It’s great a feeling to have your say on how a story develops. That while you’re reading, it evolves, and your own character is created according to your choices. This makes it a lot more personal. So I was eager to try out a multiple choice interactive novel from Choice of Games and see if it lived up to its recommendation.
When I first opened the Choice of the Pirate app [I was surprised: stark, without the usual razzle-dazzle one associates when we hear the words “interactive e-book.” But I quickly realized it didn’t need any of that: the quirkiness was in the way it approached you directly.
The stats column, on the left side of the screen, informing you of your character’s development, is written in pirate. (Please, tell me you know what I’m talking about! There’s even a day for it. “Arrr, me matey! I’m yer captain!”)
Being a fan of all things pirate—it all began with Pirates of The Caribbean I have to confess—when I got hold of Choice of the Pirate by our very own Alana Joli Abbott, I was intrigued.
At first I didn’t know exactly how it would play out. How would the graphics on the column get filled? I read the “landlubber’s guide to the terms” but I was still curious! And it was with a childlike pleasure I started to see MY character emerge from the story. Yes, my character. Because I’m sure that if you read it, even if you decided to copy my general characteristics (such as name, moniker, flagship, flag and even signature clothing), your character would be different in some percentage. The delight of being an honorable but 91% pirate woman! To have this sassy young lass navigate the flow of allies and enemies, trying to figure out how to improve her skills at the art of Cambiar—a special kind of magic—all connected to my own choices.
The Status column!
I got stuck looking at some paragraphs, rereading the options given. Would I ruin my reputation? Would this be too definite for the character, or would there be another chance to follow a similar thread?
Oh, how I wished I could read ahead! Or go back and change something.
There’s an increased level of responsibility when reading a book like this. You read knowing that what you answer might only control the order of info given, or how quickly you reach a certain goal, but it also might mean an abrupt change of wind.
I admit sometimes I needed an extra choice, something that wasn’t there. But here’s the thing: the narrative has already been written; you’re just navigating your way through the different choices the author has created. Think of it like a sneak peek of how the multiverse theory would kind of work out. Parallel universes where what doesn’t happen here will fracture outward, creating a different timeline and therefore a new universe where your unchosen option will play out.
Sometimes you can feel the hand of the writer steering you, limiting your choices. These moments break a little bit of the “oh, I have freedom!” feeling that you embark on. But without these confinements, there had to be an infinite number of hypotheses that would in turn lead to uncountable plot points. So, to sum up: not feasible, deal with it, and enjoy the sweet playful compromise, bargained between you and the author.
I had a blast! If sometimes I felt restricted, others I felt like I had too much on my shoulders: the name of my character? I wanted it to be something meaningful. Her flag? It definitely had to be special!
My attempt to make my pirate and flag tangible… hey…I’m not an illustrator!
And that’s how I found myself delving into lists of marine flora and feminine names. “Too strange. Too predictable. Oh… I don’t even know how to say that,” were some of the things that crossed my mind. I easily lost twenty minutes searching for a name fit for my character.
But the flag and the clothing? That came out instantly! I had already begun to discover Noziroth, she was becoming more and more visible.
I loved the idea of incarnating this person, so I made the choices against what I usually do—which is set up to make completely bold choices that I’d never dare in real life. Here, I actually put on the salty battered leather boots and decided to be me (well, as “me” as possible, of course!).
I felt the yearn to kill a certain character. But when the time came to press the “Next” button and make it my final choice, I would change for the merciful option I knew I would actually go for as “me.” Nonetheless, I was pleased to end up with a bold, fierce character that had a lot of me in it. I had the opportunity of seeing how I would behave in a sea filled with scavenger rats and dubious captains. I got to be a PIRATE!
And yes, I wished I could try another choice; see where the other road would have led me. That’s the magic of it: if you want, you’re free to reread the book and play it out as a complete opposite character! But you know what? I think I’ll wait for awhile: I’m just too caught up with the web I created.
See how possessively I talk about the narrative? It seems as though I wrote the story myself. That’s the beauty of these books. Alana creates a rich, involving universe with strong characters that you—as a reader and as a character yourself—get to play against. She allows you to feel at ease to explore this world she created at your own pace.
