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Multiplatform Review: House of Hell

Mark Webb
United States
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Name: House of Hell
Device: Android, iOS
Price: $5.99
Players: 1

Based on RPG Geek Entry: House of Hell
Author: Steve Jackson
Developer: Tin Man Games

iOS App Store:

Google Play Store:

Amazon App Store:

Nook Store:

From gallery of wwwebb
Since the release of the app House of Hell, mentioned previously in this post by David Neumann, I was able to spend some quality time with this app. For those of you not familiar with House of Hell, it was originally a book which was part of the Fighting Fantasy book series. It is not just an ordinary story, but similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure books where the reader can send the paths of the story in different directions because they are presented with choices and turn to the page that continues that choice. For example:

It is a cold winter's night and you have settled down to watch some hockey and browse Board Game Geek when you hear a knock at the door. A shadowy figure with an strange tablet in his withered hands offers it towards you.

Do you take the device from him? If so turn to page 106.
If you tell him to go away saying you would rather watch hockey, turn to page 66.

In addition to the standard Choose Your Own Adventure style branching, there are some branches that require you to roll dice to choose a path for you. At the beginning of the book, you roll dice and establish your character's traits of Skill, Stamina, Luck and Fear. Later at some of the branching points, you are then prompted to roll dice to decide your fate ranging from a simple skill check to an ongoing combat against a foe. Once all the dice rolling is completed, then the story branches based on if you were successful or not.

You tell the figure you would rather watch hockey, and he becomes angry and lunges toward you with a dagger in his other hand.

Both your Attack Power and his are Skill+2D6. Each loss loses 1 Stamina.

If you are killed, turn to Page 34.
If you defeat the man turn to Page 87.

Ok, I am no Steve Jackson, but I wanted to convey how the book worked before delving into how the app stacks up. From the moment you launch the app, it is setting the stage with an opening animation complete with lightning strikes, illustrations from the original book colorized to make them pop, and suspenseful music as the credits are presented. This opening animation is not played on subsequent plays unless you want it to. The main screen of the app, is the same picture as the cover of the book, and has buttons for options, which I will explain later and a button just to start playing.

Playing the adventure, you are first asked if you want Hardcore, Medium, or Free Read Modes. Hardcore is exactly like the printed version. In Medium mode the initial die roll calculations when setting up your character are changed to give you beefier stats to start your adventure. Free play mode admits that even with the original book, you had those that would lose, and then say, "I can just back up to the last choice, and take the other option". Free play mode establishes the die rolls similar to Hardcore mode, but then gives the reader three buttons to allow them to change the action. The Heal Me option would revitalize the Stamina of the character. The Free choice button opens up the places where you roll dice to allow the reader to chose the win or lose of the roll without the dice. The third button is the Go Back button, which allows the reader to go back before the last branch of the story. In the other modes, the reader can left or right swipe back and forth to turn pages, similar to other touch screen ebook reader apps. But because of the choices, it doesn't let you go backwards before the first page of your current choice. The Go Back button overrides that and will take you back to the previous choice.

Reading the book, is like I had said earlier, similar to other e-reader apps, with a swipe from right to left to advance the page. Settings in the app also allow you to change the size and font of the text. Beside the content of the text, the mood is also carried with the background music and sound effects. You can turn both off in the settings. The music itself is not overly annoying, or harsh, but instead a lightly creepy melody, in my opinion similar to the background music from the 7th Guest. Illustrations shown in the text can be clicked on to see the picture full sized. When the dice rolling for combat happens, up pops your character sheet to track the damage, as the dice are cast right on the screen. Win or loss results are tracked for you.

Overall, I think this app is nicely done. With all I have described so far, it probably would have made my opinion average at this point. But they went further... It has an achievements screen that you earn as you explore the text. That way even wrong turns are worth something, and if the correct solution is found, there is some additional replay if you want to explore the other possibilities. Similar to the achievements screen, there is also an art gallery that shows the illustrations you have passed so far in the story. Also included are a History of the Fighting Fantasy series, and Steve Jackson's back story about House of Hell. Lastly, there is a setting that just seems to tickle a nostalgic spot within me, to turn on the Retro Look. This turns the colored illustrations back to the original line drawings, and displays the text on a different background to make it look as if you are flipping the yellowed pages of a well worn paperback.
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The Good:
There is a lot of good points in this app In portrait orientation, the app looks great, and has no noticeable problems in its workings. The extras, like the achievements, art gallery, background material, and the retro look, are features that the developer didn't have to do, but went that extra mile.

The Bad:
While I do think very highly of this app, it is not perfect. After seeing some of the screenshots of the iPad version in the David Neumann's news article, showing a two page landscape orientation, I also tried that on the Android version. While it does show that similar orientation and the text and illustrations look ok, the background looks very pixelated. It also has some strange pink artifact when changing pages that is not present in a portrait orientation. While I know there will be differences between platforms, this does not look intentional, instead something that needs fixed.
From gallery of Neumannium
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The theme of this app/book is a suspense/horror theme, not overly graphic in either the text or the illustration, but along the same detail as playing Arkham Horror or Betrayal at House on the Hill. If you don't care for that style, this might not be for you. Otherwise, if you are a fan of the Fighting Fantasy series, you should find that the developers did not give this title short shrift. Personally, I really liked this app. Both from a look and feel perspective, and for the abundance of features they included. I also enjoyed the gameplay, as I had the Choose Your Own Adventure books in my childhood, but I had not seen that combined with the RPG style dice rolling. Something definitely worth spending time with, and due to the achievements screen, that should allow some added replay than a Choose Your Own Adventure would not provide.


Please give your user rating for House of Hell.
      26 answers
Poll created by thequietpunk

Quick Note:
I do want to mention, if you also enjoyed this app, that Tin Man Games has other titles using a similar app system. They have already published another Fighting Fantasy book, Blood of the Zombies with more from that series on the way according to their blog. In addition, they have their own series of called Gamebook Adventures, which features eight other books, as well as some single titles. For example, there is a Judge Dredd title that uses this system.
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