Gamebooks in Bulgaria

AsenRG

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Well, since there was some interest in the gamebooks that were published in Bulgaria, I'm starting a thread. You can blame @Séadna for that:devil:!
(And I had no idea where to post this...at the end, I decided on the RPG forum, since I consider gamebooks to be "RPG-lite". And because it seems they have got a lot of us into RPGs, as evidenced by a recent thread.
You have my apologies if I was wrong).


Let me start by numbers. The gamebooks appeared in Bulgaria in 1992. Until the implosion of the genre at the end of the decade, it seems the published books included:
241 or 242 gamebooks (no, I'm not going to count them for you). This easily surpassed 300 after adding the New Wave gamebooks, published after that.
22 gamebook/boardgame or gamebook/wargame hybrids (which were known simply as "strats"). No such has been published since, AFAICT...but some books incorporated similar elements, like maps.
14 issues of the gamebook magazine "Megaigra". (In the last decade, we added to that 13 issues of "Gamebooks Magazine").
...and I seem to remember an earlier gamebook magazine which only had issues in the single digits - but included a comic-game (gamebook in comic form) before it folded.


So...it all started courtesy of the well-known (in Bulgarian litterature circles) translator of the magnificent "The Lord of the Rings" Mr. Lyubomir Nikolov.
For what I've been told/read, he was walking around Sofia and decided to stop at an antique bookstore in Slaveykov Square (which, at the time, was The Book Market). There you could find all kinds of books...from Russian books on meditation and Asian and Russian martial arts, to English RPGs and gamebooks. A friend bought a boxed set of Marvel Superheroes, for example. Anyway, back on topic...
There, Mr. Nikolov bought Jack Brennan's book "The Dragon's Bedside" (sorry, guys, can't find the original title). It was a weird one: the story was divided in episodes and the reader was also the protagonist! Whoa!
Due to lack of money, he almost didn't buy it...but at the time, as I can attest, book readers had a saying "if you have to pick between a book and bread, choose the book - it's going to stay with you forever". I also used to know a few that lived by it (or despite it).
So Mr. Nikolov ended up getting this, and thus the Bulgarian scene was born...although nobody knew that yet.

Lyubo (I feel weird writing Mr. Nikolov, he's a very friendly person in face-to-face contacts) went home, played the adventure (repeatedly) and decided to write such a book. He already had written fiction books ("The Court of Generations", "The Mole", "The Worm in the Autumn Wind", "The 9th Righteous Man" and others), he decided to write time-based SF. It was called "In the Labyrinth of Time" the first Bulgarian playbook, but not the first published. Took him long enough to find a published that he ended up writing two more - "The Valley of Lost Dreams" and "The Castle of the Tallasums" (tallasum - a kind of spirit/creature in Bulgarian myths, often though not always, nefarious to people).

The "Valley of Lost Dreams" - 420 episodes in 200 pages - ended up being the first published (By "Equus Art", IIRC), although they asked the book to be renamed to something shorter (thus it became known as "Fire Desert" instead). "The Castle of the Tallasums" and "In the Labyrinth of Time" got published soon after by another publisher ("Pleyada", or "Pleiad Books"). BTW, they also had the best cover artists, at the time...even the head publisher was an artist :grin:! Also, they were publishing Stephen King and other horror authors at the time. (You've seen some of their covers already - the artists I remember best were Peter Stanimirov („Peter Stan“), Dimitar Stoyanov („Dimo“) and Ivaylo Ivantchev - the latter lives in Australia now).

Anyway...

The books became a smashing success, especially "The Castle of the Tallasums", which Lyubo Nikolov published under the pen name "Colin Wolumberry" (or something like this), because the publisher believed that books from Western authors are more popular, after having been restricted in the 1944-1989. Mr. Nikolov complied with the requirement, and devised his pen name by re-arranging the letters in his own name (in Cyrillic, so there's not an exact match in Latin alphabet).
But "The Castle of the Tallasums"* became almous synonymous with the genre. Even the Bulgarian National Television had a show named after it! Never been able to watch it - what kind of moron had put it in a time slot when most kids and teens are at school, I'll never know - but I think they were replaying the game..."game streaming", anyone:tongue:?
The first 3 Bulgarian books published all had a similar structure, BTW: the MC (Main Character, or My Character :shade:) is summoned and given a quest, along with a host of one-use magic items (or "sufficiently high science" items, when playing "In the Labyrinth of Time"). Then off you go...


