Sunday, 16 March 2014
A couple of years ago when I first got my iPhone 4S I tried out a couple of the FF adaptations by Blue Bubble and frankly wasn't impressed. They were too slow to play (the 2D6 rolls were accompanied by painfully slow animation telling you that two.... plus.... five.... equals..... seven which meant that a typical combat took longer to fight out than a typical combat in 4E) and made the elementary mistake of forcing to play in the most purist of fashion - in other words you couldn't cheat. This wasn't really in keeping with the, shall we say, democratic nature of gamebooking in that you can play them how you like. Back in analogue world you could do the dice and refuse to cheat, or you could just follow the story by assuming you won every combat, or a mix of both and zooming back and forth to see where other paths would have taken you.
Gary Chalk's Gun Dogs by Tin Man Games gets everything right. You can pick three different styles of play, the hardcore purist style, another style that only cheats in maxxing the character out at the start and a totally freeform, back-and-forth and infinite lives one. You can even use save states, of which the middle setting "Adventurer" (which is how I've been playing it) allows for six "fingers in pages".
This therefore is a proper gamebook simulator.
At this point I should point that despite the title, we are in "Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone Present" territory here - the actual book is written by UK gaming stalwart James Wallis, Chalk did the illustrations. And beautiful those illustrations are, in the style of the old Lone Wolf books (and Talisman) but to my eyes far, far better still.
I had a nostalgiagasm when those last two came up on screen. We could be in Holmgard or Hammerdal there.
Note 1980s style page furniture as well - like those little landscape orientation sketches of weapons and SKULLZ in the FF and LW books.
A somewhat monotonous tune loops during play - interrupted only by the battle theme. It does it's job although I stopped noticing it in the end.
If I have a criticism it is in the way that the game disables options you can't select because of the results of a dice roll, or the contents of your inventory. This generally works well - fail a dice test and only the "fail" option will be selectable but the often you will see thing like this
In this particular instance I possessed the witch's staff but had I not then this is basically spoiling it for me. This actually isn't the worst example - there are instances of things like "if you spoke to the NPC in the NAME OF PLACE YOU HAVEN'T VISITED" which seems to me to be not making good use of the electronic medium in which the game is presented - in these examples why not hide the disabled options and just make the paragraph a one-exit-er with the change of paragraph text amended to suit?
And the buttons are a little bit small so clumsy here occasionally struggles to get them first time. Admittedly this might be because I am playing on an iPhone 5C (yeah, I know, The-C-stands-for-Chav poverty model. But 3 Mobile gave it me for free for not going elsewhere when the old contract expired so bollocks) rather than a full-blown iPad which seems to be the target platform for any iOS game of some complexity these days.
A gamebook asking me if I want to "enter The Buxom Wench"? Chortle.
Plot-wise this is a journey across the countryside with choice of route (with included map) - so very similar in feel to early Lone Wolf books. It's an investigative mission to discover why a far flung fort/outpost is no longer responding. And why you? Because condemned prisoners are often press-ganged into undertaking suicide missions for the Emperor, kept in line by a magical collar that will crush the neck of any Gun Dog who tries to do a runner. And why are you a Gun Dog? Because you are a rebel against the despotic Emperor. And why the Gun part? Because you get given one.
Recommended? Yep, even at it's high-for-iOS £3.99 price ticket.
I'm not yet sure how big the game is. I've reached the fort twice (but died in the same battle on both occasions) which seemed to come around quite quickly but some of those paragraph numbers are big - note 665 and 635 above. I don't know if all of the paragraph numbers are used or if the game is trying to fool you into overestimating it's size.
Anyway this is a new gamebook illustrated in full colour by Gary Chalk and style-wise picks up where the Dever/Chalk partnership left off. That's good enough for me.