Friday, 20 March 2020

Blast from the Past! Freeway Fighter

Devastated by a killer virus, the world you once knew is a wilderness.

No, it's not your daily news update, but the opening to the blurb of Ian Livingstone's Freeway Fighter. It continues...

Life is lawless and dangerous. Survivors like you either live in scattered, fortified towns, or roam outside as bandits. YOUR mission is to cross the wilderness to the far-distant oil-refinery at San Anglo and bring vital supplies back to the peaceful town of New Hope. Even in the armed Dodge Interceptor you are given, the journey will be wild and perilous. Will YOU survive?

For his sixth solo contribution to the FF range, Ian Livingstone ventured into the realms of near-future, post-apocalyptic dystopian science fiction. Clearly inspired by the Mad Max movies, set in 2022, Freeway Fighter had the hero crossing the wilderness in his heavily-armed (and armoured) Dodge Interceptor, to reach the distant oil-refinery of San Anglo so that he might return with vital supplies for the inhabitants of the peaceful town of New Hope. But success is anything but certain, since the wilds that lie between the scattered, fortified towns are the territory of lawless bandits and brigands.

Vehicular combat was a feature of this particular adventure with the Dodge Interceptor having both a FIREPOWER and an ARMOUR score to represent its offensive and defensive capabilities.

Like Starship Traveller (Steve Jackson’s one and only foray into hard sci-fi Fighting Fantasy), Freeway Fighter has fewer than the standard 400 references, coming in at only 380 paragraphs.

The cover was by the sci-fi artist Jim Burns. When the book was republished by Wizard Books, the cover was reworked by Jim Burns. However, this the painting was not an original piece of artwork for the range, the piece having already been used as far back as 1984 to illustrate the Games Workshop RPG Battlecars.

Model-maker and FF fan Stuart Bannister was inspired by Jim Burns' artwork to create a 3D revision. "I enjoy converting miniatures, and I also like making dioramas, so it made some sense to try and recreate scenes from some of my favourite FF books," explains Bannister. “My very first one was to recreate the cover art from Freeway Fighter, using a 1:43 scale model car, dismantling it and adding bits to it in order to build a more futuristic/post-apocalyptic version. I had just watched Mad Max and had re-read the Freeway Fighter book – the front cover illustration remains one of my all-time favourites. Getting a car to the right scale of 28mm miniatures was a problem and then trying to get a really smooth, red finish on the car was a challenge. I had to do a lot of sanding and use a lot of spray lacquer to get the desired effect."

Freeway Fighter, as sculpted by Stuart Bannister.

The interior art was by Kevin Bulmer. It was completed in only nine days, as a favour for Ian Livingstone after the original illustrations that had been commissioned, were rejected at the last moment.

One of the early contenders for internal artist on Freeway Fighter was actually FF legend Iain McCaig, but other commitments meant that it simply wasn’t to be. However, we have an idea of how the book might have looked since McCaig did start work on an image for the book.

With Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, the reader is always cast as the hero of the adventure. This means that secondary characters encountered along the way enjoy the sort of popularity and fan adoration normally reserved for the protagonists of more traditional novels. In the case of Freeway Fighter, readers demonstrated a particular fondness for the car the hero drives throughout the course of the adventure.

“I wanted to know the background story to the Dodge Interceptor you end up driving in the book,” says Andi Ewington, the creator and writer of the Freeway Fighter comic. “I always found it strange such a car would be found at New Hope without a bigger tale to tell. The comic fills in those gaps and brings a depth to an already existing story.

“Once I had the germ of the plot and I had my main characters, I would cherry pick scenes, encounters and baddies that fans would be familiar with and weave them into the narrative. It was imperative not to mess with the world so it would conflict with the gamebooks too much, so every step I took in the comic I would ensure I wasn’t creating a ripple that would disrupt the source material. It was tricky, but I think I’ve managed to carefully tip-toe my way through it without causing too much disruption.”

Ian Livingstone's Freeway Fighter was published by Titan Comics in 2017, with Andi Ewington's script being realised on the page through Simon Coleby's art, Len O’Grady colours, and Jim Campbell's lettering. It was later collected as a graphic novel, which has since been translated into Hungarian!

