SH App available… Visits to Basingstoke…

September has been a fairly busy time. I spent two very pleasant Saturdays selling Steam Highwayman at the annual Essextraordinaire near Maldon and at an event new to me, Cobbles and Cogs at Reading Milestones Living History Museum. Catching up with friends in the steampunk community at each was a real joy – as it was to have a stall with a fine display of three volumes of the Steam Highwayman adventures, my Seekerman velosteam model and the recently-produced A2 maps.

All the while, my friends at Cubus were working away on the release of the Steam Highwayman mobile app, which launched at the end of the month and is now available for iOS and Android. I’ve been having a go myself when I can and really enjoying what they have brought to the project.

I’m teaching full-time again this year, though, so have very little time for writing currently. Instead I’m preparing lessons for 10-year-old children, marking their work and keeping up with school requirements. At home, my two little children are growing fast too and need their own attention.

Instead of directly working at new books, then, I’m working on marketing my existing work and increasing sales. Perhaps you’ll come across an advert for one of my books on the social platform of your choice!

Steam Highwayman App Launches 30 September

Cubus have now given me a launch date – that’s right! The new promo trailer and the page on their site can give you a lot more info.

The app has been made under license, so I haven’t had much direct input (other than writing the book…). This is ideal because, 1) Cubus make great apps, 2) I trust them with my work and 3) I’ve been crazily busy.

There is still an opportunity to playtest before then: if you’re keen, use this link to get your name added and grab an early download.

I hope this is all particularly exciting for any Spanish Steam Highwaymen out there – or Catalan! The app will be available in three languages!

The Gormley-Watt Velosteamer’s Touring Guide

I loved making the maps for my recent Kickstarter. They took a lot of time, but they were worth it. Now all fans of the series can get their hands on them!

The idea of the maps began as enlargened versions of the maps found at the front of Smog and Ambuscade and Highways and Holloways. These were originally based on Ordnance Survey maps of the area I used to live in – bought from the WHSmith on Marlow High Street – but had been drawn with the interests of my gamebooks in mind and were, to massively understate it, simplified. If I had merely scaled these up, they would have looked clumsy and dull, and some readers had already suggested improvements to the maps.

On top of this, I needed to make a fresh map for The Reeking Metropolis. The process for that was to use a digital copy of a 1:1056 Ordnance Survey map series of London published in the 1890s and to digitally trace it on an ipad Pro. I learned a fair amount in the process and so I decided to do a similar thing with the historic maps of the regions in which my first two books were set.

Tracing can be a very meditative job, and between January and March I spent many an evening drawing away. I had actually begun the job long before, but had restarted a number of times and the maps begun in January became my final ones. Colouring could be done in the ipad, but lettering was added in Microsoft Publisher (2007 edition!)

I promised a Guide Booklet as a stretch goal for my project. This was really fun to do: the cover image is a development of the Ferguson schematic I made back in 2017 for Smog and Ambuscade, together with some styling mimicked from early 20th-century bike and motoring maps. The contents took a little while to get right: I had to check through the three books fairly carefully and make sure the beer tally was correct, as well as referencing plot points for many of the pubs.

My plan of assembling and printing the guides was set long before I had final versions. Essentially, this was an exercise in mimicry once again: I set out to make something resembling The Streets of Ankh-Morpork and the Discworld Mapp. So the final order for my printer in Southend was 250 A5 booklet folders with pockets, 250 stapled guidebooks and 250 of three A2 colour posters (the three maps).

The guidebooks came in two boxes; the folders in seven and the three posters each came in a whopping A2 flatpack. They took up a corner in our living room for several months (I still have three boxes now as I write this) as Cheryl and I folded and folded and folded. Then we had to stick the guidebooks into the folders with double-sided sticky tape and tuck a set of maps into the pocket. It turned out that the printers had sent us far more than 250 of each of the maps, but exactly 250 of the guidebooks and folders, so there were going to be enough for the backers who had pledged for them, about 70 full sets left over and then around 120 sets of just the three maps.

The final product is really neat. I’m not a graphic designer by any means, but I have spent my entire life in books and printed materials, so I’m fairly savvy at putting something like this together. In some ways, it reminds me of the nonsense post my brothers and sisters and I used to send each other during long summer holidays in a family postbox, demanding prompt payment of invoices or offering spurious and over-priced correspondence courses, such as the Sternly-Blythe School of Pachydermalinguistics. Double-barrelled names do possess such a weight of Englishness, don’t they?

You can order the guidebook and maps, should they still be in stock (or possibly reprinted) here.

How the Wheels Turn…

My next update for the Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis has gone live on Kickstarter, and it looks like it will be almost the last.  Over the last eighteen months, I’ve been regularly updating my backers on the progress of the project.  Now, I’ll only need to update individuals, as a large proportion of backers already have their rewards in their hands and the vast majority are shipped and on their way.  What a lot has changed in those eighteen months!

There’s also been a great deal of change for gamebooks in that time.  Brian Hazzard’s excellent Instadeath Survivor’s Support Group podcast has appeared, providing the gamebook community with interviews and playthroughs, Alba and Legendary Kingdoms have been the two most successful gamebook Kickstarters ever (I can give them that, even if some of their other statistics are up for debate!) and countless individual titles have been released by independent authors.  There are entirely new gamebook authoring careers blossoming, like Kurosh Shadmand’s – who you can find featured as Lord Hadrian Beaufort in a duel atop the Monument in The Reeking Metropolis, courtesy of Russ Nicholson.

