The Way of the Quail is a long-term gamebook project that showcases the creative talents of Simon Wiese (author) and David Staege (illustrator). These two German residents discovered a shared love for interactive fiction, and together produced ‘Der Weg der Wachtel’ for German readers. Gamebook News recently got in touch with both Simon and David to ask them about their impressive gamebook, the shared illustration process, and the future of the project.
Summarise the overall contents of The Way of the Quail: what do players experience during their adventure – and why?
Simon: The Way of the Quail is an interactive fantasy gamebook set in an alternative feudal Japan inhabited by anthropomorphic quails. You play the role of a refugee who is stranded on a beach in Japan after pirates have raided your ship. Since you’ve lost nearly all of your belongings, you then spend the first half of the game finding a new place in Japanese society, with a focus on building up your character, completing quests and acquiring new feats and equipment. The player is free to explore the world of TWotQ, which includes four big cities, a monastery and a mine, as well as some well-hidden places that I won’t reveal here for obvious reasons.
During your journey you will make contact with at least one of the three factions (Samurai, Monks, Ninjas), and decide who you want to join – of course, this is linked with a small series of faction-specific quests. After you’ve joined one of these groups, the story moves forward: the player will still be able to return to the open-world part of the book from time to time, but from now on, the gameplay is more straightforward and story-based. Your final mission will take you on a long journey to the far north of Japan, where you will have to face a menace overshadowing the whole kingdom…
Any why quails – how do they fit the storyline and setting?
Simon: I’ve always enjoyed fantasy scenarios with anthropomorphic animal characters (I was a huge fan of the Redwall series as a kid), so when I started writing gamebooks, the idea of having animals as protagonists naturally came into mind. Before TWotQ I wrote a smaller (unpublished) gamebook in a classic, western-medieval scenario inhabited by toads. During that process I had the idea of writing a larger, more complex story, taking place in a more exotic environment. Japan came into my mind and quails were the first animals that I associated with Japan (look up Coturnix Japonica for further information…). Additionally, they were my favorite animals when I was a kid.
Last but not least: the German title of TWotQ ‘Der Weg der Wachtel’ is an alliteration hinting at ‘The Way of the Warrior’ (Bushido), the Japanese term for the samurai way of life.
Simon, you obviously have a love for feudal Japan – its history, people and landscape. Is TWotQ purely an alternative fantasy version of that era, or is some (or more) of it historically accurate?
Simon: I have a fairly broad interest in history, but the focus of this interest changes from time to time. When I was young (and started on TWotQ) I was fascinated by old Japanese culture, but nowadays my interest has shifted more towards the history and culture of the Roman Empire in late antiquity.
When I started TWotQ as a 13 year old, the means to inform myself about Japanese history were limited (I did not have access to the internet back then…), so I mainly used books found in my school library to get into the subject. Of course there are a lot of references to cultural features in the book that have their parallel in Japanese history, but anyone who expects an accurate depiction of Japanese history will be disappointed. So I would describe TWotQ as an alternative fantasy version of Japan, just to avoid any misunderstanding.
Tell us something about the style of play, game system and fighting mechanics in TWotQ. Is it similar in style or structure to any other gamebook or series?
Simon: Compared with the old gamebook series that inspired me to start writing (Fighting Fantasy, Fabled Lands) the system of TWotQ is a bit more complex. Nevertheless, the rules are not very difficult. The player needs just one six-sided die, as well as a pencil and a copy of the character sheets found in the book’s appendix. The fact that the rules section is split into two parts (basic and advanced rules) enables the player to start the adventure without spending a lot of time studying rules.
There are rules for melee combat, spellcasting and ranged combat. The game also has a very basic skill system, including crafting skills (like alchemy, smithing, etc). The player will earn experience points for completed quests and defeated enemies: these can be used to acquire new skills, but you will firstly have to find a master who is willing to teach them.
David, your online portfolio of illustrations (view here at DeviantArt) shows that you enjoy drawing fantastic creatures. Had you ever drawn a quail before completing the images for the book, and how easy was it to portray them in ink?
David: No, I had never previously drawn a quail. When Simon asked me to do the book’s cover he showed me his illustrations and I tried to draw the quail in a similar style so that my cover harmonised with his interior drawings. I didn’t look at any photos of a real quail while I was doing that, as I thought it would interfere with my attempt to mimic Simon’s interpretation of a quail. It wasn’t that difficult to draw the quail, but the REAL challenge was to transform the Samurai Armour to quail size. I spent many hours until I was satisfied with the result.
Anthropomorphic animals aren’t usually seen in interactive fiction. Are there any specific quail-like characteristics or behaviours to be found in these characters, and does their inclusion influence events in a way that is obviously non-human?
Simon: Since the quails are unable to fly, their behaviour does not differ too much from humans. They also use all of the technology that was known in feudal Japan. The most significant difference the player will experience is the fact that his enemies are other smaller-sized animals like bugs, snakes, rats and salamanders.
David: Actually, there are not so many quail-like characteristics. Some readers were complaining that the story could easily be transferred to any other animal, even humans, just by changing a few terms (using ‘arm’ instead of ‘wing’, for example). In some ways they are right, and I had similar feelings when I first read the book. But as long as this is an alternative version of ancient Japan, using animals as protagonists can soften this ‘historical incorrectness’. It makes it clear that everything is just fantasy. And in my opinion, quails are overlooked and underrated animals and deserve more attention. Stronger and bigger animals (tigers, bears etc) would have been just plain boring.
Some of the illustrations depict violence and a loss of blood. Does the book feature much mature violence, and will the player regularly inflict this upon others?
