"aye bete es cooming back and i jest know, alright? i jest know. there's certain signs yeh look fer when yeh in a place as empty as this is." - Parlay

The What

Clerks, it has been too long. The Black Crown Project launched May 2013. It went offline October 2014. In July 2017, its author, Rob Sherman released an extensive archive with a license permitting anyone the ability to make anything with it, and in 2018 updated that to include commercial work.

The Black Crown Project was a multimodal narrative horror game with themes of disease, work, anthropology, and obsession, to name a few. It was released on the StoryNexus platform: the same platform which inspired me to make GAM3, a browser-based game engine, in January 2013. StoryNexus wouldn't last much longer than Black Crown as a supported platform, and Failbetter (Fallen London, Sunless Sea) shifted their focus toward traditional games built in Unity.

I am Vael Victus of tinydark Studio. In November 2020, Failbetter was able to provide us with a JSON dump of the entire game. Being that my engine was initially inspired by SN, I have been able to import much of the data intact and with a little bit of novel code, have somewhat restored the experience. Right now it lives in the form of a clunkily traversable archive available here:

https://www.theorbium.com/blackcrown/

Please note The Orbium will be rebranded sometime in 2021. You will simply have a tinydark account. I'll fix the above link when that happens.

The How

Pulling in the storylets was certainly a trial, but things are stable and I'm generally happy with the import process. What remains is the storylet (in GAM3: "event") requirements and results. I could pull them in and start reconstructing the game, but the time isn't right and it isn't straightforward. More on that in the When section. For now, I would like to detail what I'd like to do with TBCP.

I'm happy to say the data is comprehensive enough that I can fully restore the game. In fact I can do better: a cursory probing suggests there were a few paths that may have been locked out due to bugs. I plan to restore the game and then improve it in the following ways:

  • Monetization. Black Crown launched with per-storylet premium currency unlocks which, to memory, could easily total $25 per character if all were taken. I estimate restoring the Project will require a further 200-250 hours of my time and I'm happy to do it for free. So.

    I'd like to provide all Nex-locked content for a flat fee of $10 for the account. This will modestly help offset hosting costs. Any previously locked storylet branch would simply be playable on any character, and the ones that cleared conditions would be put on cooldown (which are like ability cooldowns in any game). I plan to brand this as "buying the game", which additionally would bring with it unlimited character slots and a near-infinite boost to your action bank: such that you could play the game for very long sessions. Maybe other goodies like Discord roles.

  • Gameplay. The action system will be present because actions are important to our genre. However, as per tinydark design ethics, you will have a large bank of them, which should allow you to be away for 12 hours at a time before maxing out.

    Living Stories were events that fired on real-world time, but this made little sense in the context of Actions and were more a cheap way to pull the player back into the game. These events will now fire dependent on how many actions you've spent: every 50, The Manger may pop up. You may slightly heal every 80 actions.

    I don't remember digging to be a very engaging experience, so I'll see if there's any room for some risk-reward mechanics there.

  • Technology. GAM3 far exceeds SN's capabilities. Multiple character slots, better event (storylet) structure and flow, a more responsive UI, detailed character pages; these are just a few things Black Crown will be able to have built-in from the start.

    The structure of the game will change somewhat due to the way we handle events. We're able to have as many child events as we like. Clerks possessing an Alexandrian memory may remember the intro to the game asked some questions, and each time, you would answer, read, hit the continue button, and then load up the next one. Instead you'll answer, read, and immediately be presented the next one. It's also this improvement in structure that makes the Project a little more time-consuming to get just right.

  • Balance. Progress via the main qualities was mostly irrelevant, either because the challenges were too hard or easy for your level to matter in them. I'll be switching to the narrow difficulty scale for the main qualities. I'd like to invoke a small sense of character progression and the agency to strategically 'grind' the stats. (not simply by spending more actions)

  • App. We should have an app on the Android and Microsoft stores. Apple devices will be able to save the webpage as an app.

  • Some minor text edits. I may make the prose clearer where appropriate, but I won't risk corrupting (purifying) the soul of the game.

And Beyond?

What I've detailed above is what I consider the Story Mode of Black Crown. It can exist that way forever and I'd be happy to provide the game as a tinydark Studio offering. While I think I could eke out Shermanian prose if I stare at it long enough, I don't think it's right to add any new story paths to the base game. 

I may be interested in exploring the realm of multiplayer roleplay and survival within the world of Black Crown. This would be its own "game mode" and the prerequisite would be completion of Story Mode on a character, granting access to a Roleplay character. I've always been interested in reading players' personal trottering notes (interpretations of the miasmae) and GAM3 will easily be able to produce them as items by the time Black Crown would be released.

The When

I am aiming to re-release The Black Crown Project in October of 2022. I assume I'll release the app versions shortly after the web version is released.

The release is far away because my primary focus, once this very blog post is published, is on another game I'm developing. I can reasonably assume the bulk of its development will be done by Summer 2022, and I'll take a break to let things settle while developing Black Crown. Some other factors:

  • TBCP needs to resurrect some features from Olde GAM3, namely the pool ("deck") system and maybe the pyramid or 'triangle' leveling curve Fallen London is known for.
  • Housing the miasmae on their own page, preferably with trottering notes.
  • The time it will take to read through all of Rob Sherman's notes to better understand the game.
  • I think humanity is disease-fatigued right now and the whole three-feet-apart schtick may be a little out of season.

So yeah, get hyped. TBCP is coming back "forever." The best source of updates is our Discord: https://discord.gg/tjYTUGQ

May your inhalations be shallow and your exhalations be responsibly paced,
Vael Victus