By Kieron Gillen on August 27th, 2010 at 12:00 pm.
If you’re of a certain age, you’ll probably be aware of the Lone Wolf books. Basically, the best of the wave of D&D-derived choose-your-own-adventure books which emerged in the wake of Jackson/Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy. In fact, for my money, the best of the genre. Dever and his collaborators gave Project Aon a licence for the books to be downloaded, so have been able to be played online for a while, in a manual text form. A Project-Aon-er has gone one better. Seventh Sense is a dedicated client (PC/Mac/Linux) for playing the Lone Wolf books, and is up to the first book of the Magnakai series. I may have lost you with the word “Magnakai”, so let’s press on. Why would you want to play them anyway? Allow me to hand over to a vintage piece of Gillen criticism to describe their merits…
(That was recently recieved from the delightful comrade in arms Becky, who scanned a load of pages from a school mag we did when we were 11. Mentioning this online caused Matt Turner to bring up Seventh Sense, which lead to this post.)
Note the formal experimentation in merging pictures with the text and the disregard for the conventions of the ellipsis. I’m slightly disturbed to know that my rendering abilities have only decayed in the passing decades.
Okay – the key thing about the Lone Wolf books were that they formed a campaign. Rather than single books, you played the same person – Lone Wolf – throughout them all. More than that, you also got to keep your equipment between stories, and develop your characters abilities. So while they could be played as individual stories, in practice you played through them, slowly gaining in power. The first book opens with the massacre of the Kai, a Jedi-like order of psychic-warrior monks. You’re the last survivor, an initiate with the good fortune to be out chopping wood – an axe is your only weapon to begin with – and are charged with… well, escape to begin with. Then, across the course of the 28 books, re-establishing of the order and cheery defeat of the Darklords. Bring it, Darklords! Bring it! I’m going to twat you with the Sommersword, when I get hold of the bloody thing.
(Book 2, +8 CS fans)
The client is an enormously slick piece of work. If you’ve any affection for Lone Wolf or interest in choose your own adventure books, I’d recommend them strongly. Basically, it looks like this…
So, your abilities and records on the left and the actual book on the right. It’s the details which impress me most in it, which show what a work of love it is. Take the choice of handwritten font for filling in the details on the left. Where they’ve chosen to automate the game for best effect (for example, combat damage, keeping track of inventory spaces, etc) and where they keep the important physicality (For example, you click hyperlinks in the text to actually pick up items). Lots of pop-ups to explain information on individual elements and so on. Oh – and just plain slickness (like it seamlessly going to get the version of the book from online when you select to play it), an eye for curatorship (you can download all the covers for the game) and personalisation (Whatever name you enter appears at the front of the book) and precision of nostalgia (you get to choose which of those covers you wish to use for your play through).
Why play ‘em now? Well, nostalgia is the obvious reason. Chalk’s art in the book remains evocative. They always married narrative drive with a degree of flexibility, and the idea for an interesting concept being enough to drive a plot which I wish more modern games would learn from. For example, the first book’s mission is basically to get to the King and bring the news of the Kai’s slaughter. All those “do you go to page 365 or 223″ decisions are weighed up through that simple filter – does this take me closer or further away from the King? There’s also clearly lots of different paths, some which lead to real changes further into the series – like if you meet a certain wizard early on. The combat system also remains novel, based around working out the difference between the two combat scores, then selecting a number from a page of numbers and looking them up on a table, leading to damage for both the player and the monster. Also, if the difference is high enough, the chance of just instantly killing the opposition, which always sped up any deeply unfair fights where you outmatch your opponent.
But you could get all that from the net editions. What Seventh Sense adds is a whole load of other, format-specific stuff. You’ve got pages of options to select at the start, depending on how close to the main book rules you want to play, or engage house-rules that can either help or hinder you. There’s even some meaningful expansions, where many of the other weapons in the game you find gain Combat-skill bonuses against new foes, which adds further decisions to make. And if you want to cheat to give yourself maximum stats, you can. If you want to simulate the multiple-fingers-in-the-book-stretching-backwards, you can save your game. However, if you don’t, and you complete a series of books, you can claim a place in the online hall of fame. If you actually select the hardcore mode, which limits you in several ways, not least not being able to gain any additional Kai-disciplines by completing books, you can go on your own I IZ WELL HARD hall of fame.
From the dabblers to the dedicated, there’s a whole lot to chew over in here. Hell, there’s even an option to simulate peeking at the number grid in combat to try and get better numbers.
I’m especially fond of the log, which lists all your choices and the page number. My first play through started with the agreeably prosaic “Vowed revenge on Darklords for Kai Massacre. Set out to find and warn king” and ended with a curt “Strangled by Vordak”. RPS is going to have to start making similar notes: “Woke up in the morning. Vowed to make cup of tea, do some work” to “Did nothing. Went to bed”.
The only real problem I have with it is that it doesn’t work on my Windows 7 PC normally, though works fine in Windows XP compatible mode. You’ll probably want to speed up the combat animations.
Oh – One tip if you’re going to play it “correctly”: for God’s sake, take healing. No, really.
I have only one thing to say: download Seventh Sense………………. OR DIE!!!!