Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Re-discovering the Lost Crown


The Lost Crown - A Ghost-Hunting Adventure is getting an official re-release this week, launching on the popular game downloads service 'STEAM'. I'm a big STEAM user, I have been for years, so I am quietly thrilled that the game is finally making its way to that hallowed portal. To make the re-release special, I went back to the game files, and tweaked a few things…

*not really


Don't worry, Crown fans, there's no over the top 'Lucas' style rehashing. The game is almost exactly the same, except for some minor but significant changes. So, without further a do, I shall list the alterations as comprehensively as possible. I know there are some serious Crown completionists out there, so I'm hoping to cover everything… no matter how small.

New cover art for The Lost Crown


Artwork - The Lost Crown has had three different covers to date, none of which have really captured the feel of the game. So, this time round, both myself and Iceberg [Interactive] felt we could create something new. We all wanted to see Nigel, the protagonist (hero!) on the cover, as well as bring across the atmosphere and haunting quality. 

Above is my mock up, from a month ago, which was a quick montage of elements I wanted to see. Next to it is the final artwork, ready to be broken up into various mini-graphics for use on STEAM, promotional materials and (maybe) the next box version.

Original mock up by Jonathan Boakes.

The artwork captures a 'spooky moment' in the landscape around Saxton. The birds are startled from the reeds, as Nigel swings round to see what is causing the disturbance. The ghostly pines of the Carrion Woods can be seen, through the mists. Inside the miasma, a broken doll face glares at us, with one intense 'nite-vision' eye. Who is watching who? Crown and Dark Fall fans will know that I've got a bit of a 'creepy doll' fixation. Goodness knows where that comes from, as my sister was never really a fan either! We subjected poor Cindy to all sorts of terrible experiments, as kids. She never recovered from the fire… but, I digress…


Artwork for the new The Lost Crown release.


A new title/logo has also been created, which will help gel the Crown series together. This is particularly useful, as the Crown games are looking to have a strong presence this year. After a few stops and starts, it's full Steam ahead.

Menu - A few changes here, all for the better. A silhouette outline of Saxton has been added to the view. It was a rather dull, flat landscape before, in keeping with the Anglian landscape, but it looked wrong.

Saxton makes an appearance...

Also making an early appearance is the frightful figure of an Ager brother. I always intended for a figure to come and go from the piney hillside, so it's good to see him finally get his scythe out. He's a random event, so you never know where he'll be, if at all.

A dark figure, hides within the Carrion Woods.


SAVES SAVES SAVES!!!!!!

The Lost Crown is a LONG game, certainly by adventure standards, so I was an idiot to only include 8 save slots. Idiotic!! When I replayed the game, last year, I resorted to backing up the save folder, so I'd have access to all the areas, presented over the fictional four days I'd spent in Saxton. But, it was a nerdy way to solve the issue, and not everyone would know how to do it. So, unlimited saves have been implemented.

Unlimited save slots! Whoo hoo!

Titles - I like the Lost Crown titles, there's something peculiar about them. But, the crow sequence was always a problem for me. Too static, not enough interest. Originally, I had intended to film my hands forming the shape of a bird, like the shadow puppeteers. But, again, time ran out, so I used static crow cut outs. The new sequence shows the same old crows, but they're in a flap about something. Esoteric art, which centres the image, pre-echoes the tasks that lay ahead, especially the Wiccan lore and nocturnal puzzles at Northfield Church.

The crows of Carrion Woods.

The other changes, to the titles, are:

The word 'Evidence' has been added to the cassette tape. It helps bring across that the game is about harvesting paranormal data.

The steam train was also tweaked. The steam now follows the train, much more closely. A minor thing, yes, but it's something a few people pointed out.

After the train arrives, Lucy Reubans is seen briefly, making her way into the Fens. We do follow her, after all, so her presence is a good one.

Tutorial - The game begins with a brief tutorial. It does not drag on, as tutorials can pull you out of the fiction, sometimes, especially if they continue to appear hours after starting play. So, instead, the basic are covered here, in the first scene.

HURRY UP!!!!

 

Double Clicking - This is something I believe some may have missed, up until now. Pretty much all locations can be traversed by double clicking, rather than single clicking to leave a scene. Basically, the scene changes straight away, rather than having to wait for Nigel to walk the distance. He walks quite slowly, so the double-click is very useful.

Learning how to walk.... FAST!

There are occasional moments when the double-click is in-active. This is usually because something important happens on the transition, or Nigel has some useful information to share, but by and large, the double click is there to speed your progress.

SHUT UP!!!!!

