Windhammer 2015 review – Instrument of the Gods

Instrument of the Gods by SA

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Warning! Review may contain spoilers!

Followup to Windhammer 2013’s Dirty Instruments, Instrument of the Gods is a solid dystopian post-apocalyptic free form gamebook.

It would be good to find out what Jax has been up to in the last couple of years – I’m guessing lots of killing and sex with and without lots of prostitutes – so I pick him again. The author has crafted an interesting and living world here. Despite being harsh and terrible, there was something exciting about returning. I liked the language – “Frucking” was nice to hear again. What we have here is a future Earth, wrecked by a terrible nuclear war. We learn that most people now live underground or on the moon. We’re in the sewer system of Paris, where a sizable human population has grown, and is about as nice as you can imagine. This is a place where dead lie rotting in the street and regularly overdose on the drug of choice, Euphoria. Prostitition is the only real career choice.

“I can’t wait to get the fruck out of here,” you mumble to yourself

The mechanics seem a lot snappier than they were before. Combat is sharp and straight forward. It involves rolling dice and adding the scores to the appropriate stat – either hand to hand, long range or defense. Unfortunately Jax starts with everything pretty maxed out, so there’s not much room for development there. The system is oddly satisfying – it is easy to imagine a 6 in a shoot out representing a headshot and a poor roll for defense meaning completely caught square. The results are pretty devastating, and combat doesn’t last more than a few rounds making it appropriately short and dangerous.

Writing is fine, with just a few typos, and the imagination is brilliant and well-realised. The gamebook is structured, with a central hub and lots of little side avenues to explore in any order you choose. Character choice is really important and really well done – your character brings with it different morals and baggage, different quests and even different perspectives on the same quests. This is a really nice touch.
The gamebook isn’t perfect – there are a couple of places to get stuck (there should be a way back to the main city on section 35) and is going to suffer from balancing issues if you choose the route that the author does not expect. But, despite being a horrible place, it is really enjoyable to explore. A good entry.

Windhammer 2015 review – Isaac Newton: Badass Ninja Crimefighter

Isaac Newton: Badass Ninja Crimefighter by Stuart Lloyd

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Warning! Review may contain spoilers!

Here’s another alternate history gamebook. This time as Isaac Newton, inventor of gravity, we are to use our amazing super powers to fight crime! As book titles go, this one is pretty thorough.

We have a new gamebook system that I’ve not really seen before. It involves dice. Dice! There’s not been a great deal in the competition so far that have used these strange devices. It may also signify a shift in the gamebook cloud to move away from dice throwing and more into the story telling – gamebooks are becoming more story driven than random event driven, perhaps? I like story driven gamebooks, but it actually feels nice to have a new gamebook system to play with and some dice to throw (even if these dice are going to be virtual ones).
So the skill system in this gamebook asks you to throw dice and apply skills and consumables to the outcome, which allows rerolls. It is simple but effective. You can also expand will powers to get a reroll regardless of the situation, and how this manifests in the story is up to us, the reader, as the author allows us to use our imagination. My own imagination! How interactive is that? I’m already excited for this adventure, and I’m only in the rules section.

As the gamebook unfurls, it turns out our Isaac is actually some sort of psychotic batman figure. The plot is very enjoyable, with Isaac hunting down an evil crimelord. It is very inventory heavy, with a whole load of collectables and gadgets to get your hands on. This is nice, and it actually feels like you are making choices. As a gamebook it works very well, with some nice pacey action sequences.

You unleash a rainbow blast from your hand, but Chaloner is ready for you. He holds his brass gauntlets up to reveal shiny mirror bright silver palms on them.

There are a few typos, but nothing a quick edit can’t fix. More curious is the shift from third-second person when you get into the gamebook proper, but again can be fixed. There are unfixable terrible gravity-based puns throughout the text.

There is a bit of bonus content stuffed into this gamebook. The probability tables in the appendix, and the links to real life Isaac Newton Badass Ninja Crimefighting. I did feel that the probabilities were a little wrong as anything involving randomness can’t promise a 100% success rate, but I enjoyed the nerdiness of it all.

Windhammer 2015 review – Frogmen

Frogmen by Nicholas Stillman

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Warning! Review may contain spoilers!

Nicholas Stillman is a Windhammer regular, and never fails to be a highlight each year. One of my favourite ever entries was Gunlaw from a couple of years back, and last year he entered with the intense survival horror Why don’t they leave the house? Both entries were incredibly bizarre, and most gamebook players were unsure what to do with them. Aside from a drug-fueled diving experience, Frogmen slightly tones down the zaniness and becomes a little more accessible. It’s still bonkers though.