After that, there was a time when the demand for gamebooks peaked, but there were no new titles. Equus Art published "Usurper!" as well, and then there was a pause. I bought Usurper!* and I can attest that I kept pestering the book sellers about "new gamebooks", with all the patience or lack thereof that an 11-years old boy has:devil:.
But then the publishers realized the untapped potential of the market, and the gamebooks exploded.

New authors appeared, including the tandem Robert Blond and Adrian Wayne (actually Bogdan Rusev and Alexander Alexandrov/Alex Sultanov), Michael Mindcrime/Stuart Dark (Dimitar Slaveikov), George M. George/Bob Queen/Silvester Gold/William Stane (Gheorghi Mindizov - don't read the "h"-s, I added them to signify that the G is pronounced like in "groom") and Virgil Dreamond (?), (actually Elena Pavlova). A new publishing house, "Mega", was created by Petar Stanimirov - they published the "strats", the "Megaigri" (Megagames) magazine, and dozens of books (and some people credit them with destroying the market by oversaturation - I can't speak about that, though).
Oh, and there were about a dozen less-productive Bulgarian authors with 1-5 books. No, I'm not planning to name them all.
All authors had their own styles of writing and their "trademarks".
Colin Wolumberry wanted to combine gamebooks with teaching tools and relied more on literature. Perhaps his most memorable work (to me) is the series about the British archeologist Dick Chancey (?), who had to explore weird places and deal with weird artefacts. He also had a book where the player was playing a Special Forces soldier sent to establish contact with an ET civilization (and ended up saving a crashed ET), where we had to learn jungle survival, and the two books set in the Spanish Reconquista.

Mindcrime's trademark was having a comprehensive charsheet, with numbers that went up and down, and game schemes that allowed you to get a number of "points" at the end. His most popular series were The Superagent's games. He also wrote a trilogy on martial arts, and the first "sports gamebooks" ("The Demons in NBA" and "The Gods of Football" - though that would be soccer for USAians). His "true crime" tetralogy about rise and fall of "The Kid" from a petty criminal to head of family was considered so dark that he had to switch the publishers to get the fourth book published...and let's just say it didn't have a happy ending, either.

Robert Blond (Bogdan Rusev) focused on literature at the expense of system. He is known for his series focusing on the monk Valence, who was best described as "fantasy protagonist who somehow became a monk", and the books on the fantasy city Bellegast (he did publish "ordinary" books in the same setting). In tandem with Adrian Wayne/Alex Alexandrov, they had about a dozen gamebooks, notable by their light and humorous style. If the main character didn't make a one-liner by dispatching an enemy, it wasn't an important enemy...:shade:
Also of note: most (though not all) of those were dice-based, but you had an episode not only for winning, but for losing as well (invariably with a short description of how you died:skeleton:).
After they separated, Rusev focused more on cyberpunk (reportedly, Shadowrun might have been an influence, or not), alone or in tandem with another author, Ted Grey (actually Bojidar Grozdanov), who only wrote cyberpunk...or at least, all 5 of his books were set up in the same cyberpunk universe.
OTOH, Alex focused more on his fantasy works. He also created "tournament" gamebooks. Four of those have been created, total, 2 by him ("Swordmasters" 1&2), 1 by Rusev alone, and 1 by Rusev and Grozdanov.
Unless I'm wrong, Bojidar Grozdanov also contributed to the creation of the first Bulgarian RPG, Endyval (but it had a team of authors and I'm not sure whether this was the same person...I'd only met him once when he was a gamebook author, and a couple times on RPG-related places).
Oh, and Rusev also wrote a "Vampire book" as a tie-in to the Valence books. In it, you play the story of the Vampire Lord whom Valence encounters at the end of his book. Much mindless slaughter and blood-drinking are (arguably, suitably) included in the deal!

