Thursday, June 30, 2011

Metallica versus Gamebooks

"Writing about music is (as they say) like dancing about architecture."
(Beaumont, 2005)

So there I was wandering through Coop's classic blog post on the influences of the British Old School and I stumbled upon his shout-out to Iron Maiden, king of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Maiden fully deserve a future blog post in their own right, but to me, and particularly my adolescent self back in the mid to late 80's, they were part of the the Big Three M's of Metal, the other two being Motorhead (and I'm not even going to attempt to find a bloody umlaut) and Metallica. Whether I was reading gamebooks, planning D&D adventures, or playing boardgames, all these guys formed the background soundtrack.

When I hit University however, I quickly abandoned Metal in favour of cooler if more obscure indie, alternative and hardcore bands such as Dead KennedysBlack Flag, Rollins Band, FugaziBig Black, Butthole Surfers, Killdozer, Godflesh, and local stalwarts The Mark of Cain. The sounds were more ferocious, the t-shirts more subtle and yet more disgusting, and there was no bloody spandex to be seen, praise Satan!

Fast forward half a decade and I'm in Vientiane, capital of the Peoples' Democratic Republic of Laos, and discover one of my buddies has all the early Metallica albums (I only consider the first four decent - the Black Album and anything beyond that are just garbage IMHO). To get me through the tedious hedonism of expatriate life in Indochine I compile a 90 minute mix tape of all my favourite Metallica tracks that I used to listen to, back when I was playing gamebooks.

I've still got the tape (still have all my tapes being such a chronic Luddite), and I present its track listing here for your edification, so that if you too were absorbing the sounds of Metallica while battling your way through countless dungeons it may strike a chord of nostalgia. Otherwise, for those who are too old, too young or perhaps too cool, consider it a snapshot of a time fondly remembered but perhaps best forgotten...

The Metallica versus Gamebooks Mix Tape (c90, 1996, Laos)

Side A
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
The Thing That Should Not Be
Jump in the Fire
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Orion (instrumental)
Damage Inc.
(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth (instrumental)

Side B
Fade To Black 
Master of Puppets
Creeping Death
The Call of Ktulu (instrumental)
To Live Is to Die (edit - first minute only)
The Wait

Possibly the only thing I'd change these days would be to ditch For Whom the Bell Tolls and Pulling Teeth in favour of Metallica's epic cover of Diamond Head's Am I Evil?. Generally however, I feel that's a pretty solid selection of Metallica tunes, with the bulk of the material coming from their most excellent second and third albums, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. Rock and roll!


Beaumont, R. (2005, February 27). Fine writing and reasonable force. The Nation, p. 10A.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Return to the Catacombs of the Undercity!

Wow! How long has it been? I'd talk about why it's been a while, but frankly it's just tedious real life nonsense that may be of personal importance but has nothing to do with this blog. It would be good if there was now an improvement in my blogging output, but I start a Masters in August, so there may well be an ongoing struggle between what I want to do, and what I should be doing...

In the meantime, (and how is it my pageview stats have essentially doubled even though I have posted absolutely nothing?) my entry in Tin Man Games "Gamebook Adventures" series, Catacombs of the Undercity, has been accumulating some very promising and awesome reviews (and no, I didn't pay anybody - I'm flat broke!).

Firstly, Tim Harvey gave it 4 out of 5 over at Proxholic, noting:

"In many ways, the gamebook really emphasizes the game aspect, since it's all-in-all a very interactive experience. The book part of the equation is really well-done too, however, with a very well-written story and some interesting and compelling characters."

Tim also notes that the gameplay is:

"An excellent mix of compelling story, branching choices for exploration and replayability, fun RPG elements and lots of random outcomes to keep you on the edge of your seat!"

Secondly, Andy Boxall at iPhoneFreak said that it was the best in the series yet (although Al Sander's The Wizard of Tarnath Tor has since been released to some deservedly fantastic reviews)!

Andy's review went on to say:

"If you’re an experienced role-player, then the thought of battling through dimly lit tunnels will probably appeal, and it certainly did to me!  Thanks to the descriptive writing, it’s easy to lose yourself in the story and even without the help of those excellent illustrations – from the same artist who worked on An Assassin in Orlandes – mentally visualizing your world is easy and very rewarding. 

I’m not going to bury the lead here, Catacombs of the Undercity is the best entry into the Orlandes series I’ve played yet.  It’s exciting, atmospheric and even amusing at times, plus there are plenty more beasties to battle too."

Lastly, Digitally Downloaded gave it 4.5 stars out of 5, saying:

"What makes this gamebook if anything better than Tarnath Tor is the story itself. Within the first passage of the book your character finds himself thrown down a deep, dark well, with no equipment. The goal? To survive and escape. This means the book is a classic dungeon crawl in its truest form, which is incidently a perfect fit for the form.

Given the quality of the story, this is the one of the best gamebooks I’ve ever played."

What can I say, other than I'm really happy that the amount of work I put into planning and writing Catacombs of the Undercity, and all the effort the amazing Tin Man team put into getting it into a publishable format, has been duly recognized!

You can find Catacombs of the Undercity here.