You may know of Richard Morgan as a writer, responsible for The Steel Remains series of dark fantasy books. You may also have seen Richard’s name associated with video games, writing the story for some high profile games. But Richard has just released a combination of the two. A Land Fit for Heroes is a new interactive game book from Liber Primus Games. You may have read our previous articles were we talked about the Narborion Saga. These digital adventures replicate the old magic of choose your own adventure style books, but can take the game much further than a book ever could.
A Land Fit for Heroes takes place within Richard’s dark fantasy trilogy of the same name, as three unlikely heroes’ paths cross in an adventure where each is tested to their extreme. You will take the roles of these heroes and you will decide their fate. I was able to put a few questions to Richard about writing such a different media.
Is this your first introduction to the concept of game books? Did you never indulge Fighting Fantasy or Grail Quest back in the 80s?
I never read the Fighting Fantasy stuff back in the day, though I was peripherally aware of it. And I certainly wasn’t aware that the form had resurfaced recently in digital form, but the more you think about it, the more it’s a brilliant transfer of concept.
The thing that always put me off the Fighting Fantasy books was how slim they were - there didn’t seem nearly enough to get your teeth into as a reader.
But of course creating a digital version effectively removes any constraint on the size you can go to, as well as allowing all sorts of mini-game add-ons and frills. Not to mention the randomised combat!! It’s like taking canned oxtail soup and re-inventing it as cor`don bleu beef bourguignon!
What made you want to write a game book?
In fact, technically I’m not writing it at all - my job is to oversee the narrative that’s being constructed from the style of my book series and apply a showrunner’s eye to the continuity and tone. But what got me interested in being involved in the project was, ultimately, the enthusiasm of the guys at Liber Primus who did the Narborion game books, who came looking for me with the idea in the first place.
I’d never even heard of the thing they were describing (text-based tablet games), but they sold me on the concept in pretty short order! And I love fresh angles, fresh things to do with fiction - keeps you young!
Is this your first time creating interactive fiction, or do you have a past life as a Dungeon Master?
Well, I’ve had quite a lot of experience moonlighting in the video games industry; between 2008 and 2011 I was lead writer for both Electronic Art’s reboot of the isometric classic Syndicate and for Crytek’s cross-platform second instalment of the Crysis saga, Crysis 2, as well as consulting less formally here and there on a couple of other properties in the EA stable.
And since then, I’ve continued consulting for a variety of other gaming companies on projects I can’t tell you about (or I could, but then I’d have to kill you) :-)
Did you approach this project any differently than writing a novel?
Yeah, as I said my role in this has been largely comparable to that of showrunner for an HBO series - it’s my job to advise on and help develop storylines, to check on continuity and tone, and then get the hell out of the way and let these guys do their job; having seen the complexity of writing something like this, the technicalities of the narrative branching, of integrating mini-games and randomised combats into a text-based adventure, I have nothing but admiration for the their tenacity - it makes my head spin just reading the layouts!
Will the game book retread the story from your novels or is this a new adventure within your existing world?
Very much the latter - what we’re doing here is creating a fresh set of characters whose adventures run parallel to the main narrative in my original trilogy but are almost entirely separate; I say almost, because we will have a few walk-on cameos for my original characters here and there, just to tie the narrative more tightly into the overall fictionscape (and, well, for the sheer fun of it too, really).
Was it difficult relinquishing some of the control of a world you had created?
Not really - the Liber Primus guys made it very clear early on that they were huge fans of the original trilogy; that was part of the reason they wanted me aboard as show runner, so that I could make sure they weren’t missing any nuances, or misrepresenting the tone of the work and the world it describes. To that extent, I haven’t really relinquished control at all. I helped draft the basic storylines for each of the new characters, and I’m back and forth by e-mail and phone all the time on the fine detail of the chapters as they emerge.
I’m not doing any of the writing myself, because where cross-media work is concerned, I’m a firm believer in letting specialists in a field get on and do their job. But for the rest, I’m about as plugged into the process as it’s possible to be and still not actually be the writer.
Was there anything the Liber Primus team wanted to do with your world that you just had to say no to?
Well, yes, but I think that’s probably the wrong way to look at it - certainly, there were points at which we threw out ideas or plot dynamics because they didn’t fit with the fictional framework I’d created in the original trilogy. But that wasn’t a simple case of Liber Primus proposing and me rejecting - it was a far more organic process than that; we’d sit around and spitball story ideas, writers’ room style, and then thin that content down together into something that worked.
Concerns and constraints in that process included the limitations of the world as it appears in the original trilogy and my own personal vision of that world, sure, but there were also issues like the demands of a branching storyline, the need to include plenty of combat and upgrade dynamics, the beats of an interactive narrative versus a fixed one, so forth.
I may have canned a few ideas in the course of building the story, but so did they. It was very much a collaborative process, less about dictating guidelines and managing content, more akin to just sharing your toys with some good friends.
Yes, it is. Provided you can make enough from your book sales to write full time (and that is a big proviso - over 80% of published authors never do), then I can think of no better way to live. You work where and when you feel like it, you stay at home as much or as little as you like (that’s especially important to me now that I’m a Dad), and the people you deal with professionally are - by and large - the nicest, most supportive bunch you can imagine.
And people write to you, often, to tell you how much they love the work you do. I mean, what’s not to like? If you ever catch a full-time author whingeing about the travails and tribulations of the business, slap them for me - they don’t know they're fucking born.
Many thanks to Richard for taking the time answer my questions.
A Land Fit for Heroes is available for Android (via Google Play), Apple iOS and Amazon Kindle Fire.