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Castle of the Red Prince

by C.E.J. Pacian profile


Web Site

(based on 53 ratings)
10 reviews

About the Story

Welcome to Amaranth, foreigner. The Red Prince haunts your dreams, you say? If you want to overthrow our tyrant, you’ll need to consider this whole blighted land at once.

(Castle of the Red Prince is a small text adventure with a different perspective on how locations can work in a parser game.)

Game Details


Nominee, Best Use of Innovation - 2013 XYZZY Awards

Editorial Reviews

Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling
The whole game... feels a bit gauzy and distant, reminiscent of Ebb and Flow of the Tide or The Guardian. There’s something intriguing and pleasurable about it, and I enjoyed seeing the experiment in IF world model, but it wasn’t a very intense or compelling experience. I am likely to remember Pacian’s other work longer.
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The game compresses space and time. It makes sure only the important plot points are left in the story, cutting out all the extraneous fat. In this way, Castle of the Red Prince offers a more cinematic game experience with only text than most AAA blockbusters.
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Old Games Italia
Altri giochi dopo Castle of the Red Prince ne hanno ripreso la tecnica delle descrizioni telescopiche, portandola in altre direzioni, però qui la vediamo implementata su un gameplay classico. E la cosa funziona molto bene, perché semplifica l'approccio al gioco e la curva di apprendimento. Al tempo stesso incide anche sull'atmosfera: eliminando i riferimenti spaziali, cambia il nostro modo di visualizzare le scene e dona al ricordo del gioco un tocco piacevolmente onirico.
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Radiator Design Blog
The mechanism in Castle of the Red Prince is this: to navigate, you don't type "north" or "south" or "w" or "e" as in most interactive fiction games. Instead, you just focalize on something -- you "x" or "examine" it. The result is a dreamlike movement as you fly around a space, the IF-equivalent of noclip mode.
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Rock, Paper, Shotgun
After two years CEJ Pacian (author of Gun Mute and Rogue of the Multiverse, if you follow parser stuff) quietly releases another perfect little piece that pushes intfic forward. What to praise? The hint system that works while you sleep? The hidden interactions? How about the dreamlike approach to movement.
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Member Reviews

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Number of Reviews: 10
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Intriguing gameplay and an undercooked story, July 15, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: C. E. J. Pacian

Play it if: you want a short, sweet game with a smoothly-implemented gameplay gimmick.

Don't play it if: you prefer gameplay to be accompanied by a fleshed-out story, because in narrative terms this does feel a bit incomplete.

The most memorable aspect of this game is immediately noticeable: verbs of movement are discarded in favor of an alternative mode of transportation, and EXAMINING a place is what takes you to it. What impresses me more than the coding (not that I'm a wizard, but I can make a couple of guesses at how it was done) is the manipulation of English in order to make the effect seamless.

A common flaw in descriptive writing is the provision of information that confounds the mind's natural means of acquiring that information. For instance, in an oft-quoted sequence from the novel Bronwyn: Silk and Steel, the observing character is implied to be standing some distance from the lady he is observing. But then:

"Her face had the fragrance of a gibbous moon."

The reader is confused on two counts: first, the assertion that the moon has a fragrance (which given that's located in space, is impossible); and second, that the observing character can smell her face - specifically - from more than arm's length. In Silk and Steel, this is just poor writing. In Castle of the Red Prince, though, it's twisted into a means of travel. Essentially, examining locations from a distance will often bridge the spatial gap by simply beginning to provide information that would be unavailable from your original location. Coding aside, it's a fascinating linguistic trick.

(I should mention that this gimmick plays havoc with your ability to appreciate the relative locations of things, but given the small size of this world it's not really a major drawback.)

