As a demo version is now available of the game (see the Games page), I suppose it’s time to talk about how I handled the final pair of “Red Rooms”, or particularly problematic design elements I wanted to add. As this is the only entry on Red Rooms that I’ve written after I coded the rooms, this will be working from the different position of having actually completed the work. Spoiler alert: sometimes it’s not the parts you think that are hard that are actually hard.
Level 3: The Causeway
When I made the big list of Knightmare design elements that had to be incorporated into an homage like this, the Causeway is the one that absolutely everyone will remember, and it’s the one that more or less is best borrowed whole-cloth, because frankly there’s little way to improve on this:
Oh. Hell. Yes.
The Causeway was a bridge of hexagonal tiles stretched over a bottomless pit. As the Dungeoneer crossed the causeway, the tiles fell away. More importantly, there was always some sort of special combination to the tiles that they had to cross in a particular order, else end up in the pit. This order was either part of a puzzle (or example, one causeway just had a sign over it telling the watchers that “Defence” was superior to “Attack”, and they had to cross standing only on the tiles with shields on) or a pre-determined combination that they had to discover by other means. Sometimes there were added complications, like a timer that made a row of tiles fall whether they had been crossed or not, and of course there was the problem of actually steering the Dungeoneer on the correct path. Plus the noise was amazing.
I can’t replicate the sound or any of the movement puzzle aspects, but a Causeway of some sort is mandatory if you’re making a game comprised of the best bits of Knightmare, so one had to go in as the penultimate challenge before you face the Prince of Crows. It was going to be a simple matter of following the code, which you would have obtained in the Chasm earlier in the level. (Interestingly, as the ability to cross the causeway can’t be contingent on a variable in case the player is just making lucky guesses, this is the only blockage in your path you can retry after you die without going back to get the “key” on your current life.)
I had nightmares (pun not intended) about getting this one done. As you can see from the previous Red Room entry on the Chasm, you kind of have to brute-force all the available possibility space in Twine for a movement puzzle like this with independent moving parts. (You could probably do it with (display:) tags and lots of effort but that would probably be harder to debug in the end than just having a separate entry for each “You are on space X and your opponent is on space Y”, especially when the creature’s movement is completely linear.) The web of entries for all the moves the player could make over the causeway would be a pain to entangle.
Obviously I hadn’t thought this through properly, because the causeway puzzle has no possibility space. Even though it looks like it because of the shape of the board, you can only step onto one of two tiles at a given time; the right one and the wrong one. I never did have to write paths for if the player took a weird circular route around the causeway, because as soon as you step on the wrong tile, you’re in the pit and the attempt ends.
The Causeway puzzle itself is rather unimpressive in a technical sense, certainly immediately following the Chasm and the Lair, but a) it makes for a good release of tension for the player after those two awful rooms (if they have the code, the puzzle itself is harmless unless they click the wrong step) and b) the existence of the Causeway puzzle is kind of its own reward.
Level 3: The Raven Throne
The final confrontation with the Prince of Crows was a victim of my own performance anxiety. I was imagining that to do him justice, I had to create the epic confrontation for the ages. I was particularly thinking of the final battle with Balthus Dire in the early Fighting Fantasy book The Citadel of Chaos, which was this sprawling magical duel with a dark wizard you had spent the entire book pursuing, and thought that I had to come up with something similar. This is nonsense, of course, both narratively and from a production point of view. Narratively, the battle between the player and Balthus Dire is one of equals, wizard against wizard. Here, we’ve already made it clear that the Prince of Crows is a dark force beyond your ability to defeat alone (and indeed it takes dragon magic to finish him off). There is no room for a magical duel. Either you’ve got the right tool to defeat him or you haven’t… which is pretty appropriate to the source material.
As for the production, I realised that I was beating myself up too hard. This game was meant to be an amateur project, something to prove to myself that I could make things. I could go back and maybe put in a more interesting final confrontation later, but I would never even get an alpha build out of the door if I never actually wrote an ending (A Winner Is You notwithstanding). So instead of an extended battle of wits (which, let’s be honest, would be a pain if you died halfway through and had to go back to the start of the level), there’s a fairly simple rock-paper-scissors item test, and if you pass and you earned the dragon spell in the Lair, victory is yours. And mine, as it meant you could actually play the game all the way through.
The Raven Throne did actually provide another example of unforseen technical issues that more than filled up time saved in things that weren’t as hard as I thought they’d be. Specifically, I realised that it’s actually possible, although difficult, to get to this room and have it be the first time you “see” the Prince of Crows; neither of the places where you can scry on him earlier in the game are mandatory. As such I ended up separating the big lump of descriptive text about what the Prince and the Raven Throne look like out into a separate entry called with (display:) and putting in trackers so the game knew when you were first seeing the room. That way, the florid infodump only appears once.
(Incidentally, for those who are aware not only of Knightmare but contemporary British children’s TV, and have read the Prince’s description, yes, he is absolutely 100% based on Charn from Through the Dragon’s Eye. But I will say no more on this matter as I’m only aiming to traumatise you with one creepy old TV series at a time.)