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01 November, 2015

"A renewal and expansion of the world you left behind" - Interview (Part 1) with Richard Morgan on Dark Fantasy Gamebook A Land Fit For Heroes

Grab It caught up with veteran video game writer Richard Morgan to find out some world exclusive details on his upcoming digital gamebook, A Land Fit for Heroes

It was only a few weeks ago that we lifted the lid on one of the most exciting upcoming digital gamebook projects, A Land Fit for Heroes, from veteran video game writer Richard Morgan. You can read our preview of the game right here. Morgan has penned a number of well known video game narratives including Crysis 2 and Syndicate. But more than that Morgan is held in very high esteem for his dark fantasy trilogy A Land Fit for Heroes, which is getting the digital gamebook treatment.

In hot anticipation of the first entry in the series releasing soon, we managed to catch up with Richard to chew the fat about what both long time fans and newcomers can expect to encounter. Enjoy.

You have quite a pedigree in the literary and gaming world with a long list of accomplishments. What attracted you to branch out into the digital gamebook space?

In fact, that wasn’t quite how it worked. What happened was, the Narborion team (ed: the team that created the Narborion digital gamebook series) came looking for me, pitched the gamebook concept and asked if I’d be interested in coming aboard. And I jumped at the chance! For me, working creatively is all about staying fresh, and here was a chance to do something totally fresh, a whole new angle on fiction that I’d never worked with before.

What makes the digital gamebook format such a natural one for A Land Fit for Heroes?

I think the format combining games and books is a natural one for any sufficiently kinetic novel (clearly it wouldn’t work for a Kazuo Ishiguro book!). For book fans, there’s the pleasure of reading more about their favorite fantasy world while also experiencing interactive storytelling, and in the case of the A Land Fit For Heroes game, also getting the chance to interact with other readers/players. Meanwhile, for the average 21st century gamer, a gamebook is calmer, more relaxed experience than is on offer from other game forms. It’s something you play drinking a hot chocolate or sitting back in your favorite armchair. It inspires creative thinking and imagination. You’re not faced with a rendered 3D world here, but a world YOU create in your own mind.

There are some really fantastic devs working in the digital gamebook space like Tin Man Games and Forge Reply. Did other developers like these guys influence you at all, or did you start from scratch?

Like I said, the Narborion team approached me and from what I understand their SagaScribe Engine is really awesome. They had to modify some parts of it, for example to reflect the ikinri ‘ska, the rune magic of the series, but aside from this it was, as near as I can tell as a tech-illiterate scribe, a pretty good fit. But what’s really fascinating from my point of view is the way these guys are introducing a multiplayer format to the gameplay. As far as I’m aware, that’s never been done with a gamebook before.

When writing your original novels, you obviously had a clear vision about where things would end up in terms of the plot but also how the novels flow together. Did your vision translate easily and naturally to the digital gamebook space? Or did you have to sacrifice certain things to make it work?

Well, one of the things we had to work on was brevity! The final volume of Land Fit for Heroes, The Dark Defiles, is nearly a quarter of a million words long! And the previous volume, The Cold Commands isn’t exacty short either. That’s fine with a prose novel, in fact it’s not an uncommon feature of fantasy trilogies. But obviously, with a branching narrative and all the cool in-game extras like turn-based combat, dungeoneering, mini-games and so forth that you get in a gamebook, you can’t write a base narrative that’s a couple of hundred thousand words long! So we had to look at narrative dynamics and pacing that were far faster and punchier than my habitual speed. But aside from that, I have to say that I think we’ve echoed the tone, themes and subject matter of the original trilogy pretty tightly

On a related note, did you have some philosophical or non-negotiable ideas about what had to stay in-tact when making the transition? For example, it seems like the gamebooks unapologetically retain the dark and adult nature of the novels…

Absolutely! Part of the brief when I sat down with Narborion was that we needed to stick closely to the fact and feel of the original books. But to be honest that was an aspect of the conversation that originated on their side, not mine. They came to the table as fans, they very much wanted me aboard as showrunner to ensure that those elements of theme and feel stayed intact. And a lot of my time over the last year has been spent going back and forth with the team over details in the gamebook prose, tweaking character dialogue or situational matters so that they echo the original IP accurately.

How closely does the digital gamebook follow the story and lore of the novels? Are long-term fans in for some surprises?

The story of the gamebooks is not the same as the narrative in the original trilogy, but it does run in close parallel. So the protagonists are three fresh characters, dreamed up by myself and the Narborion team in conjunction, and though they have some connection to the heroes of the books, they only cross paths with them very briefly. The gamebook protagonists are each on their own hero’s journey, with all that implies, and while their stories play out against the same backdrop of events as the trilogy, (and are shown to have some significant impact on those events) it really is a separate experience.

I don’t know that long term fans of the books are going to have any actual surprises – both tone and content run pretty tightly alongside the trilogy - but they will get a whole fresh dose set of experiences in the Land Fit for Heroes world. They’ll go to some places on the map that the trilogy never went, they’ll see some aspects of the fictionscape that were left unexplored or barely touched in the original narrative, and they’ll have a chance to briefly renew acquaintance with some of the characters from the original books. Think of it as a renewal and an expansion of the world you had to leave at the end of The Dark Defiles – a chance to get back in the door.


That's the end of part 1 of our interview with Richard. Really exciting stuff to look forward to, I'm sure you'd agree. Be sure to check out the second and final part of our interview for even more juicy details.

Stephen Mitchell

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