The Hungarian edition of Ian Livingstone's Freeway Fighter alongside the English language version.

This new iteration of Freeway Fighter has also inspired FF fans, including pixel artist Andy Green, who created this image, inspired by Simon Coleby's artwork.

Did you know...?
One of the variant covers produced by Titan Comics for Ian Livingstone’s Freeway Fighter #1 featured the artwork from the original FF gamebook and was exclusive to Forbidden Planet, which hosted the launch event for the comic at its London Megastore, on Saturday 20 May 2017. It was here that Livingstone and Burns were reunited for the first time in a long time.

“After a gap of 30 years, it was brilliant to see Jim Burns at the Forbidden Planet launch event signing,” says Ian Livingstone. “Puffin Books’ original 1985 Freeway Fighter gamebook (red car) cover was painted by Jim. When Freeway Fighter was republished by Wizard Books in 2005, the (blue car) cover was again by Jimand now both of his cover paintings appear as variant covers of Ian Livingstone’s Freeway Fighter #1. And I am pleased to say that I am the proud owner of both paintings which sit proudly in my collection.”

Friday, 13 March 2020

Blast from the Past! Return to Firetop Mountain

Between the years 1984-1988, Puffin Books published as many as six Fighting Fantasy gamebooks a year from, along with a number of other titles that expanded the FF world in one way or another. But by the early 1990s releases were down to three a year.

“There was a certain cost involved in publishing a new FF book,” explains series co-creator Steve Jackson. “Author advances, artwork, production work… You had to be sure the book would sell enough to break even at least. It was becoming a close thing whether it was worthwhile to publish more than 50 books.”

It was decided between the team at Puffin Books, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, that the publication rate would be ramped up again, with the intention that the release of the fiftieth gamebook, planned to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the publication of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, would draw the series to a close.

With this in mind, Ian Livingstone set about writing Return to Firetop Mountain, an adventure in which the hero would return to the eponymous mountain and encounter such legendary FF characters as Zagor the Warlock and the Darkwood’s guardian Gereth Yaztromo one last time.

As the title might suggest, Return to Firetop Mountain had the hero returning to that part of Allansia where Fighting Fantasy had begun all those years ago, whilst adding details to the area, especially with the chance to visit the town of Kaad. The diabolical sorcerer Zagor has returned from the dead, ready to wreak his terrible revenge upon Allansia, and so a brave adventurer - YOU! - is dispatched to enter the labyrinthine tunnels beneath Firetop Mountain once more and face the resurrected villain in his lair.

The book’s highly detailed cover, showing the various degenerate denizens of Firetop Mountain, was created by fantasy art legend Les Edwards, while Martin McKenna provided the black and white internal illustrations.

Chaos Beastman, by Martin McKenna.

Livingstone dedicated Return to Firetop Mountain to the crew of his sailing boat, an Ultra 30 ten-man racing dinghy, that was sponsored by Games Workshop and which won The Daily Telegraph Ultra 30 Grand Prix UK Championship in both 1990 and 1991, as well as the Ultra 30 World Championships held in Falmouth in 1990. A stylised illustration of the boat even appears inside the gamebook, as do the crew, the names of the characters they represent being Fighting Fantasy versions of their real names.

The buzz surrounding the landmark ten-year anniversary had an unexpected side effect on the FF series. “Return to Firetop Mountain sold better than the last few titles,” explains Jackson, “so Puffin agreed to continue the series.”

Did you know...?
Ian Livingstone makes a cameo appearance in one of the illustrations in the book, as the Inquisitor, who guards the path to the inner sanctum of Firetop Mountain. If the hero passes the Inquisitor’s trial he is invited to peruse the guardian’s library. Five of the books in the Inquisitor’s collection are named. One is Casket of Souls while another is Eye of the Dragon.

Did you also know...?
One of Kev Crossley’s illustrations for Blood of the Zombies includes an appearance by Return to Firetop Mountain on a shelf in Goraya Castle’s library.

Goraya Castle’s library, by Kev Crossley.

