Everyone loves to snuggle up with a good book. The only real downside is that books, by their very nature, are terribly one-sided experience. Wouldn’t a story be much more engaging if it were interactive? If, instead of passively reading about someone else’s adventure, you could actually play a part in your own?
That’s the question Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone asked 30 years ago when they debuted their Fighting Fantasy franchise – a series of books that combined role-playing and decision making elements to create compelling interactive storylines for fans of fantasy fiction. It’s also the question Neil Rennison, the man behind Tin Man Games, asked when debuting their Gamebook Adventures series on the App Store back in early 2010.
Fans of gamebook fantasy fiction – your worlds are about to collide.
Tin Man Games has recently confirmed that they’ve acquired the rights to bring the next Fighting Fantasy novel, Blood of the Zombies, to mobile using their popular Gamebook Adventures engine. What’s more, Tin Man will be adapting some older Fighting Fantasy classics too. All this, and they still have their own series, an upcoming Judge Dredd gamebook, and more on the horizon.
We recently had a chance to catch up with Neil, and he shed a little light on just about everything that Tin Man is working on right now.
Gamebooks have been around for more than 30 years. Tin Man Games, though, has only been around for three. Tell us a bit about how you found yourself writing and producing gamebooks for the App Store.
I’ve been buzzing around the games industry since about 2001 mostly working as a 3D artist on racing games. About six years ago I set up my own games art outsource company in the UK and while we were small, we were relatively successful working mainly on handheld versions of games such as the Need For Speed series. I made a bit of money and moved to Melbourne, Australia wanting to set up my own studio and Tin Man Games was born!
After a couple of wrong turns with early iOS games we realised that getting success from just one game was going to be both tough and involve a lot of luck. Therefore we looked at a longer term approach and wanted to build a brand that was more than just one game, so I turned to my childhood to find things that I enjoyed – that’s when I remembered my fascination with Fighting Fantasy and other similar gamebook series. A few months later we had our first six books underway and with a funding loan from Film Victoria we didn’t look back!
After a number of releases (including one penned by Fighting Fantasy author Jonathan Green), Tin Man Games has recently announced that they’ve secured the license to publish apps based on the Fighting Fantasy series. How did this dream collaboration come about?
Firstly I have to say that this is a bit of a dream come true for me personally. Fighting Fantasy was what inspired me to, not only create Gamebook Adventures, but also kicked off my fascination for role-playing and gaming when I was a kid. To now be given the responsibility of such a revered license is very special.
It actually came about in a long-winded way. I’d originally enquired with Steve Jackson a few years ago about the FF license but by then the license had been offered to someone else. I was disappointed, but determined to build my own brand. We pushed on and released the first few gamebooks and caught the eye of Jonathan Green who approached us to write a gamebook. With obvious enthusiasm I agreed and when Temple of the Spider God was released, I made a big deal in press releases of having secured one of the Fighting Fantasy authors! I think this probably put us back on Ian and Steve’s radar (I don’t know for sure, but it must have helped) and on meeting Ian in London last year at an RPG expo, we started off a conversation which has lead to this amazing deal!
Have you had much contact with series creators Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson? Did they like Gamebook Adventures? Is this whole thing like a dream come true?
I’ve had a lot of contact with Ian and Steve and also met them. They are very complimentary of Gamebook Adventures and say very nice things about what we’ve achieved. They appreciate our approach to digital gamebooks and are looking forward to seeing how we take Fighting Fantasy forward in the future on iOS and Android. We won’t let them down!
As a lifelong fan of the series, there has to be one book that’s your particular favorite. Which Fighting Fantasy book would you be most excited to get the chance to adapt?
I always had a bit of a soft spot for House of Hell (known as House of Hades in the States) when I was a kid. While in discussions I was asked by Ian Livingstone which titles I’d like to develop after Blood of the Zombies and I immediately asked for House of Hell. Hope he didn’t mind too much as it was actually one of Steve’s books! Out of Ian’s books, I’d have to plump for Island of the Lizard King as my favourite. I remember being on a scout camp in deepest, darkest Wales confined to a tent as it was pouring with rain one day. One of the lads in the tent had that book and we both devoured it over a few hours.
Prior to Tin Man getting the license, Big Blue Bubble released a series of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks on the App Store. Are there talks of revisiting those same books with with Tin Man’s gamebook engine?
We are really not sure what direction we’ll go in regarding the back catalogue and at the moment Big Blue Bubble do still own the license so it’s way too early to talk about that. You’ll definitely see Blood of the Zombies and House of Hell later this year and two others which have not been developed before on digital devices at some point early next year.