And it is magical. I felt as surprised as I felt responsible for some outcomes. There were cliffhangers, some intriguing characters, and it made you want to read faster: why? Why can’t I read just a little bit ahead? The answer is simple: it would ruin the whole experience.
When talking about this book, I always talked about the things I had chosen and what that had gotten me. I didn’t feel like I was just reading. I was creating alongside the author. Isn’t that powerful? I have to say that as a writer it must be really scary to share this power with the user (reader/creator). As Alana said in her article “Sharing your world: game writing,” you have to be open about how the story will play out. Not much different than a Game Master on a quest. Your players will define their own characters and blaze through a path of their own, although inside the possibilities of the universe you’ve built.
It’s a much more immersive way to experience a narrative. I felt embarrassed, excited, disappointed: as the choice is yours to make, so is the rejection or the pain that results from it.
When reading a common book, you get to imagine the whole thing in your head, and we all know that no two readers will get the same exact experience of a particular story. However, here you’re bound by the information and descriptions given. The characters are all fleshed out, or at least not as raw as in this choice book.
Don’t be fooled: Choice of the Pirate is no ordinary “Choose your own Adventure” book. Alana borrows the core idea from ol’ creative Edward Packard, but allows you to actually create your character—nearly—from scratch. And that, for me, was key for all the rest. I was captured. I assumed the role of the protagonist: buying the ghost ship against common sense, maintaining cordial relationships with as many people as I could, trying to find out the truth about the Pirate King’s identity. Yahima Noziroth was my avatar in the island of San Alfonso and the Lucayan sea.
Can’t wait to start reading one of Alana’s other apps, Choice of Kung Fu. Being a Pirate: check! Now, let’s be a martial artist, shall we?
Have you already read any of these titles? No?!? Then click here and try it.
And please, please share your characters in the comments. I would love to see how your pirate turns out!
Last time we got to know a little bit about who Matt is. Today, were looking to get a further insight into “Matt the writer”.
What was the first thing you ever wrote? Was it a school assignment or something you did on your free time?
Do you mean as a story? It was probably “Food Wars”, a Star Wars parody I wrote in 4th grade. I won a prize for it, and it was, I think, the first time I realized that there might be something to this writing well thing.
You told us you always wanted to be a writer. But when the moment came, did you need someone else uttering “You are a writer.” or did you know it already?
I don’t think that being a writer is a matter of knowing it so much as wanting to do it. I never needed anyone to tell me to write or create or whatever. It’s wonderful to have validation for it after the fact, but the fun of it comes in the work itself.
In 1989, you edited and wrote selections of White Dwarf Magazine (issues #119-123), with emphasis on the two Space Hulk articles. Until then you hadn’t had anything published.
Seeing your words printed for the public to read was an incentive to write more outside the game world?
Actually, the first thing I had in print was a short piece in Polyhedron #9, the newsletter for TSR’s Roleplaying Gamers Association (RPGA). I’d submitted this gadget for a contest for their Top Secret spies roleplaying game, and it came in as first runner-up.
This came out way back in 1982, when I was fourteen years old. I didn’t get paid a dime for it, but it thrilled me to my core. It’s probably the reason I took up writing for RPGs long before I turned my hand to fiction.
In most places the short story “Crocodilopolis”, which was part of the “Strange Tales From the Nile Empire”anthology, from West End Books in 1992, appears as your first published fiction piece.
Would you change anything about it?
Probably, but I wouldn’t. I’m a different person now than when I wrote that story, and I had a wonderful time working on it. Legendary game designer Greg Gorden was my editor on that, and he taught me a lot about the differences between great fiction and great games as I wrote it. I still treasure that lesson to this day.
You now have a more than 25 books available online and these are just the ones on your website, not even counting your participations in anthologies.
Between the fiction and nonfiction do the numbers speak for themselves or would you like to venture more into the nonfiction genre?
I’m probably a bad self-promoter in this way, but I haven’t gotten around to listing all of my books on my site. I’m usually more concerned with doing the work than telling people about it. At the moment, I have 27 novels published, several nonfiction books, and countless games and gaming books.
