19 de Septiembre, 2014
Steve Jackson: «Be constantly aware that the process of creating games is a commercial exercise»
Steve Jackson: «Be constantly aware that the process of creating games is a commercial exercise»

Under the friendly face of Steve Jackson, an unmistakably English gentleman usually seen in photos with a smile from ear to ear, there is a man that has given countless children (and not so children anymore) of the eighties a new dimension in reading: the wonderful gamebooks edited through the stamp Fighting Fantasy (among which one of the most famous is the Sorcery! saga). The same Sorcery! that Inkle has turned into an excellent series of games for tablets and mobile, thus showing the effectiveness of interactive fiction and a confluence between analog and digital that Jackson has known throughout his career. Fighting Fantasy is not the only achievement to his credit: this creator and editor must also be thanked for creating Games Workshop itself, the company that gave the world such a vast and entertaining universe as Warhammer. We could go on listing his achievements, but it is better to describe him through his own words.

Hi Steve, thanks a lot for your time answering our questions. You began Games Workshop going directly to the USA, to the game authors and telling them «Hey! I like your game and I want to publish it in the UK» One could say that you were a fan of the games you published. Do you think this is still possible these days? Some people think there is a breach between authors and companies nowadays, while others state just the opposite: that it has never been easier to approach the industry than today. Where do you position yourself in this topic, and why?

Back in those early days, everyone in the Hobby Games industry was a gamer. And running a games publishing company to promote their own game was their dream. None of the mass-market publishing companies were ever going to take up these esoteric games, so their designers had no choice but to self-publish. As the industry grew companies began moving out of their owners’ basements into proper offices, employing staff, risking longer print runs… Suddenly their hobby business had become a proper business. And had to be run as such. Some managed this, others didn’t. There is a parallel today with the Indie development scene. But on a much larger stage.

As one of the proud parents of Fighting Fantasy, which book of the long-lived series, yours or written by others, would you like to see adapted as a video game?

I presume you mean a full-on 1st/3rd Person RPG? Well I would have to say Warlock of Firetop Mountain, as it was the first and has great sentimental value for Ian and me.

After that I would say Sorcery! as I consider it my best gamebook which consumed my heart and soul for a couple of years.

How do you feel about your work being redone by others twenty years later? In what sense the guys of Inkle had more or less free rein to make the adaptation with Sorcery!?/h5>

I do think he’s done an excellent job with Sorcery 2. The thing was, when Inkle’s Sorcery! App first appeared, it had wonderful reviews, but some readers commented it was «Too Short». That was my fault! The length of the original book was fine – long, even – for a Gamebook. But in the digital age, Gamebook-length games can be considered short. So Jon wanted to address this concern by writing new material. This was fine by me, as I know he can write well. I didn’t think he’d write so much new material! But he did a fantastic job.

Have you seen recent efforts about gamebooks that appeal to you or you just yearn for «the good old days»”?

I think Jon Green’s contributions to the Tin Man Gamebook Adventures are worthy of special mention here. Green has also contributed several titles to Fighting Fantasy so he knows the field…

SJwFFBooks

How was the process of writing a gamebook back then in the eighties? Did you use specific software, printing tools… or maybe just a big chalkboard or a notebook full of annotations? It seems a hard graft anyway, but also fun.

In the early 80s, when the first gamebooks appeared, home computers had arrived, but couldn’t do much. And they were unreliable. I don’t think I used a Word Processor until either Creature of Havoc or the Trolltooth Wars.

Before then it was the popular image of an author tapping away on his typewriter, reading what he’d written, screwing it up into a paper ball and throwing it into the bin. I did lots of that!

My technique was to write the beginning of the adventure first, then the end, then fill in the middle according to what I’d set out in the beginning/end. And all the encounters and pathways were planned out on a huge piece of graph paper.