George M. George/Bob Queen also had involved character sheets, and the first book emulating "kung-fu movies" ("The Shadows of Darkness", entirely diceless). He was known as the guy with the best systems, too, and with mechanical innovations. He only played an RPG later in my group...we introduced him to ORE (Reign: Out of the Violent Planet) and he loved it. One of his latest posts in the gamebooks forum says "if I wasn't married already, I'd marry this system" :grin:!
Yes, he understands very well the idea "it's just a game"... he just likes systems. It's no accident that he wrote the first "Strat" (short for Strategic Gamebook), named "Commando".
An often-neglected side of his gamebooks is that he also tried to teach the readers real-world stuff where possible. In his modern trilogy "Money and Gangsters", for example, he included info on financial markets...which you had to learn if you wanted to engage in the "stock exchange" mini-game included in the book. (I lucked out and made enough money with it that for the rest of the book I could treat spending almost any amount of money as the "consequences-free" option - but a friend lost enough that his character had to file for insolvency).
In other books, he taught the readers about the Native Americans's history (actually, let me add some outrage fuel, here: they're known simply as Indians in Bulgaria to this day... because our language allows us to have distinct words for Indians in North/South America and Indians from India - despite the words retaining the same root :gunslinger:).
Also, George wrote what were the best "sandbox" gamebooks, IMO. Read: he*** devised a system which made visiting the same place leading to different events, allowing you to "travel on a map" (a trick later used by Rusev and Pavlova as well - though see the note). And that was before getting to the "strat" level! He added a host of other tricks there...though "strats" never became my favourites, mostly due to the way "Mega" always managed to omit a rule or two. (What kind of rules? Oh, almost nothing...the HP totals of enemies in the second strat, the rules for movement on the map and required food/water in one of Pavlova's strats - the one that was taking place in a PA desert...if you think OD&D was unclear, guys, you had to see those).

At the same time, Way of the Tiger, Blood Sword, Virtual Reality, Fighting Fantasy and Choose Your Own Adventures books were translated and published (though FF and CYOA were considered "second-rate gamebooks" by most players I knew, we were reading them all - and other players considered them their favourites, so maybe it was just in my circle). Other publishing houses joined in the fray, too: "Astrala", "Mega", "Selecta", and some authors self-published...and I'm probably forgetting some publishers, too:grin:!
Also: Sorcery! and Lone Wolf got published. But I'm not going to dwell much on the gamebooks that you can easily obtain yourself, though. What's the point?

*If you want to imagine the influence of those first books, suffice it to say, the first books of many authors copied that. Robert Blond and Adrian Wayne did the same in an S&S setting...George M George did the same, though the setting was more of a dark fantasy one. And Mindcrime, too...though his first book was "super-agent in a fantasy world". The Superagent had to go on a backwards planet and survive - this was his "entry-level test" for the job, BTW - but he was given no guns, just a sword and an array of high-tech devices, which were one-use because of a law forbidding "artificially raising the local tech levels".
I think only Elena bucked that trend, but I can't remember her first book, so I might be wrong. If I'm right, her first book was "Icy Silence", which is arguably Jack London-inspired and lacks any magic...I liked that one a lot! It also helps that Elena at the time had forgotten more about dealing with dogs than I'd ever know...


And that was in the 90ies of the 20th century. Only a couple gamebooks were published before the 10s of the 21st century, when Al Toro published "The Cat/Mouser**** and Black Narcissus/Daffodil". After that


** We never got Avenger and Ninja from Way of the Tiger, because the English publishers couldn't (be bothered to?) find copies - and the translations we did get, had the rules mistranslated, adding the to-hit roll to the damage, and thus making the ninja's fist deadlier than any sword.
I only learned that when I was gifted Avenger and Ninja in French... along with Inferno, which was yet unpublished. I actually liked the French copy more, though I bought the Bulgarian one, too. But the rules mistake necessitated me to re-play all my "Way of the Tiger" books, in sequence... Ah! When such chores were being hoisted onto me, I vehemently...complied :grin:!

***I hear that Elena Pavlova had contributed a lot in the creation of it, or even that she'd created it...but I've never delved in the matter. I know for sure that I first encountered it in one of his books, but she also used it, for sure. Maybe her book has been sitting on my "backlog"? At some point I was buying every gamebook, but didn't manage to read them all in order.

