Wednesday, 25 June 2008

#19 - Demons Of The Deep

Surprise! I'm early this week, 'cause I'm working a long week from Thursday, and have an early 'weekend' as a result. Yes, this is my Saturday night, early.

It seems as a consolation for what I'm about to go through, the FF gods have seen to give me a classic, old-school adventure with swords and shit - at least at first, that's what I think is happening.

It turns out otherwise. I'm a sailor banished to the bottom of the ocean after encountering a pirate ship, and have to find Black pearls in order to survive. Right away, I'm thinking exactly what you're thinking: who has plagiarised who? Quickly enough though my thoughts turn to survival, seeing as I'm pretty much drowning.

The old-school introduction (minus any potion references) and resolutely old-school adventure sheet (with a box for potions) led me to believe this would be a classic Allansian adventure! I even started with a 'bare minimum of equipment' and enough provisions for ten meals. BUT, it turns out Atlantis, yes, THE Atlantis, isn't far offshore from Port Blacksand (someone tell the scientists!). Getting there involves the growing of gills, conveniently provided by some kind of coral pentagram, which the book takes no time in offering me leave from. Err, no thanks. The pentagram gave me life, I'll stay here.

I soon meet a mermaid, who apart from being hot tells me that come midnight, my gills will figuratively turn into the proverbial pumpkins, and nor can I go to the surface to breathe air, cause that'll kill my gills which are totally needed underwater, apparently. Just why I need to be underwater has something to do with finding the aforementioned Black pearls which are needed to defeat the damn dirty pirates who threw me down here, for some reason... There's not really a great deal of motivation given... why can't I just count my blessings and go back to hanging out amongst the low-lifes of Port Blacksand?

So, in searching the underwater, I first go to the dome with a broken roof, where I search all the seats, finding only sea snakes. All the seats? How many did this arena seat? In the centre though there's a harpoon, which sounds like a mighty fine item to have under the sea! I'm not aware of a sack or belt, but I'm able to whack it on myself regardless.

Passing a sandy beach-like area, still underwater (wow, global warming, this book was written in 1986, what are you doing here?) I recovered the skeleton of a ghost and in the process earned an extra skill point and, wait for it... one gold piece. I figure inflation was pretty bad in the time of pirates, Atlantis and genies.

A bit later on, I came across a trapdoor. This being a blog about what you can find in FF gamebooks, if nothing else and for no other reason, I opened it. When asked to test my luck, I had a foreboding feeling this was one of them times where an unlucky roll would be death. I never found out, as another lucky roll swept me down to a dolphin. A shark attacked us, and apparently the dolphin said, 'Look out! A shark!' (Maybe NSFW). Mmhmm. What followed was perhaps the easiest fight in any FF gamebook ever, with the two of us ganging up on an innocent creature that had a lower skill level than not only I (11) but the dolphin. Hmm.

The dolphin tells me his name Keeekweeet (only in fantasy, or an African tribal village will you ever encounter a name with two almost-consecutive sets of triple vowels) and he'll come in handy later in the book when I'm given a list of places I've never heard of and his offer to take me to one.

Time passes, I'm in a merman games room, where I'm offered the chance to gamble any number of Black pearls or gold pieces at even odds, which would be awesome if I had more than a single gold piece. My super-sleuthness had led me to believe I'd probably be needing some of these dang Black pearls before the jig was up, when the shit hit the famn etc, and the fact I had none, with the chance to win none-squared-to-the-nth-degree was highly frustrating.

Not even successful thrashing of a fish-guy (not a merman, apparently), a thing with a stamina of 30 and several octopi is enough. In the end, I'm given the option of going to the surface and taking on the pirates with my sword - to be honest, I'd kinda forgotten about the pirates at this stage. If it was me, I'd be pretty damn pleased just to get out of the ocean and back to the city of thieves and shiat. Instead, I hold this grudge against the pirates who graciously let me live at the outset, and try to kill their entire crew singlehandedly.

This is massive fail, of course. They killed my entire crew last time, what makes me think I could win this time, on my own? The lack of knowhow when it comes to summoning anti-pirate armies with Black pearls? I'm not even given a face-saving option of 'Do you chicken out and just go back to Blacksand to live out your days as a low-life?'

