Diary of developers of the Narborion Saga

Ten Tips from the Writer of Narborion Adventures: The Burning Trees of Ormen Mau

  1. Not all bandits are created equal

This goes for spiders, zombies, and other enemies you encounter in the game. If you have multiple enemies, target them in a strategic order.

The Burning Trees of Ormen Mau

The Burning Trees of Ormen Mau

  1. Stay true to your character

Sure, you could just pick whatever choice you think will let you ‘win’ the game, but what’s the fun in that? This is an RPG, after all; decide what kind of person you want to be at the beginning and stick with it.

Need an example? If you’re someone who loves hanging around bars and chatting with people, you likely wouldn’t go through the forest – as a people-lover, you’re far more likely to enjoy the cities than the solitude of the woods!

  1. The hardest path at the beginning may make the easiest path at the end

Being weak may make the first few chapters difficult as you try to defend yourself against enemies much stronger than you. But towards the end, those qualities that hampered you could lead you to discover alternate ways to win that only work because of your original talents! Explore the world, and stay true to your talents when you make choices; you never know what you’ll find.

  1. A little kindness can go a long way

Be kind to those in the game and the game might just be kind to you. Or not, but at least you’ll feel good, eh?

  1. Bookmark and bookmark often

You never know what’s waiting on the next slide and it sucks to have to bookmark when you’ve already lost HP. On that note…

  1. Never walk around with less than 10 HP

This is the equivalent of walking around with your arm mostly off and a broken leg. If you trip, or bang your head into a tree branch, you’re probably done for. What an undignified way to go.

  1. Make a friend
The Burning Trees of Ormen Mau

The Burning Trees of Ormen Mau

Friends make life easier – in real life or in RPGs. Unless you’re playing as a curmudgeon (in which case the forest might just have a sidekick to match your charming disposition!), see if you can charm a friend into helping you with your quest.

  1. Never underestimate the importance of being lucky

Dice rolls are a huge part of any RPG and this game is no different. No matter how high your original stat, there’s almost always a small chance you could fail a dice roll when you need it most. Keeping a few extra luck points around is advisable for just these moments.

  1. You never know where you might find magic

The game has so many hidden corridors and out of the way places; take your time and explore! Detect magic, collect weird items, check out the funny stairwell in the back. There’s an amazing amount you can discover about the world – and several really good items, spells, and friends – if you just take your time. And remember, if something seems suspicious, maybe check out it’s magical properties before you move forward…

  1. There’s many ways to win

There are several endings based on what you make of yourself – and not all of them involve fighting! The hardest part is finding the ending that’s right for your skills but, if you stay true to your character, you should be able to figure it out. There’s also many paths to take to the end – notably you can go through both city and forest – and a whole slew of different choices and items depending on which way you go. So make yourself a hero, however you choose, just make yourself the hero that’s right for you.

And finally – yes, you can ride the dragon. Good luck!

The Burning Trees of Ormen Mau

MEGHAN BARRETT, Author of The Burning Trees of Ormen Mau (Keith Trammel Photography, Rochester, NY)

How did you become interested in a fantasy genre? Was it traditional D&D games, fantasy novels or something else got you hooked?

[Meghan Barrett] I became interested in fantasy through the normal means – Tolkein, Rothfuss, and a few authors that appealed to me as a teenager, like Clare, Paolini, and Colfer. I’ve always been amazed by the world building that goes into these novels, the deft handling of a newly created history and the gorgeous settings that we are immersed in. It was only natural that I look for apps like Narborion Saga, which I avidly began playing shortly after the first book came out – the gorgeous illustration style, the intuitive gameplay, and the evocative storyline had me hooked.

Similar to most choice-driven narrative experiences, a large part of Narborian Saga will be missed by an individual player. Do you find this annoying, or do you think it gives your story replay/re-read value?

[Meghan Barrett] I’m actually so excited about this aspect of Narborion Saga as a player and a writer! In my book, I love that two players can play almost entirely separate stories depending on which of the two paths diverging in the woods they choose to take. There are so many hidden avenues in the world that are just waiting to be unlocked and I think it really builds a community of gamers when the world is full and replay-able like that – people trade off stories about the places they’ve been that others haven’t even seen yet.

