Good examples of print IF?

Pelle commented in another thread that CYOA isn’t a good name for the alternative to parser IF, because the Choose Your Own Adventure brand books exemplify some of the worse parts of the genre. (For example, the one I remember most had only one good ending, and every choice was truly a branch (none of them ever joined up again). Thus you needed to make the “right” choice at every step to get something other than “you died, go back to Page 1”.)

Conversely, I remember several years ago reading an interesting CYOA-style story by Garth Nix that required the player to keep track of their inventory and roll a die to add randomness at certain points. It was a bit clumsy, but I liked the result better–a branch could loop back to the same point, but might add (or remove) something to your inventory in the process and thus have an effect on the story.

Does anyone else know of good examples of the genre in printed (or static text) format?

Well, there’s the Fighting Fantasy series of course. Many happy hours.

My favorites are written by Ian Livingston. Like Temple of Terror.

Of the CYOA line, the earlier ones tend to be more interesting and fun - later on they were clearly cranking them out to a formula and they became kind of joyless, both in terms of structure and content.

This was the norm in the UK, where CYOA-style stuff was seen very much as a subset of RPGs - largely because it was pioneered by Games Workshop guys. A lot of them give you the feeling of really wanting to be computer-based - Inkle’s updated versions of the Sorcery! series are an obvious and substantial improvement on the book interface. Almost all of them were targeted at tween boys.

No discussion of CYOA is complete without mentioning Jason Shiga, particularly Meanwhile. (Zarf did a device-friendly version of it.)

Of more recent efforts, you should definitely at least check out Pretty Little Mistakes (I wrote about it here). The print CYOA I’ve encountered falls mostly into two categories - young-adult, and adult snark at the dorkiness of young-adult CYOA. Pretty Little Mistakes isn’t Great Literature, exactly, but it’s trying to be something that’s not one of those two categories and doing a decent job of it.

To Be Or Not To Be by Ryan North, which adapts Hamlet into An-Adventure-Is-Being-Chosen-By-You-Book format, is great! I think it was even designed using Twine.

Trapped in Time by Simon Christiansen. It was a PDF entry for this year’s IFComp, and it was fantastic.

Available here: … InTime.pdf

I do recommend printing it out rather than playing on the PDF.

One source of CYOA IF that I don’t think most people here know about is The Windhammer Prize competition, which focuses on short gamebooks. The guy who won last year’s contest, Philip Armstrong, is a regular of another forum I hang out at, which is how I found out about it. His gamebook, 'Normal Club, is pretty good, and I also really liked The Scarlet Thief, by Ramsay Duff. There’s another one, Out of Time by Paul Struth, which I didn’t like nearly as much as the other two (it played too much like an over-complex version of Trapped in Time), but you might get a kick out of it anyway. Haven’t really tried any of the other entrants.

You can find a lot of information at (“Demian’s Gamebook Web Page”).

The well beloved Lone Wolf series by Joe Dever is available for online play and download -

Nah, he’s rubbish. Steve Jackson* wrote the best of the FF gamebooks. Creature of Havoc is still the best gamebook ever written.

  • Not to be confused with the other Steve Jackson, the American game designer, who also wrote FF books

What I was going to say. It’s like the if-comp for gamebooks really. In contrast many new commercial “CYOA” games (that you see on the mobile appstores; based on the few I played, and the several others I read about) are more like very traditional 80’s books. Imagine a world where parser-based i-f was still dominated by Adventure and Zork clones, but instead the books (and apps) are mostly clones of CYOA and Fighting Fantasy. There are some good entertaining, well-written old-school gamebooks (like some Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf), but if you look at the mechanics (compare to the parser in parser-based games) they are far behind (imo) what some of the gamebooks did in the 90’s, and what some Windhammer Prize books are doing now. For one thing I think since sometime in the early 90’s many series have used codewords, used as boolean flags to track how the world changes. That’s a great leap from being limited to only the player’s current position and inventory.

From all the series of gamebooks I know of, the Fabled Lands books are the most amazing. They allow the player to move freely around a world of up to 6 books (12 where scheduled to be written, and still might be if there is enough interest for a kickstarter one day). You go on various quests, level up, pick sides in various conflicts, trade (you can buy ships and hire crews to ship goods between ports). It’s like a CRPG, but only using paper and dice. There is no end as far as I know, but the same mechanics could obviously be applied to a more traditional story-based advanture if you wanted to.

There is a newer book that I think does something similar, … -vengeance , but I got my copy only weeks ago and have not had time to explore it. There are some other series of books from the last few years that is also based on free movement to do quests over a larger area. Holdfast is also scheduled to become a tablet app some day, so we’ll see how it compares to other interactive fiction.

In a slightly different category, there were the classic puzzle-books of the 80s: Masquerade, Maze, etc.

All had game-design flaws (or puzzle-design flaws, if you like) but they required interaction and you could generally make some progress. Maze (Kit Manson) in particular was a big influence on me; it had CYOA-book-style navigation as well. At least part 1 of its three-part riddle is fair and solvable.

Also worth noting in this group:

The Eleventh Hour (Graeme Base), No relation to the videogame. Kid-level puzzles, but still fun.

The Egyptian Jukebox (Nick Bantock).

I’ve been following the Fabled Lands’ author’s blog for the past few years hoping for some indication that the last six books will one day be released. No such luck yet but maybe one day.

I also follow the FL blog. There is a desktop Java application to play all 6 books for free called flapp. Worth trying.

The Virtual Reality gamebooks, despite the name, by one of the FL authors plus others, are interesting as well. Known for interesting stories and for being diceless. There are still skills and hp like other rpg-like books, just nothing random. Think they introduced the codeword mechanic. It is my impression from looking at some windhammer books that this series is a common source of inspiration ( probably not as common as Fighting Fantasy though).

Check out the Badlands of Hark by R.L. Stine. It is the hardest game book that I have ever read that doesn’t involve Lone Wolf style randomized combat. Speaking of Lone Wolf, those books are pretty fun but poking at a grid of digits in order to generate random numbers is pretty silly.

Choose Your Own Adventure books usually had multiple positive endings. Did you read a book from the main series, or a spin off?

I remember that the Interplanetary Spy and Zork series tended to be “Make correct choice, or die instantly.”

I honestly don’t remember at this point; it was years ago. It was something about space exploration, and the protagonist was born on a spaceship going between two planets so the first choice to make was which planet’s citizenship you wanted. IIRC one of those options made the game unwinnable from the first page.

My experience with CYOA for younger readers is that they branch out too much. Branches never merge, and almost all are very short. Maybe that is OK for the intended audience. No excuses though for stories that are completely confusing, or sections that that refer to events in a different branch. Seems like very little proofreading was done. Also hate that reader choices affect the outcome in weird ways, and the story ends in completely different ways for no reason. There is no consistent world, and no way for the reader to explore in a meaningful way what the effect of actions are. No pedagogic value whatsoever.

This describes my experience with it, which is why I am always a little wary of choice-based IF. I imagine I would feel the same about parser games if I had started with something filled with moon logic puzzles and guess-the-verb.

I always liked the fact that CYOA could go completely off on a tangent, taking you out of your comfort zone and dumping you in a totally unexpected situation. You sometimes had no idea what was going to happen due to the choices you made which was part of the appeal for me. I used to read and re-read all the CYOA gamebooks to see what was different along each path; with gamebooks that are more ‘on the rails’ there’s no real incentive to go back and re-read them once you’re done because the alternative paths are essentially the same as the one you just read.