Instead, I die.

Anyway, not really that satisfying, though apparently written by one of the Steves. It might've used the classic rules for the most part, but felt kinda boring and uninspired; I never felt in too much danger, but also felt like a lot of the time I was just swimming about not really getting anywhere. But damn, the Kraken? 30 Stamina? Lucky I had 13 skill at the time! Yeah, one good thing - your dice rolls weren't permanent, which was pretty awesome. Lucky for me, mine only went up, after defeating a fish-dude at swordplay. So I suppose you need good rolls to get better... and I had 11/20/8.

My copy's the same as the one above. I'm only a few issues away from #23, Masks Of Mayhem, which I don't have yet. I picked up Legend of Zagor last week, as it's a part of the recent re-releases, but not due for play in my list just yet. I have to check if MoM is part of the new series and if the local Borders has it.

All in all, I felt Demons of the Deep to be a bit gimmicky without the distinction of being any different to the older classics, and a little contrived. It wasn't silly, it wasn't ridiculous, it was just a little blah. Lets hope Swords of the Samurai, as non-Allansian as it sounds, is a little better.

I took a look at some of the later books, in their reprinted versions at Borders and noticed something I'd completely forgotten - the later books have a totally different font. Awesome. But honestly, I remember, at least in my head, the ones with the cooler font being better: maybe in 20 or so books, taking away the ones I can't get a hold of, I'll be able to report on the truth of this.

Saturday off. See you all again in 10 days or so.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

#18 - Rebel Planet

You know what I'm thinking, but I promised I wouldn't mention it anymore...

In book 18, Rebel Planet, you are humanity's last hope - to cut a long story, and long introduction to the book short, humans have been enslaved across their small ex-galactic empire of sorts (remember that phrase, I'll be coming back to it) by an alien race intent on ruling the galaxy, and you have to infiltrate their home planet and destroy the central computer which controls the aliens' hive mind.

The rebels (another phrase to come back to) are scattered and paranoid, rightly so having been infiltrated by the enemy, a race known as the Arcadians. They outlawed Esperanto across the former Earth empire, which is awesome for me, as I don't speak it.

Okay, I'll stop being obtuse with the references - you're a Jedi, basically, out to destroy the enemy's secret weapon, you have a 'laser sword' and martial arts knowledge, but without the mind tricks (that failed me in the last quest anyway). It's like Star Wars, but the introduction tries to play it down by saying there isn't much fighting - so it's Attack of the Clones, then? It lied, by the way, and even the back cover described the mission as 'foolhardy' - it's as if the copywriters weren't on the same page as the author.

Anyway, Rebel Planet is different to even the other space-based FF books; firstly, the main part of your mission - finding three parts to a code number - isn't dealt with in a 'hey, you made it this far, here's the conveniently-three-digit pass number, you'll need to add it/subtract if from the others and turn to that page to win' kind of way. You need to actually study pictures and poems and whatnot to get the numbers, which is cool in a way, even if the solutions might not be entirely logical.

Onto my adventure! After taking off, undercover as a merchant, I was approached by an enemy ship which I correctly guessed to be my escort. Actually, I initially decided screw it, I rolled 10/24/12, I'm gonna stand up to it, not run away! Turns out acting ballsy gets you places you wouldn't expect in Rebel Planet. Once on the first planet, I decided to lax at the hotel, not that I didn't get enough of that in Appointment With F.E.A.R, but hey. The receptionist there is asleep, and on trying to wake him, I discover he is dead. D'oh. After dispatching the guards who didn't hesitate to attack me, I picked up and pocketed a button with a picture of an eagle holding a scroll, cause you know, of the six items I'm allowed to carry at one time in this adventure, a button absolutely counted as one. I had a strange feeling perhaps this was where FF gamebooks stopped letting you carry any old thing without consequence, and knew it later on when at customs I was pulled up for having an infra red scanner - fortunately, I didn't also have a rope, so they didn't think it too suspicious. I'm not sure what you could build using a rope and an infra red scanner that would arouse suspicion, I'm not McGyver.

