Original text of the interview that Mark Lain did for PC Mania - the biggest and oldest gamer magazine in Bulgaria!
Some of you know him for your long-running blog - MALthus Dire's Figthing Fantasy Page - where you feature Fighting Fantasy content - from the books, the magazine and even the computer games! Others know him as a gamebook author and publisher, already clocking in 4 books in his “Destiny’s role” series as well as the “Destiny’s Role: Distractions” - the first (but perhaps not last) companion book to the series. It’s an honor to have such an active and avid member of the English gamebook community with us.
Mark’s “Fragile Beauty” gamebook story from "Destiny's Role 0: Zero to Hero"was featured in issue #12 of the Bulgarian gamebook magazine.
So other than this short intro, can you introduce yourself to our audience?
I have been a fan of gamebooks and, by extension, fantasy board games, since an early age. When I first discovered gamebooks they were just getting popular and I was buying and playing them in their heyday when they were selling thousands and thousands of copies. As soon as a new FF book was released, I would go straight to the local shop that weekend and buy it. FF and Lone Wolf were huge phenomena in the mid-80s and I was lucky enough to be the right age at the time to see it all happen. I live in the East Midlands of England. I lost interest in gamebooks when I was about 12 or 13 and stopped getting FF books just after #25 (Beneath Nightmare Castle) was released. But I got interested again in the mid-2000s when Bloodbones got released. I remember seeing it in my local bookshop, I bought it, and my interest was rekindled. From there I became a very serious collector and now have probably around 800+ gamebooks plus a large amount of related material. I do have some gamebooks in foreign languages too.
I also write my own gamebook series called Destiny's Role which uses original 80s gamebook artists as much as possible for the covers and internal art as I think it's important to have that "old school" classic look.
How did you get into gamebooks? What was your first one?
My parents bought Warlock Of Firetop Mountain for me as a speculative Christmas present in 1983 to see if I liked it. I loved it and I quickly asked for another one. My second one was City Of Thieves which I chose based purely on the fantastic cover. After that I got Starship Traveller. From there I was hooked. My friend liked Lone Wolf so we used to play them together.
After so many years, what keeps your passion going and even evolving to writing more ambitiously and even taking on the publishing duties of an entire series?
The sheer enjoyment that I get from playing gamebooks, looking at the art, and especially from finding a new and original idea or concept in a gamebook is what keeps me passionate.
From a young age I designed and wrote adventures that I played with friends and this evolved more recently into me wanting to create my own series. I had (and still have) so many ideas that it is a form of therapy to get them out of my brain and onto paper, I exorcise the ideas this way and like to see them completed and organised in the form of a finished gamebook with art that translates how I see the scenes in my head. It's all very refreshing and hugely enjoyable. Plus it is satisfying to say "I wrote that" when I see the book on my shelves. Destiny's Role is the summation of my gamebook experience.
When you play gamebooks, do you tend to cheat or do you play by the rules (restart of insta-death, roll dice every combat or during challenges)?
It depends really. If I'm playing the entire book for a blog post, I will cheat as I want to explore every possible section and path. But if I'm playing the book for pleasure I will accept deaths, use dice, manage my inventory correctly, etc. part of the fun of gamebooks is in failing and learning as you go. Regular video games have to be played properly so gamebooks should also be played properly.
Other than gamebooks, what other games do you enjoy playing? Any board games, RPGs, video games?
I like the classic 1980s games workshop board games and play them monthly with a local gaming group that I run. I have never liked video games, although I got very addicted to Pokemon and completed the first seven Generations obsessively. I used to play D&D and Judge Dredd RPG avidly as a teenager but RPGs are a big time commitment which I don't have anymore.
Interviewer's note: Mark did however review several FF-based computer games:
Tin Man Games did also produce an isometric multi-platform adaptation of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain in recent years.
About FF books in other languages? How do you find and get them? How did you get the Bulgarian ones?
I get foreign editions from various sources: eBay, other collectors, contacts that I have in other countries who source books for me (I get the new Danish, Brazilian and Hungarian editions this way for example), etc. Sometimes I am lucky and find a gamebook in a shop when I'm on holiday in another country (although this mostly only happens in French shops as gamebooks are perpetually popular in France). There are some French-language series that I've collected (I can speak French so I do read these). The new Chameleon Comix Hungarian FF series are really nice and I'm collecting them for the cover art. I also like the new Danish FF books that have brand new art in them so I'm collecting those.
I have an international collecting focus on Starship Traveller too and am trying to get all the foreign editions of that one title: I currently have it in French (x2 versions), Danish, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, German (x2 versions), Swedish, Japanese, Brazilian (x 2 versions), Czech, Hungarian, Russian, and of course Bulgarian. I think the only versions I am missing now are Spanish, Hebrew, and Finnish. I do have a few other French FFs, a few Portuguese ones, several Japanese ones (including the Manga-style versions), plus I have Port Of Peril in French, Italian, and the lovely Bulgarian edition with the Iain McCaig cover art. A friend in Russia recently sent me a beautiful hardback gamebook by Russia's only native gamebook author - the art in it is fabulous.
