'Choose Your Own Adventure' Gets An iMakeover
NEAL CONAN, host:
Those of you who've explored "The Cave of Time" will remember this fateful conundrum: if you decide to start back home, turn to page four. If you decide to wait, turn to page five. So, which way did you go? The "Choose Your Own Adventure" books left readers to decide their fate with the turn of a page, sometimes into the maw of a monster or into a ditch. The interactive series sold over 250 million copies and became one of the most popular children's series during the 1980s and '90s. Now they are getting a digital makeover.
Edward Packard, one of the authors of the series, helped create "U-Ventures" with apps for the iPhone and iPad. This time around, readers will be surrounded by sounds and lights and other special effects as they tap their way into space to the pyramids and down into the sea.
If you chose your own adventure, tell us about it. 800-989-8255 is our phone number. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation at our website, that's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Edward Packard now - joins us now from member station WLIU in South Hampton, New York. Nice to have you with us today.
Mr. EDWARD PACKARD (Author, "Choose Your Own Adventure"): Thank you. Good afternoon.
CONAN: And the first U-Venture is a revival of, well, that famous cave in time.
Mr. PACKARD: Yeah. It's this called "Return to the Cave of Time" and you go back in the cave. You don't have a choice on that. That's the way it starts off.
Mr. PACKARD: But after that, a lot of different things can happen and you can affect it with your choices. And not - you can't always be sure of everything coming out all right, even if you make the right choice. But there's supposed to be some correlation between your wisdom in choosing and what happens generally.
CONAN: And your progress not just through the book but through life.
Mr. PACKARD: Well, yeah, the idea in writing one of these is to try to mirror a daring adventure in which you're going to be doing things you wouldn't be doing in real life because it might be too dangerous. But -so you really can let yourself go.
CONAN: Well, these were obviously interactive books. Clearly these are a natural for dig.
Mr. PACKARD: They were. And so, when we decided to put it into app form with Simon and Schuster, we had to get a developer expanded app out in L.A. and develop it really - which is more than just transferring it into digital form, because we wanted to add a lot of tricks and things and features that the app could perform that you would never have been able to have in the printed book.
CONAN: You wouldn't have room for it in the printed book and, of course, it's...
Mr. PACKARD: Yeah, that's right.
CONAN: Books can't make sounds and that sort of things, yeah.
Mr. PACKARD: Well, not only that but we could be absolutely use as many pages as we want because there was no printing cost. We could have color and have just fast-paced endings with only a couple of things happening on a page before you had to quickly make a choice. And so there was just a lot more flexibility.
CONAN: And are these intended for a new generation of children or for an old generation of "Choose Your Adventure" fans?
Mr. PACKARD: Well, I think that quite a number of people who were "Choose Your Own Adventure" fans originally are now, you know, a little nostalgic about it, some of them. And some of them have kids. So we try to have them intelligent enough and enough challenges so that the adults wouldn't be bored with them. And I think a lot of adults would have fun with them.
CONAN: In the books, the adventurer was usually cast as a boy, sometimes a girl, but usually as a boy.
Mr. PACKARD: That's right. And that was the decision of the publisher. My original first book, I - first one of these that I wrote, I wasn't able to sell it, but I got a small publisher to publish it, and we decided we'd have it - try to have a unisex you, so - but even that, it wasn't too satisfactory. And the publishers, Bantam, when they started bringing out the series in a big way, they said, you know, we have to represent it with somebody as you, the reader. And this somebody turned out to be a white boy, looking like sort of a junior James Bond. And this didn't sit too well with a lot of people, especially girls.
And so we decided, with these apps, we're not going to have that problem. We're going to make it point-of-view, the reader. And as you go through your adventures, all the illustrations show things as you see them with your own eyes.
CONAN: So at the same point of view as a first-person shooter, though I don't think guns are involved in this game.
Mr. PACKARD: Well, we don't go around shooting people. We don't - you -we don't give people choices to do nasty things. We have an underlying assumption that you, the reader, are a good guy or a good girl, and you're not going to - you're going to have adventures, you may be seeking a fortune, but you're going to play fair and be pretty decent, and occasionally have a chance to compromise yourself. And so we want to, you know, we want to give people a chance, but they don't usually have profit from that.
CONAN: The - one of the options available in the book form was if you happen to have made an unfortunate choice, well, you could flip back 10 pages or so and decide to take the other option.
Mr. PACKARD: Well, we have a bookmark feature. So, for instance, if you get to a choice and - you can bookmark that page. And then if you go on, you make your choice and you go on to various other adventures and you finally come to an ending, but you want to see what would have happened if you go and made the other choice, you can go back there. But otherwise, you know, you get to the end of the story. We don't want to make it - we didn't want to make it so you just could flip back and forth aimlessly like some kind of computer game. We wanted to make it where there's a real story, and it goes on and on surprisingly long and - or usually, unless you come to a bad ending.
