompted to discard my current sword -- which was correct -- but the only sword listed in my inventory was the new magic sword and I had to discard it. This didn't affect game play, as the I still received the bonus for the magic sword even though I wasn't "technically" in possession of the weapon. These are two significant, but not overwhelming glitches in the game.

If you like Fantasy and want a fun application that is good for quite a few replays, you should purchase Warlock of Firetop Mountain for your iPhone. If you don't have an iPhone, you should buy the paperback which was re-released last September. On February 10th, the second Fighting Fantasy App Deathtrap Dungeon was released -- and bought by me.

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