But as for me, I’m keen to get Steam Highwayman III fully fulfilled.  I’ll then spend a little more time working on this website – so watch out for some changes – and do some preparation of marketing materials.  Then I’ll be releasing The Reeking Metropolis for general sale.  I’m currently helping my wife prepare a book of her own for publication – I’ll certainly write more about that here – and I have a couple of stories I would like to write without the pressure of delivering them to an audience.

Oh, and there’s the app coming.

Reader’s Companion for I-III Ready

I’ve just posted my 38th Kickstarter update for Steam Highwayman: The Reeking Metropolis.  More than half of the rewards are on their way and it’s been very exciting to see pictures of my books being unwrapped and appearing on bookshelves all over the world.

As part of the project, I promised to produce an updated Reader’s Companion to accompany the first three volumes.  It’s ready for download here.  Did you use the previous one for books I and II?  Fancy sharing the possession you really couldn’t put down?  Fancy showing how much you stashed away in Coulter’s?  I haven’t seen any of these filled in, except for my own.

 

Steam Highwayman Coming to Mobile this Summer!

My latest update (number 37) is now live on Kickstarter.  It gives some tasty stats about how far along the fulfillment track I am (with some much-appreciated help…)

But then it veers off, like an over-powered iron-framed velosteam on a narrow country lane, into announcing this.

Steam Highwayman will be available as a mobile gamebook app this Summer 2021.

Steam Highwayman III Kickstarter Update 36: The Book is Ready

You can read the update here.  But the update doesn’t tell you what it feels like to see a little green tick next to the mini image of the book that has been waiting for release on my IngramSpark account for over a year…  It feels great.

I’m also excited and emotional because of another little Steam Highwayman treat that was sent my way today.  Not the two backers who already let me know that they received their maps and that they loved them – that was nice.  Something even better…

Something I’m going to post about on Saturday.

In the next few weeks I’m looking forward to re-jigging this website so that Steam Highwayman is front and centre, uploading some new images and generally having a spruce-up, and also to writing about the process of making SH3.  I guess this is a spring in my step.

Codewords

draft sh3 codeword list (part blurred)

When Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson invented the Fabled Lands codeword system, they created something that massively increased the interactivity of gamebook adventures.  Until then, gamebooks tracked a player’s activity through a combination of several techniques: simple branching, unique possessions and player memory.  Simple branching is straightforward: if the player was reading a passage that was only reachable after a choice, then the text could ‘know’ that this choice had been taken and could describe what had happened as a result.  However, this is a one-time and one-directional choice: no reader can go back and ‘undo’ their choice in the same read-through, and other branches of the narrative are closed to them until they die and restart.

Unique possessions, usually noted in an adventure sheet, can also identify whether a player has made certain previous choices.  If a particular horned helmet is only available within the loot of a dragon, then by asking the reader whether they possess it, the book is also practically tracking whether the reader defeated or avoided the dragon earlier in the story.  However, this can be complicated if a reader has to manage a limited inventory and decides to jettison an item that seems, at the time, unimportant.

Player memory was the least sophisticated and least reliable of these methods.  It was used when a passage simply asked the reader something like ‘Have you visited this place before?’  Problems here are the ease of cheating and the need to ask this question quite soon after the original event, meaning a short consequence delay, because readers can genuinely be quite forgetful.

Whereas codewords are something else.  An alphabetical list of neutral, arbitrary(ish) words that can be ticked – and unticked – are unlose-able, repeatable and undoable trackers that can be used by the writer of a gamebook to note any variable they choose.  Your reader defeats the dragon?  Get them to tick the codeword Basket.  Your reader returns to the dragon’s cave.  If they possess Basket, all they will find is an empty cave and a faint smell of sulphur… but if they don’t possess it, turn to passage 701 where the dragon is alive and well.  Until the reader visits these passages, the appearance of the word Basket in a list in the back of the book doesn’t even hint at the mortality of a dragon.  What do these all do, we wonder.  If Basket tags a dead dragon, could Burnish imply that the protagonist is pursued by a vengeful ghost?  (That one is very Dave Morris).

In short, codewords allowed Morris and Thomson to invent the open-worldresponsive gamebook.  It’s an elegant and a powerful system, and one which Fabled Lands doesn’t abuse by leaning on too heavily.  Unlike what I think I’ve done in Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis.

In the current draft, SH3 has 98 codewords…  Some of those track choices in other books and offer you the consequences of actions you took in other books – or that you will only be able to take when I write future books.  Some track non-player-character’s attitudes or destinies, locations, others track quest solutions, faction loyalties, the profitability of certain businesses and a whole lot of other stuff.  In fact, one of the powerful results of this system is the ability to cause side-effects: the reader kills a soldier and gains a certain codeword, meaning that when they return to that location, the soldier will be dead.  But what about when the player visits a nearby terrace and, possessing the same codeword, is directed to a cottage where a wife weeps over her lost husband and cries, knowing that she and her hungry children will soon be evicted for unpaid rent?  Now that’s interactivity.

But 98 is a few too many, so I’ll be trimming the fat in the next few weeks.  But until then, peer at a blurry section of the entire list and enjoy your own puzzle: what do these arbitrary words actually track?  What is possible in The Reeking Metropolis?

Kickstarter Update: Draft Complete

Over on Kickstarter I’ve just posted an update about the current project progress. It’s a full one, including some details about plans up until November as well as lots of remarks about work complete. Head over there and enjoy the details!

Over here is a fresh image from Russ, full of action and violence – great! You might spot the eponymous hero himself somewhere in the background (sensibly masked against infectious diseases) as well as a backer in the brawl…