back to article Interview: Steve Jackson, role-playing game titan

There aren’t many interviews – particularly when it comes to those offered because someone has a new video game to promote – that take place at the home of the interviewee. Such was the case, however, when I went to meet Steve Jackson. A man who, along with university chum Ian Livingstone, not only founded Games Workshop, but …

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  1. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
    Happy

    Messrs Jackson and Livingston were a significant influence on my young life

    So much so that I've spent the last 30 odd years gaming in one way or another.

    Nostalgia has made me go out and buy a few, ok 12, fighting fantsy books and am in the process of introducing the concept to my 7 year old son, we are currently working our way through Warlock.

    Thanks Steve, I might have been richer without you and Ian, but I certainly would not have had as much fun!

  2. Wulfy
    Happy

    Wows!

    I rememberer reading these YEARS ago and doing exactly what is in this article with 10 fingers :) just a shame there's nothing out now days to continue the line (and such a shame the new app is only for iOS! bring it to the droid!)

    1. Shrimpling

      Re: Wows!

      I've done some searching and a company called "Tin Man Games" have released a few of the old FF books on Android including Forest of Doom.

      I'm keeping my fingers crossed for more, Deathtrap Dungeon and the Warlock of Firetop Mountain are the 2 I want!

  3. Tel Starr
    Thumb Up

    The Book Tower

    A particularly boring children's TV program, except that one time when they had Tom Baker introducing a strange book that had you fighting creatures...

    There were at least 3 'Warlocks' in action in the school by the end of that week, with none available in the local Book Shops but plenty on order.

  4. Matthew Smith

    Creature of Havoc

    Lawks, I spent years, years, trying to get through CoH. In the end I gave up using it as a gamebook, and just read it as an interactive novel.

    Also, the only spell that matters : VIC

  5. Andy Miller

    Bigger

    Can we have a higher res copy of that photo of the shelves, please? I've worked out about 25% of the games, but there are some I don't recognise.

    1. Whitter
      Megaphone

      Re: Bigger

      My first reaction to this interview was to start peering into the backgrounds!

      Higher res PLEASE!

    2. tsdadam

      Re: Bigger

      He's got Caylus and Tikal there, so he's already doing well, could do with Castles of Burgundy though :)

  6. Dave 126 Silver badge

    I had a couple of FF books, and to my shame I didn't use dice and cheated with my fingers as Jackson described. This must have been a couple of years after reading an Usbourne book, "Write your own Adventure Game for your Microcomputer", the end of which were pages of Basic to serve as an example and template.

  7. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    Ah memories...

    The first game like that I ever remember playing was Illuminati. Which was one of his. Moving your money round your vast network of companies/organisations and putting out the occasional hit on the enemy (if you couldn't bribe them). I always liked the idea of an organisation that could span the Gnomes of Zurich to the Church of Elvis.

    Watch out for the Secret Service Steve...

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: Ah memories...

      Isn't that the other Steve Jackson?

      1. mmeier

        Re: Ah memories...

        Yep, the SS was after the GURPS Steve not the Warhammer Steve

    2. Dave Bell

      Re: Ah memories...

      There is a British Steve Jackson and an American Steve Jackson. The Illuminati game was the American Steve Jackson.

      Another early American company was Flying Buffalo Inc, which produced its own line of solo adventures built around its Tunnels and Trolls game system. Company and game are still around.

    3. David Blair 1

      Re: Ah memories...

      Not the same Steve Jackson. That's the American one. Confusing, I know.

    4. Borisapien
      Angel

      Re: Ah memories...

      Actually Illuminati was designed by a different Steve Jackson (an American rather the brit Steve Jackson in the article).

      To complicate matters still further both Steve Jackson's actually wrote Fighting Fantasy books (though it was the brit from the article who founded the series with Ian Livingstone).

      Weirdly enough there's no distinction on the FF books for either author, both were just credited as Steve Jackson on the front of the books.

      Wow - I'm boring myself now!

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Ah memories...

        There's only one two Stevie Jacksons! Only two Stevie Jaaacksons... etc.

        Ooops!

        I'd never realised that, as D&D wasn't my thing. My brother had the Fighting Fantasy books, but I think I only read/played one of them. Although I did see them a couple of years ago, when clearing up some old books at my Mum's house.

  8. Radium
    Thumb Up

    IF a$ = "W" THEN GOTO 210

    I remember being hooked on these books back when I had sodastream fuelled acne.

    I spent the best part of a day transcribing one of the books into BBC Basic before giving up the idea as my fingers gave out.

    Then I "borrowed" a copy of "The Quill" for my Spectrum and then invested in actually buying a copy of PAW (Professional Adventure Writer). I remember telling my mother that it was important that I'd do this and that I'd make money with it.

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: IF a$ = "W" THEN GOTO 210

      I also tried turning one of the books (Island of the Lizard King?) into a BASIC program on the Speccy - as I recall, I ran out of line numbers...

  9. tsdadam
    Happy

    Sorcery Spell Book

    The first thing I thought when I saw the picture of the spell book from Sorcery was just how much it reminded me of the box for Ultimate's Knight Lore. It's not really that similar at all, just one of those pictures that instantly fires something off in your brain and takes you back 20+ years.

  10. graeme leggett

    Scarce a mention of the early years of GW?

    Surely not? Livingston and Jackson's money game the foundation for WFB even if it was Halliwell and Priestley that designed it.

  11. Tom 13

    Re: computer technology largely supplanted

    adventure books, and role-playing and table-top board games

    Only for a little while. We await the arrival of the killer app that will return us to RPGs that no MMO will ever be able to create: the ORPG. This killer app will provide video conference combined with onscreen display for the GM for maps and room displays, fight screen for combat, direct chat to the GM and private character chats.

