In 1985 a gamebook hit the shelves that felt like no other before it. It featured a ground-breaking martial arts combat mechanic and a living, breathing world for the player to explore. The book was Avenger! the first in a legendary series called Way Of The Tiger, written by Jamie Thomson and Mark Smith.
Now, using the financial power of fans around the world, Way Of The Tiger is returning through Kickstarter. Author Jamie Thomson talks about the project…
In the last few years we’ve seen a resurgence in interest in the gamebook genre, with Ian Livingstone penning a new Fighting Fantasy book and Tin Man Games going from strength to strength with their digital books. What do you think Way Of The Tiger can bring to the table to interest a new generation?
I suppose it’s the general resurgence in gamebooks that’s going on. There’s a nostalgic niche that it seems to provide a market for. Plus there’s this app thing that’s going on – at the moment gamebooks are quite suited to Android and iPhone. It’s the sort of thing people like to sit and play with on the train. So there are new people getting into it and the old people who loved it way back when who would like to play it again.
Also the setting has its own uniqueness about it. It was Mark [Smith’s] old Dungeons & Dragons world that we used to play in and it’s got so much flavour. In the 80s ninjas were hardly known at all, it was really just niche kung fu films and now everyone knows what a ninja is. It’s not quite bringing a whole new scene of roleplaying gaming to exploit, but it is putting the ninjas in Middle-Earth.
Tell us a bit about Orb as a setting.
It’s mostly Mark’s thing and I like the way that he took the D&D alignment system, which most of us thought was a bit artificial and turned it into a great advantage. Nobody says that they’re lawful evil except on their character sheet, but in Way Of The Tiger it’s not done in a rules-y way – you take the god first, which gives them a guide to how the world works.
You also have areas of the world where these people live in uneasy harmony and they have rules about how they can live their lives without constantly fighting in the streets, but sometimes they do. You have a whole bunch of gangs in one huge world that get along but really want to destroy each other. Then you take all the fantasy tropes of D&D and make it all seamlessly work together. Adding the ninja stuff enabled us to also enable to create a new way of playing the rules, inventing a kung fu martial arts gaming system.
That combat system was really the first of its time…
Yes, it was thinking about tactical choices, but not just tactical choices purely in gaming but to make those part of the narrative. Your tactics are explained in a cool kind of way, so you get to do absurd ninja kung fu film stuff in a heroic setting.
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Kickstarter has been a huge boon for traditional game development. What were the main reasons you wanted to use the platform for Way Of The Tiger?
It’s very hard to go to an existing publisher and get it done like in the old days because they just won’t sell like they used to. You might be able to get a publisher like Wizard, who did all the Fighting Fantasy books, but I suppose it’s all about this new print on demand self publishing.
We can do it ourselves, we don’t need big established publishers and they’re not going to spend the marketing money. We already know all the people who will buy the book, pretty much, so we can market it to those fans. We don’t really have the £20,000 to do the art for the full hardback collectors edition, so we wanted to see how it would work and whether it would work and so far it’s been quite good. We will probably do the same with the Fabled Lands books.
You’ve managed to surpass your target already by quite a way. Did you ever imagine it being this successful?
Well the greatest problem, I thought, was doing eight expensive luxury editions. The initial decision was shall we do book zero to seven and just do them as paperback? Would we have got more money to do more books as opposed to doing more high end luxury ones for a lot fewer people? On the other hand, it’s Way Of The Tiger so there are some people who used to love it in the 80s who have got that kind of money who would order them. I don’t know if we would have made more if we did paperback but there does seem to be an appetite for these full colour collectors editions.
Can you tell us about the development of the first book, Avenger! In 1985. What were the challenges you came across?
By that time we’d already done Talisman Of Death and some other gamebooks so we sort of got a sense of how to structure a gamebook flowchart, which is quite a complicated thing. The challenge for Way Of The Tiger was flowcharting the combat system, which was an added headache, and then learning how to write clumsy ‘you lift your foot and drive it into the face of your enemy’ in an entertaining way and make sure it was not always the same every time. Then we kept pushing the boundaries of gamebooks, so we did one where there was a whole load of political stuff going on and also doing an enormous battle, which was fun but different.
How do you go about working with Mark and what’s the kind of writing dynamic did you have?
We would divide it up so we would have an overall plot line, which we would write beforehand and discuss, and each of us would write different bits and Mark did a lot more of the politics and I did more of the combat.
We would have to inform each other of various objects you might be picking up, so I might say ‘I need you to pick up a helmet’ and Mark would put that in somewhere and vice versa. But largely we would write separate sections, me largely doing the big fights and Mark doing the academic political stuff.
Do you have any plans for the series beyond the initial eight books?
Once this is done we hope to produce paperback versions. There’s also going to be a Way of the Tiger roleplaying game, which will be Megara Entertainment again and pretty much the same team doing the Kickstarter.
What are your words to potential backers who might be interested in funding the project?
There’s ninjas and they’re cool! What’s not to like?
You can find the Way Of The Tiger Kickstarter here.