What’s the story behind your gamebook series? When did you start working on them?
The writing of the Beyond the Morning Mountains adventure began in late 2014, however, the beginning of the project that eventually became known as Tales of Quahnarren had actually started in 2010. Back then my interest was to improve my illustration and writing skills through a series of visual and/or written ideas that were fantasy based. I would illustrate a short story (sometimes only a sentence or two) or create a background story for a scene or character I’d already drawn, working on my skills with each individual piece. At this point nothing was connected but I soon realised that they could be, so it now became a worldbuilding exercise where I was assembling different aspects of the same setting.
While working on this new direction, I had rediscovered my interest in interactive gaming, and also had a strong desire to produce a final ‘product’ that people could read. The obvious conclusion was to write a gamebook, but I was initially quite hesitant to do so, understanding that it would be quite a challenge to build a functional world, devise the game’s mechanics and rules, and write an interesting adventure. Therefore, before progressing any further, I stopped working on other projects and began writing for a few days to see if it was something that was relatively easy and enjoyable for me to do, knowing that it would require a lot of energy and creativity. I believed that this early content was good, and subsequently began to define much more about the world of Quahnarren so that I could write the type of gamebook I had in mind.
Did you always plan to create such epic gamebooks with all of the extras (maps, illustrations, pocket guides etc.) and a mind-blowing 2000 sections?
From the very beginning my idea was to write a lengthy adventure – as a single book – where the focus was on what the player experienced during their journey, rather than what may occur at the final destination. At the time I was estimating that this complete adventure would consist of 600-800 sections, however, I had yet to define my ‘style’ for writing a gamebook, which later proved to involve a lot of detail, numerous routes, and a wide range of player choices. Incorporating such elements resulted in writing many additional sections to include these options, so the total amount of words grew substantially. The plan has always been to simply write what I want to write, providing readers with many alternatives to then create their own adventure out of all the included content.
As already noted, illustrations were a key component of the original project, so I was always intending to produce location maps, full-page illustrations and the smaller page fillers, and to create an overall visual style for the series. As a professional graphic designer, I possess the skill set to assemble a high standard book, and I was also aware of the advantages this gives me as a self-publishing author, where I could produce all of the required content without it personally costing me anything more than time.
I should also mention here that the complete adventure will now feature well over 2000 sections. I’m still writing Volume Two, so don’t yet have a fixed total, but the second book will be very large!
Is Quahnarren inspired by Australia and its unique inhabitants?
Yes, Quahnarren is definitely inspired by Australia, but it’s a subtle influence in regard to what you’ll actually read in the adventures. The greater impact of Australia’s geology, flora, fauna and overall environment is that I live very close to a large National Park, where I often go for a long walk. During these walks my mind is very active, thinking about possibilities in a ‘wild’ fantasy setting, where unexpected peril could realistically appear at any moment. There are a few direct visual influences to be seen in Volume One, where the park’s environment provided useful source material for elements of an idea or an illustration. Also, some gameplay elements are based on these walks as the park is both hilly and rugged, and features a wide variety of shrubs, trees, small animals and narrow walking trails.
I think that most non-Australians do understand that our continent no longer contains any large predators, so unlike many other parts of the world, here there is no genuine threat of a large animal attack. My choices for substantial threats mostly incorporate animals that are recognisable from our world, with a few fantastical adjustments to enhance gameplay. I’ve also resisted the temptation to modify any of Australia’s unique animals, so you’ll not see killer kangaroos or flesh-eating koalas roaming about the land.
There’s a saying that states ‘everything in Australia wants to kill you’, which is especially true for some of the deadly arachnids and reptiles. Can readers expect to be in danger while roaming the wilderness of Quahnarren?
Indeed, Australia is quite infamous as the home of many threats, although they mainly consist of creatures such as snakes, spiders, crocodiles, sharks, and specific species of jellyfish and octopus. Most of them do not want to kill you, and are rather happy to be left alone; deaths usually occur when humans foolishly initiate contact or unfortunately stumble into the path of an aggressive individual not welcoming any intrusion.
There certainly is danger in Quahnaren – especially in the wilderness of the Morning Mountains where hostile opponents may regard you as a direct threat. A few examples I’ve incorporated include: a non-venomous camouflaged snake; a large flightless bird reminiscent of New Zealand’s extinct moa; a bear-like wilderness creature with sharp, non-retractable claws; an agile forest arachnid with potent venom; an armoured, reptilian-like predator that hunts in packs; and the mighty Makkhra (seen on the cover of Volume One), who is an intelligent human-animal hybrid possessing great strength and incredible fighting ability.
Some of the animals you’ll encounter possess abilities beyond human capabilities, often requiring above average skills and health to successfully avoid or defeat. Plus, there is also a range of enigmatic spirits or monsters to meet – they will pose a very different type of challenge.