Frogmen tells the story of an illegal diving crew, a small team who risk everything to descend into the depths to haul up the riches below. The story opens pulling a girl called Amanda out of the sea, while a submarine manancingly patrols the waters, out for kills. You have a pay stat (how much loot you bring up) and an air stat (how much faffing you did to get there). You also have an array of skills and items to help in your explorations. The gamebook is broken into four different chapters and an epilogue. While this is quite linear, you are given a major choice at the end of each chapter which affects how the chapter opens up.

“So what happened to your boat?” you ask, handing her two teacups.
“It blew up,” she says into her drink.

Nicholas Stillman is a very accomplished author, and the text is packed full of lovely little gems. Chickens are not startled; chickens spread gossip. The characters are well developed and the story is solid. It is clever in that you get a full experience out of the book. There’s no bad dice rolls or choices to make early that will end the experience prematurely. Out of everything I’ve read so far, this is the first gamebook that could stand alone as a (non-interactive) short story. That’s not to say it’s easy reading. The book will often riff into bizarre imaginations of hyper-creativeness. Sometimes the reader is part of this journey, although more than once I was a little lost. Despite a few misses, when the writing hits it is delightful.

My biggest disappointment is perhaps this gamebook plays a little too safe. I am used to be being massively affected by Stillman’s writing, and this entry was relatively non-controversial. This might suit some other players. Frogmen should do well, but might not be quite strong enough to take top prize.

Windhammer 2015 review – After The Flag Fell

After The Flag Fell by Felicity Banks

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Warning! Review may contain spoilers!

This gamebook takes place in a history similar to ours, but with magic. But wait! We have Paul Daniels in this reality too, so what if this is the alternate reality? This gamebook does not not address this question. Instead, you get to live the life of a very interesting individual.

To begin, we are allowed to choose one magical item. When I was younger, I think to my great Aunty Doreen, sadly eaten by wild horses. I remember that day, stumbling on what was left of her – cowboy boot, glittering fingernails, mankini and her most prized possession – her magical brass goggles. These brass goggles are set to enhance one’s senses – though offer little in the protection against horses and thieving nephews.

I am not too familiar with the life of Peter Lalor, but in this gamebook this is who you play. There’s even an easter egg in this gamebook that details the choices you can take to live out his life as it happened. As for my take on this life – well the first choice I took was to get out of a war zone by being conveniently airlifted to safety by a well connected lady piloting a hot air balloon – thus skewing reality completely. This choice cost me one trust point, and I hope I won’t regret that later!

I looked around for our flag, hoping for one last glimpse before we were overrun, but it was gone.

It is a charming little gamebook, nicely written and good easy fun to read. The choices are few, but the ones there are are really quite varied and can change the story quite dramatically. You never really feel quite there though – you feel detached from the horrors of war despite being betrayed and having an arm off and after this the years just fly by. All in all it feels more like a wikipedia entry than a fake life to lead – and perhaps this was the author’s intention. This is a good start to the gamebook but some key areas seem massively undeveloped. Despite this being a world of magic there isn’t a ton of wonder on show, and the magical items didn’t get used once.

If I were the real Peter Lalor I doubt I would still be remembered. Spurred on by my new love and awesome robot arm I thought with mining being viable again, gold mining would be an excellent career choice. Unfortunately I proved to be far too trusting and got squished in a winching accident, with just my beautiful brass goggles hanging off my flattened face.

Windhammer 2015 review – The Priest and the Claw

The Priest and the Claw by Ivailo Daskalov

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Warning! Review may contain spoilers!

It’s time to be pack the crucifix and go all righteous again, for today I am a priest of the light! I like to heal the sick and needy, exorcise daemons, restore sanity and attract girls with my sexy cassock. Really?? Apparently so, says our author.

15 years fly by in 10 short paragraphs, and pretty soon I am head of the monastery. This part of the book is actually quite good – you entertain a few visitors, some welcome, and not, and based on your decisions you burn up favour and gain or lose respect. While fairly linear, I enjoyed being abbot and keeping the inhabitants merry, sane and less dead. There is also an intriguing plotline involving lupines, witches and the destruction of their forest.

“I like your way of thinking. Certainly, both parties have their points but at the end of the day, there is a pile of corpses. It is the duty of the Church of Light to do its best to prevent it from going on.”

