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this dude creates interactive 'choose your own adventure' games (interview!)
BEWARE and WARNING! This Geoffrey Golden interview is different from other Geoffrey Golden interviews.
There truly was nothing cooler for 10 year old me than realizing "Choose Your Own Adventure" books existed.
Unlike all the other lame one storyline ass books at the library, these magical tomes gave little twerp ME the power to decide what would happen. And if I fucked up and the Wizard died, I'd just turn back and make a different choice. Exactly like how the real world is!
I felt a similar giddy excitement when I discovered Geoffrey Golden's Adventure Snack, an interactive story newsletter that takes the reader on a classic “Choose Your Path” text adventure that’s weird and wacky and genuinely funny (Golden started out as a comedy writer and it shows).
I met Geoffrey at an LA Substack writer's meetup and was like 'dude, I love Adventure Snack' and he said 'oh wow thank you.' Classic.
Then I emailed and asked if I could interview him and HE SAID YES so here is that interview. Feel free to read it in any order or should I say CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE YA GOOF.
If you would like to listen to the raw unedited version of the interview, I’ve added it as the audio for this post!
Be sure to subscribe to Adventure Snack because (a) it's amazing and (b) I may or may not be doing a guest game for Adventure Snack that will come out early next year. Ok without further adoodoo, let’s get into it!
Let’s start with Adventure Snack - what’s the origin story there?
I’m a narrative designer and a game writer, and I was working on a console role playing game with a dark, grim premise called Fallen Legion about a world stricken by a plague which…became way too real and depressing once Covid started.
I needed an outlet where I could do something funny and silly and I was seeing the rise of newsletters happening, so I thought, “what if I made a game newsletter?”
My first Adventure Snack quest was The Giant Wizard Head on July 9, 2019 and I’ve been publishing them every two weeks since. I actually just released the 75th Adventure Snack game.
That’s incredible. How has it evolved in that time?
The games have become more complex. When I started they were very thin, little snacks; now they’ve become like mini meals, like before they were maybe a bowl of Chex Mix and now they’re maybe a bowl of soup.
I've also started adding more emotional stakes to the games. Not always, but sometimes just as sort of a fun way to sort of keep the player engaged by adding a little bit of unexpected weight, to give the game a real ‘choose your own adventure’ for adults feel.
And they’re all pretty out there, right—sci-fi, weird, crazy. Like you don’t have any about a dad and his family just struggling through the day to day of reality lol.
No, the closest we have to that was a game called Whoa, You Have a Jetpack where you’re a dad trying to impress his son with your new jet pack.
Right of course, naturally. So how do you come up with these wackadoo ideas?
A couple different ways. Sometimes I'll want to use a specific game mechanic, for example, say I wanna do something where you're looking around the room for objects, like that’s the decision point. So it's like, well, what sort of game would work with that mechanic? A detective game could work, so then I’d go from there.
The other way is working from a title. Like Bigfoot Is Your Landlord, I had that title before anything else.
I had a landlord who would only come around at the worst possible times—never when we needed something repaired, but then at a weird time of the day he’d come in unexpectedly and just be angry, storming around, like a Bigfoot, and so the title was born.
But yea, even when the ideas come from my real life, they all become pretty absurd pretty fast.
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One of my favorite parts of your games is this honor system they create with the player for keeping track of points.
Usually a game is like “I'm keeping track for you” but your games just sort of trust the player and say “ok go back to the last screen” or “ok count how many whatever you have and take the next action accordingly.”
That felt so different from normal games, this really simple feeling of like, “whoa, this game trusts me.”
A big part of game design is evoking feelings from players. And what you picked up on, that vibe comes from me reading game books from the 1980s like Choose Your Own Adventure and this other series—Fighting Fantasy—where you you could easily cheat and go right to the end, but the fun of it is that you’re doing it with yourself—there’s no computer keeping score, no one else in the room saying “oh you broke the rules”—it’s just you in your own head.
A lot of the games are inspired by that - I want each game to have this feeling of exploration that says “you can do this however you wanna do it.”
People will contact me after playing an Adventure Snack and say “I went and read all the endings” and they’re so guilty! But I’m like, “Good! I want you to read all the endings. I wrote it all. I'd love for you to do that—do whatever you want—have fun with it.”