What is your writing style? Do you make an outline of a chapter or just “go with a flow”?

[Meghan Barrett] I’m a writer who starts out with the best intentions, making a strong outline when I sit down to write the chapter and then ditching it about halfway through every time. A lot of this had to do with my research into various mythologies taking me in new directions as I wrote; a lot of writers also talk about how their characters will tell them where the story should go – and that happened a lot to me too.

What’s the main difference between writing a novel and a gamebook app story? Which one do you prefer better?

[Meghan Barrett] The biggest difference is that, in a novel, it’s very linear; you only have to remember one path to your current scene that you’re writing. In a gamebook app, you need to remember all the possible paths that could lead a player to the current scene, so you don’t writing anything in that doesn’t make sense. While I love the relative simplicity of writing a novel, I think the challenge of putting together all the puzzle pieces of a gamebook app is really intense. I loved it!

Who is your favorite character in The Burning Trees of Ormen Mau?

[Meghan Barrett] This is a tricky question – there are characters like Baladur that I enjoyed bringing back from the original series as a crossover. But I think my favorite new character is the talking turtle you meet in Lake Mir. He trades riddles with you, gives you advice, can tell you the history of the places you visit – he’s all around a very decent, wise character and an excellent friend.

What is your favorite chapter?

[Meghan Barrett] My favorite chapter is ‘To be Surrounded by Stone’. It can be a tricky chapter to access; you need to make a lot of specific moves in the game to get to this chapter at all, and then really dedicate yourself to spending some time with the characters and history of the chapter to enjoy it. But there are a lot of lovely, hidden details in this chapter that I enjoyed writing – it speaks to the universality of mythology, the power of love, the beauty of history, and the interconnectedness of our spirits all underneath high stone ceilings and star-drenched skies.

Writers, Gamebooks and Readers

Sylvia Finali, co-author of Narborion Saga

Sylvia Finali, co-author of Narborion Saga

How did you become interested in a fantasy genre? Was it traditional D&D games, fantasy novels or something else got you hooked?

[Sylvia] The Lord of the Rings was the first fantasy novel I read and it left a huge impact on me. Before that I was interested mostly in classic French and British literature (Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Honore de Balzac, Jane Austen, Bronte, sisters, Thomas Hardy), so fantasy books opened the door to a whole new world that I fell in love with right away. A few years later I discovered Neil Gaiman’s books which showed me yet another dimension of what this genre can offer. To this day, Neil Gaiman’s books inspire me to become a better writer and a more avid and perceptive reader.

[Tom] Started with The Hobbit, then The Lord of the Rings, then came the orinigal first edition D&D Boxed Set. I am an old-timer, for me everything has started forty years ago and I’m and addict ever since. I read anything and everything, both novels and game accessories.

Similar to most choice-driven narrative experiences, a large part of Narborion Saga will be missed by an individual player. Do you find this annoying, or do you think it gives your story replay/re-read value?

[Sylvia] I think it’s super exciting to have a medium where you can pick one possible road walk on it and see how it works out. If something tragic happens along the way, you can replay the scenario and pick another path when you get to the same crossroads. Sometimes I wish it were possible in real life…

[Tom] Humans are curious by nature, RPG fans especially! They don’t like to play a predestined story. They much better like to explore the story. I know player-readers who try all the choices, even those which are obviously lethal, just to know what happens there. So I don’t think that the alternative ways are a waste to write. In our Fame Contest, more than one players reached the absolute maximum of fame points, which can happen only if they read the whole book.

Dr. Tom Pollak, Head Author of the Narborion Saga

What is your writing style? Do you make an outline of a chapter or just “go with a flow”?

[Sylvia] I usually go with the flow. Also, I like inserting sarcastic or witty remarks into my writing. Call it comic relief. To me, it not only adds another layer to the character, but it also makes them more fun and relatable.

[Tom] Tough question! Both require the same amount of creativity, but in the case of a gamebook, you actually write more books simultaneously so you need to make an outline and be able to go with the flow at the same time. It’s actually more work, but more fun, too.