Sadly, this does not last. Just as it begins to warm up, the werewolf plot is abandoned mid-stride and then it descends it to a familiar, slay the evil generic daemon in the dungeon affair. You descend into your own dungeons, meeting goblins, cauldrons and even dragons. How did they get down there?

The text contains several errors, and there are even a couple of missing paragraphs. I think the author is a non-native english speaker, and the prose unintentionally slips between 2nd, 1st and 3rd person. Despite the awkward english, Ivailo has created a detailed and well-realised world. I enjoyed the detail of the church of light and its orders, and I began to overlook the errors and began to enjoy some nice sentences and the characters. Unfortunately, after a promising and interesting start, this gamebook exorcises itself and becomes dull and lifeless because of it.

Windhammer 2015 Review – Alchemist’s Apprentice

Alchemist’s Apprentice by John Evans

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Warning! Review may contain spoilers!

I am hideous. As a child I played and prodded at many a swirling potions. One day my eager hands found mermaid blood, dolphin tears and Jesus juice. Mixing these together caused an almighty explosion! Taking out the wall of the family mud hut and the skin of my once-beautiful face, I lay in a pile of blood and bone panting into the sky. As a horrified crowd gathered around me to hear my final words, I spat out the remaining teeth to say:

“The experiment worked!”

Against all odds, I made a recovery. There was even a channel 5 documentary. I did not care for all that though, there was only one job for me: An Alchemist! No wait…An Alchemist’s Apprentice!

“You were right to come to Saimea the Alchemist! I was just thinking I could use a new apprentice, and you look like a likely lad–lass?” She squints at you and pulls on some thick, cracked goggles. “Whatever, I’m not picky.”

Thus, more or less, the gamebook begins. You play an apprentice quested to find some vague potion ingredients spread around the village you live in. The village square serves as a central game hub, where the various spokes are locations around the village. The usual suspects for ingredients are here – forests, rivers, as well as exotic ones: .
There are no dice or random elements in this gamebook, but I do think your choices can put it in an unwinnable state. It is described more of a puzzle, and it’s quite nice for that. It does not have the intensity of some other gamebooks, but sometimes you need a nice casual stroll through a story without fretting about your Goblin Poking skill, or having to roll three million sixes in a row.

You’re expected to return to locations multiple times. Through the clever use of keywords, the author has managed to capture state, so when you return to locations things are different and things have changed. This keeps the gameworld fresh and alive, and it is interesting to see how locations change upon further visits. Behind its simple appearance, there is a high complexity level. There are a lot of keywords to keep track of, and a lot of ingredients to combine in whichever ways you please (this is an alchemy gamebook afterall). It is quite easy to put yourself in a state where there is no return. Ingredients are a limited resource and some quests have more than one solution. When you have run out of potions to brew, you go back home and get one of the many endings.

It is a really good gamebook with lots of secrets you won’t find during one playthrough. Despite seeming generic and simple on the surface there is some magic brewing beneath. The village has good dynamics and there’s a nice variety of quests. There is a lot here in a short 100 sections and there is complicated, clever glue holding it all together. Very enjoyable!

GBAT 1.13 is Released!

Hi Gamebookers!

We are proud to announce the release of GBAT 1.13!

The Preview

We want you, gamebook author, to have the best gamebook authoring experience available. So we have implemented a new preview window. This should give you a better indication of how your gamebook is going to look when you export it.

Preview your book in realtime
Preview your book in realtime

Please tell us how you like this feature! Right now this is just a read-only view. If it is well received we will make it the primary way of editing your gamebook.

Choice Of Games

I know a lot of you have been asking for this. We can’t fully support CoG format until we have variables, inventories and stats in GBAT. That is some way off, however we can build a gamebook skeleton with your sections and choices. You can now export to a playable CoG format.

*label 1
"Ah ah! Come, warm thy bones!" gasps the bony old man with the ridiculous beard, tugging at your arm and pulling you to the fire, which blazes despite it being really warm outside.

"I want to talk about Crumbly Head Games!" he says.

Great. A lunatic.

"But first, a drink! BARKEEP!"

You look over at the bar, and the barkeeper, a greasy man covered in sweat, tilts his lumpy face toward the blackboard. There, beneath the blood, beer and other dubious stains you make out the scrawled words of the drinks on offer.

#Order a "Barman's Spittle"
*goto 7
#Order a "Pitcher of Acid"
*goto 5
#Order a "Dragon's Drops"
*goto 16

Bugs Fixed

Thanks for all of your bug reports. They are very important to make this product better.
All known crashes are now fixed.

Please enjoy! We will now take a short break to play the rest of the Windhammer series, and then return to development. There are some exciting new features in store for 1.14!

