Tuesday, 10 June 2008

"Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: The Time Crocodile" by Colin Brake

The Time Crocodile is the third adventure in the Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny series, in which the Doctor and Martha whisk you off to "the space zoo", which, unsurprisingly, "isn't like any zoo you've ever visited on Earth. For a start, some of the animals can talk! Explore the zoo and work out who can be trusted and who has a hidden agenda..." Ooh, leisurely.

Colin Brake, author of the series' first book, returns for this installment... and, sadly, all of the problems present in The Spaceship Graveyard come with him. Your choices are often limited to directing the story rather than your actions, and most routes lead to pages that just say the same thing but with different words! Or, at best, the events differ but you're left with the same choices at the end. At the worst point you're instructed to flip a coin to decide what happens next! It's dismal really, and, especially if you realise what's going on, hampers the fun. It suggests to me that Brake would be more comfortable writing a normal, linear novel. (To be fair, I haven't taken the time to examine the branching of options offered by the previous two books in this much depth, but even if they did it too it doesn't make it any less shoddy.)

Flicking through the bits of the book I didn't encounter, I think there are two different, mostly-linear stories, and which you get depends on whether you're polite or rude at the start. After that, they both seem to move along straightforwardly, with no real choice for the reader, until you hit a variety of endings. These endings are all totally different -- as in, the explanations for what's been going on are different each time. For example, one of the two stories leads to a resolution where the evil Professor Morrow (he's not so evil in the other thread) has captured something to create time windows. In one possible finale it's a Time Agent, in the other it's an alien from the future. In my opinion, it should always be the same thing trapped, and if/how it's released should be what you influence. It's probably personal preference, but I think this sort of book is better when there's one 'truth' behind events and your choices influence how it pans out, rather than your choices leading to almost completely different stories.

I'm not quite done moaning yet, though this is a problem with the range as a whole: they're all future-set sci-fi stories. One of the joys of Doctor Who is that there are present day and historical adventures too, but these are as yet unrepresented by the range. They were originally released in batches of four, but clearly no one thought to duplicate the "one past, one present, one future" theory of the normal novel releases. It's a bit of a shame and there's no good reason for it.

Regardless, The Time Crocodile is a weak entry, both in terms of plot and quality of play. There are two more books by Brake to come in this series, each released in a later batch -- I can only hope he learnt something from the vastly superior second book (and, possibly, the others I've yet to read) before he wrote them.

6 comments:

The Robotic Lemon's Grandmother said...

This sounds awful.

I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books (no, not "decide your destiny", it's CYOA!) and this just sounds utterly poor.

A good CYOA book gives the reader a choice in how they react to events, and thus shape events towards one of a number of different outcomes.

Independant events that you don't affect change anyway? In one situation a man is evil, in the other he's a friendly robotic lemon in disguise? Rubbish.

You don't get to choose anything significant? Choices are random things such a coin flips, rather than actual decisions for you to think through? Rubbish.

This doesn't sound at all like a CYOA, where you choose what to do. It sounds more like a crappy tv phone-in where you text in your choice for the next scene.

It ought to be:
"If you choose to follow the Doctor, turn to page 3. If you choose to follow Martha, turn to page 4. If you choose to investigate on your own, turn to page 5."

It sounds like:

"If you want the Doctor to disable the lemon with his sonic, turn to page 3. If you want Martha to throw the lemon from a window, turn to page 4. If you want the lemon to become your faithful assistant and go off on a different story entirely, turn to page 5."

Way to ruin a brilliant concept, Colin Brake. I wasn't terribly impressed by his straight novel either though.

badblokebob said...

You're right on every count (well, I haven't read his straight novel, but otherwise...)

Alien Arena was good though. Proper choices & all. I enjoyed that one. Hopefully most of the rest will be like that. One's by a guy who's been doing these gamebooks for decades, and there are two by Trevor Baxendale, whose normal Who novels I liked. So fingers crossed.

badblokebob said...

Also, these things on Wikipedia may be of interest:

- Choose Your Own Adventure main page (they stopped in 1998, but a new company is republishing them, along with some new titles)
- list of CYOA books (185 in the main series, with in excess of 110 in other series!)
- the gamebook genre
- a list of series of gamebooks

I'm sorely tempted to try setting up some kind of website with gamebooks on (so, a gamesite). But I bet they take an age to write. But it does sound fun...

Arnold The Fish's Grandmother said...

Arnold The Fish CYOA >>>>> All

badblokebob said...

Ooh, yes, that would be good.

Write it.

badblokebob said...

Ooh, yes, that would be good.

Write it.