I soon find the bar, Fission Chips, though not before being distracted by a theatre playing a '20th century comedy' called Star Trek. I'm assuming it was Star Trek IV. This bar is where I'm meant to meet my contact, but instead some damn dirty humans ambushed me, and I quickly dispatched both with my knowledge of pressure points, killing them in a blow each. Awesome.

Anyway, I went back, got in simply by saying I was from Earth (I told you just being upfront and ballsy gets you places in this book). At the bar, I bought some 'alcoholic mouthwash' for 10 credits. In this book, if you can't ever afford to pay for something, your mission is over, according to the instructions; imagine if my quest ended because I couldn't afford alcoholic mouthwash. I'm sure there's a movie coming out soon which deals in similar subject matter I wouldn't mind seeing...

So I eventually made contact with the underground, where we each pussyfooted around each other, suspicious of course, but eventually I proved to them I was genuine by refusing to kill someone they asked me to - once again, standing up and standing proud.

Onto the next planet, and I have the choice of staying at swanky hotel the Zodiac, or a complete, cheap dive, Porky's. No-brainer, huh? Porky himself tells me half the buildings in the city were destroyed by the 'Street Fighter', which is used to break up student protests. I suspect there's a link between the student protests and the underground movement - why? Because the book gives me the option of going to the university. On my first visit, I get into a fight with some louts in the Arts faculty, grab some files, and get rejected by a bunch of science nerds (oh how I long for the medieval Allansia at this point). On the way back to Porky's I'm forced to fight the Street Fighter, which is some kind of giant ground-punching machine. Hmmm. It's a tough fight - this thing reduces your stamina more each attack round that passes by!

On getting back to Porky's, he's acting an asshole and wants to charge me to use his computer. Fuck it, I act ballsy again, but this time get into a fight. The poor, fat (why'd you think he's called Porky?) guy is no match for my awesomeness, and I get free access to his internets.

Turns out my contact is in the Arts faculty at uni, damn it! I was just there. I went back, he wasn't there, but apparently left a clue to three of the digits in the password on his desk - the picture provided conveniently included half the Roman numerals in existence, damn it! Then I was arrested, damn it!

And sentenced to death. Hmmmm. Perhaps this was the time to stop acting ballsy, and try and find a sneaky way out... They confiscated all my stuff, including my awesome eagle-holding-a-scroll button, but somehow missed my money belt - funny, cause I pictured that as a bum-bag, not something you could ever miss on anyone, really (wow, Wikipedia - are they really making a comeback?)

I spill to the guard, keeping back some of my info, and I'm sentenced to fight some monsters, instead of death. A slower death, if you will. The monsters aren't that hard though, so like a future Maximus I'm let go, and onto the next planet it is.

Here, I quickly find a couple of people, one of whom is the leader. Unfortunately, I don't have the password they are looking for, so they won't tell me the rest of the code, and my mission is over. No option to torture the jebus out of them, nothing. Grrr.

Okay, I'm not telling the whole truth here. Several times throughout Rebel Planet i was faced with 50/50 options, one of which resulted in instant death, increasingly so as the adventure developed. They were incredibly frustrating, and I ignored them for the most part, deciding it was not fair to reduce the chances of completing this book by 50% to 25% to 12.5% and so on, often within the range of two or three pages. If there's knowledge gained earlier in the book that can help you, for sure, but not rubbish like 'left door or right door? East or west? One or two?'

If the book wasn't so enjoyable, I probably wouldn't have bothered though! Rebel Planet, apart from the ridiculous number of instant deaths (at least on the path I travelled) at least seems really well thought out and engrossing. You can't rely on all aliens=bad, all humans=good; there are traitors amongst people and arty, liberal (south) Arcadians. The merchant cover is one often used in FF gamebooks, but here it works well - probably because the set up is so good, to be honest. Long, but it really sets the scene.

Once we're back in Allansia, I promise to start abiding by the instant death rules - even if a slight cheat here and there isn't helping me at all in space!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

#17 - Appointment With F.E.A.R

My first thought on realising Appointment With F.E.A.R was tonight's book was, 'what, another sci-fi one?' Not that that's a bad thing, but I seriously didn't remember there being this many in the series - and that's the last time I'll say that, honest!