I enjoy writing nonfiction, as it scratches a different creative itch for me. I had a ball revising The Marvel Encyclopedia for 2014, for instance, and I’m proud of how well it’s selling. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, it hit #5 in all books on Amazon, and just this week, it became my first book to ever crack a Best Sellers list in the New York Times.
The majority of your work has been deemed YA. Do you believe in genres to describe books or do you think we could ditch those labels?
Actually, most of my work is for adults, although I try to write things that people of many ages can read. I’ve written five or six books for younger readers, but the vast majority of my fiction—especially my own original material—fits into the genre category and is mostly read by adults.
All that said, I think J. K. Rowling obliterated the meaning of the YA label, and bully for her. We shouldn’t be afraid to read good stories, no matter if they’re meant for people younger than us or not. As for other genre labels, they serve a purpose for marketing, but creators shouldn’t feel constrained by them. Great stories transcend such things.
There seems to be a dystopian quality to the stories you tell. Do you agree with that?
Maybe. I tend to favor stories with a dark streak through them, and that’s most obvious in books like my Brave New World dystopian superheroes series. Partly that’s because my tastes run that way, but I also find it easier to produce dramatic situations in darker worlds—or at least ones that I find most interesting.
Your work has been translated into 13 languages, which obviously means you have a global fan base. Does that influence your writing in any way?
Not really. I don’t have any control over the translations in the sense that I can’t read them once they’re published. I can’t tell the translator that they’re doing it wrong. I can only cheer them on and hope for the best.
Your body of work has inspired many to approach you to adapt your narratives into other mediums.
Your book series Brave New World: Revolution is being adapted into a TV series. What are most looking for in this project?
Actually, that’s been optioned for a film, but it’s in limbo at the moment while the producers pursue other projects and try to ramp up for the kind of budget a dark supers film needs. I’ve also sold film options for both Amortals and Vegas Knights, though, and I have high hopes for those. I’ve even read a first draft of the script for Amortals, and I’d love to see that book on the silver screen.
The Shotguns & Sorcery book series is going to be turned into an RPG by us, here at Outland Entertainment.
What can you tell new readers about this series?
It’s a fantasy noir series in the sense of what maybe Raymond Chandler or James Ellroy would write if they’d been inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien. It’s set in Dragon City, a metropolis ruled over by the Dragon Emperor, an autocrat who protects his people from the ravening hordes of zombies roaming outside the city’s walls—but at a price.
Is there a favorite character you really enjoyed writing?
Max Gibson is the hero of the story, and he’s my favorite by far, which is good because I spent a lot of time in his head. I love a lot of the others too: Yabair (the sneering elf captain of the Imperial Dragon’s Guard), Kai (the gun-toting orc pal with poor impulse control), Moira (the addicted halfling who can’t ever seem to keep out of trouble), and many more.
And how about a special scene or chapter?
I think the opening chapter of “Friends Like These” nails the feeling of the world like a stake through a vampire’s heart. It’s full of world-weary heroes, treachery among friends, and jackbooted thugs, and it’s just what I wanted.
It’s also the first fiction I ever wrote for Shotguns & Sorcery, so it has a special place in my heart.
Perhaps not coincidentally, all backers of the Shotguns & Sorcery RPG Kickstarter get this story for free.
The whole world is set in this fantasy noir environment. What led you to that creative choice?
I grew up reading both Chandler and Tolkien. I love epic fantasy and its amazing worlds, but the grittiness of noir always grabbed me harder. This was my chance to come up with my own cocktail from two of my favorite ingredients. I did my best to make sure it packs a punch.
Besides the series of projects already mentioned on your website, can you give us a small peek at the writing ones under the cryptic slot “all sorts of secret things in various stages of conception or completion”?…
I have lots of projects in the works at any given time, but I also sign many non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with the people and publishers I’m working with. Giving details about those projects before they’re ready to go would be cheating them of their chance to make the biggest splashes.
That said, I do have a science-fiction tie-in novel I’ve been working on that should be announced soon. Stay tuned.
Thank you! And we will talk to you soon to find out a little bit more about your work on the games industry!