STARBURST: What is Fighting Fantasy Legends?
Carl Jackson: Fighting Fantasy Legends is a digital card-based RPG set in the world of Titan, on the continent of Allansia. Players assume the role of a hero who has been tasked with saving Allansia from impending doom at the hands of three seriously evil bad guys. The game combines the events of City of Thieves, Citadel of Chaos and The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and adds RPG elements such as player levelling, random encounters, and some tough decision making. The game is available on iOS, Android, and PC/Mac via Steam now.
Legends looks beautiful. How important was the art to Fighting Fantasy’s success? What did you look for in a fantasy artist?
Steve Jackson: The quality of Fighting Fantasy artists has always been a prime requirement for the series. In the early days, we had White Dwarf and fantasy artists come to us with their portfolios. This put us in touch with Britain’s best fantasy artists, when FF arrived we already had a stable of top quality artists to draw from. This was very important at the time.
Ian Livingstone: Art has played a crucial role in the success of Fighting Fantasy. I always looked for artists who were able to draw realistic incredibly detailed fantasy art demonstrating lots of drama and movement. I was lucky enough to convince Iain McCaig to paint the covers of Forest of Doom, City of Thieves, Deathtrap Dungeon and Island of the Lizard King. He is an exceptional artist and it is no surprise that he went on to design Star Wars’ Queen Amidala and Darth Maul. It is with great excitement that I can announce that Iain has painted the cover for the collector’s hardback edition of The Port of Peril, my new Fighting Fantasy book being published by Scholastic.
A digital card game? Isn’t it a rather odd idea?
CJ: Having some of the iconic encounters of the books represented as a deck of cards works really well. It’s a great way to add a random element to the already recognisable books. In the books, you might enter a room within Firetop Mountain and encounter an Orc who is guarding a box which contains a magic potion, but what if you went into that same room and you simply drew a card from the top of a deck and followed the instructions on the card instead? It might still be an Orc to fight, but it could perhaps be a trap that you’ve stumbled into or maybe even a fantastic treasure to take with you. This random element adds a great deal of replayability and keeps players on their toes as they never know what to expect.
Legends only covers Thieves, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Citadel of Chaos. What are your favourite bits of those books?
CJ: It’s very difficult to choose my favourite moments from those books, but I’ll try!
With City of Thieves, it’s The Spotted Dog Tavern is probably my favourite place in this book. It’s almost like a Wild West saloon, with many different races having a drink in there. There’s quite a lot to do in this one location – get into a brawl, get directions, attempt to settle an argument between some Goblins, gamble, etc. It’s a very rowdy place! It really sets the tone for the rest of the book and you find it quite early on, so it’s very important.
Warlock of Firetop Mountain? I’d have to go for the gambling Dwarfs near the maze. Despite the chaos going on all around them, these guys are sat in a room enjoying a good drink and a laugh. They’ll happily let you join in (but are good at spotting a cheat!) and might also give you some directions through the maze. For Citadel of Chaos, it’s O’Seamus the Leprechaun! This little blighter tricks the reader in all sorts of imaginative ways but can ultimately give them the best help possible.
What was the most fun Fighting Fantasy book to write?
SJ: Don’t know the most fun FF book to write, but Warlock was special as it was the first book. Next, I’d say Sorcery was the most challenging book to write.
IL: For me, it was writing City of Thieves. I really enjoyed describing Port Blacksand as a foreboding place where nothing good is going to happen to you.
Can we expect to see more development of the world of Allansia in other media?
SJ: We are in discussions with several people who want to take Fighting Fantasy to new areas. Particularly audio. Watch this space!
IL: More and more Fighting Fantasy content is being developed for digital platforms, which is great to see. Personally, I would like to see an extended live action series filmed for streaming. And I would love to see an epic cinematic-style Fighting Fantasy video game with ultra-realistic graphics.
Any chance of a Fighting Fantasy movie?
