Friday, 23 August 2013

The Fighting Fantasy Video Games

I haven't written much about the Fighting Fantasy video games. I'd never really intended to cover them, as the main target of this blog has always been the books, in their most non-digital format. In fact, I've not written much of ANYTHING in the last month on here, almost entirely due to having found myself in one of those terribly unexpected 'relationship' type of things. So please accept my most sincere and utter apology, and accept this post as a peace offering. Please forgive me. Don't hit me. Please.

 You would immediately think that a series like the Fighting Fantasy books would have generated quite a huge back catelogue of video games. But I suppose that the books really shone through best in their native format, as the ones that did develop never really saw anything near the same level of sucess. Let's start these out chronologically, shall we?

The first ones were a line of games on the home computers of the time, namely the Commodore 64, Amstrad, BBC, and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. As a kid I did have a Spectrum, but never had the patience to load any of the games. In fact, the most enjoyment I got from the games was to play the cassettes inside my Teddy Ruxbin, and watch the toy frantically spew out the mechanical screeching like it was possessed by a demon or something.

So I can't really say much of these games, as I didn't play them. Not a single one. The line consisted of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, The Citadel of Chaos, The Forest of Doom, Temple of Terror, Seas of Blood, Appointment with F.E.A.R. and Rebel Planet. From what I can tell, they were all published by different teams, and I think that they had different formats. I'm sure that at least a few were rogue-likes, but I'm just talking from general impressions here. I don't believe that they were digital adaptations of the books as published, but I may be wrong here, as it's perfectly concievable that they might be. At the time, it was very easy to make text adventure games.

I'd really love to be able to build up my knowledge of this particular era of FF gaming, but years of playing World of Warcraft has broken my patience in gaming into little charred pieces of debris. I can barely even maintain an erection without screaming "For the Horde!"... okay, sorry, that was a bit gross even for a joke. Anyway, I'm sure that these games are readily and easily available on emulators these days, so if anyone out there wants to contribute their experiences and knowledge of these, please let me know via the comments and I'll happily include your words here in the blog, with many thanks.

Next up was perhaps the biggest one for the time, Eidos' Deathtrap Dungeon. I managed to grab a copy of this on the Playstation, and found it wildly anticlimactic for reasons I'll explain soon. But for the era, this was a huge moment, as it was a 3D dungeon crawler in the same vein of the Tomb Raider games, which Eidos had innovated recently. I remember waiting very eagerly for this game for several years.

The game gives you two possible playing characters, the hulking and very manly Chain-dog, and the leather-clad and nubile Red Lotus. The adventure is simple enough, as you treck through level after level of the titular Deathtrap Dungeon, killing monsters in order to find keys to unlock doors or pulling levers in order to also open doors. Doors are important to this game.

The action in the game is nice enough, enemies tend to fly apart with a satisfying squealch when you whap them with a sword. But before long, your character soon starts to acquire ranged weapons like fireballs and (if I remember right, might be getting confused here) a blunderbuss, which feels nowhere near as intuitive as the old hand-to-hand combat.

The graphics were good for the time, but certainly haven't aged well although I won't hold that against it. What I will hold against the game, though, is that the controls feel utterly clunky. Your characters move like trucks, even the semi-naked Red Lotus who has hips the width of her shoulders and breasts that could choke a small child. When the characters move backwards, they have an awkward manner of gradually sliding back in an odd shuffle, peering over their shoulder as they go.

One thing I'll say about the Tomb Raider games, also by Eidos, was that the controls were smooth and easy. Not in this case. Your range of enemies also feels very limited, and it isn't until the last few enemies that you start to see a nice variety of boss monsters. If these bosses, including the same multi-eyed beast from the cover of the book, had only been paced out through the game in a more smooth way rather than attempting to create a gauntlet at the climax of the game, it would have been all so much less dull to trudge through the army of generic minions.

Aside from those downsides, it's still an entertaining enough game and makes a decent distraction for a few hours. Ultimately though, I'd hoped for a bit more.

There are two other games worth mentioning at this point. First was The Warlock of Firetop Mountain on the Nintendo DS, which was a first-person adventure rather similar to a mix between Dungeon Master and Metroid. Actually, perhaps the Ultima Underworld games would be a better comparison. This is an RPG dungeon crawler and didn't make much of a huge impact on the market. Neither did the Talisman of Death one that was released for the PSP. They're still out there, somewhere.

