Thursday 6 September 2012

How to Innovate in Solo Gaming

I've been thinking a lot about solitaire roleplaying recently. There's no doubt that the gamebook world is booming at the moment, with the release of Blood of the Zombies and developers like Tin Man Games bringing the interactive fiction genre back into public consciousness. Porting gamebooks to apps allowed for sound and graphical integration, making the adventure feel more immersive. When you're playing without a group, immersion is the key aspect of a roleplaying game; it should take you somewhere out of the regular hum-drum life has to offer, whisking you away into your own imagination. But I think there's room for more innovation.

You can't beat playing a game with others - it's a fact, one which is unfortunate for people who live out in the sticks. In this way, solo games should aim to be effective replacements for group play. This could mean emulating human interactions and mimicking the freedoms you have in group games, which is no mean feat. We need to think about what we have available to us to help create this illusion and submerge us into a new world.

Youtube could well help with the interaction element. What if your online gamebook had links to certain videos, which bring some interactions to life? You meet an old hermit by a hollowed out tree in the book, which links you to a video of the hermit speaking to you. Even better if you could embed videos into your book. If you don't have the expertise to create a video, you can always create audios too. You could also set up a hashtag on Twitter that someone must tweet to get a secret (auto-tweets could help with this).

Similarly, you could have links to music that the player should play when they reach a certain point. If you're musically talented then you could compose your own pieces, but you could possibly link to current music that sets the atmosphere of that scene.

Integrate your book with an online forum that links from the tavern in your book. This way you can have roleplaying interactions with people in your gamebook world.

I know that these ideas entail electronic gamebooks rather than physical ones, which many people prefer, but I feel that the internet can be a huge boon to solo gamers. It would be different from playing play-by-post games, since you don't have to keep track of turns or anything like that, but it would augment the experience and ultimately make it more immersive.


  1. Immersion does not necessarily imply multimedia functions and on-line interactivity. The immersion (and game) quality depends primarily on the player's imagination and, secondarily, on the quality of the text and artwork.

    Attemps at some degree of interactivity have been made in the past as early as in Buffalo Castle (I know it was very limited, but still, you could leave an object or a character in a certain paragraph for other characters to pick up later). City of Terrors, Arena of Khazan, Toughest Dungeon in The World, Sewers of Oblivion are all solos that can evolve with some input from the player (and the solo can then borrowed by another player, thus the interactivity).

    That being said, I'm also very much interested in electronic adventure books. I like the idea of being able to play a T&T solo on the train or bus, well, anywhere, without dice and pencils. Background sounds are likely to be more interesting than music, which is an entirely different subject.

    In order for an electronic adventure book to be truly interactive, there would have to be a way to let several players join in the same adventure, maybe with different starting point in the story. They would eventually reach a point where they would share the scene and have to interact live. That would require Internet connectivity, and that would not be a solo anymore.

    Just half-baked ideas, of course.

    1. I love evolutionary solos, like Fabled Lands and the T&T solos you named. I agree with you that we don't need the internet to enjoy a solo and good writing counts for a lot. What I was exploring was ways to innovate and take solos into a new era. I don't mean that lots of people play the same solo game, but there could be an element of interactivity between your own adventure.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Interesting thoughts here.

    You've got me wondering at what point does the game become a solo video game with a decent AI? Or piggy backing on Grimtooth's thoughts of allowing other players to join in and interact, at what point does it become an online multi-player RPG?

    Another thought: it seems to me that what mechanisms are needed depends on the stance the player takes on solo gaming. For some (probably many), it's an inferior, second class activity to be pursued in the absence of a group to game with (and some of these would rather not game at all than play solo). Others, myself included, find solo gaming to be a fun and rewarding hobby in its own right, sometimes even preferable to social gaming.

    The former group will undoubtedly benefit from the addition of multimedia interactions. It seems more like "doing something" than sitting at a table by yourself with a rule book, pencil, paper and dice (or laptop with a word processor and open). It might make the idea more palatable. And this leads me back to my video game thought.

    Finally, I haven't so much found that social play leads to more immersion. If anything I'm more aware of the fact that I'm sitting at a table. Rather, it's the other people at the table doing interesting and unique, and importantly, unexpected things with their characters. These interactions occur in real time and quickly adapt to our actions - difficult with a pre-generated video,text, etc. but not impossible to mimic to some degree (video game AI again). But most of all, in the groups I've played with, it is the humor (and the ensuing laughter which breaks down any hope of immersion) - jokes, good natured ribbing, and the general hilarity that results from the interactions of the players with other players, NPCs, and the game world - that marks the game as social and that, I think, would be the most difficult thing to reproduce.

    Just twirling around these ideas and seeing where they take me.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. So a bit like Myst? :-) It could have a moderated note / item leaving system with other players leaving hints *cough* Dark Souls. At what point does it become a MUD? Re solo RPGs, you could have a game with as many stats as Pokemon in an eGameBook, or a cleverly scripted companions.

  5. One very obvious thing eGameBooks can do is to have a set of actions that can be done at any time, on top of the choices ie do you Talk to the creature, try to bribe it, or use something from your inventory, use a special ability.. And if inventory items have more than one way they can be used. Or in multiple locations.. Ie a shovel that allows you to dig through into a series of underground more than one location - each location linking to the correaponding location. Ie. Part text adventure part gamebook

  6. Or just have lot more hidden triggers and interactivity hidden beneath the surface ie different items increasing the likelihood of certain encounters happening. Or having events that interact with your items - abilities more, such as the Nethack fire golem which sets on fire any scrolls not put away in a backpack / fireproof container. Likewise water could destroy rations - paper unless in appropriate containers. Carrying too many items could make skill checks harder, dropping them would make them easier. I know this isn't quite the social immersion that you appear to be thinking of, but whatvdo you think of these ideas? Andy