Epic Games recently challenged student developers to make iOS games based on the Fighting Fantasy license using the Unreal Engine. While not gamebooks, and not connected to Tin Man Games in any way, I’ve got to ask – have you had a chance to check these out? What did you think?
To be quite honest I’ve not had much chance to check them out – just been so busy getting Dredd finished. I’ve heard great things about Commander Kiwi’s winning entry though and look forward to checking it out on my iPad when it’s released!
Shifting gears for a moment, you’re getting ready to launch your first licensed product onto the App Store – and it’s not Fighting Fantasy. How did the collaboration between Tin Man and Judge Dredd come about?
I went to meet with Rebellion, who own the license and showed them Gamebook Adventures. They were really impressed and early discussions started there and then. I was lucky in that I was joined by one of the writers of the Judge Dredd role-playing game, so his Dredd knowledge helped to seal the deal.
What makes the Judge Dredd universe such a good fit for a gamebook?
Mega-City One is the perfect place for an adventure story, and the whole setting has 35 years of history behind it, so it’s such a pleasure crafting new encounters in such a rich setting. Judge Dredd himself is a great main character to play too as he’s all about catching perps (criminals in Dredd-speak) and taking down the underworld, which is perfect from the point of view of gamebook structure in terms of encounters and bigger story arcs. We’re really pleased with the story that Nick Robinson has put together and fans of Dredd will feel right at home. We’ve also crafted it in such a way that newcomers to Dredd won’t feel too alienated and will enjoy it as an exciting gamebook adventure set in a futuristic crime-riddled city with crazy shootouts, car chases and some nasty creeps to deal with!
We’ve also included a database of criminals that slowly become unlocked as you ride around arresting or killing the various individuals. These unlocks come with added illustrations and background information too for those seriously into the universe.
With both Judge Dredd and Fighting Fantasy on the way, it seems like licensed properties may be playing a big role in the future of Tin Man. Are there any other existing properties or characters you’d be keen on exploring?
Well, we’re already in discussion about another set of licenses which is quite exciting. Some of these are quite well known (especially to 80s gamebook fans) but we’ve also picked up lesser known IP too. We feel that we are in a good position to add value to other IP by telling stories either set within those worlds or even (as in one instance) act as a prequel to a main game. It’s our hope that as we work with these IP holders, they add value to our brand while we add value to theirs. It’s nice to collaborate with other small teams in way that will hopefully benefit us all.
I have a long list of licenses I’d like to work on (basically purging my childhood) but I’m also very conscious to keep the scale down so that we can fully concentrate on making our current raft of gamebooks the very best they can be.
You’ve recently ported your first gamebook, An Assassin in Orlandes, to the Android platform. How has that experience been? Can we expect to see more Android releases in the future?
It’s been pretty hard work to be honest, and we’ve needed some financial help in the form of more funding from Film Victoria. Our programming team has doubled and we’re now just looking to get as many of the first Gamebook Adventures titles out on Android as possible. Blood of the Zombies will come out simultaneously on Android as well as iOS – our first title to do so. Ultimately I’m so pleased we took the plunge to go Android as it gave us lots more options when pitching for licenses such as Fighting Fantasy. It’s also set us up to release desktop versions of our gamebooks in the future too.
Has Tin Man given any thought to bringing their gamebooks to more book-centric devices, like the Kindle, Kobo, or Nook? And for that matter, have you ever considered publishing these as physical books?
Nook is definitely on the cards – we just need to get the paperwork done for that. As for Kindle, we were going to go that route at one stage but we felt that Android would probably be more cost-effective for us at this stage. At around the time we were trying to decide what direction to go in with Kindle or Android, we were showing off GA at one of the PAX expos and almost 50% of those we spoke to were crying out for Android, so that made our decision for us. We still haven’t written off Kindle though and may look to outsource it perhaps.
As for physical books of our GA series? Well, at our core, we’re games developers not traditional book publishers. It has been discussed and investigated but we’ve been so busy in the digital arena it’s not something we’ve explored fully yet. If the right offer came along however, we may re-look at this though.
With so much else on the docket for Tin Man, should fans of your Orlandrian saga be concerned? Are there any plans to return to your original fantasy universe with a new entry anytime soon?
No and yes! Before Fighting Fantasy came along we were working on a further six gamebooks set in Orlandes and those books are still being written and developed. They’ll obviously release a little slower than before as we have other immediate priorities, but rest assured as much love and attention will be placed on them as they have been in the past. Expect a direct sequel to our first gamebook, An Assassin in Orlandes due out late September followed by a sequel to Slaves of Rema later in the year!