I’ve always loved Fighting Fantasy (FF).
As a kid I adored The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. It was my first real foray in to the world of fantasy role play.

fighting fantasy book cover
What appeals to me the most is that there are several elements to FF that translate well in to arcade game design.
First and foremost they are immediate.  There is minimal setup in terms of back story and before you know it you’re an adventurer.
Second, at the heart of each story is combat. The whole point of the game (should you read it as a game) is that you battle your way through hordes of creatures, monsters, villains and ghouls to acheive your goals.
Third and crucially the game involves short, simple and well defined decision making. The concept of Do you do a) … or b) … ? after every paragraph is about as simple and “arcade” as you can get.

In FF the pace is kept up by these bursts of quick decision making intervals.
As the reader it feels quite natural to you that you can enter a situation, quickly establish the setting’s dangers and likely traps and then move swiftly to making a decision. If that decision doesn’t involve combat you can be moving between settings at some speed.
Of course not all scenarios play out like this. The beauty of the books is that they are written to control this speedy movement. In some cases it makes perfect sense to slow down and consider your next move. It’s not always such a good idea to run through locations that hint at knowledge you’ve gained from an earlier encounter, for example.

What I love about it all is that so much of it is left to your imagination.
Once upon a time us fantasy enthusiasts had to rely upon our over-active imaginations to fill in the gaping holes when reading or playing in such games. Of course the artwork in FF is legendary and it serves the purpose of maintaining your enthusiasm and illustrating your environment beautifully. But it doesn’t show you everything. At the heart of the experience remains a real requirement to suspend your disbelief.

So how does one work with the “rules” as it were of FF and come up with something that converts gracefully to an arcade game ?

Well I start by pulling out what I have identified so far.

  • Minimal setup, succinct storyline, straight in to the action
  • Highly combative structure
  • Frequent decision making

These items are not in any order but I will expand on them.

Story

The story setup to FF novels is often very detailed and very “tight”. That is there is no waffle. You pick up the gist of the adventurer’s situation quickly and a little history to the “struggle” that sets the backdrop to the adventure and its numerous challenges.
In an arcade game you can set up the game in much the same fashion. In fact it’s all too common to present the player with a brief and highly concentrated story to set the tone for the game.

e.g. all is pretty and nice, young love, skies darken, evil descends, kidnaps girl, world turned upside down, young boy becomes an unlikely adventurer.

We all know how it must feel to be in that situation and this forms a great thread throughout the game since you can easily recapture the emotions that placed you in this mess in the first place. Even when you’re at a relatively pedestrian part of the quest you can just recall this brief opening sequence, grit your teeth and press on.

Combat

Combat is fun in games.
From a designer’s perspective it allows us to combine immediate challenge, with a shallow learning curve whilst presenting the successful player with plenty of reward. Blood, defeat, power-ups and treasure are all fantastic rewards for successfully overcoming an opponent with combat.
Perhaps the most important of all of these is treasure. It’s a basic human instinct to want shiny things. Things that you just wouldn’t ordinarily own. By rewarding the player with gold and shiny swords we are not only meeting their expectations as a player we are satisfying their most basic desires.
But the point of combat in games is to provide obstacles that when successfully overcome will develop the player’s character. Remember the whole point here is to be able to snapshot the character’s origins once he is stood atop the Dragon at the end of the game.
Was that really the young boy with the pink rosey cheeks playing in the fields at the start of the game ? He sure looks like a warrior now !
The character curve if you like. FF were masterful at providing the reader with this.

Decision making

Decision making is of course where the greatest challenge lies.
Rather than it being a seemingly random affair of going left, right or straight ahead where FF shines is that it “loads” the player with information. In a previous encounter you may well have taken a unique code or combination off a castle guard. If you didn’t record this then when faced with the task of entering a specific code you get it wrong, the chances are you will plummet to your death !
This element of empowering the player for the journey and challenges ahead appeals to me.
In a game where we want to move swiftly between situations it’s pretty cool to have the player take a moment to reflect upon his previous experiences. On screen we may simply present an icon for a key or a magical item. The player knows he then has these at his disposal. Use them wrong and, well, you pay the consequences.

Fighting Fantasy novels are above all pure escapism. When we read them we disappear in to a world away from our own. I love the notion of dreaming up a short back story and then launching the player off in to a game. As a mobile game designer I see great potential in having this game delivered in short bursts. Short bursts that lead to a greater goal.
I’ve been thinking about how an arcade game with a similar premise to FF might work and will now throw down some ideas in to code and see how it develops.

You can file this post under thinking out loud :)
Thanks for listening !

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