The two Bulgarian gamebooks I have were from two very different sources: the BG Port Of Peril came direct from the publisher who luckily shipped to the UK, but the BG Starship Traveller came from a guy who brought a shipment of books over for a mutual friend including an extra copy of Starship Traveller for me. The global peer-to-peer collecting network is excellent and I have contacts in several countries who get books for me and I sometimes send them UK books that they want in return.
In Bulgaria the gamebook community has been having an upheaval since 2010 (called “The New Wave”). Have you followed any of the activities happening here?
I am aware of the original Bulgarian FF editions and I think I've seen Bulgarian editions of some of Dave Morris' books (possibly Fabled Lands?*) I know from when I submitted "Fragile Beauty" to a Bulgarian publisher that Kniga-Igra** is a series (I think). I don't follow international scenes the way I maybe should though because the UK scene is so active and fast-moving.
*Interviwer's note #1: Nope - we don't have Fabled Lands translated here, but we do have Blood Sword and Virtual Reality series that came out here during the 90s.
**Interviewer's note #2: The main active publishers of gamebooks both have the term "knigi-igri" in their name - it literally means gamebooks. One publisher is handling book primarily, while the other is mostly focused on the fanzine.
You also manage a Facebook group for buying and selling gamebooks. In Bulgaria, “The Way of the Tiger” and “Blood Sword” are the English titles that are quite sought after. What is the situation in the UK? What are the rare books people seek?
Because a huge number of series got published here in the UK there are quite a few grail titles that collectors search for. Way of the Tiger are all very common here though as it was a very popular series in the UK. FF 55 thru 59 are always in demand, especially 55 - Deathmoor, 57 - Magehunter, 58 - Revenge of the Vampire. The original Knight Books edition of Blood Sword 5 is highly prized, as are Lone Wolf 27 - Vampirium and 28 - The Hunger of Sejanoz. In fact, any Lone Wolf from 21 onwards is expensive here now.
Falcon series 6 - At the End of Time and Grailquest series 8 - Legion of the Dead are both rarities.
Freeway Warrior series 4 - California Countdown and Dragon Warriors series 6 - The Lands of Legend are rare as well.
Unopened sealed boxed sets of the pairs of Duel Master books are rare.
Casket of Souls is always in demand too and Proteus series 20 - The Orchid of Life is a mega rarity.
In terms of related memorabilia, the FF Quest Pack, FF Poster Book, Lone Wolf Calendar, Emperor of Vangoria Battle Card, the plastic FF 60mm figures, and boxed sets such as Grailquest and Dragon Warriors are very rare.
There is always something to look for and a collection will never be "complete".
As a gamebook author, what challenges have you overcome from writing small adventures for fantazines to creating the current ones for “Destiny’s Role”? Do you have favorite settings, mechanics, etc. ?
To be honest, the hardest part for me is controlling my ideas and keeping the concept or design of a game to a realistic scale. The shorter fan adventures I used to write always finished up being far longer than I'd planned so writing a "full" gamebook in that sense allows me more freedom. I find it difficult to discipline myself to say a game map is finished and make myself move to the writing stage, but once the writing itself starts I cannot stop and I tend to work quite quickly from first draft to final version. It's the planning and design that takes a long time. I am very pleased with the city of Nottsborn in Red Monsoon as it allowed me to flex my love of classic horror movies. The witch themes in Mistress Of Sorrows were interesting too and I did a lot of historical research for that book. I find dungeons easier to design than exterior adventures because dungeons follow a mapped flowchart much more easily. Plains, mountains, forests, deserts, etc are much more challenging as aspects such as weather and passing characters come into play. Towns are fun as they are basically dungeons but outside and they follow a logical and restricted map like a dungeon does.
I like simple but effective mechanics - a few stats and an inventory of items. I hate cross-referencing lots of complex tables as I prefer play and events to bookkeeping and strategy.
What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
I am currently working on several projects. The graphic novel adaptation of Rebel Planet is my biggest current project. I have almost finished Distractions 2 for Destiny's Role which will hopefully be ready in March. The next full Destiny's Role gamebook (Kaleidoscope Frenzy) is already in the design stage. I started working on an idea to include in Distractions 3 (yes, I'm already planning that!) And I have ideas in various stages of planning for at least another six Destiny's Role books. DR will be a long series and I intend for it to go on for several years. I am writing a series of short stories based on Starship Traveller for inclusion in Fighting Fantazine, and the MALthus Dire blog still takes my time as well. I am always thinking about or writing about gamebooks.
Finally, can you give a send off to the gamebooks fans and gamers around the world?
Thanks for reading my interview and keep playing games. There is always something new to discover out there.
If you want to check out more articles in English from the Bulgarian gamebook society go to the article index.
Публикувана в English