****The word used means male cat (the default word you use for "cat" basically means "female cat" - or it might mean you don't care about what this cat has between its legs; usually "male cat" is used when the gender is at least vaguely relevant) but it also has some connotations similar to "mouser" (and often implies trickiness, craftiness). So I'd translate it as Mouser, because Fritz Leiber...and because the main character has a lot of common with the Grey Mouser.
Also, I have no idea which word to use for the flower. According to my dictionary, it's "daffodil" if yellow, and "narcissus" if white...so which one in hell is "right" if it's black:devil:!

To Be Continued!
Next: The New Wave! Including the Book Where You Are The Seducer :kiss::heart::sweat::brokenheart::evil::present::coffee::dice:!

IMPORTANT NOTE: I know this post needs an editor...but it was a choice between posting in a hurry, and not posting it for a month or so, if ever. So, apologies to everyone who reads my "inner narrative, recorded"!
 

opaopajr

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This might be the one and only authoritative source for this info in the English language! :shade::coffee: It could have been a slice of gaming history lost to time and translation otherwise. Please, continue!:thumbsup:
 

dbm

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This is very interesting - please do post more!
The Castle of the Tallasums"* became almous synonymous with the genre. Even the Bulgarian National Television had a show named after it! Never been able to watch it - what kind of moron had put it in a time slot when most kids and teens are at school, I'll never know - but I think they were replaying the game..."game streaming", anyone:tongue:?
This was shown on UK TV:
Was your show anything like that? Or more similar to modern streaming where the focus is just on the players of the game?
he wrote the first "Strat" (short for Strategic Gamebook), named "Commando".
What would you say differentiated a ‘strategic’ game book from a ‘regular’ one?
He also created "tournament" gamebooks.
Again, what makes those different from standard books in you opinion? Was there actually a tournament scene?
Also, George wrote what were the best "sandbox" gamebooks, IMO. Read: he*** devised a system which made visiting the same place leading to different events, allowing you to "travel on a map"
Cool - how did that work?
 
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AsenRG

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This might be the one and only authoritative source for this info in the English language! :shade::coffee: It could have been a slice of gaming history lost to time and translation otherwise. Please, continue!:thumbsup:
Actually...that's flattering me, but it's highly unlikely:thumbsup:.

There are literally hundreds of people who might have written the same text, some of them better (like, you know, Lyubomir Nikolov...the guy who translated LotR - so I don't claim to have a better mastery of English than him - and wrote the first three Bulgarian gamebooks :tongue:).
Keep in mind that many if not most Bulgarians of speak at least one foreign language. For many that language is English, too...and most people in my generation have read at least a few.

Basically, it would have surfaced sooner or later, if anyone went looking for it. On the BG gamebook forum, you can basically start a thread in any language, if you managed to register - maybe with Google translate.


Onward for more gamebooks!

View attachment 15744
Exactly like that! Well, maybe with less swords, spears and horses...:shade:

This is very interesting - please do post more!
I shall! And in a fit of megalomania - I'll give you a behind-the-scenes peek of the activity of my gaming circle!
Because no doubt you want to know how we discovered the secret pen name of Michael Mindcrime... :grin:

This was shown in UK TV:
Was your show anything like that? Or more similar to modern streaming where the focus is just on he players of the game?
I'll post a link if I can find any video. But until then - it was kinda like that link... "watching other people reading a book and throwing dice" isn't a popular spectator sport around here.

What would you say differentiated a ‘strategic’ game book from a ‘regular’ one?
A huge-ass map that you moved on (it actually doubled on as a book protector, preserving the covers), with a gamebook inside that had more focus on mechanics. The rules of some were probably longer than the rules of OD&D.
Some also had papercut models, and - take a deep breath - paper-made polyhedron dice... :grin:

Beyond that, I can't say, because different "strats" were very different. But they were being sold in the map/book protector.
Here's what they looked like when spread out:


Again, what makes those different from standard books in you opinion? Was there actually a tournament scene?
No, simply the genre: they emulated the "fighting games" like MK, SF, VF and the like! OK, in this case Samurai Showdown would have been a closer model...all of them had most characters either using swords (Swordmasters), or using any weapons that came to mind in a cyberpunk setting...katanas and tonfas included, but also implanted blades and claws, electric whips, thrown spikes, metalic endoskeletons with fists, chains...

