More like Choose Your Own Gruesome Death
January 2, 2005 12:48 PM   Subscribe

"In a text with only six favorable outcomes amid some thirty-eight possible conclusions, indeed the reader seems intensely vulnerable – even doomed perhaps – if he were to travel only a single path. The odds, quite simply, are against him."

Click here to investigate the unforgiving plot of The Third Planet from Altair, by Edward Packard.
Click here for the definitive database of information about Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories
Click here to write your own CYOA story.
posted by Hildago (33 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Apologies if the formatting bothers anybody, or messes up anybody's 1024x768 or less resolution. It was too tempting to resist, I'm afraid.
posted by Hildago at 12:49 PM on January 2, 2005

I remember The Third Planet from Altair very well. The real CYOA series were way better than their many imitators (although RPG mavens TSR made some interesting ones, sometimes with more of a puzzle element, as in The Pillars of Pentegarn). I loved 'em, and have passed them on to another generation. But when I found out about Infocom it was all over.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:55 PM on January 2, 2005

Ooh, Prisoner of the Ant People was one of my favorites. Thanks for the link, Hildago. Big nostalgia.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:57 PM on January 2, 2005

The graphical representation of the complete game is an interesting graph: I wonder if there is an optimum degree of branching for successful games? Too many choices at each node, and you don't get any depth. Too few and you have a restricted and frustrating time. Hmmm. Probably a matter of art rather than science.

(I dimly remember the degree of branching being fractal dimension, but I might be wrong.
posted by alasdair at 12:58 PM on January 2, 2005

i could not have lived as a kid without these, and damn (1) it's been a long time. thanks!
posted by moonbird at 1:02 PM on January 2, 2005

How bout Steve Jackson and Fighting Fantasy? You got to roll dice before you died!
posted by bardic at 1:02 PM on January 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

These books, and my small paperback hint guide to Defender got me through the 80s. Thanks!
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:03 PM on January 2, 2005

alasdair: What's interesting is that (if my childhood memories can be trusted) the later CYOA books generally had a fairly small number of possible endings (around 15), while CYOA #1, The Cave of Time, had 40 possible endings. All of the CYOA books, I think, had around 120 pages, so this suggests that there's a depth vs. breadth trade-off that the publishers tinkered with over the course of the series.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:38 PM on January 2, 2005

I was way too old for these things when they came out, but I collected some of the Time Machine series because they had cover art by some decent comic book and fantasy artists. Some of the ones I still have: Dave Stevens of "Rocketeer" fame, #1 dinosaur artist Bill Stout, and Spiderman artist and fantasy artist Charles Vess. Interesting site, thanks.
posted by marxchivist at 1:44 PM on January 2, 2005

Great post, thanks. I also liked the first couple "Interplanetary Spy" novels when I was little.
posted by interrobang at 2:11 PM on January 2, 2005

"Gimmick"? It ruined my childhood!

There's probably enough of us to start some kind of support group.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:38 PM on January 2, 2005

That Choose-Your-Own-Adventure map is some student's assignment for an English class at the University of Maryland.

(The final link the professor gives on that page is pretty fun)
posted by painquale at 3:01 PM on January 2, 2005

home of the underdogs has a pretty large repository of the more rpg-like gamebooks in pdf form. kind of annoying to play unless you're going to print them out though.

also the joe dever's gamebook oeuvre is being done in a web-playable form.

my favorite was the blood sword series, although at the time I was only fortunate enough to be able to get ahold of two of them.
posted by juv3nal at 4:05 PM on January 2, 2005

I loved both the CYOA and the Time Machine books when I was a kid. Good nostalgia here - thanks.
posted by Melinika at 4:17 PM on January 2, 2005

I remember The Cave of Time and By Balloon To the Sahara very well.

For me the Eighties were a constant diet of this series supplemented with Omni magazine.
posted by sourwookie at 4:27 PM on January 2, 2005

this was pretty sweet. (one of the stories from hildago's 3rd link)
posted by juv3nal at 4:44 PM on January 2, 2005

I've still got 'em. Loved them. I also had the Twistaplot series featuring cool cover art by Victor Stabin who did the cover art (and the awesome poster) for Kiss' Unmasked album. I was gonna post about this myself. Grumble.

posted by bdave at 5:18 PM on January 2, 2005

I spent a great deal of my youth tearing through the Lonewolf CYOA series by Joe Dever. I still collect them, actually.
posted by absalom at 5:40 PM on January 2, 2005

I remember reading a number of the CYOA books, specifically The Cave of Time. I vividly recall attempting to stick a finger in the pages where I had made a choice, so I could go back and make a different choice, until eventually I had an entire hand enveloped by the book.
posted by boymilo at 5:57 PM on January 2, 2005

Did any of you, like me, read these things with a finger at each branching point? I quickly ran out of fingers and had to use little slips of paper...
posted by beth at 6:10 PM on January 2, 2005

I, too, confess to regular use of the finger cheat.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:16 PM on January 2, 2005

Beth: hell yes. I considered the four-finger limit to be my cheating threshold -- if I needed another finger, one of them had to go.