Turns out AWF has nothing to do with space and everything to do with Batman, Superman, Spiderman, you name it, if it was from Marvel or DC, it's in here somewhere in some form. At first I was suspicious, thinking it wasn't really going to work in the FF format, but I was wrong. Totally wrong. I really enjoyed this book.

You're a superhero called the Silver Crusader, at least your secret identity is, and you look after Titan City, in much the same way a certain Mr Kent (namechecked in the first paragraph as 'Clark St') looks after a certain imaginatively named metropolis. A group of super-villians are going to be meeting in Titan City in the near future, and it's your job to work out where and when, and arrest them all.

Being a superhero, you get to choose a superpower - I chose PSI Powers, which basically sounded like Jedi mind trick powers.

You wear a 'crimewatch' which allows the cops to alert you of anything they discover, or harass you with annoying side quests catching pickpockets and petty crims. Rolling an average 9/18/12 (if you don't know what those mean by now, start again) I figured I'd better be pretty direct. From the very start of the book though, I knew this wasn't going to be easy. Within five minutes I'd been in a street brawl, beenpushed into a pile of dog 'sidewalk deposits', learned of a gang with the comical (chemical?) name, the Alchemists and saved a family from a burning car.

I soon learned of a potential explosion at the chemistry labs of a nearby university, so decided to check it out. On the way, someone shouted they were being robbed; this town needed more than a single, lone superhero. Anyway, I got to the uni just in time to throw the almost-exploded concoction out the window, unfortunately onto a bunch of students outside. Oops. My hero points went into the negative, and a I briefly considered a career as an anti-hero, but realised the 440 paragraphs that make up AWF probably wouldn't allow for so much freedom!

But Steve Jackson did an excellent job of giving the book a sense of freedom regardless. There were always chances to directly investigate crime, go home and relax, or check out a range of more leisurely activities, some of which sounded completely out of place in a FF gamebook, and showed just how long ago this series was published: I went to check out a concert by Georgie Boy and the Vulture Club, only to find the gig cancelled due to the lead singer's facial dermatitis.

Another day I had the choice to go visit my grandma. Even I realised I had better things to do with my character's time, not to mention my own!

One day, late for work again, i decided to buy my boss a gift to say sorry, and went to the games section of a bookstore, planning (apparently) to buy him a Dungeons and Dragons set - nice to see Jackson had no rivalry with the better-known opposition! It was no game though (at least in-game (alright, enough with the meta and embedded brackets!)) when four fire men turned up - no, not the type in helmets carrying hoses, the type made of fire.

I was down to a single stamina point after that fight, and then the book told me I tied them up with a rope. Eh? Really? I didn't realise bookstores carried rope made of, um, fire-retardant... stuff. Anyway...

I turned down the chance to see Andrew Lloyd-Webber's production Rats, instead racing home, trying not to injure myself in the slightest - imagine how lame a superhero I'd be if I was killed by tripping over or something and losing my last stamina point.

So the next day I had the option of either attending the arrival of the president, or a trade show entitled 'Home Appliances of the Future'. Hmmm... I checked out the convoy, of course, and a guy tried to assassinate the president. I captured him, he got a shot off, but it turns out the pres was killed by someone else entirely - perhaps on a grassy knoll? The book doesn't say, haha.

Now, here is where something went kind of wrong. A clever part of AWF is the way Steve Jackson incorporated parts where you had to know certain information to know what page to turn to, without being given the options in the text - kind of like Warlock Of Firetop Mountain's keys, except there were several places in AWF where certain numbers were needed.

So I'm asked if I know the street and avenue numbers of the corner where the meeting is to take place, to add them together and go from there, as it's the day of the meeting. Alright, I had the definite avenue number, and a street number... wasn't sure if it was right, but when I turned to the page in question and it said, 'Your information was correct', I thought, yay! I captured the Alchemists, and thought, wow, I must be close... until I ended up back at my apartment, seemingly unconcerned I'd missed the meeting, and relaxed, planning not to be late for work the next day.

