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Week in Mobile: Tin Man Games celebrates 5 years of digital gamebooks

This week, Tin Man Games launched Gamebook Adventures: Curse of the Assassin on iOS and Android. It’s a sequel to the Australian studio’s first gamebook, An Assassin in Orlandes (iOS/Android), and commemorates Tin Man's five years as a company.

These gamebooks are similar to choose-your-own-adventure stories, where players decide their path and ultimately their fate. Tin Man has modernized them to include conveniences like difficulty settings, achievements, bookmarks, and battles using 3D dice rolls (the game keeps track of the math for you). Now, even companions met on the journey can fight alongside the character.

Curse of the Assassin is a standalone read, the studio’s creative director, Neil Rennison, told us. The first gamebook helps players understand how the character got to where he is, but otherwise, it’s not required reading.

“If anyone is curious and has a love of fantasy books/films/games or [role-playing games], then our Orlandes series should tick a lot of boxes for them,” he said. “It's basically like playing a visual RPG like Skyrim, but we use descriptive narrative instead of detailed visuals.”

Returning players will find plenty of Easter eggs just for them, too, such as cameos of people and places and mentions of past events.  

“We're hoping that incorporating the name ‘Assassin’ in the title will prompt our fans into realizing that it has something to do with the original story,” said Rennison. “We've also added lots of other clues in the form of using a similar, but modified — much more epic — soundtrack as well as a 3D-rendered room for the menu that looks almost identical to the first book but now [is] more lavish as your character has risen in society since the first book.”

Curse is closer to the older Gamebook Adventures than the newer ones, which feature maps and voiceovers. The rules and structures are more like the originals.

Curse of the Assassin - 1“The main reason it happened was because Curse was actually due to be released around 18 months ago, but we signed the Fighting Fantasy license, and everything changed,” said Rennison. “When it came to going back to Curse — and the new, upcoming GA releases — we felt they work best in the way they were intended to be played. It also gives the series a differentiation between that and our other [intellectual properties], which we think is really important.”

Curse uses new technology that allows for more narrative choices, and it features high-resolution color artwork instead of black-and-white images like in Orlandes. Thanks to considerable engine improvements, more players can now enjoy this and other gamebooks.

“Back then, only the iPhone 3GS was on the market,” said Rennison. “Our recent titles are universal across all iOS devices, using the resolutions to maximize the experience — for example, reading horizontal [double-page spread] or vertical [single page] on the iPad. Our engine also works with Android too, so we now have a broader selection of digital devices that we can aim for.”

Tin Man’s mission has been to reach as broad an audience as possible through new platforms and different genres like horror, romance, sci-fi, and the most popular, sword-and-sorcery-style fantasy. But even as its reach grows, the developer wants to remember its origins: the choose-a-path structure.

“It would be very easy for us to jump into a lavishly created 3D world, but then we would get too far away from what we stand for, which is compelling and exciting interactive stories presented in a digital book format,” said Rennison.

Curse of the Assassin - 2Financing continues to be the biggest issue. “We create niche apps so we're never going to be the next Infinity Blade,” he said.

However, Tin Man has managed to double its team and recently secured new funding from Screen Australia, which provides cultural and screen-production industry support.

The developer has a clear picture of where the next five years will take it.

“I think we're about to go through a pretty major transition,” said Rennison. “We'll always keep faithful to the way we present our digital gamebooks and have some great titles coming up in 2014, but we're also tinkering with new ways of interacting. The next Fighting Fantasy release, An Appointment with F.E.A.R., is going down a completely new path. It's a comic and doesn't have dice-based combat in it! It's part of our new push to try out new ideas and ready ourselves for the next generation of our titles. We also have big plans for The Warlock of Firetop Mountain next year.

“Beyond that, we just want to keep doing what we do and keep striving to release high-quality digital gamebooks. As platforms and technology change, so shall we. We'll adapt to changing tastes and hopefully remain at the forefront of interactive fiction in the digital space.”

Tin Man Games has reduced the price of Curse of the Assassin to $2.99 and An Assassin in Orlandes to $0.99 on the App Store and Google Play until Tuesday, October 2.

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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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