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4 Gamebook Series That Are Perfect for Open-World Video Game Adaptation

Geek, gamer, writer, graphic artist. Ced's favorite shows and adventures are those that allow him to enjoy the world from his bedroom.

Choose Your Own Adventure. The most famous gamebook series, and one that’s perfect for an open-world video game.

Choose Your Own Adventure. The most famous gamebook series, and one that’s perfect for an open-world video game.

1. Choose Your Own Adventure

Let’s begin with what is hands-down, the most famous and successful gamebook series ever.

In publication since 1979 and chiefly written by Edward Packard and R. A. Montgomery, Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) gamebooks have entertained generations of young readers worldwide. To date, over a few hundred million copies have been sold globally.

What makes the series doubly remarkable is that unlike later series, the CYOA books operate on incredibly simplistic mechanics. A reader does no more than select which page entry to go to. Entries are also written in language suitable for young readers.

Coming to video game adaptation, with so many titles published and all sorts of locations and time eras written about over the years, it seems inconceivable to have an open-world video game based on the series. At best, only a few titles or characters could be featured.

That said, aren’t all CYOA titles connected by the same trends of unpredictability and macabre surprise? (Trends often unavoidable to facilitate abrupt endings, might I add) From a broader point of view, all adventures in CYOA titles could also be said to have happened in the same universe, perhaps even at the same time. It might even all involve the same protagonist – that of a hapless soul dumped into a myriad of adventures by a superior life form.

Here’s a suggestion. The very first CYOA title was The Cave of Time by Edward Packard. This itself could be the basis for a spectacular adventure involving tens of worlds, all connected by the “Cave.”

From Mayan ruins to ghostly manors, to galaxy trekking star cruisers, a player can hop between these worlds in a grand quest to … defeat something. Would that make for a spellbinding open-world game? Would that mesmerize players for hours?

I strongly believe so.

Meant for younger readers, the Be An Interplanetary Spy series is closer to being an interactive comics series.

Meant for younger readers, the Be An Interplanetary Spy series is closer to being an interactive comics series.

2. Be An Interplanetary Spy

One of the oldest gamebook series and with only twelve titles, Be An Interplanetary Spy was published by Bantam Books from 1983 to 1985.

Intended for younger readers, all twelve titles were illustration-based and filled with puzzles and mini-games. Typically, a “Spy” story begins with some sort of intergalactic crisis or mystery that requires the player to travel to a hostile planet.

In all books, the spy is notably gender-neutral too, on top of belonging to an organization that is both an intergalactic police force and an intelligence agency. And while every story is stand-alone, some characters do recur throughout the series. In the final book, the Spy is also promoted, reaching level 3 before the series abruptly ended.

As a whole, don’t you agree everything mentioned above provides a premise perfect for a galactic open-world video game series, one involving missions issued by the Interplanetary Spy Agency? Seasoned gamers will surely see how a quest-giving system could easily be implemented here too, with the main storyline progressively revealed through events brought about by the completion of key quests.

In terms of locations, the twelve titles provide more than enough exotic venues to satisfy even the most demanding players. From worlds dominated by feral monstrosities, to a planet taken over by a murderous robotic A.I., to even a microscopic totalitarian regime, a Be An Interplanetary Spy open-world game series could potentially contain a scope that rivals even the legendary Mass Effect series.

Not to exaggerate, but the only limitation here is the universe.

One of the best gamebook series ever written, Blood Sword highlights racism and conflict stemming from religious differences. These elements make it perfect for modern video game adaptation.

One of the best gamebook series ever written, Blood Sword highlights racism and conflict stemming from religious differences. These elements make it perfect for modern video game adaptation.

3. Blood Sword

One of the most complex gamebook series ever written because of its multi-player and character class mechanics, the Blood Sword books are set in the world of Legend, a fantasy world conceptualized by authors Oliver Johnson and Dave Morris for their Dragon Warriors role-playing sessions.

What’s memorable about Blood Sword, and the world of Legend in extension, are the many historical parallels within the stories. Legend is a medieval realm embattled by the conflict between crusaders of the “True Faith” and the Ta’ashim people. The overarching quest of Blood Sword is also to reassemble the eponymous holy sword before Judgment Day.

These elements work hand-in-hand to make Blood Sword one of the best and most matured gamebook series ever written. In its time, it was a great stepping stone for young readers moving onto heavier literature too.

With Johnson and Morris also having written six books to extensively explain the gameplay and lore of Dragon Warriors, Legend itself is a world perfect for open-world video game adaptation too. Under the right hands, a virtual Legend could potentially surpass Bethesda’s Skyrim in terms of intricacy and lore?

In fact, Bethesda itself is probably the most ideal developer for an adaptation of Blood Sword; they have long proven themselves master storytellers as far as medieval fantasy is concerned, haven’t they? Under their hands, I’m confident the troubled realm of Legend would be both magnificent and poignant. Needless to say, it would be an addictive realm to spend hours in as well.

Map of Northern Magnamund and Book 1 of the Lone Wolf series. Imagine being able to explore this realm in an open world game!

Map of Northern Magnamund and Book 1 of the Lone Wolf series. Imagine being able to explore this realm in an open world game!

4. Lone Wolf

I save the best for last, so to speak.

Second only to CYOA in fame, the late Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf gamebook series serves up one of the most intricate and developed imaginary worlds ever written for the gamebook genre. The beautiful and dangerous Magnamund.

An equal of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or Ed Greenwood’s Faerûn, be it in terms of geographical variety or historical color, Magnamund could be both described as spectacular and terrifying. With Dever’s protagonist furthermore a cross between mystic monk and religious paladin, the entire Lone Wolf series has a sophisticated flavor that’s starkly unlike many other fantasy games or books. This offers all sorts of possibilities whether for gameplay or storytelling.

And yet, there has never been a full-fledged Lone Wolf adaptation for the world of video games. At least, none that does full justice to the complexity of Magnamund.

Hereby, I’d highlight 2013’s Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf, which was originally made for the iOS phone system and re-released in 2018 with a new story for the Nintendo Switch. As acclaimed as this title was, it but touched on a fraction of what Magnamund has to offer. There is also, as of today, no news about sequels.

Perhaps it’s complications due to copyright and finance. Or maybe Dever’s passing in 2016 froze whatever talks and developments that might have been happening behind the scenes.

Whichever the case, I’m keeping fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be that many more years before we finally see a game permitting true free exploration of Magnamund. This is one fantasy realm I’ve truly been waiting for a long time to discover at leisure. I am also confident that if such an adaptation is ever made, it would be nothing short of dazzling.

© 2017 Ced Yong

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