Questions by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Answers by Carl Jackson [Fighting Fantasy Legends Design Director]
Yesterday I had the pleasure to find out that the “Fighting Fantasy” book series is getting a video game! I’m so happy for this! If you don’t know what that means, that’s the first thing I cover, so don’t worry. I interviewed Carl Jackson, who is the Design Director/One of the Co-Founders of Nomad Games, the company working on this. “Choose Your Own Adventure” books were the backbone of my childhood practically, and seeing this come to life made me quite excited. Fighting Fantasy Legends is on the way, and if you enjoy roguelikes, and plenty of storytelling, you will not want to miss this. I for one cannot wait for the relaunch of the books, and for the game itself, because I actually did own a few of this franchise as a younger man.
OnRPG: Describe “Fighting Fantasy” to people who don’t know what it is, because apparently I’m the only person who seems to remember it out of any of my friends!
Carl: Well, the books… the game books… the original intention was D&D had just come out, and Livingstone and Jackson [the original authors] thought it’d be great if people could play something like this and didn’t have a group of friends with them. Something you could play on your own. So they came up with a simple ruleset, allowing it to go into book-form. So you read the book, there are choices all over the place, decisions to make, so you’d have a simple dice combat system, statistics for the character [Luck, Skill, Stamina], and you’d have a goal/quest for each book. You’d just work your way through the book, flipping forwards or backwards as you are instructed to, discovering more about the story, hopefully finding treasures and completing your quests as it goes. And there were over 50 of these books, originally written, and it’s in its 35th anniversary, and there’s a new book coming out in August. The older ones are being reissued too… and that’s Fighting Fantasy!
OnRPG: I have to say, I’m very excited for this! I was looking through the screenshots, and it felt kind of like a board game, and I was kind of hoping, before I saw that, I was kind of hoping it would be more like a Board Game, or something like Might & Magic [old M&M]. It feels kind of like Hero Quest! What’s the approach though? Still very story driven? Will it have the same stats?
Carl: It is actually, very much like a board game. I’m not sure if you’ve played Talisman, one of our bigger products. It’s a top-down view, almost like Baldur’s Gate. You remember Baldur’s Gate?
OnRPG: Yes, yes I do. I spent many hours on it!
Carl: Hundreds of hours myself. It’s almost like that, but it’s more top-down opposed to the ¾ of Baldur’s Gate. We have gone for the Hero Quest feel. You move room to room, and play through the stories. There are three books that we’ve included, each book is a level of its own. There’s Warlock of Fire-top Mountain, City of Thieves, and The Citadel of Chaos – three of the most iconic books. And so you play as a hero who is playing through each of these books, but the books are connected into one world.
It kind of works out like a roguelike, where you’ll go into the Citadel of Chaos, and you might not succeed, but you may have found some Treasure Cards, Magic Spells, killed some monsters, and your stamina may run out resulting in you getting kicked out of the level. But you can run back in, and try again, and make different choices. They’re tied quite closely to the events of the books. But there’s a big random element to it, which is where the card game element comes in. You have a deck of cards, which are themed to your location, so if it’s Firetop Mountain, which is a Dungeon, you’ll have a “Dungeon Deck,” which is shuffled when you go in, and as you travel through, you’ll be drawing cards. These cards may be monsters, treasures, events, traps, and you have to deal with each of the cards in order to progress to kill the Warlock at the end.
There’s loads of content in there, and it is an RPG at heart, so your character can level up [which the books don’t do]. There are combat and luck dice. When you kill monsters/complete quests, you can increase the power of your dice, so you get better, simply by how effective the dice rolls. It’s a new system, but it does hearken back to the original books, but it’s updated/fresher. It does feel a bit like a board game. It’s like someone already invented a Fighting Fantasy board game, and we made a digital version!
OnRPG: Okay, the original Fighting Fantasy as we’ve alluded to, were books. Will this game be narrated at all? Will the big story elements be narrated while playing, while you’re making decisions?
Carl: Yeah, there will be no voice acting, we did consider adding it though. There’s a lot of text that’s explaining what’s happening, not necessarily fumbling into a room and draw a card+fight a monster. There may be a description that says “You listen at the door, and you hear a light scratching noise” from the other side. Do you want to enter? They give you choices, go into the room or not. We keep that kind of [text-based] feel. We don’t describe too much. We want to show it instead. Instead of saying “There’s a corridor going west and east”, we have a corridor there for you to walk down. And then we let the player do that. There’s a lot of text to describe monsters, what’s happening. So it’s like an interactive game book, but updated with more of a Role-Playing feel.
OnRPG: So, there’s also the “Fighting Fantasy” and “Advanced Fighting Fantasy” tabletop in the… mid to late 80s? Did you guys take any inspiration from those? Ruleset/stories/etc?
