Castle of the Red Prince

by C.E.J. Pacian profile

Fantasy
2013

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting gameplay idea that could have carried a larger game, May 1, 2016
by Rollersnake (Rogers, AR)

For once I wish the author HAD made a longwinded classic-style quest. Castle of the Red Prince provides a good setup for one, a GREAT navigation gimmick, and then barely enough content to illustrate the potential of the gimmick.

As for what's there, my only problem is the same syntax issue with the foundation puzzle that another reviewer commented on. I just really wanted to spend more time playing around with the cool idea the author had.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An odd, short horror/fantasy game where all locations are present at once, February 3, 2016

This game is intended for beginners, and seems almost like a demo of a new system, but only in the way that Galatea was the demo for a new system (I.e. It is still well-polished).

The new system is interesting. You can instantly return to any of the dozen or so locations by typing X [LOCATION]. You can talk to anyone, anywhere, or take any item, without traveling there first.

The plot itself is just vaguely sketched out. There are hints about who you are, some big hints about the red prince, very little history. The game is short.

Basically, you are an adventurer and scholar who is trying to stop the Red Prince who lives in a castle above a village.

Overall, though, it was a fun experience, and a nice change from Lovecraftian horror.


5 of 5 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.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Shade Movement in a Different Direction, January 13, 2015
by Harry Coburn (Atlanta, GA)

I just played this after finishing off Andrew Plotkin's Shade. In most IF, the basic navigational unit is the room. In Castle of the Red Prince and Shade it is the object. The movement system in both games have some similarities. In Castle, players move about a wide spatial area by examining objects. Standard movement functions don't work. This lets the player leap about the game space easily. You can find an object and immediately use it if you can remember the noun you need.

In Shade, the feel is far more claustrophobic, but it has a similar movement structure. Movement within the nooks of the apartment is also done by examining them. Items in the nooks can get examined directly upon discovery after they've been viewed once.

This type of navigation works well for very small IF games. Disambiguation errors would grow rapidly without careful crafting otherwise. Castle does it well, but I also feel that the story could have been stronger without sacrificing the navigation, as noted in other reviews.


5 of 5 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.


1 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Quick Little Story, January 3, 2015
by Chai Hai (Kansas City KS)

This story isn't bad, it's just weird to have the settings on god-mode.

You can access any part of the map no matter where you are, which is different, but doesn't really make much sense. Instead of a linear path of going from a to b and if and only if b then c, as long as you know that c exists you can get there from q.

I don't know, it wasn't bad, just felt awkward.

Also, the plot was lacking. Very dry story with obvious plot, no character development or anything at all. Just that you must kill this prince. Needs more meat.


0 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
This game was annoying, September 5, 2014
by Daemon Pyrate ( Optional. For example, "San Diego, California," "Barcelona, Spain")

One room. Little description. Kinda reminded me of a story written on a napkin.


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Wonderful - Must Play if you write IF, July 28, 2013
by Hanon Ondricek (United States)

Castle of the Red Prince is a short puzzle-box game. Your goal is to kill the Red Prince. He knows you have studied the arcane arts, but he's not particularly worried about your ability. Your ability is that you don't have to trudge N, S, E, W, U, DOWN. The player simply imagines where they want to go (by examining a location you can see or know about) and -zap= there you are. The entire game world is in scope for you to discover and peel away.

It's a very simple, not particularly complicated plot, but this game mechanic places your focus on examining everything. The prose is simple, direct, and well-written without florid verbosity. This gives CASTLE OF THE RED PRINCE's player and PC a refreshingly objective perspective on the actual goings-on. Who cares about directions when you needn't even bother with walls? You can go right to the Red Prince and stab him in the face. It won't work...but that's the game.

I find myself sometimes with very little patience for some IF. This one was direct enough to grab and hold me to completion. I did cheat by sleeping a lot, which essentially hands you as many next steps as you need to get you back on the right path. It took me about a half an hour, but it can be played longer (perhaps like a crossword puzzle for very experienced if-readers) if you avoid sleeping and figure it all out yourself.

I encountered only one place where I struggled with the parser and implementation: (Spoiler - click to show)In my dream I knew I had to place dynamite in the cave at the castle's weak foundation point. I was skimming the list of steps provided in the dreams perfunctorily, and I spent a while trying to PUT DYNAMITE ON FOUNDATION. The foundation is a container, not a supporter. True, the hint steps spelled this out, but I thought "on" was reasonable for placing dynamite on what I pictured as a timber beam.

Yes, it's short and yes, it has all kinds of potential in a larger game. I could see this approach being taken to tell an epic with the breadth of ZORK or STAR WARS or A GAME OF THRONES within the manageable size of a Infocom-ish length work.


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.


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Amaranthan dream, March 20, 2013
by Edward Lacey (Oxford, England)

In C.E.J. Pacian's Castle of the Red Prince, a student of "the arcane" suffers from nightmares about the land of Amaranth and its tyrannical Red Prince, and sets out to end the Prince's oppression by killing him. It's unclear whether the whole game takes place in a dream, but there is something dreamlike about the setting – broadly fantasy, but with horror-like features common even outside the Prince's territory, and occasional intrusions from modern technology and real-world place names. Dreaming is also something of a theme, especially in an ingenious hint system that allows you to SLEEP and watch "your dream self" carrying out actions you can try after awakening.

The game's main innovation is its novel approach to location modelling. The world is still divided into locations (at least from the player's perspective – I can't comment on the programming), but all characters and objects that the player has discovered is in scope simultaneously. There's no compass, and no need to use movement commands in exploration; ENTER INN is equivalent to EXAMINE INN. Pacian appears to have avoided disambiguation problems by ensuring no two objects share a name, and it's impressive that this never leads to the prose becoming unnatural or obvious synonyms going unrecognised by the parser.

I think the experiment succeeds in at least two ways. First, it suggests that the protagonist's movements are extraneous to the real activity in much parser-based IF. (Several times in Castle I discovered an item and realised it could be used to solve a problem in a location I'd already visited; the fact that I could just use the item without retracing my steps brought my interaction with the program much closer to the process of solving the problem mentally.) Secondly, it demonstrates that making all of game-space available for interaction conflicts with the player's expectations about game-time. The time of day appears in the title bar and advances every two actions, regardless of how much movement those actions would realistically require from the protagonist. The effect works here because it's suggestive of the sudden changes of place we experience in dreams, but a naturalistic game with an internal clock couldn't follow the same approach.

Castle seems to me less successful as a game than as an experiment. It's short (it would probably have 15-20 rooms if implemented conventionally, but most are empty or contain one thing of importance), and the combination of brevity and eccentricity of setting kept me from feeling immersed. Puzzles tend to adhere to well-worn IF tropes ((Spoiler - click to show)lighting a dark area, attacking an enemy with the appropriate weapon), perhaps as a way of suggesting that the game's approach to location-modelling is applicable outside experimental works. I didn't find the Red Prince a dramatically effective antagonist, with his lack of concern at the protagonist's attempts to defeat him. He isn't even responsible for either of the two losing endings that I found.

Despite the monsters I encountered, my journey to Amaranth was more like a brief dream than a nightmare that would haunt me for days. However, a dream can be memorable for one unusual element, and Castle's success in dispensing with the usual IF approach to location is easily enough to make it worth playing.



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