Suggested By:sebastian sohn
The Fabled Lands "whichway" books were among the most sophisticated and interesting such books. A series of 12 was planned, of which only 6 were published, because by the time the first appeared, the bottom was already dropping out of that market.
Choose-your-own-ending, or whichway, or game books, were published in paperback form, and contained a rudimentary game system. Basic gameplay involved reading a paragraph of text, making a decision (or applying a game system to resolve a situation), and then turning to one section of text or another to determine the outcome. They were hugely popular in the early 90s, with the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks from Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson (UK, not TX) becoming huge international best-sellers, except in the US, where the Bantam Books Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series predominated.
From a technical design perspective, these books were directly related to videogames like Dragon's Lair, boardgames like Tales of the Arabian Nights, and soloplay tabletop roleplaying adventures. But the vast bulk of them were -- like Dragon's Lair -- jejune in the extreme. Branching texts either prune most branches awkwardly ("you die") to permit a single (or handful) of longer experiences, or else wind up as modestly replayable short adventures.
The Fabled Lands series borrowed from the tropes of the "paragraph system boardgame" (of which Tales of the Arabian Nights is the finest example), by turning the paragraph texts into short adventures that could be encountered in (almost) any order, and providing a game system beyond the rudimentary to handle aspects such as travel and trade. The virtue of this is to vastly increase replayability, extend play time, avoid the trap of explosive branching, and make the game itself far richer. The books suggest that the genre in which they were created could have eventually evolved into one worth something more than the recycling bin -- but of course, the market was already dying when they appeared.
The books themselves are available for free download, with the authors' permission, at the Yahoo group linked above -- which does mean you have to join the group to get access to its files area, but six free gamebooks is perhaps worth that irritation.
In addition, Jonathan Mann has created a Java app that uses the text and rules of the original gamebooks to recreate the experience in a digital context -- also linked above. So you can go that route if you prefer. As a "computer game," it's lacking lots of things -- graphics mostly. But in the absence of physical books to hold in your hand, perhaps it's the best available version at present, certainly superior to scrolling up and down a text file.
In any event, the series is worth checking out, for those interested in the intersection of games and storytelling -- and perhaps as a pointer to a path not taken.