What do you personally love about Quahnarren the most? Would you like to live there?
I love that Quahnarren is a ‘realistic’ fantasy world, not high fantasy with archetypal heroes, wizards and a world-threatening menace. My preference was to create something a little more mundane, and therefore pragmatic regarding its imaginative elements, where a more relatable experience could be undertaken, and a detailed environment openly explored.
As a setting for a gamebook, I’ve strived to create a ‘living’ world in which events are not always dependent on your direct participation. When reading gamebooks, playing games or watching a film or a multi-episode series, I enjoy the ongoing everyday dramas that happen in the background, appreciating that a wider world exists without you necessarily playing a part in it. Other characters in Quahnarren aren’t simply waiting for you to walk by, and many events advance as they realistically would, so players will find that some situations will change if their choices cause a shift in time and/or affect.
I also possess a strong sense of adventure, so if I could live as an interesting character in Quahnarren, then it may be a highly suitable environment for me, and for anyone sharing a similar outlook. The other aspect that is personally important relates to the governance, rules, and social structure of the world. There is no monarchy or unnecessary levels of governance, only a small number of nominated officials who are rightly judged on their past and present deeds, and laws are devised to quickly resolve issues with swift punishment acting as an effective deterrent. Furthermore, there is no social hierarchy beyond those who are fortunate to hold some influence, and disputes between the Quahneri peoples are most likely based on the availability of resources, rather than prejudicial behaviours of race and perceived rank. Faith-based groups and other strange orders exist without preferential drama, and many of the peoples are highly industrious, valuing effort and intent over hollow ideas that do not develop community and a peaceful existence. This is a functioning set of circumstances deliberate put in place as I know that I’d certainly be much happier living in a world where outrageous control and fortune was not maintained by just a few.
Reading through your webpage, BtMM seems to be like a combination of gamebook and tabletop RPG. That sounds super fun but must have been quite tricky to write. Did you have many playtesters and proofreaders to make sure that your system works?
There is a strong RPG influence in what I’ve already built, and I have several ideas in the early stages of completion that will expand upon the current rules to deliver different experiences – including a broader tabletop-style experience – for games that are not books. In terms of actual play, my gamebook system is not complicated, but the written rules do give an appearance of complexity due to the necessary explanations required to cover all circumstances. Therefore, the basic structure for gameplay wasn’t overly difficult to conceptualise and write (my Battle Process is built from the simplicity of that found in the Fighting Fantasy series, with added elements) but it did take a considerable amount of time to achieve the desired balance between game mechanics and allowing the opportunity for players to shape their character’s experience and determine their fighting capability.
Even though I sought feedback from others – and received some helpful contributions – I’ve essentially conducted all of the playtesting and proofreading myself. I have plentiful experience in editing and proofing documents, so wasn’t bothered by performing that task alone, but I did need to spend a lot of time carefully checking that the game operates as intended and that all links were correct. Other than a few minor text mistakes, I don’t believe that any serious errors remain undiscovered.
Do you use any kind of software to create and track your story? Or are you good ol’ paper & pen fan?
I’m ‘old school’ when it comes to creating interactive fiction, simply writing sections in a logical order in word processing software, supported by a printed list of section numbers that I mark when used. I have a master map of all routes noting their key events; write lots of notes to remember specific conditions and circumstances that must be monitored throughout the adventure, or to remind myself of features yet to be included; and draw flowcharts to map self-contained events whenever they’ve grown too complex to easily track all the variations of an expanding choice tree. Specific section numbers are set aside for use with ‘special’ sections (which later includes all those featuring a full-page illustration, or a connected filler), and when all has been written, edited, proofed and tested, I then set the text to achieve a neat layout, individually selecting each section to both jumble the text and to obtain a perfect fit; this is also an opportunity to make further edits, either so that the text doesn’t have ugly line breaks, or to fix an overlooked mistake. I then manually alter all links to their new numbering – a lengthy process that must then be fully checked on desktop and mobile devices where these numbers appear as hyperlinks.
Due to my age, I’m comfortable with manual processes, and as yet I’ve not seen any gamebook authoring software that incorporates all of the features I require to craft the book the way I want to – and will work on my old iMac. I would also like to incorporate more hand-drawn illustrations in my gamebooks, however, the ease of use to create and modify digital art means that I’d simply be making my life hard while limiting my options. I still sketch rough drafts for maps and illustrations on paper before creating digital art, and am keen to produce some hand-inked black & white illustrations for Volume Two, if I’m happy with the results of my desired technique.
Who are your favourite gamebook/fiction writers?
