Challenge balance / balance challenge

Reading a gamebook can be a disappointing experience for several reasons. Poor creativity, lack of realism (or, at least, internal consistency) and plain old bad writing are up there, and those are common problems with every book out there.

Gamebooks also have a unique opportunity to disappoint through the challenge they present to the reader, and the subsequent satisfaction in completing it. Probably my favourite of the Fighting Fantasy books is still Creature of Havoc, and one of the most positively received modern gamebooks is Victoria Hancox’s Nightshift, for that very reason – overcoming the high level of challenge is part of the fun, and they’re both books that are enjoyable to return to as well.

So in writing Escape From Portsrood Forest that has been forefront in my mind. It’s important for it to be challenging as well as easy to engage in. And the fact that Escape is written in an open world style makes this a particularly interesting challenge, for two reasons simultaneously.

Firstly, the endless walking around in circles can be boring, because the challenge level isn’t high enough. And secondly, the lack of direction from within the text increases the level of notes you have to take as a reader, getting you lost too much and making the challenge unreasonable.

It’s currently being playtested, and currently the balance is not quite there – I tried mapping it out from scratch earlier this week and got lost three times, and I’ve been living in it for weeks!

Thankfully, that’s a more straightforward issue to overcome – I’ve since added some more landmarks and I think we’re getting there. But note taking and map making will be your friends with this one…