I'd read this paragraph already! It seems the avenue and street numbers I'd added up were used in a different situation entirely, it just seemed to slot in to where I was at the time.

So damn, I suppose I failed! Was enjoying it otherwise. Despite the apparent several different ways the book can go, as each superpower has a different ending, and the ingenuous way Jackson made the book almost uncheatable, the dated references and gimmicky, fun tone don't lend the book classic status. Without these though, it would have been a lot less fun! I suppose it's kind of like a candy FF book - enjoyable, clever, funny, but you can see through it and it's pretty flimsy really. Good though.

My cover is the one above: funny to think the image was also used on the new printings, as it's pretty of-its-time, really.

Last things: what's with the reference on paragraph 72 to the 'muscle bound gigolos'? Has the meaning of gigolos changed since 1985? And hey, I have some readers now, haha, wooo. I better keep up the quality!

Saturday, 7 June 2008

#16 - Seas Of Blood

I've fond memories of Seas of Blood - none concrete, but something inside me went 'whoopee!' when I picked it up. I remember this year at high school, I think it was 1994, where I pretty much got fantasy/dungeons and dragons kind of stuff out of my system - in that year I borrowed from the school library a ridiculous amount of Terry Pratchett, the complete Lord of the Rings, and kinda wound up my thing with Fighting Fantasy too. The following year music, girls and being a proper teenager kicked in, you see.

But one of those last books I remember indulging in was Seas of Blood - you're a pirate, one of the best two in the land. Your infamy hasn't resulted in your arrest somehow, nor has it for your rival, Abdul, a turban-clad Middle Eastern-looking dude (it was the 1980s, I'll cut them some slack if you will). You agree to a contest to see just who is the best pirate - in 50 days you agree to meet a town down the coast, and whoever has the most gold wins.

I rolled some real high numbers for my crew, just as well since I figured there'd be a fair few fights in the next 50 days/45 minutes. Unfortunately, my skill and luck rolls were pitiful (hello Mr and Mrs seven), so I decided boat fights were okay, hand to hand, not so much.

We started off in Tak, described as 'the greatest den of thieves, criminals and cut-throats the civilised world has ever seen'. Hmm, how about that other greatest den, Blacksand? Or should the two cities I dunno, agree to meet in 50 days and see who has the most ill-gotten booty?

Anyway... knowing the strength of my crew I immediately set sail for a wealthy town nearby, Lagash. I dispatched a ship on the way, scoring for myself 68 gold, which is where I realised I'd no idea how much I'd need to complete this book. It makes it more realistic not knowing, I suppose, but was 68 gold a lot? Did I need 100? One million?

After trashing the ship, apparently I decided Lagash was too dangerous to attack. Err, I won this fight didn't I? What kind of pirate am I?

I hit the next locale, murdering a bunch of priests in the process, only to realise I was down to two crew points already - only 10 days and not even a quarter of the way down the coast. Hmmm. I knew there'd be fights, arrr, but nothing like this!

I collected a few slaves on my travels, hired a few extra crew, and eventually found myself assaulting Kish, which was defended by a Sith Orb. Err, I thought this was a while ago, in a land a decent distance away, not a long time ago in a galaxy far away... Some insanely lucky dice rolls (not my actual luck score, which was down to two) got me past it, but not the storm which trashed my boat on the way to Nippur. Some pirate - I survived being attacked by winged beasts, sword-weilding priests, and entire town militia and a tree (don't ask), but was drowned in a storm. Johnny Depp would be ashamed (you really didn't think this entry would be complete without a link to that, did you? Or how about this?).

My guess Seas of Blood would be full of fighting was correct, but so many of the rumbles just seemed like random dice rolling - it was one after the other, without much inspiration, it seemed. Another problem was that once you left port from Tak, there was no word, at least in my game, of what Abdul was up to. Previous books in the series, like Deathtrap Dungeon, at least tried to incorporate developing secondary character plots within the limiting confines of a FF book - Seas of Blood can be considered a missed opportunity, no doubt.

All in all, not as interesting as I remember, just a dice-roll book really. Disappointing. Though I bet if I'd won the bet, I'd be saying otherwise!