CONAN: Very quickly.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PACKARD: And - but then you go back and you can start over again, or you can go to your bookmarked page if you've bookmarked.
CONAN: Our guest is Edward Packard, one of the authors of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series. He's created new stories based on the original series called "U-Ventures," which are available as iPhone and iPad apps through Simon & Schuster.
And we'd like to hear from those of you in the audience who chose their own adventures in the past, maybe one or two of you who have actually tried the new app, though it just appeared on July 26th. 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. And we'll start with Chris, Chris with us from Kaysville in Utah.
CHRIS (Caller): Yes. You know, I recently, at a bookstore - I should say not recently, but about a year ago - picked up a couple of dozen of these. And so I'm sorry your author didn't make royalties, since I bought them used. But we love to do them when we travel. I have and eight and nine-year old boy, and I read out loud. And that's what we do when we travel. I'm not a total luddite, but I kind of don't like the DVDs in the back of the cars, and we just love them. We have a rule about if the story ends, the story ends, and we move on to another book. We don't back up. So we don't allow ourselves to go back to our page marker to start over again from a bad decision.
CONAN: So actions have consequences.
CHRIS: Yes. But I loved the books when I was young, and we're loving them now. And I look forward to checking out the applications that he's put together for this. It sounds really fun.
CONAN: Chris, what are your children's favorites?
CHRIS: I don't even know the titles, I'm sorry. Like I say, I bought a double handful, and they're all fantasy. They were all fantasy ones, none of the science fictions ones. But, yeah, they're all the fantasy genre we picked up. So, yeah.
CONAN: All right, Chris. Thanks. Happy travelling.
CHRIS: Thank you, sir. Bye-bye.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's see if we can go next to - this is Caleb, Caleb with us from Blowing Rock in North Carolina.
CALEB (Caller): Hi. I remember, in my childhood, I always used to read the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. And there was one specifically stuck with me. I remember it so well, because you can go through all the endings, and some of them were all right. But the best ending, there was no page leading to it. There was no page where it said, you know, turn to this specific ending. You had to look through the book and find it. And I guess the moral of the story, well, sometimes you have to break the rules in life to get to the best place.
CONAN: Do you remember the name of that one?
CALEB: Oh, I don't remember it specifically, but I just remember I was so struck because it was the best ending, and I had to look through the book.
Mr. PACKARD: Yeah. I think I wrote that one, and it was - had a - at the beginning of each book, it would say, you know, warning. You don't read these books straight through. You turn to various pages. And I had an extra little warning in there that sometimes, you can even get to a place you want to get even with the choices you have, or something like that. It was a little flag. And the idea was this was such a remote, fantastical place, that you couldn't get there any normal way. And so the - some kids, I guess, never found it, and others did. I guess this is the little bit of devious dream ending that I wanted to see what the effect of that would be.
CONAN: Well, Caleb, obviously, it did have that effect on you.
Mr. PACKARD: I think for those who did find it, it was quite exciting.
CALEB: Yeah. I remember very distinctly. It was kind of my own little secret.
CONAN: But for the kids who couldn't find it, Edward Packard, they're still wandering around the galaxy, helpless?
Mr. PACKARD: I'm afraid so. But in our app - well, we have an app, "Through the Black Hole," coming out in September. And I think they'll find a just as good a place by making choices. But they have to go to another - they have to go through a black hole and get to another universe to find it. But it'll be hard, but they can do it.
CONAN: Caleb, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.
CALEB: Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Again, our guest is Edward Packard, one of the authors of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series. He's created a new series of stories based on the original series called "U-Ventures," available as iPhone and iPad apps through Simon & Schuster. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, which is coming to you from NPR News.
And why are they called "U-Ventures" and not "Choose Your Own Adventure"?
Mr. PACKARD: Well, when I first thought up this idea and I got I couldn't get the book first book published, and I finally got a small press to publish it. And then the owner the co-owner of the small press, Ray Montgomery, found the agent who found Bantam, who brought out the series in such a big way. And as a result, it turned out that Bantam began giving each of us contracts for equal numbers of books. The books became so popular so fast that there were - many more books were needed for the market than either of us could write. As a matter of fact, we each hired subcontractors to write some of the books.
And after the series went out of print in the late 1990s, Random House, which had acquired Bantam, let the trademark go out of print I mean, excuse me, let the trademark lapse. And Ray Montgomery registered it, so he owns the or his company owns the "Choose Your Own Adventure" trademark. So to bring out my books in app form, I was obliged to think up a new trademark, and thought up "U-Ventures," which I happened to I think it's pretty good. It's sort of brief and more contemporary.