What’s the main difference between writing a novel and a gamebook app story? Which one do you prefer better?

[Sylvia] Writing a gamebook app story has to be more to the point. Fewer descriptions and adjectives. It has to drive the action at a much faster pace than a novel, where the writer has the freedom to linger and let the reader immerse themselves in long, vivid descriptions. I find both of these genres fascinating, as they pose different challenges and opportunities to both the reader and the writer. I am a huge fan of adjectives, though so I had to restrain myself while contributing to the Narborion Saga 🙂

[Tom] I met gamebooks for the first time as a reader, obviously. It was Steve Jackson’s and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy series. In the same time I participated in the development of an awesome adventure game for Commodore, ZX Spectrum, Amiga and Enterprise minicomputers. Yes, I am actually that old… The storyline of that game was written by Steve and Ian, too. So I could learn from the greatest masters of the genre and therefore I love this writing style!

Who is your favorite character in Book II? Why?

[Sylvia] Mossfoot, hands down. He cracks me up.

[Tom] I love all of them! Danyilo, perhaps…

Tom, when did you start working on Narborion Saga?

[Tom] The concept of Narborion Saga was born many, many years ago. Originaly it was a tabletop RPG campaign, but it was never played. When we launched the Narborion Saga project, I have had the complete storyline ready, from the beginning to the ultimate goal, the milestones of character development, maps, monsters, NPC’s, languages, etc. But the details are created at the very moment when Dan and I discuss the next book or next chapter. We played a lot together in the past, so we understand each other with few words. Sometimes even without words. That’s very scary, actually…

About Illustrations and Art

Today we made an interview with Gabriella, our Head of Art and Gábor, our Illustrator.


 

How did your career develop from an artist to a fantasy gamebook app illustrator? What was your biggest non-games related project?

Gabriella, Head of Art of the Narborion Saga

Gabriella, Head of Art of the Narborion Saga

[GÁBOR] My earliest memories about myself is me drawing. I was drawing pictures all the time when I was a kid. I was infatuated with illustrations so I decided to study in this field. I went to an art high school to become a goldsmith, and later I choose the University of Fine Arts and majored in graphic design. It gave me a good basic in traditional and digital techniques.

I’ve been doing sci-fi and fantasy illustrations since 1995, I have more than a thousand illustrations published in magazines, newspapers, training materials and trading card games. I started this in parallel during my university years. I’m also working in animated movies as background painter, my greatest success was when I could work in George Lucas’s Red Tails as digital matte painter.

[GABRIELLA] My main area is corporate design, web design and I also do wedding design. I work for SMEs and large enterprises as well. So how I got into Narborion? My friend Dan asked me to. I enjoyed this work enormously, especially figuring out the general visual atmosphere of the game. It was a completely new area for me, I just loved to submerge into the world of old scrolls, monsters and blood…

Is your work approach traditional pen and paper or mostly digital? What are the main steps creating Narborion Saga art?

[GÁBOR] Digital techniques ease our life tremendously, but I often use pen and paper as well. When I’m traveling home to visit my family, for example, I use pen and paper on the train.

With Narborion Saga, I’ve been using both techniques, but mainly digital. Sketches were made on computer as well and it was hard work to make it look like a hand-drawn facture with spatters. I have a large library and I re-used some old factures for these drawings. I tried to preserve the dynamism of hand-drawings on the illustrations to create the desired effect.

Self-portrait of Gábor, Illustrator of the Narborion Saga

Self-portrait of Gábor, Illustrator of the Narborion Saga

[GABRIELLA] I’m a digital girl, using only software to create the layout plans of Narborion Saga. The backpack, character sheet, spellbook and other pages of the book have been created on my laptop as well. I did lots of research before starting this project, looking at old folios, tabletop role-playing handbooks and medieval artwork to receive inspiration.

Where do you get inspiration for the artwork?

[GÁBOR] I regularly check “CG society” which is always like a visual shock to me, overwhelming my senses completely. 9 years of education in art mixed with being an avid comic book fan had a great influence on me.