Vis-a-vis goddam UFO 54-40:

Age eight or nine, I sat down and wrote a letter to the author c/o the listed address of the publisher, asking, pleading for some more satisfying explanation of the Ultima situation.

No response, of course.

In retrospect, it was probably an educational conundrum to go up against with a young mind. Here was something that blatantly subverted the structure of what was already a fairly subversive literary structure (novel as graph); these days I think of it as some mixture of cop-out and zen koan.

I'm now imagining that the film Pi was Aronofsky's attempt to capture his own frustration with the book.
posted by cortex at 6:16 PM on January 2, 2005 [2 favorites] is a web-based choose-your-own-adventure style story. With zombies.
posted by Stuart_R at 6:40 PM on January 2, 2005

I too admit to using a finger to make sure I wan't going to die on the next page. But only one.
posted by interrobang at 6:42 PM on January 2, 2005

Ah, yes. We had a couple parodies of these up at

Well, until the copyright holders sent a very stern letter this past year.
posted by ice_cream_motor at 7:21 PM on January 2, 2005

When I was 13, I was obsessed with The Champ of TV Wrestling . No matter what combination of choices you made - it was impossible to win. If I remember correctly, it was impossible to go more than 5 or 6 choices before you were done. I remember keeping a small chart of available choices and being frustrated at not being able to figure it out. I'm not sure if it was a printing error or an editing gaff.

Also, I was king of the finger cheat, usually tracking up to 3 or 4 choices. Occasionally, I would keep a scrap of paper and write down the pages I had been on so that I could backtrack easily.
posted by fizz-ed at 7:45 PM on January 2, 2005

bardic: Good call. Fighting Fantasy was the Nutella or Asterix of gamebooks, I think - a superb product that the poor deprived Americans somehow never got a hold of. A lot harder than CYOA, since there was only one Good Ending - especially if you actually rolled the dice like you were supposed to, rather than just cheating. For my money, though, the very best gamebooks ever were Steve Jackson's Sorcery series - four FF gamebooks where one followed the other and what you did in one book would affect what happened in the next. And the closest experience ever to being a real wizard, since you were actually supposed to memorize all the spells you could cast!
posted by ramakrishna at 8:25 PM on January 2, 2005

Anyway, great link, Hildago.
posted by ramakrishna at 8:26 PM on January 2, 2005

I loved CYOA and Twistaplot books. I read quite a few.

I also was into the Follow Your Heart Romance series when I was in junior high.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:53 AM on January 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

Beth: the finger cheat was useful until I started scanning the end of the books for good endings and then reading backwards. The map makes this much easier.

My favorite was Your Code Name is Jonah
posted by numbskeleton at 9:26 AM on January 3, 2005

Hyperspace was terrific, probably the first thing I ever read that delt with those crazy concepts (might have gotten some exposure from Dr Who, too).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:48 AM on January 3, 2005

I saw this book in a bookstore a while ago, and immediately wondered why there weren't more CYOA-type books aimed at adults. I could totally see Dave Eggers or someone in that crowd writing one.
posted by Vidiot at 3:34 PM on January 3, 2005

Vidiot: your link also offers an Amazon Listmania entry of adult CYOA books. These ones appear to be "adult" in the sense of "we want to keep this away from children."

But there's also a CYOA book that's "adult" in the sense of "children would find this completely boring, incomprehensible, and/or both": Un livre dont vous etes l'intellectuel, by Pierre Popovic and Michel Biron. Basically, you play a 20-year-old trying to get into French intellectual networks: "if you want to try and meet Roland Barthes, turn to page 5; if you want to try and meet Jean-Paul Sartre, turn to page 9." I heard it was eventually translated into English, but I don't have much hope for the translation. The title got rendered as "How to be a French intellectual," which completely loses the genius of the French title: "Un livre dont VOUS etes le heros!" was the advertising tag lines on the French translations of many classic CYOA-type children's books.
posted by ramakrishna at 9:14 PM on January 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

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