Solo gamebook design

Posted on October 20, 2014

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After my experience with Sorcery!: The Crown of Kings, I thought on what this gamebook was about, the experience it wanted me to have. I came up with two pillars of the solo gamebook: Challenge, and Immersion.

Challenge

The solo gamebook is a puzzle. There are correct paths. There are incorrect paths. The goal of play is to “win”, to get the victorious ending. You are supposed to learn what smells like a trap and what smells like a trap but is actually a chest filled with magical weapons. Marshal your resources wisely, memorize, and intuit when the book wants you to play timid and when it wants you to be bold. It’s not at heart about narrative; it’s about overcoming the pixel-bitchy quest.

Immersion

But it’s also about winning inside of a particular story. The solo gamebook does not want you to feel like you are making just the right choice or the wrong choice. It wants you to feel that you are making the choice that leads to you skewering the Sightmasters on your Holy Wooden Spear (I am not making this up), or getting straitjacketed by them and locked in the dungeon. This is why the solo gamebook is invariably written in the second person perspective. A hero is You.
I tried to think of a third pillar, because three pillars sounds good, but everything I came up with, from my experience with Sorcery! and my experience with CYOA books as a kid, could be held up by one of these two.

The thing is, those are only two pillars in a templeful. So much more could be done with this medium–maybe even by doing less. Knock out the challenge pillar. What does a solo gamebook look like then? There’s probably a lot less backtracking and time-wasting and scanning of the same paragraph. Maybe your character can’t die. Maybe your choices affect things in a different way. Maybe the story evolves even if you hit a narrative loop you’ve already seen.

I dunno. Thoughts are brewing. What if “you” are not the protagonist? What if the protagonist doesn’t like that you’re making choices for her and fights back?

I should say that I’m primarily thining about the vein of design of physical gamebooks. I’m sure more and different things can be done (and are being done) with linked hypertext, but I don’t have an interest in making a twine game.

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