And what do you think about gamebooks remade in apps for mobile platforms? Let’s play a little: imagine you travel in time and get to talk to your younger self from the past. How would you convince him of the the benefits of mobile interactive fiction? Please try to not upset young Steve too much…

I remember at the time people were assuming that videogames would be the ‘ideal’ format for Fighting Fantasy. And a few developers tried. My question was always: «If the book was £3.95 and a videogame version for C64 or Spectrum was £15, why would anyone buy the computer version?» It wasn’t until mobiles and tablets that the answer came, with Inkle and Tin Man. They both enhanced the original books with new features: colour art, a re-vamped combat system, spells, maps, rewinding the adventure. These were all so much more interesting than as they appeared in the original books. It was what Ian and I had been waiting for – really bringing the format into the 21st century.

What would I advise the young Steve? One of the things we have debated for years was whether we were right to simply have the reader as the hero. Would the series have been more popular if the hero was a character and the readers made decisions for this character? On the one hand the character could have been developed through the series and he would have become a known character. Having said that, a Japanese publisher recently tried this out, introducing a Manga-style character. It didn’t prove to be particularly popular…

We’ve been reading about your F.I.S.T. project. This was a great innovation for its time, the first telephone game, although the trends in mobile gaming have been very different since then. How do you think mobile games are going to evolve from now on?

Originally F.I.S.T. was supposed to be an adaptation of a Gamebook to be published in six months’ time. This would have allowed some cross-promotional work. But when I went through the original FF adventure it was obvious that this wasn’t going to work. In a book, four pages of intro is fine. But listening to five minutes of recording before you got to do anything was never going to work with players. So I wrote the original FIST adventure, Castle Mammon with much more frequent player interaction.

Looking into the future I would say digital downloads and Kickstarter are already changing the industry. Games become more accessible directly to the entire world, financed by crowdfunding.

So where do game stores and publishers fit in?

Perhaps shops will become general games shops, selling more than just videogames. There is something of a resurgence in boardgames at the moment and that could fill the gaps.

And new formats? Raspberry Pi? Oculus Rift? To be frank I can’t see VR headsets being commercially successful with games. It is an impressive piece of kit. But to my mind it’s the sort of thing that people will try once, say «That’s amazing!», but not buy one. Like 3D TV. Sorry, Facebook…

Steve_Jackson_Dice2

Steve Jackson junto with Joseph Humfrey, co-founder of Inkle, playing Swindlestones, of Sorcery! 2.

You teach Digital Games Theory and Design MA at Brunel University, in London. This is really interesting, to have a teacher who knows the subject from the very roots, like you; and here in Spain we don’t have many chances like this in our academic curricula. Can you tell us something about your work?

The Brunel Game Design course has three aspects: the fundamentals of game design, game design theory, and application (commercial game publishing). It started seven years ago with eight students doing an MA course, taught by myself and Tanya Krzywinska, a Professor at Brunel. But now there is a thriving 3-year BA course and we have a teaching staff of seven. We had 250 applicants for this year’s undergraduate course – but we can only take 35-40 students! And our links with the industry have been successful in helping place graduates with opportunities in the industry

Many rookie game designers visit us at Indie-o-rama, and some of them work not only with video games but also creating board or card games. As someone who has worked (and succeeded!) in all those fields throughout the years, do you have some wise advice for them, in a few words?

Recognise the importance of Unique Selling Points! Play many games and learn recognise what makes particular games great.

And be constantly aware that the process of creating games is a commercial exercise.

Finally, we’re curious about your projects at the moment. Wikipedia describes you as «Author and Entrepreneur». So tell us, what is at the road in front of you?

The most exciting project on at the moment is our Fighting Fantasy Fest in Ealing West London [Note: the event took place on 4 September]. This is a festival dedicated to Fighting Fantasy books. Celebrities attending will be many of the people who helped in the success of the series, including artists John Blanche, Russ Nicholson, Chris Achilleos, Tony Hough and more. Inkle and Tin Man will be demonstrating their latest Apps. The event will see the launch of You Are the Hero the history of Fighting Fantasy. There will be an auction of unique items from the FF archives, talks, and lots more!

Acerca de Scullywen


Una especie de bundle friki con patas: videojuegos, rol, juegos de mesa con muchas piececitas de colores, ciencia ficción y fantasía a tutiplén, cómics, series de esas que no tienen audiencia y pueblan los sueños húmedos de Joss Whedon... También escribo cosas, y a veces lo hago con las manos. Y con un gato encima del teclado.

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