Carl: Not really, no. Not to go all official, but, license was really with just the original “Fighting Fantasy” brand, and that’s partly because the new anniversary; there was going to be a bit of a relaunch, plus I think further down the Advanced FF route, the less Ian and Steve had to do with it. Different people took over. We just looked at it with a fresh pair of eyes. “What kind of game can we design?” We came up with the card game, and went with that! Based partly on the original books, but with new stuff as well.
OnRPG: Okay! Will there be more books added to it? You said there were three already. Whether they’re DLC, or free content?
Carl: We’ll definitely be looking at adding free content after release. But the main focus at the moment is just to finish the game. We want to make sure when we do, it’s as good as it can be, instead of having an eye on money further down the line. We want to make sure what they buy is good/enjoyable. If people like it, they’re desperate for more, then we’ll certainly make some more. If there is no demand for more, but people still enjoy it, we can add new content to this game. I’ve already had some ideas for stuff we can add, such as bounties, things like that, we can add post-release to keep people interest. No final decisions on that yet! We have to finish the game first.
OnRPG: On that topic, how long do you envision a level lasting? Can you save/come back?
Carl: I’m well aware that people read through the books with fingers on various pages to remind them of stuff. . .
OnRPG: I may or may not have done that! [Laughter]
Carl: Though I think we don’t really let people do that. Harder, digitally. But we do save all the time. With each decision/progression forward through a level, the game saves. So it’s almost auto-saving all the time, while you’re playing. So I’d say, it takes… it depends on how much of a completionist you are. To run through a level, the first time, for example, City of Thieves, you go into the city, and you talk to the people in the shops, and buy some things, and are given some quests. You’ll draw some cards, and you fight some monsters. Your first run of the city from beginning to end will take about 20-25 minutes, depending on how greedy you are. But what will probably happen, because of the roguelike nature, you’ll probably fail, or miss out on some things. You may die/be kicked out. So you run back in, you make different decisions, go down different streets, you may go into different shops. There are about 15-20 different routes, and you need to try them all to discover everything. To complete everything in a book, it may take about two to three hours.
And then there’s three books. There’s loads of replay value. That’s very important to a game. If you go into a shop, and your options are to “attack the shopkeeper” or “steal from the register” or whatever, and you go back through, thinking “Well what did I choose last time?” what you might have missed.. You can try to make different decisions. But the books remember what you did. If you go into a jewelry shop and decide to go back in later, then his shop will be closed.. Because you killed the shopkeeper. It won’t block those old puzzles out, but it does remember your action. It can definitely take quite a few hours, then there are achievements and a title system, so if you call your hero “Storm” or something like that, you’ll have a title like “the Barbarian” or “the Dragonslayer” and there are 50 or so that are locked at the beginning.
OnRPG: Just one or two more things. While I was sitting down, doing my research for this, I had a really great idea. Have you considered giving players the power to make their own adventures/upload them to the ‘net/to their friends? I know a lot of people who would love that, could do a lot with that toolset.
Carl: Well, we’ve almost been making two products parallel, so it’s funny you should ask that. Because one of them is actually the editing system. So, we’ve always had it in mind that we need an editing system. That if this game is popular, and they want more, how quickly could we make new books? So we actually, we’ve got a really polished editing system, that wouldn’t require all that much documentation, you get used to the quirks of the tools like this, work arounds and stuff. Adding graphics is really easy, sounds are really easy, text really simple, the choices the player makes… We could do something like that further down the line, but we’d have to make sure it’s separate from the Fighting Fantasy branding. Otherwise people could just make their own Fighting Fantasy books, and then we wouldn’t be able to do anymore! Or you know, they could make something look like an official Fighting Fantasy, but with lots of swearing or something like that, with no proper approval. It’d be good to release and let people make their own games. There’s another studio, they make the Sorcery games, I think they make them using their own in-house editing software, but I’m sure they’ve made it available online as well, so we could do something similar to that.
OnRPG: Okay, just one more question! Which Fighting Fantasy book is your favorite? Or which would you like to see made into a level if you had your say?
Carl: Well, I think my favorite is City of Thieves, which IS in the game. Having researched it so much, it’s just my kind of book. You’re walking through this city, and you’re just unsure of who to trust, must be difficult to get across, when you only have a few sentences for each encounter. But it really does feel like it’s a dangerous place, you could have your pocket picked anytime. You’re never sure what people’s intentions are: Are they going to help you, or stab you in the back? That’s really why I like it. It’s got a nice atmosphere, and the bad guy really looks like Darth Maul from Star Wars. It was actually designed by the same artist, the same artist designed both characters I think. It’s just been a pleasure to work on, and add some things to it, stuff fans of the book might not expect.