Monday, 14 November 2011

How I became a Fighting Fantasy writer - Part 2

So there I was, newly unemployed, back in the rust belt of South Australia, and determined never again to be subjected to the tedious wage slavery of such organisations as the Australian Public Service. Yet I had no clear idea of what to do, only some vague impulse to create something. Paint? Draw? Write? And then by chance The Warlock of Firetop Mountain passed through my hands on its way as a present from my parents to my younger teenage brother.

This was so early in Fighting Fantasy history that there was not even a Fighting Fantasy series yet. There was only "Warlock of Firetop Mountain".

Years before this, back in third year university, where I had majored in psychology, we had been given valuable time on the university's new mainframe to learn the intricacies of the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). The new mainframe (a Vax-11/780) was a great improvement over the old (a Cyber 173), mainly in that it was also provided with video terminals. The old Cyber had to be fed punched IBM cards and waited on patiently for it to spit out a few pages of dot-matrix output.

I immediately began using this valuable computing resource to write an interactive random text-based dungeon bashing computer game based on D&D. In first year I'd done half a subject on Pascal and Fortran programming, and chose Pascal for the job. My programming skills were not well developed at that time, and I recall overhearing some real Computer Science students who had somehow got hold of a hacked version of my game decrying how badly written it was. Eventually enough people were spending enough time playing hacked versions of my game that the system admins deleted it from everyone's storage.

As soon as I saw the future Fighting Fantasy book #1 I realised that it was just a text based dungeon bashing computer game based on D&D without the surrounding hardware. I knew that I could write one, too.

I started work on Assassin, choosing a science fiction theme rather than fantasy because clearly these Jackson and Livingstone fellows -- whoever they were -- had already cornered the fantasy corner. As I wrote it, in an ad hoc, haphazard way, not really planning my way through it, I wrote my own combat rules. Since I had no idea that a Fighting Fantasy series was being spawned, it didn't occur to me that I would be part of it. I wrote expecting that Assassin would stand apart. And finally, at the end, I had this ungainly manuscript of some 360 sections -- the future Space Assassin -- which I sent off to Penguin in Australia.