Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Ages of Gamebooks

This post is inspired by James Maliszewski's Ages of D&D (2009). It's not intended to be comprehensive, and it's really only a surface reading of the publication of some of the more popular adventure gamebook series. Katz (n.d.) for example provides a comprehensive database of an absolute plethora gamebook publishing information. It's also just my opinion, and I'm completely open to comments and discussions on dates and ages that people may disagree with. Like Maliszewski, though, I'm attempting to establish a gamebook shorthand that will help when contextualising future reviews. Anyway, here we go...

Prehistory (1976-1981): The adventure gamebook as a solitaire role-playing experience begins with Buffalo Castle in 1976, which kicks off a long line of Tunnels & Trolls solo scenarios. This is followed by The Cave of Time in 1979, which is the first Choose Your Adventure book.

The Golden Age (1982-1987): 1982 sees the publication of the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, as well as Ian Livingstone's far lesser known Eye of the Dragon from his Dicing With Dragons guide to role-playing games. The latter is forgotten, the former provokes an avalanche. Over the course of the next five years it would seem that every paperback children's book publisher would attempt to emulate the success of Fighting Fantasy. Joe Dever starts the Lone Wolf series in 1984 with Flight From The Dark. Other notable series at this time include Sagas of the Demonspawn, Skyfall, Falcon, Golden Dragon, Cretan Chronicles, Sagard the Barbarian, and Sword Quest, though few of these series last beyond four books. Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson use the gamebook format to smuggle their Dragon Warriors role-playing system into bookstores in 1985 (Morris & Johnson, 2008, p. 11). This is set in the world of Legend which features in a subsequent series Blood Sword that begins in 1987 with The Battlepits of Krarth. 1987 also marks the end of two of the longer gamebook series, Way of the Tiger and Grailquest, though Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf are still going strong.

The Silver Age (1988-1995): Several innovative new gamebook series are published during this time, including Virtual Reality Adventures, Fabled Lands, and the continuation of the Blood Sword saga. Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy both keep churning out the titles, but the latter series - the grandaddy of them all - finally succumbs and perishes after Curse of the Mummy (the 59th title!) and Ian Livingstone's Adventures of Goldhawk spinoff series are published in 1995.

The Bronze Age (1996-1998): The slow death of gamebooks. Fabled Lands stops in 1996 with Lords of the Rising Sun, which unfortunately is only the sixth book in a proposed 12 book sequence, leaving the non-linear series woefully incomplete. Dave Morris publishes the Chronicles of the Magi, a trilogy of children's fantasy books based on the Blood Sword series in 1997, and Lone Wolf continues with a handful of titles, finishing with its 28th and last book The Hunger of Sejanoz, in 1998.

The Dark Age (1999-2004): There is little published material for gamebook fans, but the rise of the internet sees a flourishing community of gamebook fans and amateur fan-written adventures develop. Some high points include Kim Newman's Life's Lottery interactive novel in 1999, and in 2000 former Fighting Fantasy author Paul Mason republishes Heart of Ice under his Panurgic Publishing label. Also in 1999 Project Aon was formed to keep the Lone Wolf flame alive by republishing that series in a free downloadable electronic format. In 2002 Wizard Books begin reissuing Fighting Fantasy books, but for the first two years were content to merely republish existing titles.

The New Age (2005-?): Ian Livingstone's Eye of the Dragon is published in 2005 and marks the first real new Fighting Fantasy title in ten years (although it is based on his original adventure from 1982), leading to more new books in this series, including Bloodbones, Howl of the Werewolf, Stormslayer, and Night of the Necromancer; all of which are by Jonathan Green. Lone Wolf begins republishing expanded editions in 2007, and Fabled Lands is reissued in 2010, with a promise of completing the series if sales go well. Importantly, Fighting Fantasy and Fabled Lands are ported to digital formats on mobile devices, which also encompasses digital-only gamebooks such as Tin Man Games' Gamebook Adventure series. What does the future hold for gamebooks? 

Any thoughts? Do YOU :-) agree or disagree with this assessment?

References

Katz, D. (n.d.). Gamebook Database: Item List (sorted by date of publication). Accessed from http://www.gamebooks.org/list_years.php

Maliszewski, J. (2009, January 11). The Ages of D&D. Message posted to http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2009/01/ages-of-d.html

Morris, D. & Johnson, O. (2008). Dragon Warriors: The Classic British Role-Playing Game. London: Magnum Opus Press

9 comments:

  1. I would add the Fighting Fantazine magazine in the "New Age" section , it's a great place to read about gamebooks in general.
    Great blog !!!

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  2. Great post Andrew. It would be interesting to see what happens to the ever growing high quality amateur contributions on the web and the effect they have on gamebooks.

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  3. @ J. Oliveira: Yes, you're right, I should have added Fighting Fantazine, and the Windhammer Prize, but they completely slipped my mind. They're all definitely worthy of future posts though...

    @ Stu: I'm not sure if the amateur works are having an effect, but there is definitely a 'fan effect' as books like Howl of the Werewolf, Stormslayer, and Night of the Necromancer, have certainly been written with the fans' opinions in mind. Plus fans are now writing commercial product, such as Tin Man Games Gamebook Adventure series for the iPhone/iPad, which are fantastic apps.

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  4. Hi, as this is a blog post and not an academic paper, you should link the Ages of D&D post you mentioned when you mention it (and not at the end)

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  5. Hi Gabriel. You're right, and I will, but I'm also enjoying the academic aspect. Plus you guys are reading them, so technically, they're peer-reviewed papers!

    cheers

    Andy

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  6. A nice compromise between the academic and blog format is to use anchor hypertext that takes the reader to your annotation. It's pretty easy to set up the href commands for anchors.

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  7. Hi Christian. That's a good idea although it's beyond my learning curve at the moment. I've used them with Wikia, but the format there was a bit easier to use than blogger. When I get time on the weekend I'll start looking into it.

    cheers

    Andy

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  8. There is certainly room in the marketplace for more adventure gamebooks. The video game did overtake the gamebook era, but there is nothing better than reading a new fully illustrated gamebook hot off the book shelf. I have all the gamebooks throughout the 80s collecting dust in my study. If you have any contacts in the publishing world, tell them that there are millions of genuine gamebook fans out there twiddling their thumbs for more adventures. It was such a shame that publishers got lazy and sat back on past success letting a phenomenon die off. In fact, I think I will contact publishers myself and ask why they are reluctant to commission new material. I believe gamebooks can flourish again if given intense marketing and promotion by publishers.

    Gamebooks were huge during the 80s and I for one would love to see a golden age again in this genre.

    Any publishers looking at this? Take notice!

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  9. Nicodemus: Buy DestinyQuest! 100% brand new advemture gamebook and 100% pure awesome. I did an interview with the author here:

    http://fantasygamebook.blogspot.com/2011/02/destinyquest-interview.html

    It is worth every penny!

    cheers

    Andy

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