He recently stated that 2012 will be the year of the gamebook and it looks like he's right. Neil Rennison is the Creative Director of Tin Man Games, the studio behind the highly popular Gamebook Adventures series on iOS and the upcoming Judge Dredd gamebook app. I managed to snag Neil for an interview where he told me about the origin of Tin Man and what we can expect from the gamebook renaissance.
What was your first experience with a gamebook?
An easy first question! That would be the Fighting Fantasy book, Deathtrap Dungeon. I was on a family trip to the south coast in the UK and we couldn't go on the beach as the weather was terrible (what's new eh?) so I wandered down to a small bookshop at the end of the beach car park. There before me was the disgusting bloodbeast that adorns the cover and as kid who loved monsters and gore, I presuaded my mum to buy it for me. That moment was so important to me and catapulted me not only into the world of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks but also in the whole RPG genre.
How did Tin Man Games come about?
I was running a UK based games art outsourcing company called Fraction Studios for a number of years. We worked on a lot of ports of titles like Need For Speed and Tiger Woods for handheld consoles and mobile phones. While I really enjoyed working in that space, I was very keen to create my own games. Both my wife and I had planned to move to Australia so it seemed like the perfect time to start an independent games developer, especially as I had made a bit of money from Fraction Studios to get things up and running. After we moved to Melbourne in 2008 I founded TMG in October of that year. Ben Britten Smith joined me later in 2009 and Gamebook Adventures well and truly kicked off!
Did you think it was going to be as successful as it has been?
I always knew we had a good chance to build the Gamebook Adventures brand as we were at the forefront of a new technology in the form of smart phones and tablets. E-books were becoming popular and it made sense to bring back the interactive storybook genre to these devices. What surprised me was how quickly Gamebook Adventures became a brand. While it was our intention to get GA out there as a digital only series and be seen as a new take on interactive gamebooks, it very quickly got compared to Fighting Fantasy and Choose Your Own Adventure and in many examples held up alongside those famous titles - something we are very proud of achieving.
Fighting Fantasy veteran Jonathan Green is one of the writers for Gamebook Adventures. How much input do you have in the story when he's writing?
Actually not that much! Jon is a very creative fantasy and science-fiction writer and we didn't want to burden him too much. Not only that but he's written more gamebooks than we have during his career, so we knew we could learn from him too - his knowledge of gamebook design is second-to-none! The only time where we did discuss narrative elements were in relation to our fantasy world and even then, Jon was the one asking the majority of the questions and probing us on the best way to fit his story elements into our world and continuity.
What's the most difficult thing about making Gamebook Adventures?
The most difficult thing about making GA is keeping the financial train on the track - a boring answer, but sadly very true of most independent game developers. It costs a lot of money to develop an app and has cost a lot of money to develop our gamebook engine and software tools. Even though we have secured bit of funding from bodies like Film Victoria and Multimedia Victoria, much of the last couple of years we have developed on a shoestring, which has sometimes meant that both Ben and myself (as well as some of the other GA contributors) get very little financial reward, if any, at times. This can be tough when you have mortgages or rent to pay. Our business model hasn't never been about a quick pay off however and we're well aware of that - it's all a long-term plan. Ben and myself have a motto: "Slow Burn Baby!".
Late last year you managed to acquire the rights to Judge Dredd. What thought processes go into making a gamebook for such a huge licence?
The key to Judge Dredd was getting the right people on board to work with us. Our current writer and illustrator know the Dredd universe inside out which is invaluable with such a complex license where the devil is all in the details. Our aim for Dredd is to provide a gamebook experience for the fans whilst at the same time bring Judge Dredd to new audiences. It's a delicate tightrope to walk, but one I believe we are achieving at the moment.
Do you envision a series of Dredd books?
That would be great! At the moment we're going to see how this gamebook goes down and take it from there with Rebellion. If I had my way we'd have at least a trilogy and perhaps look at other 2000 AD characters. I get a lot of people asking me for Rogue Trooper or Slaine gamebooks - so you never know.
If you could get any licence, what would it be?
Now this is a difficult question! This is mainly because we're starting a process of actively seeking out existing licenses and saying anything at all in relation to those at this stage could damage the process. I will say this though, that I believe we could bring interactive fiction to any number of novel, comic, movie, TV or video game characters and worlds! Apologies for being so vague.
You recently said on your blog that 2012 will be "the year of the gamebook" and gave your reasons. Do you think there will be a resurgence in interest in the genre?
I already think there is and has been for a year or so! 2010/2011 certainly laid the foundations of a renaissance and I really think 2012 will be the year where we'll see lots of really cool gamebook projects appearing especially in the digital domain. Many of the "old school" gamebook writers and illustrators have come to the fore again and I know many who are working on exciting projects - a lot of them with us thankfully!
Can you give us a clue as to what we might be expecting from you guys further into 2012?
More of the same and lots of different! Our key this year is going multi-platform and getting GA out to as many people as possible. While iOS has been fantastic for us, we're well aware that Android is a huge market. We also think that we can make GA work on desktop platforms so expect PC and Mac versions later in 2012. As for the gamebooks themselves, expect to see more set in our fantasy setting of Orlandes, with a couple of sequels to An Assassin in Orlandes and Slaves of Rema. We have our first Sci-Fi gamebook out in February called Infinite Universe, which we're going to experiement as free to download and offer the reader the option for paying for chapters. We also have a series called Gun Dogs later in the year which is illustrated by Gary Chalk of Lone Wolf fame. As well as lots of other things we can't discuss, we also have a crack team of U.S based writers creating a brand new gamebook series which we're aiming more towards a female demographic - a little less testosterone flying around.
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Turn to page 400.
Thanks to Neil for the interview. Trollish Delver wishes Tin Man Games all the best in 2012 and I'll be reporting on all the cool new stuff that's released from this awesome company.