The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks are still my favourite series, and are also the most influential interactive fiction that I’ve read; both Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone provided entertaining, yet rather different writing styles that produced highly immersive adventures. I was at the ideal age when they were released in the early ’80s, and was rather excited to embark on solo adventures via books often featuring superb artwork (Iain McCaig was my favourite for cover and interior illustrations). Later, when my interest in the genre was rekindled, I found that I really enjoyed the storylines and worldbuilding of Joe Dever’s epic Lone Wolf series (including The World of Lone Wolf books by Ian Page), and was also impressed by the open-world structure and shared writing of Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson in their Fabled Lands series, which gave me an alternative approach to consider for my own ideas.
I’ve been reading fantasy and science fiction novels since my early teens, with a preference for hard science stories and fantasy tales featuring complex characters and mature plots. Some of my absolute favourite authors include: C.J. Cherryh, Ray Bradbury, Lois McMaster Bujold, Elizabeth Moon, Kim Stanley Robinson, Connie Willis, Iain Banks, Paula Volsky, J.R.R. Tolkien, Neal Stephenson, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Robert E. Howard, Anne McCaffrey and Michael Scott Rohan.
Is there any gamebook you’ve played but never won, no matter how many times you tried? Or do you always play until you win?
As a teen I barely completed any! Many gamebooks written in the ’80s and ’90s were deliberately made difficult to extend their life, so I rarely made it through to the end, even after numerous attempts. Although I enjoyed playing them, there were always plenty of other activities going on to participate in, so if a book became frustrating I’d simply move on.
Interestingly, when I started writing book reviews for GamebookNews.com, I would simply restart an adventure from wherever I had met my doom, playing to reach the end so that I could complete the review without repeating content already read. Implementing this method of efficiency meant that I ‘won’ all the time, but it never diluted the experience, as I’ve always been more interested in the quality of the writing and the overall gameplay, rather than just achieving a victory.
Now a question for those who’ve never read a gamebook before. Is Quahnarren a good adventure for a newbie to start with?
Yes, I believe players new to gamebooks would find Volume One of Beyond the Morning Mountains relatively easy to understand and enjoy, and they would then be fully prepared for the greater challenge and complexity of Volume Two.
More importantly, if a potential player is interested in the concept of interactive fiction and is keen to begin with a book that offers a range of meaningful choices, then Beyond the Morning Mountains would be a good introduction due to the many alternatives it includes for progression. Players can often decide to either take on or completely avoid a challenging situation, issue intimidating remarks to an opponent to test their commitment to conflict, or make moral decisions when there may be nothing to gain from doing so. The tone of my adventure is mature and realistic, which hopefully elevates the interactive connection that players feel once they’ve made an important choice.
Writing a gamebook requires a unique skill set that needs to be embraced, including the ability to see all possible loose ends, and a certain flexibility in thinking. Have you ever considered writing any standalone fiction set in Quahnarren?
I would doubt that most authors of fiction would want to write interactive adventures, as you don’t create a direct storyline, and only have partial control over what any individual reader may actually see. Gamebooks require a lot of additional planning and conceptual thought to organise the way that the branching sections are linked – this necessary skill would be very alien to most fiction writers, and in many cases is quite a chore to correctly incorporate. I’ve always been fascinated by the process behind an interactive story, and intrigued by the possibilities they present, so was creatively drawn to this genre, keen to find out if my ideas matched the format.
I have written a few brief stories set in Quahnarren (up to 2,000 words), and there’s a possibility that I may write more, potentially expanding up to 15,000 words or beyond. For now my focus is on interactive stories, especially those set in this fantasy world, and also in exploring some of the RPG and tabletop variants I’ve been recently investigating that I believe would be of interest to anyone who enjoys my gamebooks.
There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of potential readers in Czechia and Slovakia, who are eager to read your gamebooks. What message would you like to send to them?
I would simply welcome all potential readers to Quahnarren – a fantasy world they can repeatedly explore to discover all of its hidden secrets. My gamebooks allow the freedom to make many minor and major choices – actions and behaviour – that will often deliver immediate or delayed consequences. These decisions will directly shape your experience, forming a storyline that will be uniquely your own.
There are notable structural differences between Beyond the Morning Mountains and many other gamebooks, as I favour a broader scope of player interactivity rather than a mostly linear path. Any single playthrough of Volume One will incorporate less than half of the book’s content, and a journey through Volume Two will consist of an even smaller percentage. This structure therefore delivers many opportunities to experience substantial content previously unseen – those who like to fully explore a world when undertaking repeat attempts should appreciate this feature.
I’ve committed an enormous amount of time to this project so far, and would love to see it widely read and enjoyed in many other languages. I thank all at Mytago for their interest in a new author from ‘down under’ and hope that my imagined world can offer readers the type of roleplaying immersion they seek.