To find out more about the stories behind your favourite Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, pick up a copy of Jonathan Green's YOU ARE THE HERO - A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks today.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

World Book Day 2020

Today is World Book Day, so what better day could there be to pick up a new Fighting Fantasy gamebook, or to introduce the seminal interactive gamebook series to the next generation of young adventurers?

Friday, 28 February 2020

The Dice Men

DICE MEN: Games Workshop the Early Years 1975 to 1985 tells the story of the first 10 years of the global games company, Games Workshop, and the struggles faced by Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone and John Peake.

The book already had 915 supporters through Unbound, the crowdfunding publisher, but it's not too late to lend your support too. There are still various pledge levels available, but don't delay, as with the final text being delivered to Unbound this month, there's not long left.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Beyond the Pit Advanced Fighting Fantasy Paper Miniatures

Arion Games have released another set of their paper miniatures, for those of you keen on introducing creatures from the Beyond the Pit bestiary into your games of Advanced Fighting Fantasy, featuring such monsters as the Giant Hornet, Griffin, Grypvulture, Harpoon Fly, Hellfire Spirit, and Iron Cyclops

These bright and stylish creations are offered as flat/A-frame style miniatures, and will enhance any tabletop game. These figures are also scaled the same as the rest of the range for full compatibility.

You can purchase your set here.

Friday, 14 February 2020

The Crown of Kings - 35 years of magic

2020 marks the 35th anniversary of the publication of The Crown of Kings, the fourth and concluding adventure of Steve Jackson's seminal Sorcery! series.

Jackson conceived the epic gamebook experiment after holidaying in Nepal, and several of the settlements that appear in The Shamutanti Hills, the first book in the quartet, are named after actual villages he came across on a five day trek he undertook from the city of Pokhara.

The Shamutanti Hills concludes with the hero - the Analander - battling the Manticore that has appeared on the cover of every edition of the book ever published. The second book in the series, KharĂ© – Cityport of Traps, charts the hero’s challenging journey through the titular city to the spell-locked Northern Gate, through which he has to pass to continue the quest for the Crown of Kings.

The Seven Serpents, the third book in the series, takes the hero across the inhospitable Baklands – a treacherous wilderness of deserts, forests, and swamps – and a vast lake, as the Analander attempts to hunt down and do away with the Archmage’s assassin-agents of the title, seven deadly and magical serpents. And in The Crown of Kings, the hero has to climb through the Xamen Peaks to the Mampang Fortress, and then battle his way through the Archmage’s lair.

The Crown of Kings was a whopping 800 references in length - a record yet to be broken by any other Fighting Fantasy gamebook) – was a suitably epic finale to Sorcery! series, and featured one of the most memorable (and clever) denouements of any adventure ever published, not to mention encounters with a god-headed Hydra and entire societies of birdmen and she-satyrs.

When Jackson talks about the Sorcery! series, he does so, understandably, with great fondness. When pressed on the subject of which of the gamebooks he has written are his favourites, he cites two: “Warlock because it was the first. And Sorcery! because it was the most complex. Creating a four-part adventure in which your actions in Book 2 might affect your choices in Book 4 was a real challenge. Also making sure they were all good adventures in their own right; you didn’t need to have completed Sorcery 1 to play Sorcery 2. I was very proud of Sorcery!

Of course, in more recent years, the Sorcery! series has been turned into a series of apps by inkle studios, as well as a multi-player role-playing campaign published by Arion Games, while the first two parts of the Analander's momentous quest are now in print again, courtesy of Scholastic Books.


Saturday, 8 February 2020

Happy Birthday, Terry Oakes!

Today is the 75th birthday of superstar Fighting Fantasy gamebook cover artist Terry Oakes!

Over the course of nine years, from 1985-1994, Terry produced the covers for 12 Fighting Fantasy books, including the novel Demonstealer and The Fighting Fantasy 10th Anniversary Yearbook.

But how long did it take to produce a cover like the one for Demonstealer?

“It all depended on the amount of detail demanded by any particular cover, of course,” explains Oakes, “but as a general rule-of-thumb it took about five to seven days to complete. However, on occasions commissions could be ‘dropped in my lap’, as the saying goes, whereby everything became governed by the dreaded deadline – in which case I would put in an extra effort by working longer hours… Now and then I did manage to finish a piece in three to four days when required.”