I love this idea of ‘game mechanics’ driving the creation of the game. How many game mechanics are there? And what’s your process for using those game mechanics to create the game?
I don't think there is a limited number of game of game mechanics, though different genres definitely have their own mechanics. Sometimes the fun is subverting a mechanic, like Adventure Snack is inspired by the 1980s game books where you have to make a choice, like narrative branching—that’s classic— but I’ve never read a game book where you’re supposed to take out your credit card and like use the numbers on your credit card to make the next decision.
Interactive game-like design, Bandersnatch on Netflix being the big one people have tried. From where you’re sitting, what do you see as the future of all this - are they gonna merge?
I wouldn't bet on it. That's not where I put my money. The way people watch movies may change, but I doubt it will be replaced. People thought movies were on their way out when TV arrived, and people thought the podcast would kill radio. These things generally don't replace another.
What do I think is the future? I mean, the thing is even within games, you have so much variety, like when I ask people ‘what do you think the market leader in games is?’, they say—
Wait can I guess?
Is it phones? Bejeweled?
I only guessed that because you said it was surprising. I woulda probably just guessed Call of Duty or something.
Right that’s what everyone thinks, but console games make up a smaller piece of the pie. Mobile is the vast majority, so yea, that’s probably the future of gaming. There's gonna be a generation of gamers coming are that are mobile first and they will make and play games rooted in the principles of mobile.
How would you define the principles of mobile games?
One big thing is that they’re free to play, so they have a lot of mechanics around pausing the game, waiting to play or take an action—you can either wait or pay money which moves the game forward. It’ll be really interesting to see that style mature with the players who grew up with them.
The space I’m most interested in as somebody who does narrative design is these mobile romance games that play out like romance novels. From a game perspective, they’re basically interactive fiction.
Alright let’s jump to recommendations - what games should I be playing?
First one is called Hypnospace Outlaw. It’s a fantastic mix of interactive fiction and a point and click adventure game that takes place an alternate internet future where people access the internet—which is like very old school like 90s Geocities—through a headset while you sleep. And you’re a content moderator going through these different pages, taking content down, and as you do that, you experience the world of Hypnospace and the different people and the communities that are part of it. It’s an incredible, brilliantly conceived game with a really in depth story experience.
If you’re wanting something like a mobile game, like a pick up and play kind of thing, I really love this game Grindstone. It has aesthetics of an Adult Swim barbarian cartoon—you slaughter monsters of different colors and you make a chain based on the colors to escape various tunnels It’s a lot of fun.
One more, so this is what they call a roguelike deck builder - Slay The Spire.
I love Slay The Spire!
It’s great - I’ve played almost 20 hours, but I have not yet slayed the Spire. I'm working on it still. It’s a brilliant game. There's another roguelike deck builder called Dicey Dungeon too if you want to try another.
Final question: who is Geoffrey outside of gaming?
Uh, ok let’s see…I really love bonkers movies from the 70s, 80s, and 90s that did poorly at the box office. My favorite one currently is a movie called Munchie (1992) starring Dom DeLuise as a wish granting alien, who helps an outcast kid get his groove back - well no he never had a groove, so it is not getting his groove back, just finding a groove in the first place. It has some of the worst puppetry and animatronics I've ever seen - it is truly remarkable.
I also love red pandas—my wife and I got to feed a red panda at the Pittsburgh Zoo. I really recommend it—anyone can go to that zoo and do it. I don't wanna say life changing, but it was certainly like a peak life experience, something I'll never forget.
Oh and I’m big into finding weird and interesting stuff on eBay, especially Muppets stuff, like 1970s and 1980s Muppets stuff.
What's the last thing you got on eBay?
It’s pretty remarkable—a bright red jacket and it was given to the cast and crew for Muppet Vision 4D, Jim Henson's final project that’s still playing today at Walt Disney World. On the back is the attraction logo, and on the front there’s a Sweeetums eating the words “Cast And Crew.” It fits me absolutely perfectly, no tailoring necessary.
And there ya have it! Click here and subscribe to Adventure Snack to get the twice a month games sent right to your little inbox including the one I may or may not be writing for next month!!!
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Let’s talk games!!
Do you remember reading choose your adventure books as a kid?
Were you / are you a gamer? What were and are some of your fav games
What about board games? Do you love em? Which ones?
If you could write a choose your own Adventure Snack, what would the title be?