Choose Your Own Adventure author Ian Livingstone to visit Edinburgh
- Henry Northmore
- 3 August 2012
This article is from 2012.
The author will appear at both the Book Festival and Edinburgh Interactive
'I always had a big interest games. In the 1960s I used to play Diplomacy [a strategic WWI board game] and play-by-mail games. When Steve Jackson and I met up in London in the 70s, we were old school friends and we thought, wouldn’t it be a great idea to make a living from our love of playing games. We put out a little newsletter called Owl & Weasel to everyone we knew, and one of the people who got hold of it was Gary Gygax, who’d just invented Dungeons & Dragons. We played it and were completely enthralled about the whole role-playing idea, got pretty obsessive about it, ordered six copies and got a distribution agreement for Europe on the back of that, which was very fortuitous [laughs]. We began selling it mail order then set up the Games Workshop shops, then expanded the whole thing with White Dwarf [a role-playing game magazine], miniatures and of course we got hugely into the game ourselves.
'We’ve got a rich heritage of making games, thanks, I think, largely to computer science being taught in schools in the 1980s. The BBC Micro was the cornerstone of computing in schools, the ZX Spectrum was a fully programmable computer in the home, mixed with the fact that we are perhaps the most creative nation in the world. You put a programmable computer into the hands of a creative person and, hey presto, one of those outcomes will be videogames. So it’s no coincidence that some of the best franchises in the world were created in the UK.
'I think the most compelling feature was that you, the reader, were the hero. Traditional books are a passive experience where you are reading about someone else’s adventures, but in Fighting Fantasy you make all the decisions. Living or dying by your decisions and swordplay made it a very atmospheric and involving experience.
'We thought, wouldn’t it be nice to extend the whole role-playing concept beyond the niche of D&D, so we came up with this branching narrative book idea with a game system attached to it where the book replaces the dungeon-master. We wrote a description of it that we sent to Penguin Books and they hummed and hawed for about a year. Then we finally got the green light and wrote The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and the rest, as they say, is history.
‘During the high point of Fighting Fantasy I’d written a book called Deathtrap Dungeon. It got to number one in the charts and got a lot of publicity, so games company Domark asked me to write their first game for them. At the same time I became a shareholder in the company, then in 1981 I was asked to join the board of Domark, which in turn became Eidos in 1985. We floated Eidos in 1995 – I became chairman from 1995-2002 and helped acquire franchises such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Hitman and Championship Manager. So it was a natural progression for me moving from analogue to digital gaming.
‘Most MMORPGs have a lot to thank Dungeons & Dragons for. I’ve always really enjoyed role playing because it’s like interactive theatre in your own home. With the addition of computers it has become even more enriched with fantastic graphics, and you can interact with other players on the other side of the world. It’s a great social experiment, it’s fantastic.
‘We’re releasing Blood of the Zombies at Edinburgh Interactive and also on the Saturday I’m doing a launch of the book at the Edinburgh Book Festival. I’m also going to be involved in some of the panels on education and skills at EI because I co-authored a report for the government called Next Gen in which we recommend getting computer science on the national curriculum as an essential discipline.
‘I wanted to celebrate the 30th anniversary and I didn’t want to do something around Firetop Mountain without collaborating with Steve. So I decided to do something different and, having worked in the videogames world for over 20 years, I noticed the enduring love of zombies so I thought I’d do Blood of the Zombies. There was a question – was I writing it for the 10-year-old of today or someone who had been 10 in 1982 who wanted to go on a nostalgic trip down memory lane? There was never any serious commercial intent because Fighting Fantasy was of its day, but it’s got this enduring quality that brings back fond memories. Having said that, I think it will be read by the 10-year-olds of the 1980s and the 10-year-olds of today, so I thought I better do it not only as a book but also as an app.
‘There’s a lot of inspirational thinking and speaking at Edinburgh Interactive. It’s also very relevant to what’s going on in Edinburgh around that time, with book festivals and fringe theatre. EI differentiates itself from other games conferences in that it’s not about the sales of games but the culture of games and where it’s going as an industry.'
You have finished your adventure but if you want to head along to Edinburgh Interactive for the public sessions – offering workshops, interactive games and, of course, the launch of Livingstone’s Blood of the Zombies – tickets are available free at the EI website.
Edinburgh Interactive, Radison Blu Hotel, Edinburgh, Conference Thu 9 & Fri 10 Aug; Public Program Sat 11 Aug.