Saturday, 13 May 2017

An Interview with Carl Jackson of Nomad Games

The Warlock recently summoned Carl Jackson, Design Director of Nomad Games, to the depths of Firetop Mountain to find out what the company have planned for their forthcoming Fighting Fantasy Legends game.

The interrogation was conducted in Firetop Mountain's torture chamber and the accompanying screams and howls of pain have been removed from the following transcription.

The Warlock: Did you read FF gamebooks in your youth?

Carl Jackson: Yes I did. Like most people, I picked up a few of the books as a kid and was amazed by them. I specifically remember reading City of Thieves and feeling like it was this huge, sprawling, dangerous city. Every step through Port Blacksand was taken very carefully by my 10 year-old self. I also enjoyed the AFF system books, including Dungeoneer and Blacksand! I read those a lot and came up with my own little stories set in these amazing places.

TW: Do you have a favourite FF author or artist?

CJ: I honestly don't have a favourite author. It's the diplomatic answer, but it's also true! When reading the books, I really get caught up in the situations and decision-making and don't think too much about the writing style to be honest. Iain McCaig is probably my favourite artist, but that might be because City of Thieves is one of my favourite books.

TW: Do you have a favourite monster or villain from the series?

CJ: Ooh, that's a tough one! The Shapechanger... Zanbar Bone... or perhaps the Bloodbeast... I think I'll go for Zanbar Bone. He's a classic villain, trying to kidnap the local sheriff's daughter, then setting Moon Dogs on the town when he doesn't get what he wants. He pretends to be a cat when you first meet him, and then he can kill you with just one touch! What's not to like?

TW: And so to Fighting Fantasy Legends... How will Fighting Fantasy Legends differ from other video games such as Tin Man's adaptation of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and inkle Studios' version of Steve Jackson's Sorcery?

CJ: I see those games as more of a 'pure' gamebook experience. They are the closest you can get to playing the gamebooks digitally and those guys have done a great job. Fighting Fantasy Legends is more like a classic RPG with card elements. Think Baldur's Gate + Warhammer Quest + Talisman = Fighting Fantasy Legends.

TW: How does the card-based system of gameplay work? Will Fighting Fantasy Legends make use of the classic SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK attributes?

CJ: Each main location in the game has its own deck of cards which is shuffled as you enter. Your hero moves through the location making movement choices, similar to the books, and at various places on the map, a card-draw happens and you draw the top card of the deck. The cards include things like - Treasures, such as weapons, healing potions, Gold Pieces and other useful items. Monsters, including standard FF monsters like Goblins and Orc, plus rarer monsters like Chesttrap Beasts and Wheelies. Events, which may trigger Skill or Luck tests or perhaps give the player a tough decision to make. As well as the 'draw card' areas of the maps, there are also lots of places where specific things happen, such as the ferry crossing in Firetop Mountain, the Spotted Dog Tavern in Port Blacksand and lots of others.

At the start of the game, you create your hero much like in the gamebooks, but instead of rolling six-sided dice for your attributes, you get to distribute points instead. So, do you want to load up on Skill at the expense of Luck and Stamina? Or perhaps you want to have high Stamina, so you can really take a beating, but have lower Skill and Luck. Or maybe a balance of all three? It's up to you! Once your character has been created, they receive Skill and Luck dice based on the attribute numbers chosen, so if I give my hero 9 Skill and 11 Luck, they will have 9 Skill dice and 11 Luck dice. These dice are standard six-sided dice, but five sides of each die are blank and one side has a 'success' symbol on it. You roll your pool of Skill dice for combat and Skill tests and you roll your Luck dice for Luck tests.

As your hero kills monsters and completes quests, they receive experience points and can level up one of their dice, adding a new 'success' to a previously blank side. So your dice are upgradable as you journey around the maps and your hero gets better with experience. You can also choose one special skill when creating your character, such as earning XP quicker, being slightly luckier, etc. It's a nice, simple system which encourages replaying the game with different character setups, and I hope people really enjoy it.

TW: The initial release is set to include elements of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, The Citadel of Chaos and City of Thieves. What made you go with these three first?

CJ: Initially, the game design included ALL of the books set in Northern Allansia, but I quickly realised that this was too big a job and so we'd have to cut it down to just three. There are several reasons for picking those three books in particular. City of Thieves is a personal favourite and I really wanted to see Port Blacksand brought to life in a way never seen before. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a classic and one of the most well-known books, being the first, so we couldn't really have a Fighting Fantasy game without that. The Citadel of Chaos is extremely imaginative with some unusual encounters, such as the Ganjees, the Miks and the Ape-Dog/Dog-Ape, so it felt very different from the other two. Also, all three have great 'end of level boss' type villains in Zagor, Balthus Dire and Zanbar Bone, so there was a clear quest for each one.

