Sunday, 17 November 2019

I CYOA What You Did There

Having been writing this blog for nearly three years now, it is perhaps surprising that this is the first time I've ever written something about the Choose Your Own Adventure series. It was a range that popularised the gamebook genre, to the point that its title is to this day used as a synonym for interactive fiction. Edward Packard, who wrote the first ever title in the series and went on to write nearly a hundred more of them, may very well have invented the idea of the gamebook with Sugarcane Island in 1969 - certainly that book was one of the very first gamebooks ever written. The historical importance of this series cannot be denied. So why has it taken me so long to get round to it?

Well, this series is absolutely fucking massive. There are 184 books in the original series alone, and once you include all the various spin-off series (variously aimed at younger and older readers, intended to be more 'educational' or scarier than the parent series, featuring licensed Disney characters, an Indiana Jones series, a Star Wars series, not to mention the early noughties revival with revised versions of the original books designed to bring them up-to-date) that number swells to well over 300. I devoured adventure gamebooks as a child, and I doubt I got through any more than a small percentage of Choose Your Own Adventure books.

And yet... many of them aren't remarkable by themselves. They generally run to just over 100 sections, there's no game system of any kind (no statistics or inventory to keep track of), and with so many entries in the series - cranked out (largely) monthly for the better part of two decades between 1979 and 1998 - it's hardly surprising that there are a fair few where the story just isn't very interesting, or there is little in the way of any real plot. You can't get anything hugely insightful out of many of the individual entries, yet trying to write a history of the entire series is an impossible task. Perhaps the most memorable feature of the books is the surprisingly gruesome and inventive deaths, and plenty of other people have had a go at archiving the best of those.

So for this post I thought I'd highlight a few of the more notable entries in the series - ones I have fond memories of reading as a child, or are notable for unexpected twists or interesting set-ups.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Homer Defiled

Hello there. Could you take a look at this video featuring two clips from The Simpsons episode "Homer Defined", please?

According to legend, that is the originally broadcast version of the episode, although the clip comes from a syndicated airing. When the episode was repeated on Fox, the lines had changed so Burns now planned to "kiss his sorry ass" goodbye, but Bart now said "Bad influence, my butt!" (in response to complaints received over the original version). The changed version used for the repeats is also the one found on the DVD.

Or is it?

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Broken Gamebooks #16: Knights of Doom

One of the last entries in the original Fighting Fantasy series, Knights of Doom can change hands for upwards for £60 these days (original RRP £3.99) - its author, Jonathan Green, has been one of the highest-profile components of the 21st century revival, but inexplicably neither Wizard nor Scholastic have reprinted this one yet.

And I'm only going to use my copy to tell you all about a silly proofreading error. Tragic, isn't it?

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Not A Nineteen Seventies Doctor Who Serial

Funny Radio Times listings for comedy shows. We've talked about them before. The ones for Not the Nine O'Clock News are great, so go and look at them.

I find this one, written in the style of a Doctor Who episode, particularly interesting, however. That listing is for an episode broadcast in May 1980. In October 1978, then-script editor of Doctor Who Douglas Adams commissioned his frequent collaborator John Lloyd (with whom he had co-written part of the first radio series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) to write a serial for the show, but in January 1979, Lloyd informed Adams he would be unable to finish his script, as he had been appointed producer of Not the Nine O'Clock News. However, Adams was still keen on Lloyd's storyline - entitled The Doomsday Contract - and tried to get another writer, Allan Prior, to adapt his detailed story outline into scripts. Prior's scripts were rejected and seemingly no longer exist, and when Adams departed Doctor Who in late 1979 Lloyd's story would never see broadcast.

Is this listing in some way referencing the show's producer's unrealised Doctor Who story? Or is it more innocuous?

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Editing Bumpers Badly

Lately, I have been making my way through Men Behaving Badly for the first time. Here is a thing I noticed about it which I think I can get a blog post out of.

The first two series of MBB were broadcast on ITV in 1992. After Thames (who produced the show in association with Hartswood Films) lost their regional ITV franchise for weekdays, ITV declined to commission any more series, and the show moved to the BBC for Series 3 onwards in 1994. This means, of course, that the first two series were originally broadcast with advert break bumpers.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Masks of Mediocrity

We've talked about great ways to die in adventure gamebooks before. But successful endings can often be just as interesting, for a great many reasons. Sometimes they might be a short 3-line paragraph that makes you feel it wasn't really worth the time and effort. Or there might be a surprising twist. Or they might be so strange and inconclusive that you have no idea what the author was aiming for.

Masks of Mayhem, the twenty-third title in the Fighting Fantasy series, was published in 1986, and at first glance it seems that the ending falls squarely in the first such category. Here is the successful ending to the book, in its entirety:

Victory is yours! The Masks of Mayhem will not be released upon the land - at any rate, not in your lifetime...

Ask for an example of the A Winner Is You trope in any adventure gamebook, and that example is bound to come up time and again. But that sentence and a half by itself is not the whole story. We need to go back a little further in the book to understand why the ending of Masks of Mayhem is what it is.

Monday, 7 October 2019


So. Did you know that Garfield didn't really start in 1978? For over two years before that, it existed in Jim Davis' local newspaper as Jon, which, as we can see from the surviving strips, was basically the exact same premise, only Mr Arbuckle was the lead character, not his cat, and indeed many Jon strips were subsequently redone for Garfield.

The fact that Jon even ever existed at all is a very recent discovery - in fact, it dates to July of this year. (The video linked to in that article chronicles how the strips were discovered, and is well worth checking out.) Prior to that, it seems Jon had been completely expunged from the record, not being mentioned in any known history of Garfield. This isn't just obscure, it was completely unknown about until a few months back. Given it is a fairly important part of the strip's history, one wonders why - a deliberate decision from Jim Davis? Gnorm Gnat strips are obscure, sure, but we at least knew they existed...

Sunday, 6 October 2019

27 on 4

The end of the year approaches. Christmas decorations start appearing in the shops. Fireworks go off with increasing frequency. Channel 4 gets the rights to a new-to-terrestrial season of The Simpsons, as first shown on Sky One four years ago.

On past form, that last one - this time being the debut of Season 27 - should start roughly about mid-November, in the tried-and-tested slot of weekdays at 6pm, so keep an eye on The Simpsons Archive's UK scheduling page for exact details. (Thanks to Wesley Mead, maintainer of that page, for helping out with a few details in this article.) If you do happen to watch Channel 4's debut of the 2015-16 season, here are a few things to watch out for - principally possible censorship cuts, but also other geeky notes of interest.