Cool - how did that work?
You have a number associated with the location. If you get there (rules for moving on map apply, including some random tables IIRC), you read the episode. As you leave, you're given a new number. All in all, this really cuts down on the number of codewords you have to remember... :smile:

And it was recently used in a gamebook aimed at children. But that's for the New Wave post :wink:!
 
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dbm

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A huge-ass map that you moved on (it actually doubled on as a book protector, preserving the covers), with a gamebook inside that had more focus on mechanics. The rules of some were probably longer than the rules of OD&D.
Sounds a bit like Death Test for The Fantasy Trip. I have it, but haven’t played it yet. It looks like a FF structure but when you get to fights you make a hex map and play out combat using the Melee rules etc.
the genre: they emulated the "fighting games" like MK, SF, VF and the like! OK, in this case Samurai Showdown would have been a closer model...all of them had most characters either using swords (Swordmasters), or using any weapons that came to mind in a cyberpunk setting...katanas and tonfas included, but also implanted blades and claws, electric whips, thrown spikes, metalic endoskeletons with fists, chains...
Were they two player? There was a small number of two-player books created in English:

062A739E-ED4C-4778-B385-E78F8BD706D5.jpeg

That one was a bit more head-to-head, IIRC.

FF672B86-472B-49CF-9B99-1DDEEAE98C81.jpegC4245C6C-C768-439D-A233-A5F7EB1186D6.jpeg

Clash of Princes was kind of a parallel game, where each player would reach a certain point and be told to wait for the other to catch up.
 

Gabriel

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Strats sound interesting. They seem like something I might have gotten into had they been available in the US/had I known about them.
 

AsenRG

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Sounds a bit like Death Test for The Fantasy Trip. I have it, but haven’t played it yet. It looks like a FF structure but when you get to fights you make a hex map and play out combat using the Melee rules etc.
I haven't played Death Test yet. But from your description, yes, rather similar...well, for most :smile:.

Were they two player?
The tournament ones? No, single player only.
The "strats"...well, some of them yes - others, no. Like, I can't emphasize enough how different they were :wink:.
"Commando" was like a gamebook/wargame against an AI-controlled opponent...I think it was cooperative-only (or we only played it like this).
"Lord and Wizard" and "Nomads" ("Desert Nomads") had up to 6/4 players modes and exploring a map with random encounters (again, AI-controlled).
The "Uberstrats" by Elena Pavlova "Dragons Forward" and "Barbarian Invaders" were turn-based kingdom-building strategies, complete with resource management and stuff. Also, they were meant to be played in sequence, but I kinda botched that by changing some rules that looked like they wouldn't be fun...at the end the barbarian invaders died in dragon fire:grin:.

There was a small number of two-player books created in English:

View attachment 15746

That one was a bit more head-to-head, IIRC.

View attachment 15745View attachment 15747
Yes, I'm aware of Duel Masters. A friend had bought them from Slaveikov Square...though he didn't like them, so I didn't get to play them :wink:.
I'll admit that at the time my English wasn't up to par with my today's level, though, so I'm not sure I understood everything. I was still piecing together how to play them when he grew bored enough and brought them to his home.
But no, they aren't like strats. The closest analogues were the "paired gamebooks" by George M George ("Hour of the Witch" and "Hour of the Vampire") where you started with...any of them, really - and then the action changed depending on some codes you'd get. You also got instructions to switch from book to book.
However you were meant to play different incarnations of the same character, literally. So a two-players option didn't make much sense.

Clash of Princes
was kind of a parallel game, where each player would reach a certain point and be told to wait for the other to catch up.
I think* some of the latter ones worked like that (namely it was an option if you decided to play the uberstrats against a friend). But most of the two-player options for other strats simply had alternating turns.


*Not familiar with those specific books.
Strats sound interesting. They seem like something I might have gotten into had they been available in the US/had I known about them.
Yes. From your posts on the forum, you sound like someone who'd have loved "strats".
But then again, I liked some of them well enough, too...that's why I was angry at the rules that went missing during the editing:thumbsup:!
 

Stan

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Such much great info! Cool how the authors created new directions and ran with them.

I totally would have gotten lost in the solo nerdom of strats if they had been available in English at the time.
 