Another reason is that having these three books means that there is a nice, even split between Ian and Steve so players can experience both authors' books in equal measure. The three books also just happened to be set in locations which are spread quite nicely across the map. So we ended up with a dungeon crawl, travelling through a large city and powering your way through a tower, three very different feeling levels.

TW: Is the plan to release more content based on other popular gamebooks? If so, which ones are in consideration?

CJ: The focus at the moment is finishing the game so I haven't thought too much about future content. It's important that people enjoy this game and so I'm spending my time at the moment adding nice little touches and Easter Eggs for fans of the books. If it turns out to be popular, and the demand for more is there, then I would love to add more content, or perhaps a sequel with three new books. The Deathtrap Dungeon/Trial of Champions/Armies of Death trilogy would be interesting!

TW: With the players' experience of Firetop Mountain, the Black Tower and Port Blacksand be the same as it is in the books? If not, can you let us into any of the surprises that you have in store for those people familiar with the original books?

CJ: It's a tough question to answer without spoiling anything. Let's say that Fighting Fantasy Legends is around 70% the same as the books, the other 30% being full of surprises and unexpected moments. One thing we've done is deal with revisiting a location more than once. Replayability is important in this game and the player is expected to run through the maps many times over in order to reveal all of their secrets, so I had to design some encounters to be replayed.

For example, if you choose to go into the Man-Orc's herbalist shop in Port Blacksand, and you end up killing him, his shop will be closed the next time you pass it. The intention is for you to make your own stories in these iconic places, but with the roots of your stories firmly planted in the original books.

TW: Have you re-imagined any of the classic monsters from the FF series for Fighting Fantasy Legends?

CJ: We've recreated all of the monsters visually. We realised early in the development of the game that we couldn't use the art from the books, because each book was illustrated by a different artist, so there would be an inconsistent style across the game. We've had fun re-imagining the monsters, and some of them have ended up being a lot more gory than they were originally! There is a Creature Codex in the game, which is like our version of Out of the Pit, where you get to view all of the monsters you've killed so far. Filling the codex won't be easy!

TW: Who are the artists who have worked on the project, creating the map, the rooms and the monsters the player encounters?

CJ: We have three artists - Andy, Donna and Amanda - whom we have worked with for a very long time and they've really enjoyed bringing to life things which were previously only in written form. Creating the map of Northern Allansia took a lot of research. We pored over many of the classic maps, including the great maps by Leo Hartas, to try and work out where roads should be, and where all of the towns and cities were in relation to each other.

TW: Is there anything that you are particularly proud of in Fighting Fantasy Legends, perhaps something that worked better than you hoped it might?

CJ: I'm very proud of the way that we've been able to link the three books together. I see each book as a puzzle that the reader is trying to solve, so for this game I wanted to rethink some of the solutions to the puzzles and perhaps have the solutions within other books. So, for example, what if one of the three Bronze Keys you need for Firetop Mountain ISN'T within the mountain itself? What if one was found by someone and taken somewhere? Maybe it's in Port Blacksand? Maybe it's been stashed in a treasure chest on the banks of the White Water River? Who knows? So, one tip for fans - don't expect to be able to complete this game by following the same paths as the books.

TW: Where next for Fighting Fantasy and Nomad Games?

CJ: We're aiming to release the game this Summer, hopefully around early July. Once it's out, I'll be all over forums and gaming communities talking to players to see what they did or didn't like about the game and then set about planning our next project. I'm sure we'll release updates for this game to make sure it's working as intended and that's it's fun, possibly adding some new features too.

We're also releasing a card game called Smash Up in the next month or two. It's a great shuffle-building card game based on a physical card game by AEG. Check it out if you haven’t already. We also have Talisman expansions still coming out, with The Dragons being the next one in July or August.

And with that, Carl Jackson was released from the rack and sent on his way, to finish work on Fighting Fantasy Legends in time for its summer release.

Nomad Games and Fighting Fantasy Legends will be at Fighting Fantasy Fest 2, Early Bird tickets for which are still available - so don't delay, pick up yours today!

1 comment:

  1. Will look forward to seeing how these turn out. WoFM has been done to death over the years but CoC (ooer) and CoT will be a refreshing change.