Interview with S.P. Osborne

With An Assassin in Orlandes just days away from release we wanted to give readers an insight into the author of the gamebook! So we posed some questions to him about his background in gamebooks, where the idea of Assassin came from and how he sees the genre in the future.

Where did you get the original idea behind an An Assassin in Orlandes?

It was after an initial abortive attempt to write a fully-fledged detective-style gamebook. Some of the ideas were good, but it was more of a puzzle and less of an adventure, and there would be little fun in re-reading it once it had been completed. So I junked that, but the idea of the protagonist having to investigate a murder wouldn’t go away. This quickly led to the first inklings of “Assassin” being sewn when I decided to start the game with a murder-mystery scenario. After I’d planned out the first 50 numbered sections, the larger story began to coalesce, since just one random murder didn’t seem to be enough motivation for the adventurer to continue his investigation. Things needed to be made personal! Once I’d decided on that, the background was easy to construct, and the plotting and writing of the rest of the adventure became more straightforward.

What was the first gamebook you ever read?

It’s so long ago it’s difficult to remember exactly! The first three Fighting Fantasy books were in the school library of the primary school I attended, so it would have been one of those, probably The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

What is your most favourite gamebook to read?

That’s such a difficult question! I’ll name three, if that’s permissible, though in no particular order: the Arabian Nights-themed Virtual Reality Adventures #6: Twist of Fate by Dave Morris; Lone Wolf #4: The Chasm of Doom by Joe Dever; Fighting Fantasy #24: Creature of Havoc by Steve Jackson.

Honourable mentions should also go to Fighting Fantasy #35: Daggers of Darkness by ‘Luke Sharp’; Fighting Fantasy #45: Spectral Stalkers by Peter Darvill-Evans; Fabled Lands #3: Over the Blood-Dark Sea by Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson; and Lone Wolf #18 Dawn of the Dragons by Joe Dever. I also have a soft spot for the Knuckleduster Interactive Western Adventures. That’s probably enough. I’ve been reading gamebooks for the best part of 25 years, and there’s usually at least one good thing in each title, one memorable encounter to enthuse over.

If you could choose an artist to illustrate (alive or dead) one of your written books, who would it be?

After some consideration, it would likely be Colour: John Howe; Interior: Iain McCaig or Martin McKenna; Map: Leo Hartas.

How did you get into writing gamebooks?

I wrote gamebooks as a youngster–mostly they were never completed, and they were all very generic and derivative in plot and execution. The only one I completed was called “The Test of Champions” (not very original) and had 500 paragraphs. I wrote it using an old typewriter we had lying around, and even drew a colour map to accompany it. Looking at it today, it really is awful and won’t ever see the light of day online.

I did complete a couple of 200ish-paragraph adventures as a teenager, one of which is available online (“The Curse of the Yeti”), the other isn’t (“The Castle of Aoth-D’mor”). I didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to writing while at college, but on entering work and having a regular income, I had a renewed interest in gamebooks, not least through discovering the Internet and online second-hand bookshops!

By the late 1990s gamebooks were clearly not as popular as they once had been, and even the Lone Wolf series had been cancelled four books early. Buying hard-to-find second-hand copies to complete certain series took a lot of money once sellers on Ebay recognised there was a market for such things. So in between amassing enough money to buy copies of the later GrailQuest and Blood Sword books, I decided to write my own adventure, just for me, the sort of thing I wanted to read. The eventual mini-adventure (“The Strange Case of the Bodies on the Docks”) owed much in tone to the works of H P Lovecraft, whose short stories I was reading at the time. It was probably the most professional piece I’d written in the gamebook oeuvre until “Assassin”. After that I extensively revised “The Curse of the Yeti” from my hand-written manuscript, making it more professional than my teenage-self had managed, but keeping the same encounters and locations and game-flow that I’d originally planned about ten years previous. Something in these two short adventures must have intrigued the guys at Tin Man because they contacted me and asked if I would like to write an actual gamebook for actual money. And so I did.

Where do you see the future of gamebooks?

Less in printed form, more along the lines of online applications, ebooks and/or self-publishing via personal or corporate websites. The costs involved in printing paper-based books these days are getting higher and higher, and the best way to bring these costs down is to remove paper, ink and type from the process. Many corporate websites that allow self-publishing also give a Print on Demand (PoD) option for those who simply must read a book from the page.

The reduction in overheads allows companies and individuals to experiment a bit more, so I’d think there will always be an online niche market for fans of gamebooks, even when the market for mass-printed editions dries up, as it inevitably will. Many fans are writing their own adventures purely not-for-profit in their spare time and sharing them via mailing lists and websites. This is important because the idea of a community of fans generates more ideas and energies than one lone guy writing a book at his computer, wondering whether anyone really visits his own personal website. It is therefore crucial that older examples of gamebooks are made available online. What Joe Dever initiated with Project Aon is both generous and brilliant, not least as a resource for all future fans and authors. If more of the gamebook authors of the 1980s would follow his example, the online future of gamebooks would be secured for decades to come. Certainly, if “Assassin” turns up on someone’s website in twenty-five years, I’ll be extremely flattered and proud that there’s still interest in something I wrote.

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