Simon: Like most fantasy gamebooks that I know of, fighting is indeed an important aspect of TWotQ, but is far from the main focus of the book. Some combats are unavoidable and will have to be faced, while others can be avoided. As for the violence level: most of the battle scenes are dice-based, round combats, and in most of these cases the text doesn’t give too much flavour regarding the course of the combat. But since there are indeed a few passages that might not be appropriate for smaller children, as well as illustrations that show battles, I would not recommend the book for readers under 12 years. That being said, I think that readers should be above 12 anyway to get a proper understanding of the rules, so the ‘violence level’ corresponds to the complexity of the game system. All in all I don’t consider the book to be glorifying violence. Actually, morally questionable choices (like attacking innocents) will also have negative consequences for the player in most cases.
David, you inked Simon’s original drawings for the book. Have you ever completed images that way before, and how do both of you view the final results of this unique partnership?
David: No, this was the first time that I’d reworked someone else’s drawings. I know it’s common in the comic business to have one person just for the inking and another for the colours, the lettering and so on, but I always found it strange to split the work. I’m an idealist, so I think the original creator should do everything. It felt strange to ink Simon’s drawings at the beginning, but I got used to it during the process.
Simon’s original drawings are done in pencil and look lovely. However, they are very small (10 x 10 cm) and they looked fuzzy in the first print run. So I scaled them up to A4 and then transferred them to bristol board with a light table. I used Rotring Isographs and Copic Multiliners for the inking. I also completed some minor corrections, and sometimes expanded them so that every drawing has the same width and a rectangular shape. This also gave me the opportunity to add some new details, which was a lot of fun, however, my main goal was to keep the character of Simon’s original drawings and give them a clear, sharp look.
We are both happy with the result, but sometimes Simon’s small drawings lead to misinterpretation on my side. Most notable: the ambush scene. I didn’t get it that the guard is pissing into the plants (but it was clearly described in the paragraph…). I thought: ‘This leaf looks like a stream of piss’ and changed it to a normal-looking leaf. Simon’s subsequent reaction was: ‘His stream of piss looks like a leaf’. So I had to digitally change the leaf back into piss. But it was funny anyway.
For anyone interested in viewing a comparison of Simon’s pencil drawings and my inked versions, follow this link to the downloadable PDF at the bottom of the page.
It’s stated on your website that you’re very keen to have the book translated, but that you need someone with the necessary skills to assist with that task. Are you hopeful that a willing volunteer will be found and that an English-speaking audience will eventually enjoy your gamebook?
David: I’m sure that everybody who enjoyed the Fabled Lands series, and likes an open-world setting (plus an epic main quest), will also love TWotQ. The English-speaking gamebook community is much bigger than the German one, so we could reach a lot more readers with a translation. In fact we are still searching for a publisher. If it gets published here in Germany and sells well, the publisher might pay for a translation. Fortunately, the popularity of gamebooks has grown (again) in recent years – even here in Germany. But gamebooks are still a niche market, so it’s not that easy to find a publisher.
In case we don’t find a publisher, we would be very glad if a gamebook enthusiast would voluntarily translate it into English. As long as TWotQ remains purely as a leisure project, we can’t offer any money, but imagine how much fun it would be to work with gamebook friends from another country, and then learn some new aspects of this genre. And if you want to gain some skills and reputation as a translator… well, this book could be the right thing for you!
A crowdfunding campaign might be a solution as well, but I’m a bit wary of this method. I took part in a few campaigns that didn’t run so well – or ended in chaos. The main reasons for their failure were unexpected costs or rewards that were simply too expensive. Plus, keeping in contact with all of your supporters, and answering their many questions, is a full-time job as well. However, if anyone reading this has experience with crowdfunding and is interested in helping us on that point, you are very welcome to get in touch!
Simon: Like David said, we know that it won’t be easy to find someone to translate a gamebook as big as TWotQ for free, but we won’t lose hope. In fact, we’ve even got a Bulgarian translator that spontaneously asked us if he was allowed to translate the book into the Bulgarian language. Since the gamebook fan base in Bulgaria is not nearly as big as that of the English-speaking world, I don’t think our desire to find someone offering an English translation is too enthusiastic.
And finally, what’s easier: writing about, or drawing quails?
Simon: As strange as most people may find a gamebook about samurai-quails, writing the book did not feel strange to me at all – at least at first! As I’ve already mentioned, I started writing the book when I was a kid myself. When I became a young adult, I no longer saw samurai quails as being particularly cool, so I stopped the (nearly finished!) project for approximately 6 years. It was David that motivated me to finish the book when we met during my studies in Marburg. I asked him to do the cover artwork while I redid all the interior illustrations (the original quails I drew as a teenager were not appropriate for an official release). As already mentioned, David then improved those for the second edition of the print release.
David: I didn’t contribute anything to the story, but I always asked myself how quails could use tools and weapons with their wings. At times I found it difficult to make this look credible.
A mini Promo-Adventure in English (shown above, right) is available for FREE download here, telling the backstory behind the main plot with a simplified version of the rules. Also, the German edition is available here for FREE download as a PDF, from where you can also purchase a signed softcover with additional extras.
The Way of the Quail is a project that deserves wider recognition from the gamebook community, particularly those living outside its home country. With its unique anthropomorphic characters, historical setting and considerable gameplay, TWotQ offers interactive fiction fans an experience of rich fantasy and immersive world-building like no other. GBN hopes to see a full English translation available one day soon!
Thanks to Simon and David for taking the time to answer our questions, especially due to the difficulties of replying in English. Vielen Dank!