Way Of The Tiger Interview

Author Mark Smith talks about the revival of his legendary gamebook series Way Of The Tiger , which is being given a new lease of life through Kickstarter .

In the last few years we've seen a resurgence in interest in the gamebook genre, with Ian Livingstone penning a new Fighting Fantasy book and Tin Man Games going from strength to strength with their digital books. What do you think Way Of The Tiger can bring to the table to interest a new generation?
Right from the beginning [co-creator] Jamie Thomson and I had a goal to write the best gamebook, which we tried very hard to do and we took it very seriously. We decided to set it in my world of Orb. The thing about Orb is that it wasn't designed to be a token background for a set of gamebooks – it was a fairly well fleshed-out world that many man years had been spent in. Frankly, when I was at Oxford I put more work into designing and running the world than I did on my degree, which my dad hated at the time but when we suddenly started making money out of it he changed his tune.

The other thing that Way of the Tiger brought over other gamebooks is that we thought we could do better with the combat. If you play a Fighting Fantasy book you're rolling a couple of dice and you're not really making many decisions. How many people never bother to roll the dice? We tried to do a couple of things. We were combining a number of things, such as a world that was more developed than your average gamebook and on top of that a combat system where you can make intelligent choices and had a reasonable outcome. We could therefore do really good boss battles that you couldn't get in other gamebooks.

Tell us a bit about Orb as a setting – would you say it's like Japan in Middle-earth?
It's not quite Japan in Middle-Earth. It pulls quite strongly from ancient Greek city states. It's certainly not an oriental-themed world. The oriental things are actually quite rare and remarkable. We set some of the stuff in the oriental part, which is the Islands of Plenty etc.

Kickstarter has been huge for developing traditional games. What were the main reasons you wanted to use the platform for Way Of The Tiger ?
It wasn't my decision to go via Kickstarter, but I think Jamie and I are appreciative that there are people who liked Way Of The Tiger , who wanted to get behind it and we were happy for them to do it in this way – it works well for this kind of project. I've not been involved in Kickstarter much before but I appreciate that it enables some really good ideas to come to fruition that wouldn't necessarily get backed by stuffy bankers or venture capitalists. So it's a marvellous idea.

You've managed to surpass your target already by quite a way. Did you ever imagine it being this successful?
I think it's great. To be honest it makes you realise that there's a fan base after all this time. We've now reached an important stretch goal that book seven can be fully illustrated in colour, which is going to be great. The original six book series ended with the player's death, which was something that was done by the publishers at the time. But this is marvellous because we left everybody on an unsatisfactory cliffhanger, which we'd never intended to do at all.

What was the writing dynamic like between you and Jamie. What roles did each of you play in the books?
All of the background, the world and some of the characters were what I brought to it as well as the storylines. Jamie was brilliant doing the set piece battles. He designed the combat system for Way Of The Tiger because he had interests in martial arts, which enabled him to do that effectively. It was me that decided we should depart from other gamebooks, that we would have a character that progressed and did different things. We've got a classic gamebook setting and we do one or two books, but then we introduce the idea that you're going to do things like run a city state and then you're going to have to do a campaign with serious odds like someone evil is going to despoil the city or raze it to the ground. It's not just going out there and kicking a few goblins in the teeth, which I hope made it far more interesting for people.

This is the first time you've handed over your setting to another author, David Walters, who is penning the prequel book. Did you give him free reign over what he can do?
I have read what he's written, I've suggested changes, which he's taken on board. But I feel that it's not like we've just abandoned everything. He's done a fantastic job of writing in keeping with and adding to the story. The people that we're working with on this, the people who are developing the roleplaying game based on Way Of The Tiger , are real fans with incredible amount of research having been done, and they've really kept the whole ethos.

Do you have any plans for the series beyond the initial eight books?
I think with the series of books it should go on and on. We've talked of plans of different plotlines culminating in Avenger becoming a demi-god and the adventure taking place in the Garden Of The Gods.

The books will also become apps, one way or another. I think a good app would be a good improvement on the books and it makes sense. There are advantages of having it in app form, but of course the great thing about books is that you're taking them at your own pace and you remain free to let your imagination run riot in a way you're not free if you're looking at a screen.

Interview by Scott Malthouse. The Way Of The Tiger Kickstarter campaign runs until Friday 1 November.

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