Thursday, November 10, 2011
Five Things I've Learned From The Windhammer Prize (Part 1)
One of the interesting things about the Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction is that Wayne Densley keeps the voting tallies secret. This is understandable for what is essentially a niche competition, as if the winning tally was known, competitors may think "Ah, I only need X votes!" and aim to amass the required number of votes rather than devote themselves to their gamebook entry.
While this hidden tally introduces a degree of mystery to the proceedings, it also makes analysing the results, in the form of a voting spread, virtually impossible. However, given that I won this year after several previous years of failure, I thought I'd share a few things I did differently this year that may have contributed to a much improved final placing. I have no way of knowing how much, if any, these changes affected my winning tally, but taken as a whole there surely must be some sort of cumulative effect.
If you're lucky, you should get a decent amount of feedback on your adventure, post-competition. While recognizing that each person's feedback represents just one person's opinion (which you may or may not agree with), study it carefully. Considering the feedback as a whole, sift it for general trends, as these will identify what worked and what you need to improve.
Plenty of feedback from my first competition entry, Hills of Phoros, indicated that aimless wandering as per Fabled Lands, was tedious in a small adventure, as was excessive grind-time. Also, if you're using a certain style of character generation system, such as points-buying, implement it across the board. Based on this feedback, I added a bit more story to the still sandbox-influenced RAMPAGE! and Sea of Madness, as well as a complete points-buy system for creating characters if you did not wish to use the provided starting characters.
2. Maximum Performance
The Windhammer Prize has stated limits of 100 sections or 40 pages of A4. You should try and aim for both limits as one hundred sections is not a large amount with which to tell a multiple choice story, while 40 pages allows you around 20,000 words, or 200 words a section on average. That's a decent chunk of text, nearly half a NaNoMo entry, and will require an effective time budget to ensure your typed word count per day is ticking over nicely. While sacrificing the art of story-telling at the cold altar of mathematics may seem harsh, the reality of writing a gamebook is that you are creating a complex puzzle that requires a degree of rigourousness unknown to most short stories or novellas. Break out the calculator!
Hills of Phoros sprawled so badly I had to cut huge chunks of rules and sections to cram it into the competition limits, and this had a big effect on the final product. Conversely, RAMPAGE! was a featherlight affair set at half the competition requirements (50 sections) and probably suffered from brevity compared to the excellence and expansivenes of other entries, such as The Bone Dogs. Sea of Madness was planned exceedingly tightly, though parts still got cut. Still, it was a much more cohesive gamebook than its predecessors.
I'll present the final three things tomorrow.