Choose your own adventure: Gamebooks, from 80's geek to The Shiny Now

The Black Dream by Col Buchanan is out today! This marks the third book in his brilliant fantasy series - following on from the success of Farlander and Stands a Shadow.  We caught up with Col earlier this month and asked him to tell us about one of his early influences - Gamebooks.

And in case you missed it, Col also featured on Tor.com, talking about his five favourite books with siege warfare. Check out his piece here. 


80's Geek

Laugh all you want at us geeks raised in the 80's.

Laugh at the appalling hair cuts back then and the drab, insincere choices of our clothing. We certainly do.

Laugh at our tablet-sized classsroom calculators that could spell out 'BOOBS' in liquid-crystal digits. Laugh at our blip-blip Atari's. Our colour-clashing Spectrums with keys of living flesh and a whole 48k of memory. Our box TV sets and their handful of channels – ugly, squat things that reeked from the layers of dust trapped inside their warming interiors, a smell not so dissimilar from dried blood …

Laugh at our innocent sense of wonder. We're easy targets after all, us 80's geeks, with our minds forever blasted open by movies like the original Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, The Goonies, Wargames, Ferris Bueller, Butch and Sundance … It's true, we were spoiled in that Golden Age of cinema by some of the most charismatic films of all time. Back then, we thought that movies would go on being this good forever.

And laugh too, while you're at it, at how we entertained ourselves in those days with paper and words and our own feverish imaginations. For we were a literate generation, despite all the magical screens and emergent technologies unfolding around us. In the 80's, alone in our bedrooms, we read like bastards for lack of any Internet to hang out in. Books of Science Fiction and Fantasy were devoured as fast as they could be borrowed, purchased or stolen, and when you ran out of them you wrote your own exciting stories, fired up like a new sun by the endless possibilities before you.

When we grew lonely for our own kind, we played RPG's with friends using pens and paper and ridiculously large handfuls of dice, (our random number generators) – a form of collective storytelling, imagining everything in our heads as though it was all very real and very pressing, grinning and shouting at each other across a table of competing debris and a pooling alternate-reality.


Gamebooks

For some us, the more solitary types or those who just couldn't get enough, there was also the exciting new realm of Gamebooks to explore on our own. Choose Your Own Adventure Stories that crossed genre fiction with the thrills of role-playing and random chance. What a wonderfully gripping idea.                                                                                                                            

Most popular of these new gamebooks were the best-selling Fighting Fantasy series by Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone, kicked off with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. But others were quick to enter the genre.

Soon you could be going head-to-head with your buddy in one of the devilishly designed Duel Master books by Mark Smith and Jamie Tomson, or battling through a co-operative, multiplayer gamebook like the deadly Blood Sword series, written by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson, so long as you had a friend with a copy of the same book.

Most ambitious of all were the Fabled Lands gamebooks by Morris and Tomson, which introduced the insane notion of a fully Open World setting, just like the best of today's video games.

My favourite gamebooks though were Joe Dever's Lone Wolf series. It's hard to say exactly why these remain my favourite more than any other, but they do. Their particular atmosphere struck a chord with me in some way, to the point where a scene from the series helped inspire the prologue to my first fantasy novel Farlander, though I only realised it in retrospect.

As an 80's teenager, these books were akin to that kid Sebastian opening up the Never Ending Story and getting sucked through into another world. You played the lead role in what seemed like a living story. Combat could be exhilarating. Cheating was achieved by keeping your thumb in the last page you flicked from (in case you died).

Laugh all you want, but we never truly set aside our childhood things. Thinking back, I still adore them all.


The Shiny Now

My God, I realise. Was that all really 30 years ago?

Meanwhile, in the Shiny Now, the dazzling world of the Internet has become what 80's geek culture was always pointing towards, in its own limited capacity. And maybe it should be no surprise that in the online frontiers of today we're seeing a renewed interest in those geeky things from our past.

Just the other day I found all the Lone Wolf gamebooks available for free online. Which lead me to check out the surprising new addition to the Lone Wolf series downloaded straight to my tablet. A true digital-adventure-book experience.

Indeed, I'm so inspired that after all these years I might even try my hand at writing another Gamebook of my own, for a more mature audience, when I next get the chance.

Anyway, check out the links below:


Free Gamebook Links

Project Aon - Fan-based collection of the entire Lone Wolf Gamebook Series, by full consent of the author, available to download for free. Make sure to play the books using the wonderful Seventh Sense graphical book player. Similar version available as an App here.

Joe Dever's Lone Wolf App - Free to Play. Even more striking is this very new addition to the Lone Wolf series, in the form of a clever computer game that marries the gamebook experience with 3D fights and a dynamic map. Surprising stuff, and wonderfully produced by BulkyPix. I'm a huge fan.

Fabled Lands – Free, Open Source Java Version of the series available for download.

Fighting Fantazine - Free digital version of the gamebook fanzine.