Those of a certain age who played games in the 1980s or 1990s may recall the Fighting Fantasy (FF) books. Published beginning in the 1980s, they weren’t the first gamebooks but they were the most well-known and became the embodiment of the genre. The series consists of 59 books, each a standalone single-player role playing game, where the reader has just two dice, a pencil and an eraser to complete a quest. The paragraphs in the book present challenges for the player. For each challenge, the player must make a decision that determines the story’s progression. For example, from the Fighting Fantasy “Talisman of Death”, paragraph 152:
”The Captain of the Patrol demands that you surrender your sword, and says ‘Climb up behind Elvira there’. She points to one of the younger woman. Will you obey (turn to 155) or refuse (turn to 142)?”
A player’s decision may depend on his character’s stats, such as stamina, which are tracked (by the player) on the included Adventure Sheet. The game continues until the player is either stopped, killed, or completes the quest. With about 400 paragraphs each, a book will keep you busy for a few hours.
According co-author Steve Jackson (the British one, not the American guy, though the American Steve Jackson visited London and wrote the eighth book in the FF series, Scorpion Swamp), the publishers sat on the project for a year before green-lighting it. The series was eventually finished in 1999, with worldwide sales exceeding 15 million copies in 23 different languages.
Since the Web appeared, several books have been converted to online play and many Fighting Fantasy e-books appeared. Some sites have software to let you play FF games online or even create new ones. Onlinegamebooks, for example, has 59 amateur gamebooks online.
The smartphone app implementations stick faithfully to the books. In a way it’s a shame, since the original game design was tailored for books, and you can do so much more on the Web or a on a smartphone. That said, the series by Tin Man Pty and Ian Livingstone (co-author of the FF books) has lovely graphics and has successfully captured the essence of original books.
There is one FF app that takes advantage of the capabilities of an iPhone: Sorcery, designed by Steve Jackson, adds sounds, a spell book and a method of casting spells by dragging letters. “Infinite scroll” makes the story’s narrative appear seamless. When you click a decision, it joins the new text from the decision onto the end of the narrative text before it. It even lets you rewind the game, mimicking the “keep your fingers on the previous paragraph’s page” cheat when something goes wrong.
Why the Interest?
I think FF has been somewhat overlooked as a genre since the Internet became popular but is relevant again as something a little different for Apps. The FF system is for a solo player playing a single character, but on mobile or Web there’s less of a limitation to that. Using the same system, you might create an app to manage a party of dungeoneers, with one player running the party as the leader and the rest following. It’s probably more suited to having a sidekick that you can also play or “agents” that you send to perform tasks. On mobile it makes for a game that you can play anytime and anywhere and return to when convenient.
The original FF books were set in either fantasy settings like dungeons, or in space, but they’re applicable to other areas, perhaps even contemporary fiction. As an interview with authors Livingstone and Jackson points out, the Japanese dating game genre — which I looked at last year — is a bit like Fighting Fantasy.
If you’re a game or App designer, be sure to check out the Fighting Fantasy genre.