AsenRG

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OK, here's a funny chapter in the story that happened roughly near the end of the gamebooks boom...
Me and two friends were playing gamebooks at home, and comparing "achievements" at home. I was the best, of course...although they were obstinate enough to not recognize it immediately:thumbsup:!
Anyway. There was this new author being published by "Mega", named Stuart Dark. In his traditional "message to the fans" Michael Mindcrime said he is "teaching a guy how to write gamebooks" and presented him with his pen name - Stuart Dark. He even wrote a lot about how they have common interests and musical tastes and stuff.

There went the first book by Stuart Dark, "Heart of Stone"...and yeah, it was a lot darker than Mindcrime's. We read it, liked it, started to discuss it.
And then we started discussing his prose style, concluding it's remarkably similar to Mindcrime's. And the way he's using the stats. And we kept feeding off each other finding new similarities...
I don't even remember who said "OK, so that's Michael". It wasn't me, I think...but it was over a score years ago, so even that might be wrong (unlikely).
Well, that was before Facebook, so nothing ensued. We laughed some, and went on playing books :smile:.

Then a teacher was sick, and another teacher had twisted her leg or somethinf. Bottomline, we had time to fill.
So we spoke about gamebooks. The day before "Mega" had published a new one. We had disagreement about how to interpret some of the rules :wink:.
So again, someone suggested that we should go ask the publishers. Someone there was bound to know, right? And the address was in the same city (living in the capital has advantages).
So we went - in person - to find the publishing house "Mega", and paid them a visit to meet them and ask them about the rules that we were discussing. Hey, we had nearly two hours we had to somehow fill, and this was before Facebook!
Besides, whoever had interpreted the rules wrong, would have had to replay the book in question (I no longer remember which one it was and who was wrong)... :grin:
So we passed through Slaveikov Square, checked that there were no new books this day, and took the bus, like the totally normal Bulgarian highshoolers (two out of us three believed we were just that :devil:)!

At first the Mega staff were kinda surprised, but offered us tea, what with us being fans who had actually taken . But when we started asking them about rules and mistaken episode numbers (quoting them by heart :tongue:), they were kinda impressed. Especially since it was the book they had published yesterday.
(A fun fact: I think they answered us by the Rule Zero Fallacy: make up how you think it should work. There were no RPG forums back then, not that we knew what an RPG was, so we didn't answer by "Rule Zero Fallacy" immediately, but mostly we answered in that direction...and we didn't learn what RPGs were for a few months more! Amusingly, it was "Mega" that presented the genre in an article in their magazine).
So we started visiting them again. Why not? Free tea, and the opportunity to discuss gamebooks! And to ask about the unclear rules!
OTOH, the boss of "Mega" expressed deep regret that we didn't have 18 yet. He said he'd hire us as proofreaders if he could... but hiring people below 18 was, and is, heavily restricted in Bulgaria (in order to prevent abuses). Basically you need the parents and the DA office to sign an agreement.
And I don't think our parents realized how much time exactly we were spending with gamebooks vs how much we were spending preparing to get into an university. (BTW, we all managed it. One of us went to a respected British university, for that matter).

And it was during one of those visits that we heard they're preparing a new Stuart Dark gamebook. So we asked the natural question.
"So why does Michael hides he's Stuart Dark?"

We were kinda surprised by the reaction of disbelief...but nobody managed to deny it efficiently. So we had a confirmation, not that we doubted it.
(Turned out, Michael Mindcrime believed this pen name carries a bigger "brand recognition" and wanted higher payments for it. We were all like "what, those are basically the same books, just with more crime!")
Later, however, we read in a Mindcrime's book that he had issues with "Mega", because the publisher told him some fans had found out by comparing the books. The author's reaction was: "Bullshit, there's no such people".
And he wrote it in a "message to the fans".
So we officially didn't exist, then.
Well, Mindcrime had a reputation for abrasiveness and conflicts (which he keeps maintaining now that there is a gamebook forum - he's the guy who keeps recommending to people to ask for a prescription drug so they could start behaving adequately, in his opinion). So we just had a laugh and moved on, but it seems this event either prompted, or - more likely - speeded up him leaving the team of "Mega". As I understood later, there were discussions about money and ego (and we were all surprised about the latter...no, wait, not really, given his conflicts with other authors :evil:)!

But this is my own contribution to the creation of gamebooks. A few months later, the market basically imploded, so it didn't matter much. But at this age, this was the most we could have done :shade:!
 
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