What's also interesting about this device is that it's left ambiguous to what degree this travel is simply a novel description of normal movement, and to what degree it's a form of sorcery available to the player character. This also leads into a minor disappointment I experienced: the player character has a sort of ambiguity which is suggestive of depth, but that depth is never really exploited. I mean, in theory the PC's dreams are being haunted by this Red Prince, but it's not used for much more than a basic motivator to tell the player what they're doing in the game. The Red Prince's rather blase attitude to your machinations, couple with the contents of a certain book, made me think that the PC was the Red Prince's son, or that the Red Prince had some sort of personal role in the PC's dreams and backstory. None of this appeared to be true, which is a bit of a shame.

The point is not to judge Castle by the arbitrary standards of my personal imaginary alternate universe for this game, but to point out that this game ignited my curiosity in a way it wasn't prepared to engage. In fact, the story itself is not particularly engaging, lacking much in the way of twists. The titular antagonist knows what you're doing from quite early on, but he'll be damned if he expends any energy on trying to actually stop you - and speaking here as a reader rather than a game-player, seeing that sort of thing feels like it's the story itself expressing this attitude to me (though I'm hardly going to go about accusing the author of laziness). Victor Gjisbers's The Baron might have been fairly unremarkable gameplay-wise but it made better use of a similar sort of premise.

On the whole, then, I have to agree with previous comments that this is a better experiment than a game. It's not that it's a bad game, it's just that what actually happens in it is barely enough to fill a two-page short story.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Bite-sized Gothic gem, October 11, 2015

Other reviewers have already gone into detail about the novel controls, so I will pass on that part. However, even without the mechanical inventiveness, this would still be worth playing.

The world of Amaranth has a unique, dreamy ambience. Despite its small size, there is enough detail (for example, the books) that it doesn't feel sparse. The responses to entering the (unnecessary) compass directions are an excellent touch.

The writing is very good - it falls into slight cliché once or twice, but it's clear and often very vivid. While I agree with other reviewers that the Red Prince does come off as a bit too passive, he is a memorable antagonist.

While the horror element is unlikely to keep you awake at night, the game does a good job at being eerie while staying away from cheap tricks: there is very little violence, little squickiness (apart from the undead guards), no unfair deaths. I enjoyed some of the dreamlike and unnerving images, such as (Spoiler - click to show)the horned skeleton at the shrine in the forest.

However, as the above paragraph shows, one could argue that the protagonist is a bit too safe in what should be a game about battling a powerful nemesis. The downside to the unique control system is a sense of alienation: we view this world top-down, like an intensely detailed model village. The PC can go pretty much anywhere: movement is carried out by the verb EXAMINE. At first, after the intro text's mention of dreams, I assumed that the game was meant to take place inside the PC's dreams, explaining the alien ambience that stems from the controls, but since you can go to sleep and dream in Amaranth (activating a clever, well-written hint system), that doesn't seem to be the case.

The puzzles are mostly simple and well-worn, in contrast with the innovations in other aspects. This isn't a problem for me (I'd rather play a game with conventional-but-logical puzzles than one that forces in the puzzles), but neither is it an advantage. However, one puzzle I did find original was (Spoiler - click to show)how you dispose of the Red Prince's body.

Castle of the Red Prince is a delicate, gem-like petit-four rather than a full meal. Highly recommended if you feel like playing a Gothic fantasy game that is a small time investment and unnerving rather than gruesome, as well as mechanically innovative.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Perfect pulp fantasy, January 12, 2015
by CMG (NYC)

This is a game that you pop in your mouth and let melt like a chocolate bonbon.

It is short. It is simple. It is seamless.

The premise is not revolutionary. You have come to a forested land to overthrow an evil prince who lives inside a castle on a cliff. There is a haunted graveyard. There is a village inn. The barkeep has gossip and ale to dispense.

These are all staples in the fantasy genre. This game reminds you why. Here, they have been pared down to achieve purity. And by allowing the player to travel anywhere spontaneously just by "examining" an object or location, the game streamlines the story, letting it slip down so smoothly that it's delicious.

If you want complex puzzles, or difficult moral choices interwoven into the gameplay, or deep characterization, then this game will no doubt disappoint. But if you want a classic fantasy scenario executed superbly, look no further.

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