Download The GameBook Authoring Tool 1.13!

Windhammer 2015 Review – Tower of Atrocities of Corruption of Obscenities

Tower of Atrocities of Corruption of Obscenities by Chan Sing Goh

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Warning! Review may contain spoilers!

Chan Sing Goh is better known for his historical gamebooks based around the British Empire, so it is a little surprise we’re off on a farcical fantasy adventure here: to sword an evil warlock, holed up in a horrible tower in the middle of a desert. The few surviving adventures have reported terrible things like monsters and bottomless pit-traps, and although I am slightly intrigued as to how they managed to report back on that, I am sure we’ll be alright.

This isn’t your typical generic slaughter-fest. The author regularly breaks down the 4th wall and the gamebook moves along at a jovial, chatty pace. You get the opportunity to examine items multiple times – a bit like a really annoying text adventure – until suddenly something different happens. As the story progresses you have the opportunity to rewrite history, your self and the physical environment with the story rewinding at regular intervals – each time a little bit different from before. Chan is playing with states and resetting the gamebook world beneath your feet, and all of Schrödinger cats get let out of the box.

“Warlock!” you shout while pointing your sword at the gate. “You have stained the land
with your evil for too long. Cowering in your tower cannot protect you forever. I, the king’s champion, have come to give you a good swording.

If you play the game straight, you will find the gamebook very simple and cheery. If you open up the cabinet of curiosities you may discover something a bit more bizarre, a lot darker and delightfully complex.
It is complicated, a bit of a mess, some of the states are very difficult to set up and it is not quite as funny or as clever as it wants to be. If choices are going to matter I feel they should matter more – I would have liked the author to have taken the theme even further and radically rebuilt the tower based on the little things so we can see the butterfly effect fully in action.
What it is also is, however, is fun, readable and intriguing. There’s a few grammatical problems and bits of annoying narration, but overall but it’s written well. It does something I have not seen before so it’s worth a read. And you always have to admire a gamebook that has a toilet.

Windhammer 2015 Review – Tides of Chrome

Tides of Chrome by Steffen Hagen

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Warning! Review may contain spoilers!

I AM A ROBOT. This is how I talk, in Steffen Hagen’s TIDES OF CHROME. This has nothing to do with the webbrowser war. I am a droid, in a world of droids. I have a funnel for a head and whisks for fingers, for originally I was a cook-bot for sea-station DEEPCORE. After The Bad Thing Happened I was decomissioned, undecomissioned and now I’ve been sent back to find out what really went wrong.

My physical attributes mean I possess the following skills: FILTERING (good at watching boiling pans), OVERRIDE (many different attachments and orifices) and CONSERVE (part microwave). Lacking vital sounding skills like COMBAT and COMMUNICATION, I imagine my only chance of survival will be to avoid any kind of contact and run away really fast if anything slightly bad happens.

I am given one friend, a boat who is called Boat. We bond instantly, and I feel we could become good friends. Perhaps even lovers. Yet barely one paragraph into the gamebook something happens and Boat bravely offers to sacrifice itself. Of course I refuse, and am set down close to where I used to work, even though this puts me closer to my pursuers. This will ultimately be my downfall.

“No,” Boat admits. “I would eject you right before being crushed, a few kilometers above Deepcore. But don’t care about me. I am just a simple replaceable tool.”

We have a real good, solid gamebook here: a well written, interesting scenario with exciting developments. The skill choice is good, if a bit limiting. I deliberately built a crap-bot and put him in flight mode at any sign of danger. As a result I ran into a few laser pistol shots when running away from a massive centipillarpede thing and my adventure ended super early, which is very unfortunate. I don’t like sudden death paragraphs, and wanted to learn more about this mystery. In my next play through I created a combat-heavy terminator, and as a result did much better.

A challenging gamebook, but worth the effort and deserves to do well.

GBAT 1.12 is Released!

Hi Gamebooksters,

The Gamebook Authoring Tool 1.12 is out today!

Today is mostly a bug fix issue, but there is a new feature as well.

Here’s what is new:

JSON Exporting

Hot on the heels with XML export, we have JSON exporting. This exports your gamebook into an easily consumable format you can use in other applications. Woot!

Bugs Fixed

Shuffling doesn’t create an unsaved notification (FIXED)
Shuffling can do weird things to the selected section number (FIXED)
The app doesn’t come to the front when it starts up (FIXED)
Open recent books is missing (FIXED)

Download The GameBook Authoring Tool 1.12!