[GABRIELLA] Before I started the work we had lengthy discussions with Tom and Dan about the visual atmosphere of Narborion Saga. I just listened and listened, taking pages of notes, references… Then I sat down with Gábor and discussed all of these to figure out the style and mood of the illustrations: the sepia – golden – brown combination with that reddish claret color. Gábor used my initial design drafts as starting points for the illustration.

Which Narborion Saga character was the biggest challenge for you to draw?

[GÁBOR] I honestly cannot remember! J When I start drawing, I instantly lose my conscious self and I get into this flow state… I start working, time is passing and I suddenly realize it’s midnight.

Do you usually work alone or are there people around who influence your work during the creative process?

[GÁBOR] Nowadays I’m working as a freelancer but this particular work had been an iterative process. We discussed the style at the beginning but it has evolved a lot during the work itself. I had complete freedom in figuring everything out, which was great. You don’t find a team like this often.

[GABRIELLA] Tom and Dan had been my greatest inspiration. Once I put a bit too much blood on a particular design and Tom started to look oddly at me. J It was a very fluent cooperation with the team. I loved it! I hope there will be many more books so we can work on this for years!

About the new SagaScribe Engine

Joseph

Joseph, Head Developer of the Narborion Saga

As a first Developer Diary entry, here is a short Q&A with Joseph, our had developer and Dan, our editor-in-chief.

What was the main idea or inspiration behind the SagaScribe engine?

(DAN) With the first book we did a huge leap of faith, placing our money on what we knew about tabletop roleplayers. It seems that it was a good first try, but we did not make everything right. We received tons of user feedback in form of emails, appstore comments, Facebook posts and so on! It was amazing, even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones. So we sat down and did a huge brainstorming to figure out what to do. We decided to create the best gamebook engine of all times, taking tabletop roleplaying as close to the mobile/tablet era as possible. We’ll continue this road until we figure out a way to make the perfect gamebook engine.

Does SagaScribe give you more flexibility as a developer?

(JOSEPH) Enormously! We changed most of the legacy part of the code, completely re-writing and re-inventing things. Naturally, the most exciting thing to do was the new battle system. I hope you will like it! It resembles tabletop RPG fights with the movements of the figurines, initiative rolls, spells, weapons and action points.

How do you see SagaScribe changing or supporting the gamebook genre?

(DAN) I think gamebook is an interesting genre. I strongly believe that gamebook apps are not competing each other but strengthening the gamebook genre in general. Just like with books: you don’t read George Martin OR Tolkien. You don’t make a selection. You only decide in which order you’re going to read them. The same applies to gamebooks. So a gamebook of good quality, good story and good gameplay will make players download and play other gamebooks.

Gamebooks have a seen a revival of sorts on tablet, do you think SagaScribe is a technology consumers have come to expect for this type of product?

Dan, Editor-in-Chief of the Narborion Saga

Dan, Editor-in-Chief of the Narborion Saga

(DAN) I certainly hope so! We hope to make something users will enjoy and play a lot. We’ll introduce new game elements, like the Arena for the battle addicts, character evolution during books, item creation and trade, learning new spells and so on. The vision is to have a tabletop roleplaying experience on a tablet. Gamebooks have been substitute products to me: when we couldn’t play our regular AD&D session, I played a gamebook.

Book 2 of The Narborion Saga is engaging the crossover of table top gamers into an RPG gamebook, do you think this audience is as engaged on tablet as it is with traditional forms of gaming?

(JOSEPH) I think so! We ourselves are in our mid-30s, with family, jobs, kids – we do not have time to play tabletop RPGs as often as we’d want to. We all have smartphones, tablets, so whenever we have 30 minutes, we’d like to do some time-traveling. Naturally, we want to use everything what technology can offer. This mixture is an ideal crossover. We are addressing the younger generation as well: we encourage them to read, play creativity games and experience tabletop roleplaying with gamebooks. They all have smart devices, so why not try this genre as well?

We’ll continue to post regular interviews here, the next one is going to be with the designer/illustrator team early next week. Shorter posts about the evolution of the software will happen more often, hopefully. Check out our Facebook page as well, http://facebook.com/narborion .