    1. Li7hium
      Happy

      Re: computer technology largely supplanted

      Tom, it is called Roll20.net . When combined with a Google+ Hangout awesome things happen!

      Matt

    2. bottg

      Re: computer technology largely supplanted

      There is also Fantasy Grounds which even has animated virtual dice. There is even an Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e ruleset for it!

  12. The Serpent

    For some reason whenever I think of fantasy authors/artists I can only ever picture a very short, very bald, hugely obese man in a hawaiian shirt sporting a streak of beard which only serves to mark the otherwise indefinable point where his face ends and his gut begins

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This seems to be an idea whose time has come

    For years, gamebooks have been largely forgotten, but now they seem to be making a comeback on phones and devices. Its good to see it finally start to happen, after years of Project Aon being the only online gamebook stuff you could find.

    Speaking of Project Aon, if you want some free notalgia, check them out. Its a volunteer project to put the works of Joe Dever online for free (with his blessing), they have most of his gamebooks on there now, fully HTMLised, with built in inventory management, stats, and combat resolution handled by a javascript sidebar. They've got all 4 Greystar (World of Lone Wolf), 26 of the 28 Lone Wolf series, and some of the Freeway Warrior stuff on there now.

  14. jason 7

    I remember reading the first few of these.

    I used to run out of fingers holding all the options open so I could go back if I got killed.

    A fun way to pass a couple of hours.

    I had the Warlock of Firetop Mountain game for the Spectrum. It came with the book in a set.

    I have to say not a great game.

    1. Not That Andrew

      Re: I remember reading the first few of these.

      Yeah, I just used to write them down. I also made maps where possible - I remember Firetop Mountain being remarkably non-Euclidian.

  15. IsJustabloke
    Thumb Up

    Ah.... youthful fun.

    I absolutely loved these books... I remember many happy hours drawing maps as I played. Not being a botanist I found my stupendously blocked by the following clue..

    In a previous clue I'd be told to not get lost in the woods and the path was indicated by the brush carriers hand.

    the clue that had me stumped totally was

    You come to a fork, the left fork has a small clump of foxgloves, the right fork has a willow.

    I'm afraid I had to cheat my way out :-(

    Doesn anyone remember the "Warlock of Firetop mountain" board game ? I painted all the little player tokens :D

  16. Matthew 17

    I had dozens of Fighting Fantasy books

    Completely loved them, always thought they were well written and enjoyable, the sci-fi ones were less interesting, some reason the format worked best with goblins and sorcery!

    Deathtrap Dungeon and Trial of Champions were particular favourites, would be interesting to see how they stack up now. Time to raid the loft!

  17. The_Regulator

    The few times I "ran away from home" aka packed a backpack because I was really mad with my parents or brother and headed down to the local park I always made sure to bring at least 2 of these books with as I knew it would pass the time!!

    Definitely had influence on my life as a kid back in da UK.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Today's [big budget] triple-A games are pretty much all the same"...

    "I don’t play video games as much as I used to but I’m much more excited by apps these days. I’ve been playing Diablo III recently, but today's [big budget] triple-A games are pretty much all the same, they just look better than they used to. You can’t get excited about a new one that comes out. But you trawl through the App Store and you come across really great games. Like Spaceteam, it’s just the most ludicrous game you’ve ever come across.”...“You very rarely see a game come out that breaks new ground, and that’s the disappointing side of things really,” the professor adds.

    Big fan of his work I wish the interview had devoted more time to video games and ran to more pages. Was there a word count pay limit? Thankfully there are some really beautiful big-title games being released IMHO. Skrim for instance. I say that despite not being a fan of Open-world Fighting Fantasy RPG or whatever genre this is. I prefer Far Cry, but they killed the franchise with FC3 IMHO. Bioshock Infinite is pure on a rail eye candy, and not nearly as interactive a world as the trailer would suggest.

    Forza Horizons point blank killed my interest in driving. Driving games peaked with the PGR series and Driver-SF and Forza 3/4. I don't understand how Call of Duty is still selling so well either, especially for multiplayer fans. COD2 & COD4 for PC have free online multiplayer and a treasure trove of hugely imaginative user maps that destroy the supplied maps from the more recent releases. What was new about the Halo 4 multiplier maps? An asteroid, but little else.

    Very disappointed with Hitman Absolution. QTE gameplay, final-kill cut-scenes and non-open world action take away the fun for me. Dishonored was a much better hitman style game, but both lack the beautiful maps of Hitman Blood Money. I hope Watchdogs and GTA V reboot big-budget gaming....

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In the US is another Steve Jackson that does games

    And he runs Steve Jackson Games out of Austin TX. He has great games also - Munchkin, GURPS, Toon, Car Wars, Ogre, Illuminati...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I read these books as a kid ...

    .. but only when I couldn't get access to a computer with something by Scott Adams of Adventure International see http://www.msadams.com/ or any of the "classic" text adventures.

    Even as a child I thought the "adventure book" idea was a fail when compared with real text adventures, it wasn't the writing so much as the limitations of the media.

    I do know the books were responsible for introducing some children with learning difficulties to the pleasure of reading but on the other hand the end result is Games Workshop and Space Marines litigation.

    Its hard to say if I, in his place, would be proud of my overall achievements

  21. MajorTom

    Digital dice

    When Steve mentioned that die-rolling in video games just didn't have the psychological impact of real dice, I figured digital dice...with accelerometers and bluetooth...could be a great addition to such games.

    Looks like someone already made a patent for it though:

    http://www.google.com/patents/US20090210101

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