Feb 14 2011 4:02pm

Foundational gamebook series Fighting Fantasy comes to Kindle

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain ebookFighting Fantasy, the series of single-player roleplaying gamebooks (think Choose Your Own Adventure with stats and dice) that began in 1982, has entered the e-book era, beginning last week with the Kindle release of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and continuing with a new book in the 60-book series to be released each month by Worldweaver Ltd.

A quick look back: Fighting Fantasy was one of the first, and probably the most popular, roleplaying gamebook series to appear in the 1980s. The tagline above the enthusiastically pulpy art on each installment promised a thrilling fantasy adventure in which YOU were the HERO! For a young, book-loving proto-nerd such as I, who had not yet so much as heard of Dungeons & Dragons but certainly got a kick out of the idea of grabbing an (imaginary) sword and slicing up (imaginary) baddies, the concept was electric. By the time I was browsing for fantasy gamebooks, there were RPGs available for the computer—but even then I remember feeling that the pictures authors painted with words could far outdo what a programmer might manage with 16 colors of pixels on a 640x480 display.

Of course, the potential in gamebooks often outshone execution—and what’s more, it was kind of hard for an eight-year-old to resist dog-earing the page when deciding whether to investigate that forbidding cave… or to avoid fudging the die rolls when the manticore lurking inside landed almost landed a deadly blow with its scorpion tail.

However, there will be no opportunity for such “lucky” escapes this time around. According to the press release:

The books have been adapted to make use of the Kindle’s computing abilities, handling the dice rolls, scoring and inventory. There is also an automatic mapping system that shows the reader’s current location and route they have taken through the dungeons.

So, no pen, paper, or dice necessary—just, perhaps, a little more foresight. Or a really good memory of which caves to avoid.

Nostalgia aside, Fighting Fantasy as a brand has had an impressive longevity, with an entirely modern website and a continually evolving stream of merchandise over the years: board games, roleplaying game systems, magazines, video games, and, most recently, iPhone and iPad apps for several of its gamebooks. Given gamebooks’s straddling of the line between, well, “game” and “book,” it will be interesting to see whether the series finds more success on the dedicated e-reader format of the Kindle, or on the multimedia platforms of the iPhone and iPad.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain bookIt might even be worth wondering: Amazon has further and further embraced the Kindle’s computational abilities beyond pure e-reading, and Warlock of Firetop Mountain is only the latest in a series of games and gamebooks including the original Choose Your Own Adventure titles, interactive fiction newcomers like Choice of the Dragon and Choice of Broadsides, and plenty of games that aren’t even text-based at all, from chess to Monopoly to poker. Will e-readers find success in pushing the boundaries of their originally intended format, just as Fighting Fantasy prospered by doing something new with the space between two covers? Or is this push into e-reader interactivity ultimately trading mostly on novelty and nostalgia, with any such experience immeasurably outmatched by that already available on any genuine portable gaming platform—the very same ever more sophisticated, ever more dominant video gaming experience which already made gamebooks nearly obsolete once, some fifteen or twenty years ago?

I suppose what I’m asking is: do readers even WANT to be the hero, anymore?

Joshua Starr might not be the hero, but he would probably make an acceptable wisecracking sidekick.

Stephen Nicholson
1. MightyFlub
Awww. No sign of it on the UK Kindle store :(
Joshua Starr
2. JStarr

I hope the industry can eventually come up with a workable non-geographically-based ebook distribution solution. Stuff like that is such a hassle, and it seems like there has to be some way to stop it from being so.
Rajan Khanna
3. rajanyk
I used to love these books and it's great to see them return on the Kindle. Though I would find it hard to give up the old practice of keeping my finger at one point in the book so I could return to it if I made a fatal choice.
Linden Wolfe
4. Lilith
I played dozens of those books. I used to map the dungeon on paper. If I 'died' I could easily go back and make another choice at the point where the path to death lay. At the end of the book, I'd go back and see what would happen at all the choices I didn't make during the quest.
Yes, I was seriously lacking in a life.
Still am, come to think of it.
Rajan Khanna
5. rajanyk
It also appears that the first four books in the series are available as iPhone Apps with (presumably) the same functions.

I have to also say that my favorite of these kind of books was the four-volume Sorcery series, also by Jackson and Livingstone, which allowed you to be a wizard or a warrior and which, if you played through all of them, had continuity between the books. Of course that was surpassed by the multi-volume Lone Wolf series from Joe Dever. Though I probably shouldn't get into that here...
YouDont NeedToKnow
6. necrosage2005
I used to love the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I still have them and recently had to dig them up. I always wished that I could have bought the entire series, but they were out of print by the time I could actually afford them.

I never dog eared my books, choosing instead to use my fingers as book marks and go back when one story line ended. It was fun to see all of the parallel universes created by different my choices.
Joshua Starr
7. JStarr
@rajanyk: I loved Sorcery!, too. Played all four, with the spellbook. Lone Wolf, I ran out of steam on... but it seemed epic. If you loved Lone Wolf, you should definitely check out if you haven't. They're making all the books available in re-proofread electronic editions! (And have various other bits of neat stuff from the series.)

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