CONAN: More kind of 21st century, yeah.
Mr. PACKARD: That's the idea.
CONAN: But you hired legions of writers, so you were the F.W. Dickson of the late 20th century?
Mr. PACKARD: Well, I wouldn't want to compare myself with anybody like that. But we did have to I did have to hire writers from time to time to write the books that I was obliged to submit to Bantam to fulfill my contract.
CONAN: All right. Let's go next to Heather, Heather, with us from St. Louis.
HEATHER (Caller): Hi. I'm so happy to talk to somebody. I loved those books when I was a kid, and I still buy them. If I find them in a used book store or something, I snatch them up. My husband and I love to sit down with them from time to time. I was wondering, though, you said you have it for the iPhone and the iPad, but you didn't say anything about the Android platform. Is there plans to bring it out for the Android users like me?
Mr. PACKARD: I don't know. It's also available in the iPod, by the way.
CONAN: We're having Edward Packard, if you could repeat that.
HEATHER: Oh, sure. I was just wondering if you're planning on bringing out the "U-Ventures" for the Android platform.
CONAN: And Ed Packard, are you there?
Mr. PACKARD: Our engineer left.
CONAN: Our engineer left.
HEATHER: Oh, no.
CONAN: And well, I could barely hear him, because I'm wearing a very sophisticated headphones here in the studio...
Mr. PACKARD: (unintelligible) down. You can't hear me.
CONAN: We can't we cannot hear Edward Packard. Could you there we go.
Mr. PACKARD: Okay.
CONAN: Now that's too much.
Mr. PACKARD: A little too much. Sorry.
CONAN: And we introduce our listeners once again to the thrills of live radio.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PACKARD: Yeah.
CONAN: So, anyway, Heather was asking you...
Mr. PACKARD: Oh, to answer...
CONAN: ...plans to bring it out on the Droid. Yeah.
Mr. PACKARD: A little softer on the to answer your question, I don't I we've talked about adapting these for other platforms, and we've been so busy, we really haven't gotten to it. But I very much would like to do that. I don't want anyone to miss out on it. Now, I can assure you, I'll attend to that.
CONAN: Thanks for the call.
HEATHER: Thank you very much.
CONAN: And thanks for bearing with us, Heather. Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to Allen(ph), Allen with us from Gainesville.
ALLEN (Caller): Hi. Thanks for having me on.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
ALLEN: I wanted to ask Mr. Packard - I'm a student at the Wilkes Honors College at Florida Atlantic University, just north of West Palm Beach in Florida. And I recently completed a course on fiction, trying to write your own stories. And one of the things I tried to tackle was writing the "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories, but I found it an extremely difficult task, something harder than I had originally anticipated. I wanted to ask you what your creative process is when you are trying to write a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story, how you tackle writing a story that has all these multiple storylines that go off in totally different places, with different characters, different situations. How do you tackle a huge project like that?
Mr. PACKARD: Yeah, I'm going to do that, as well(ph). When I started out with the first one, I thought, how do you that? This should be pretty easy, but I soon got all tangled up. And I found I had to make a flowchart and - looking like a branching tree with branches and limbs and twigs. And over I just write what would happen on one page on top of the line of a branch or a twig, and then I'd write - have it branch out more and show the two choices, and I'd grow another branch. On the top, I'd put the what happens in the next choice, and the next two choices or three choices, or a big circle with a filled in for an ending, or a circle with a number in it if it's a dead end to another storyline.
Mr. PACKARD: So...
ALLEN: And then when you finish...
Mr. PACKARD: Think of a tree lying on its side. And I just write enough so I know what page I'm talking about. And also...
Mr. PACKARD: ...I'll give you one other tip, but number the pages A so, A1, A2, A3 and so forth.
CONAN: Oh, I see. So they go down that (unintelligible)...
Mr. PACKARD: So if you would add pages or subtract pages, you won't get all tangled up.
CONAN: Okay. Allen, thanks very much for the phone call. Finally, this email from Jessica in Elkhart, Indiana. I remember reading the books when I was in elementary school. I had ADD, and when I was little, they were the only books I could finish because they were interactive. They made me love reading.
That's about as good as an endorsement as you're going to get. Thanks very much for being with us, Edward Packard.
Mr. PACKARD: Thank you. Appreciate it.
CONAN: Edward Packard, one of the authors of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series. His new series, "U-Ventures," now available as apps for the iPhone and the iPad. We posted a side-by-side comparison of what the new app looks like compared to the original book at our website. Check it out at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Edward Packard joined us from member station, WLIU, in Southampton. Tomorrow, video games as art. Join us for that.
This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.