The Big Idea: Zach Weinersmith
Zach Weinersmith has fond memories of a certain sort of book — a kind of book, it seems, that had disappeared from the common consciousness. Rather than lament its passing, Weindersmith took it as a challenge to revive. And thus: Trial of the Clone, an interactive adventure cleverly disguised as a paperback. Here’s Weinersmith to walk us down the Clone’s path to publication.
About a year ago, before this book was published, I was doing a Q&A session with an auditorium of MIT students. I mentioned that I was working on a “choose your own adventure” style book with more interactive elements. I said it was going to be a lot like the old “Lone Wolf” books of Joe Dever.
This was met with blank stares.
“Lone Wolf?” I said. This was Cambridge, after all. If there’s any place a dork can be a dork, it’s at the intersection of Harvard and MIT.
“The game we all played when we were teenagers?”
This was when I started to get really excited about this book. For those of you (apparently the vast majority) who never played a gamebook, it’s sorta like solitary D&D. You’re reading along, making choices about your moves, but you also have health and stats and items to worry about. You have to kill bad guys. You have to use random numbers to determine outcomes. Gamebooks are awesome and not as well known as they deserve to be.
So, the cool thing was that I could introduce this concept to a new generation of dorks. And, I hope, there will be a lot of novelty to it. Those old books were great, but aimed toward very young kids. My book is not; one friend at MIT said it reminded him of Terry Pratchett, but a lot more obscene.
I’m hoping to make that my epitaph some day.
The most exciting thing to me is that it was a chance to modify what I remembered to make the game system really cute. Early on, I talked to some geek friends about the best way to generate random numbers without having to carry dice or a computer around. I got a few ideas, including one suggestion to think of a number, then check a clock, add the numbers, and take the last digit. This seemed a bit cumbersome. So, I came up with a system where each page has a random number (0-3, weighted to hit 1 and 2 more often) in the lower right corner. To throw a random, just flip pages until you get somewhere random!
Another thing I love about this book is that it’s broken into five acts. We set it up so that on the right side of each page there’s a gray bar denoting the current act. The cute part is that this means you can tell where you are in the book (and how long each act is) by looking at its side, where gray bars show up.
My absolute favorite part however, is a part I can’t really tell you about. The book has an ending that actually trades on the fact that you’re existing in a second person narrative, making choices. I really don’t want to say anything more specific, because the book does have a bit of a trick ending. But, as far as I know, we’re the first to make use of the genre in this way.
Getting to do a book like this is the fulfillment of a number of geek fantasies at once. The best part is that, because of the success with this first book, we’ll be able to put out sequels. Halfway through writing this, I told my assistant that if I ever tried to write another such book, he was to kick me. Fortunately, I live a bit distant from him now, because having seen the reaction to this first book, I’d be happy writing a dozen sequels.