I'm surprised I haven't written about Dave Morris' gamebook "Heart of Ice" before. I mean, I have, but I would have thought in the decade plus that I've been blogging here I would have covered it.

Growing up from about age seven we would leave south Wales during the nicest time of year and migrate to the north of England where the weather could be best described as "Autumnal" and the terrain "open" (read: barren). It was part of a contract to supply hunting falcons - they needed to be supplied trained during that period. I was dragged along because I was a child and couldn't be abandoned to enjoy the summer. On the plus side this is probably why I still revel in warm weather!

One of the highlights (as this was pre-internet access) was the local library. It wasn't amazing but it was substantially better than the one we had in Carmarthen even though it was smaller. Having revisited that library in the mid 2000s I'm still not sure what large sections of it were for.

Anyway the Haltwhistle library had a promotional standee thingy containing books. I seem to recall it showed a gorgeously printed snake creature but that could just be a false memory. In it were a series of choose-your-own-adventure style books. I'd encountered the format previously having been introduced to the Fighting Fantasy series by a friend. The relatively complex dice mechanics and similar didn't really work for me though and so I tended to read them more for the story than anything else.

I borrowed all the books from the standee at various points but the one I kept coming back to was, unsurprisingly, Heart of Ice. It had a clear slip cover on it and I loved it. I borrowed it every summer and desperately wanted my own copy. My mother tried to track one down (she'd often visit book shops and pick books she thought I might like to encourage me to read - a success but possibly the reason I'm crap at picking books for myself) to no avail.

Years later I emailed Dave Morris and he provided both a PDF and somewhere to buy a reprint. I later contacted him about developing a game based on the book. It would have been an open source game done through a small group I was involved with but whilst I received permission things never got started on that project.

Time passed.

Then last year I thought "I'm working on my own Twine/Sugarcube game - why not take a break and port the original book? How hard can it be?"

You might think the answer would be "much harder than expected" but it wasn't. In programming terms the game is relatively simple. There's no randomness, for example. The thing that took a while was importing every passage (400+) as well as scanning and processing the artwork. As mentioned in a previous post I really don't like my Twine games to be a collection of files. If at all possible I want them self-contained and for this game that meant being clever with the choice of compression. Conveniently (the book cover and map aside) all the artwork is in black and white. Literally. There are no shades of grey whatsoever. This meant I was able to use a very limited colour palette to produce high resolution versions of the images. That matters because have you looked at a modern phone or tablet?

I wanted this stuff to look sharp! The art is gorgeous and it'd be such a shame to only have some blurry JPEGs when something better would be possible with some effort. This did mean scanning in all the artwork myself though but what the hell, why not?

Amusingly because of the way Blogger works it will look fairly muddy but trust me, in the game the illustrations look great.

I also upscaled some additional artwork where appropriate from the original artist, Russ Nicholson. You can see some of it here. Quite an iconic style and the reprinted book I mentioned earlier contained at least one extra piece so in it went too!

Something that wasn't in the original book was sound - it wasn't powered by Ultraword™after all.

If I had the right gear and unlimited time I would have liked to create soundscapes for every location but unfortunately that wasn't an option. Many players may not hear the game's sounds though so I thought it might well be wasted effort regardless. I instead included a few sounds for usability:

  • Should you be unfortunate enough to die you'll be subjected to the howling wind over snowy plains.
  • Reloading a barysal gun is surprisingly uncommon and so there's a cue for that too.
  • Being unable to purchase something due to lack of funds also has a little tone.
  • There's also a sound for opening the map. The illustration on the inside cover of the original book always felt it was lacking some sort of noise so I had to figure something out!
Finally I implemented some custom fonts to convey when certain types of character speak (usually mechanical voices - I wanted Gilgamesh to be particularly unpleasant to read. Yes, that font choice was deliberate.).

I did some bug testing (not enough as it turns out - is there such a thing as "enough bug testing"?) and then contacted Dave Morris. Better late than never, eh?

If you follow Dave's blog you'll already have seen this but it became his Christmas present to fans!

You can play the game here: 

The URL isn't very nice, I know, but I don't want to finalise things until I'm fairly confident it won't need to be changed again. Oh and saving the web page should get you everything as it's self-contained.

Right, I'm going to go turn the heating on!

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