SJ: There have been a couple of movie producers who have made enquiries about film rights to FF. In particular, one who got to an advanced stage on a movie based on House of Hell. The difficulty is that FF is interactive. How can a movie be interactive? More likely are video game versions, which can use the interactive format. And that’s what we are seeing with FF Legends and Tin Man’s adventures.
IL: Of course, it would be a dream come true! A really fantastic screenplay for Deathtrap Dungeon already exists, written by Fighting Fantasy fan Martin Gooch. Martin is an independent film director and has already produced and directed two feature length films. He is endeavouring to get funding for the Deathtrap Dungeon film.
We understand Ian saw John Robertson’s F&F-like stage play The Dark Room recently. Any chance we’ll see Fighting Fantasy on the stage?
IL: That could be a lot of fun, asking the audience to decide the actions of the actors!
How has Fighting Fantasy changed your life?
IL: It’s given us a great sense of pride and personal achievement to have created a series of interactive books set in a fantasy world which has given so much pleasure to millions of people. It still amazes me that 20 million books have been sold around the world. And now in its 35th year, we have Scholastic, the world’s largest children’s book publisher, reimagining and relaunching the books to a new generation.
SJ: Apart from the nice houses and nice cars, FF has made it possible for us to turn our hobby into a business. As a game player that has meant a most satisfying career.
If you could give the younger, Dungeons and Dragons-buying versions of yourselves one piece of advice, what would it be?
IL: Retain ownership of your intellectual property.
What video games are you playing now? What are you finding the most exciting?
CJ: I have many games on the go at the moment, which is usually the case. Video games are such huge beasts nowadays that it can take a very long time to get through them. I’m a big fan of open world games and RPGs so The Witcher 3 is my current favourite game, but I’m also playing through Skyrim for about the sixth time. The VR version of Skyrim looks incredible so I might just lose myself in that when it comes out.
IL: I’m playing Snake Pass and Fallout 4, but I also play games in development at the studios I advise, e.g. Crackdown 3 and Dead Island 2, which are being developed by Sumo Digital and Erica from a new studio called Flavourworks. That’s pretty exciting.
What board games are you playing now? What are you finding the most exciting?
CJ: Tough question, I play so many! My current favourites are Machi Koro, Descent and The Lord of the Rings LCG. When the core mechanics of a great card/board game grip you, it’s a great feeling and seems to wake up a part of the brain that doesn’t get used very often (in me, anyway).
Why are we so fascinated with fantasy? What’s caused the revival in all things orcs and dragons?
SJ: It’s an interesting question. Why not pirates? Or Gangsters? There is something magical about fantasy (literally!). Imaginary worlds where anything is possible will always be fascinating to us. Pure escapism.
What advice do you have for anyone wanting to be a writer or a games designer?
SJ: You need a new angle. A Unique Selling Point. Something that sets your game/book apart from the rest. In the video games industry, we talk about the ‘Elevator Pitch’. Imagine you are in an elevator and you suddenly realise you’re standing next to a senior exec from Electronic Arts; the person who decides which games EA will sign up next. He’s trapped and you can make him listen to your pitch. His room is on the 25th floor. And this is how long you have to get your pitch in and persuade him that your game is brilliant. If he can’t get it before he gets out, you’ve failed the elevator pitch. This is apparently how Peter Molyneux sold Dungeon Keeper to EA. It was a fantasy role-playing game but this time you took on the role of the baddie. You’re not a traditional FRP character as a treasure-hunting hero looking for loot. You are the owner of the loot, just peacefully getting minions to mine gold and treasure. Everything is fine. Until those pesky treasure-hunting heroes arrive. A great idea, or not?
Fighting Fantasy Legends is out now for PC and Mobile. Fighting Fantasy enjoys its 35th Anniversary this year, and celebrations include a Fighting Fantasy Festival in London and re-launch of the books by publisher Scholastic. Find out more at www.fightingfantasy.com.