Terry also painted a Brain Slayer for Out of the Pit, the cover for Issue #3 of Warlock Magazine, and even branched out into interior illustration with the FF gamebooks Black Vein Prophecy and The Crimson Tide.

If you would like to send Terry a birthday gift, why not visit Intercept Studios and purchase one of the prints of his Fighting Fantasy covers?

Friday, 24 January 2020

Delving into Deathtrap Dungeon

With the release of Branching Narrative's Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure this week, there are now more ways than ever to take on Baron Sukumvit's devious maze of misery.

If you're up to undertaking an epic quest, there's Nomad Games' Deathtrap Dungeon Trilogy, which is now available for the Nintendo Switch.

Like to game on the move? Then Tin Man Games' adaptation is for you.

If you're in the mood to simply listen to the story, rather than interact with the dungeon yourself, then there's the Fighting Fantasy audio drama Deathtrap Dungeon: The Last Champion, by David N. Smith.

Like it old school? Then there's this magical tome.

And tickets are still available for The StoryMaster's Tales Deathtrap Dungeon LIVE, which is happening at this year's UK Games Expo in Birmingham.

So, do you fancy taking a walk this weekend... through Deathtrap Dungeon?

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure released today on Steam!

It's the day that many of you have been waiting for, especially if you got to play the demo at Fighting Fantasy Fest 3 last year. Branching Narrative's Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure is released on Steam today!

Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure is an interactive video realisation of Ian Livingstone's multi-million selling classic gamebook, featuring homegrown Hollywood star Eddie Marsan (Fast & Furious: Hobbes & Shaw, Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde) as the Narrator.

You can visit the Branching Narrative website here, and download the game from Steam here. Why not let us know what you think of Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure in the comments below.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Appreciate a Dragon Day

Dragons have long been a staple of fantasy games and fiction, and that is as true of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks as it is of any other popular fantasy setting.

Today is #AppreciateADragonDay and there are certainly plenty of dragons to appreciate in Fighting Fantasy, from  Russ Nicholson's Dragon in the first ever FF gamebook, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and Chris Achilleos's 'Dragonspell' cover for Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World...

... through to Robert Ball's reimagined White Dragon from the Scholastic edition of Ian Livingstone's seminal Caverns of the Snow Witch, and Stephen Lavis's Brimstone Dragon from Steve Jackson's The Tasks of Tantalon...

... not to mention Tony Hough's 'Night Dragon' and Martin McKenna's 'Eye of the Dragon'.

So which Fighting Fantasy Dragon will you be appreciating this #AppreciateADragonDay?

Friday, 10 January 2020

The StoryMaster’s Tales presents Ian Livingstone’s Deathtrap Dungeon LIVE!

If you're attending the UK Games Expo this year, you'll want to get yourself a ticket for Deathtrap Dungeon LIVE, as performed by The StoryMaster's Tales team, the same people who put on House of Hell LIVE at Fighting Fantasy Fest 3 to great acclaim.

This new immersive and interactive show, will take YOU into the Tower of Yaztromo the Wizard, where he will transport you into the dreaded Deathtrap Dungeon in search of winning the coveted crown of the Trial of Champions.

Based upon the hugely successful Fighting Fantasy book, selected members of the audience will have to work together and get past all the dangers, puzzles and monsters that Baron Sukumvit has placed to thwart all challengers.

Suitable for all ages from ages 8 to adult, tickets are on sale here.

And if you weren't planning on attending UK Games Expo 2020, you might want to change your mind now.

Friday, 3 January 2020

What are your Fighting Fantasy New Year's Resolutions?

Is it to complete your collection of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks?

Is it to read Ian Livingstone's new FF gamebook Assassins of Allansia?

Is it to revisit some of your favourite titles of yesteryear?

Is it to attend Deathtrap Dungeon LIVE at the UK Games Expo?

Is it to paint all your Fighting Fantasy Legends miniatures when they arrive?

Is it to attend a Fighting Fantasy Beer-o or other get together?

Is it to play Branching Narrative's interactive video version of Deathtrap Dungeon?

Why not let us know in the comments below?