Part 4: The end and the new beginning
The original series continued with a rapid turnover, including a number of new ideas and scenarios. 1985’s releases included Ian Livingstone’s ‘Freeway Fighter’, a ‘Mad Max’ inspired adventure involving vehicular combat, Andrew Chapman’s pirate story ‘Seas of Blood’ which contained sea-based combat and Jackson’s ‘Appointment with F.E.A.R.’, which introduced a hero points attribute as an award for committing a particularly heroic act.
The following year samurai fighting featured in Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson’s ‘Sword of the Samurai’, while the American Steve Jackson penned an adventure set almost entirely underwater (‘Demons of the Deep’) and introduced dinosaurs in ‘Robot Commando’, his final writing credit in the series. The British Steve Jackson also released his final book of the series, ‘Creature of Havoc’, in which the player took the mantle of the titular creature who begins the adventure with no memory, and Livingstone released a sequel to ‘Deathtrap Dungeon’ in the shape of ‘Trial of Champions’.
As the decade wore on the production line slowed, with just four titles released in 1989 (at least six had been produced each year going back to 1984), and then only three releases in both 1990 and 1991. It was obviously becoming harder to be original following nearly 50 releases, and constantly advancing technologies meant that interactive adventure games on computers had become increasingly sophisticated. Puffin Books and Jackson and Livingstone agreed that the series should conclude with its 50th release to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the series.
Livingstone wrote the 50th book, 1992’s ‘Return to Firetop Mountain’, which reintroduced the setting and main antagonist of the original, ‘Firetop Mountain’ and ‘Zagor the Warlock’ respectively. Perhaps due to the nostalgia factor or the anniversary hype, this book sold more than some of its immediate predecessors, so Puffin decided on a stay of execution.
However the axe fell on the series following its 59th release, 1995’s ‘Curse of the Mummy’, although Jonathan Green who wrote book 59 had already drafted ‘Bloodbones’, the intended 60th book, before Puffin pulled the plug in 1997.
Legacy and revival
So why were ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books so popular in the 80s? There were two demographics that they had particular success with. Parents and schoolteachers remarked at the time that they were a good access point to the world of literature for reluctant readers. Meanwhile ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ had started a growing craze for role-playing and ‘Fighting Fantasy’ offered a cheaper, solo alternative.
Because of the graphic cover art, the short snappy sections of text and the gamification aspect, the books had a cool, edgy feel that made them more appealing than most other young adult reading options. The fact that these books told readers that ‘you are the hero’, along with the fantastical nature of the plots, were other aspects that teenagers gravitated towards.
The series was resurrected for the 21st century with classic books being re-released and new titles gradually produced. A small publisher called Icon Books launched their children’s imprint, Wizard Books, with the re-release of ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’ and other classic titles from the original series. An official website was also created.
In 2005 the first new ‘Fighting Fantasy’ book in a decade was published in the shape of Ian Livingstone’s ‘Eye of the Dragon’, while two further new adventures followed including Jonathan Green’s long-awaited ‘Bloodborne’.
Due to disappointing sales, Wizard Books began republishing the series again in 2008, with three more new titles created. Then in 2017 and 2018 Scholastic Books embarked on a project involving the re-release of 10 classic books and two new adventures by Ian Livingstone and Charlie Higson.
Meanwhile ‘Fighting Fantasy’ has been embraced by the technology that damaged its sales in the 90s. Australian games development studio Tin Man Games released a digital library app in 2018 which contains, to date, 10 adventures from the series. Scores and items are tallied for players who can toggle on a mechanic which allows them to go backwards to make a different choice if they are unhappy with the path they have taken. A map is sketched out for players as they progress through the adventures, and they can place bookmarks throughout to save their progress up until that point. Dice rolling involves a touch of the screen, which makes the digital version significantly easier to play than the original books on the commute into work…
A conference to celebrate the enduring popularity of the series was launched in 2014, and the third ‘Fighting Fantasy Fest’ takes place in London in August 2019 with Jackson and Livingstone in attendance to deliver a talk and sign books.
While not the force it was in the 80s, ‘Fighting Fantasy’ still lives on in the memories of children of the 80s, while winning over new converts.
Congratulations on reaching the end of this blog on ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books, your treasure awaits you. All you need to do is use keys 111, 111 again and 99 to unlock the chest and claim your riches. What do you mean you didn’t collect those keys? Back to the start with you!