 

The other BIG significant change to gameplay is the ability to skip dialogs. Yup, at last, you can interrupt the characters mid-flow. I always wanted avoid repetitious dialogs, by showing what had been selected, and what hadn't. But, sadly, the game engine did not support that feature, or I didn't know how to implement it. So, instead of being sensible, I chose to imagine most adventure gamers were savvy enough to remember what had been asked. When I came to re-play the game I realised that it was a mistake. Unless you're really fastidious and click ALL questions, top to bottom, there was always the chance you'd miss a question, or worse, ask the same questions over and over. I can imagine that it was very frustrating (and annoying) to hear the same lines, especially when some conversations are very long. So, that was something we were very keen to fix. And it is done.

Puzzles -

There have been changes to a couple of the puzzles, too. Nothing destructive, just tweaks to make the game more fluid and enjoyable.

DANGER!!

You no longer have to fix the Undercurrents sign upon arrival. The pieces are there to find over the course of the game. Once complete, there is a suggestion (atmospherically) that deeper forces are at work in Saxton.

 
Impossible Evidence.

A Crown fan recently informed me that it is impossible to gather ALL of the ghost-hunting photos, which came as a big surprise (Thanks Pete!). Originally, there were three photos of Nigel's bed, captured by the digicam as he slept. This was because, originally, Nigel had the camera from day one. Later, I changed the plot to have gadgets arrive after Nigel had settled (Day 2). This meant you could never get the third pic! Annoying the completionists no end! I'm the sort of gamer that loves to collect all the extras and find all the secret areas in games (I got 100% in the recent Tombraider, no easy task), and often prefer those gameplay elements to the actual 'action'. So, I would have been gutted to be left with a glaring empty space where an important paranormal find should have been. So, I am pleased that 'something' now fills that space. It's a piece of evidence from somewhere in Harbour Cottage… something that helps illustrate the buildings past life.

Win or lose, it's up to you.

This photo does not affect Saxton Snappers. I recently asked Facebook TLC friends whether they won or lost the Rhys Branwen photo competition, which presented some interesting feedback. There are some that say that it was impossible to win the competition, while others swore that it was impossible NOT to. The fact is, any photo that is not paranormal evidence can be submitted to the competition, if you have taken it. There are a few low scorers, and some high scorers. Off the top of my head, I know that the once only opportunity to photograph Mr.Tibbs in the graveyard is a big winner. It's the judges cat, after all! Also, the Natterjack Toad and the heron are good scorers.


A prize winning snap for sure!

Nigel - The star of this very peculiar show has also had a few tweaks. He no longer stares fully ahead when walking. It sounds like a little thing, but I was surprised how silly it looked, when I replayed the game. He looked like he'd had a few too many coffees, if I'm honest. So, his eye lids have been relaxed and he now blinks when he walks! A tiny change, but all for the good. Other tweaks include timing his turns better (he juddered on 180's) and allowing him to continue his actions while secondary events play out, such as the dragonfly appearances.

Full STEAM Ahead

 

Re-releasing the game on STEAM presented a new opportunity, in the form of Trading Cards, Achievements and Community Badges. I had a lot of fun creating the assets, which are plentiful and comprehensive.

Achievements - A pleasantly 'mixed bag' of rewards has been created for STEAM users. Most are rewards for collecting non-essential items and performing less obvious actions. Here are a few examples -

From the obvious to the bonkers.

  • Hedge Wych
  • Swot
  • My Porcine Friend
  • Bookworm
  • Catwatcher
  • Retro Horror
  • Paparazzi
  • and more...

Trading Cards - I've only recently got into Trading Cards, after total ignorance of what they are. You collect them as you progress through the game, (as well as any other game on Steam with Trading Cards). You can either work to complete the set, which includes rare Silver Cards, or swap/trade with other STEAM users. I recently sold a silver card for a surprising amount, the money being added to my STEAM account. Not bad! A Silver 'Rusty Scissors' Trading card for Dark Fall - Lost Souls was up for sale, recently, for £15!!
Collect them all.

Community Avatars - Users can pick one of the Lost Crown characters as their community 'face'. They include the obvious, such as Nigel or Nanny Noah, but there are also a few weirdy, surreal ones, such as the lobster, Mr.Tibbs, or…. shiver… Jemima!!

She's back for more.

WRAP IT UP!!!!

 

So, overall, the new version of The Lost Crown is a better beast than it was. It was never perfect, and probably never will be, but it's been good to get in there and fix a few issues. Skipping dialogs, F1 to quit and unlimited saves are the most significant. The others are cosmetic, but also worthwhile.

Blackenrock is coming next, now that TLC1 has a shiny new presence in the world, so there's plenty to look forward to. Releasing the gameplay video and new screens has been very positive. It was hard to get back in the right mindset, for the Crown games, after a few experiments. At the end of the day, the games have a very distinctive feel, so it's good to be back in the right zone. Re-releasing The Lost Crown could not come at a better time.
Jonathan

P.s. While digging around in the old files, I found some bloopers that were quite amusing. I'll just leave them here…

I don't know what Nanny Noah feeds 'em, but they sure have grown big!



A little fuller of face than we are used to.


Scaling mistakes up at the little Lighthouse.

An unused scene with bizarro eyes!