Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Interactive Horror, Teenage Imaginations: Fighting Fantasy And Harvest Festival

A small part of my collection

Fighting Fantasy

When I was a kid I loved Fighting Fantasy books. They're a type of book some people refer to as "Choose Your Own Adventure", since you aren't meant to read them cover to cover: instead you have roughly a page of story, then make choices as to what you do next. Should you go left, or right? Listen at the door, or barge in? Each page/paragraph would be numbered, and each option would have a number after it too - once you chose an option you would riffle through the book to the appropriately numbered section and see what the results of your action were. A battle, a treasure, a piece of information, death, or a new choice.

I still have a full set of the books, since I started collecting them right from the time they launched, along with Warlock magazine. At the age of 12-13 I would sit in the parlour with my dice, character sheet, and a chocolate digestive, and lose myself in creepy forests and dungeons. As soon as I completed one book (or, more likely, died) I would start the next. If a character somehow survived I would let them start a new book with all their statistics and equipment from the previous adventure intact. Note that this didn't happen often, since Fighting Fantasy books were notoriously unfair - sometimes the direction you pushed a lever might be the different between success, and immediate death. Just like life, I guess.

My First Book

My obsession endured, and eventually I created my own Fighting Fantasy adventure when I was 15 (my first ever book, I suppose - pre-dating Turner by many years). I wrote this book because of another obsession: I'd fallen in love for the first time. I sat in the deep window ledge of my bedroom to write the book, in case the object of my affections walked past my house. It didn't matter that I hadn't spoken to her yet. I planned to wave and smile casually if she looked up. You know, unrehearsed, natural, cool. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. I had a cardboard Halloween skeleton on the wall next to my bed. I found out later that it was visible as you walked down the passage by my house. Some of the locals thought it was a real skeleton, and I was this creepy 15 year old Boo Radley figure in thick glasses and a mess of hair with a skeleton in his room, sat spying on people. It would have taken more than a wave to give me any kind of credibility.

Anyway, I wrote that book so I had something to do while I waited. It was a Fighting Fantasy (FF) book of 500 entries (they normally had 400). I spent all summer writing it by hand in a hardback book, with no planning - there wasn’t much room for sheets of notes on my window ledge once I’d crammed myself in. I got by with just a lot of knowledge of the gamebooks, and my love for Port Blacksand, the setting I chose from my favourite FF book City of Thieves, with its cover showing the undead Zanbar Bone stroking a scythe below a nightmarish city adorned with heads on spikes. Despite my lack of planning, the last entry finished on the last page, final line of the book. Fate, eh? I found that handwritten book recently.

I have never played it. No-one has. It's been in a box for the last 30 years. I should re-read it. It’s a testament to what you can achieve when you’re in love.*


Harvest Festival - Interactive!

For Halloween I decided to try something new: taking my novella Harvest Festival and making the opening of it interactive, like a Fighting Fantasy book. Harvest Festival seemed ideally suited because of the rapid nature of the action, with split-second choices that could mean life or death for Callum and his family.

I tried various tools, and it took a long time to get as far as I did, with lots of varied options for the player, but it is now available for the world to play. I first released it via the book website Life Of A Nerdish Mum, but you can get to the adventure directly:

Have a go, let me know what you think. Did you win? I'm not ruling out the idea of doing this properly at a future date, with a full version of the story and multiple endings, possibly as both an online game and as a printed Choose Your Own Adventure format. A few of my short stories could work like that too. We'll see. Thanks for playing it, and thanks to everyone who bought or reviewed Harvest Festival - and to everyone who does in the future.


* Just to fill in the gaps - yes, I did eventually go out with that girl, even though she was way cooler than me. My first girlfriend, and I loved her dearly. Sometimes nerds get lucky, which is probably why I wrote Cold Fusion 2000 and 2000 Tunes.



Anonymous said...

You reveal so much of yourself in your posts, it's quite humbling. I really wish you every success.