Friday, 15 May 2020

Blast from the Past! Scorpion Swamp

When the Fighting Fantasy series first started to take off in the early 1980s, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone simply could not keep up with the demand for new gamebooks.

"It’s funny, really, that when The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was first published, Puffin were not very enthusiastic about it," says Livingstone. "Within a year they wanted to publish a new book every two months! We needed help and got it." And so the 'Presents' series was launched.

"As it happens, our first ‘Presents’ series author was Steve Jackson – the American one, designer of GURPS – who had come over to the UK to talk business with Games Workshop," explains Steve Jackson, the British one. "So the book was: Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone Present: Scorpion Swamp… by Steve Jackson. Very confusing!”

“I was visiting London,” explains US Steve, who was already known to the UK Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone since Games Workshop was distributing his games on this side of the Pond. “They described their travails in creating FF books, and the difficulty of flow-charting. I sat down and wrote the first third of Scorpion Swamp, and they liked it.”

There are still people to this day who do not realise that the Steve Jackson who wrote Scorpion Swamp, Demons of the Deep and Robot Commando, and the Steve Jackson who wrote such classics as The Citadel ofChaos, House of Hell and Creature of Havoc are two completely different people.

“Occasionally I am presented with a copy of one of UK Steve's books to sign,” says US Steve. “I always explain, and if they really want me to, I will sign it ‘The wrong Steve Jackson’.”

Published in 1984, with a cover and internal art by Duncan Smith, Scorpion Swamp sent the hero into the fetid fens of the title with nothing but his sword to defend himself, and a magic Brass Ring that detected evil as well as letting the hero know which way was north.

Unlike other Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, Scorpion Swamp allowed the player to choose one of three quests, from a selection of patrons who are Good, Evil and Neutral. The gameplay was non-linear in design, enabling the hero to revisit locations and explore the swamp as he so desired, and a direct consequence of US Steve’s background in RPGs.

But how did Duncan Smith come to join the esteemed ranks of Fighting Fantasy illustrators? “My mate Iain McCaig had been doing some for Puffin and suggested me to the art director as they were looking for artists for another few books,” explains Smith. “Our styles were quite similar and so they liked my work and that's how it came about.”

The artist cites the illustrations of Poomchukker and the Giant as being his favourites from the book. “I actually like Scorpion Swamp,” he says, referring to the work he did on the title, “though I'd do it very differently now.”

Scorpion Swamp was the first adventure to bear the now infamous green zigzag Adventure Gamebooks banner and the fondly-remembered Fighting Fantasy logo, which was also green at the time. Even though the zigzags only remained in use until Creature of Havoc, the spines of FF gamebooks stayed green until the end of Puffin Books’ run in 1995.

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