So let's move on to things that have been a bit more sucessful. Tim Man Games have in recent years and months been releasing their own version of a few of the books, on the lovely and respectable Android tablet (of which I own) and on some other kind of format for a thing called an eye-pad or other (which I don't own), although I'm sure that nobody will remember what an eye-pad is, I doubt they sell well and are doubtless a lesser quality product than the fantastic Android tablets (*wink wink*).

Okay, I'll be serious. The iOS system has had a bucket-load of Fighting Fantasy games released on it. Tin Man Games are the chaps who have released on Android too, and they've thus far done House of Hell, Forest of Doom, and last year's Fighting Fantasy book Blood of the Zombies. Each of these are straight-up translations from the books, playing almost exactly like the classic novels, so are doubtless the most faithful of all the video games around. And like I said, they're on iOS and Android, so your preference of tablets is catered for (developers, please take note!) whichever way you like.

American fans are able to get a copy of several Fighting Fantasy books on their Kindles too, but by this point we're steering further away from the definition of video games and into digital e-editions, so I'm going to call this a day here. If anyone out there has any comments or thoughts on the Spectrum era of Fighting Fantasy games, please let me know and I'll include it all here. Out of the whole lot, I'd recommend going for Tin Man Games' versions, as they're just outright the best quality available.

In many ways I think that the FF series kinda missed the ball in terms of video games. But to be fair, I think the Warhammer chaps missed the ball in terms of video games too, so maybe it's just my perception on it. Either way, the Fighting Fantasy games make an interesting footnote in the catelogue. This weekend, I should have the time to bring you a whole new playthrough, so stay tuned for that. Until then, take care all.

6 comments:

  1. I've played 4 of the 6 Spectrum etc adaptations and am slowly working through them on the MALthus Dire blog. WOFM is already posted and Rebel Planet is coming this weekend if I get round to writing it up in time. WOFM has nothing to do with FF. I hated the Deathtrap Dungeon PlayStation thing, as I recall.

    Just a minor point - Appontment with FEAR was advertised for the Spectrum et al but never emerged. Ditto, Sword of the Samurai and Demons of the Deep

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  2. On a tangential note, someone made a Warlock of Firetop Mountain (unauthorised) roguelike:

    https://sites.google.com/site/corremn/#Warlocks Mountain - The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

    I've barely touched it so I don't know how good it is, but roguelike seems like a genre that would work well for gamebook adaptations.

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  3. Not a FF video game per se, but I've created several FF-inspired maps for The Battle for Wesnoth, a free downloadable strategy game. I've done north-west Allansia, Firetop Mountain, Scorpion Swamp, the Inland Sea from Seas of Blood and the part of Gallantaria featured in Dead of Night, and made a start on the territories covered in Sorcery!.

    Oh, and congrats on the relationship.

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  4. Dude, I've already done this heavy lifting for you: http://www.mobygames.com/game-group/fighting-fantasy-gamebook-adaptations

    Big Blue Bubble's iOS adaptations seemed pretty much as hi-fidelity as Tin Man's, but they've been withdrawn from sale since the license changed hands. (Still, interesting to see how they prioritized Creature of Havoc!)

    There was also an award-winning WEP mobile phone version of Firetop Mountain about a decade ago, but as the technology has changed... it's difficult to get much hard information on it.

    The bit about the Warhammer chaps missing the ball -- that was a little joke, right? Who was Games Workshop founded by?

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    1. Curiously enough, it was founded by Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone, and John Peake. This certainly explains a lot of the similarities in the books, including sharing some of the same monsters, artwork and so on. In fact, the Advanced Fighting Fantasy books outright advise the reader to buy their stuff. In general, the GW video game products have had far more commercial success than the FF ones, although their fidelity to the source material is a little debatable. Their Dawn of War and Warhammer Online games were almost certainly the most profitable ones, but they've also had quite a large number of ones that barely registered as a blip on the radar. I rather like Space Marine and Blood Bowl, though. But to be fair, I'm not into Warhammer in general, so don't really go too far into those. Best left for fans of the products, methinks.

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  5. I had (and still have) the PS1 "Deathtrap Dungeon" game but didn't really play it that much as it didn't really do much for me. I do remember bits of it though such as cutting snake girls in half with a swinging axe and throwing exploding pigs at people, so maybe it did have some impact?
    I agree that it's very early tomb raider in style but I was never a big Lara Croft fan anyway and this game got a bit repetitive after a while. The problem is that I discovered Final Fantasy VII not long after this and that kind of set the bench mark for me! !

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