Defender of Defender of the Crown? Well, A Bit…

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I’m not entirely sure why last year’s Defender of the Crown: Heroes Live Forever is going around the demo-sites again when its been out for over a year. But in the early morning time, I found myself oddly drawn to play it. I had one eye on the reviews last year, where everyone tore it apart. First one to turn up is Gamespot UK’s, which is characteristic in its laceration and its criticism. Which is primarily that it’s some manner of desecration of the past when their actual problem is that the past wasn’t that good to start with. After all, if it were any good, they wouldn’t mind just a minor aesthetic scrub-up. Defender of the Crown, like the vast majority of Cinemaware’s games, were deeply strange products of their time, constructed around ideas which are pretty much discredited now. And playing it… well, I think maybe that’s a shame.

I stress, Defender of the Crown isn’t very good. It’s pretty awful. It isn’t even very hard. It was always the Cinemaware game I barely played, and I just waltzed through to completion within the free hour play in the demo. Not that I was playing very well either – one of the AIs dominated the map, and just didn’t deliver the coup de grace to my castle, busying itself conquering the remains of the map. I managed to fluke a big enough army to take out their main castle and win. I don’t like the use of the word cheesy but… well, in this case, it’s exactly what it was.

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But there’s something to it, and has me thinking of something Paul Barlett tends to go off on one about – which, admittedly, doesn’t cut it down very much – to do with the nature of design. There’s things which are designed by programmers. Which, basically, he means board-game gonks, and that they’re all about things being elegantly balanced and… well, the dominant design philosophy of mainstream strategy games.

(And this makes me want to write the piece I had planned against Soren Johnson’s 7 RTS Design Sins piece from a few months back. Not that anything he says is wrong, except his absolutely basic conception of what a strategy game is and can be. Another time, yeah?)

Conversely, Defender of the Crown is just fucking barking. It’s a hybrid between a Risk-esque strategy game, with many of similar conventions – namely, you gain cards if you conquer a province in your turn which can boost your performance. Okay, it’s not really just Risk’s conventions, but there’s something a little like it.

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And on that basic structure, they pile on the subgames. They have the battle game, which is where you play the cards to boost whatever forces you’ve amassed. And there’s a siege castle golf-swing-esque game. And Archery ala rubbish freeware darts game. And a kind of rock-paper-scissors guessing game which takes the place of swordfighting in the princess rescuing/kidnapping (Oh yeah – keep princesses for some reason. Why? I haven’t a clue). Oh – and jousting. And perhaps another one I’ve forgotten. Add to this, you have the Templars helping out any Normans and Robin of Sherwood loaning troops to the Saxons and you end up with a game which doesn’t really know what it wants to be.

That’s cinemaware all over – the vast majority of their games had a melting pot approach, trying to use these subgames to imply a larger canvas which they weren’t able to simulate properly. And if you set out to make Defender of the Crown now… well, I suspect the designers would end up making something like a Total War game, which pretty much tries to simulate what it can as closely as it can and totally abstractise what it can’t (i.e. Spying, assassinations, etc). The strength of Defender of the Crown’s approach is in its silliness – it obeys and embraces the swashbuckling genre. Its choices why make it a worse strategy game in a pure sense add a lot of colour – that is, make it feel like an adventure. And while Defender of the Crown isn’t very good at all, I wonder what a game built around a similar theory would feel like today.

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I suspect the closest we have is King’s Bounty… though I also suspect Space Rangers 2 may be even closer.

How would you imagine a cinema-ware-esque game today? And, for that matter, any Cinemaware game you’d like to see in the modern landscape?

(Me? It Came From The Desert)

23 Comments

  1. mister slim says:

    That sort of manic use of subsystems and minigames is both what made Fable 2 interesting and what made the narrative of Fable 2 fall apart. After a certain amount of time the systems of the world diverge too far and the fiction can no longer keep the story coherent. It is kind of amusing when everyone loves you so much they can’t wait to show you how bad their pathfinding is.

  2. Jaz says:

    Bloody hell, I didn’t know Fable 2 was out!
    I just wanted to say, Kieron, that I read a review of yours when I was much younger, it was for Gamesmaster and some early resident evil game had come out. I can’t remember anything about it, except that it was hilarious. It signalled confirmation that games weren’t just stupid crap, and that it was possible to know things about them. Thanks!

  3. Greyface says:

    I think all games should have an exact copy of Fable’s Chicken Kickin’ competition. No matter what the genre is. No.Matter.What.

    Imagine the increase of interest in Rome – Total War if one of your wee Julii bastards could gain command stars by poultry abuse, or if your reincarnated Arab avatar in Assassin’s Creed could confound guards by foot-slinging Rhode Island Reds at them. Imagine, if you will, how brill it would be if your zombie foes in LFD:4 were violently allergic to chicken feathers and you couldn’t (of course!) drop your gun.

  4. RichPowers says:

    Thanks for reminding me about Space Ranger 2! My copy was Starforced — I tossed it before installing — and I never got around to playing it.

  5. sidereal says:

    wonder what a game built around a similar theory would feel like today.

    Like Sid Meier’s Pirates!?

  6. Drakkheim says:

    Ok, what am I missing with space ranger 2? I picked it up from stardock back when galciv2 came out and I’ve tried to get into it half a dozen times but I can never quite get there. It just seems like a bad Rts tossed on top of a turn based star control 2 with boring ships where you spend your time earning money to repair yourself…

    Yet everyone raves about how good it is.. What am I missing?

  7. Fedora.Pirate says:

    Game built out of other mini-games, meant to have an over arching story thing that just alls apart. How about Spore?

  8. Therlun says:

    Space Rangers is a terrible game.
    Completely broken mechanics and a mix of completely disconnected game parts glued to a boring, buggy, badly designed main game… which is about what you described in this article, heh.
    You didnt seem to come to that conclusion when you reviewed the abomination that is Space Rangers though.
    I wish I could understand what people see in SR2.

  9. Dinger says:

    The answer to your first question: Spore.

  10. Rob says:

    @Therlun

    Completely broken mechanics and a mix of completely disconnected game parts glued to a boring, buggy, badly designed main game

    In order, huh? fair enough, and meh/huh/huh? Whilst I’m not going to try to make a case for the game parts being fairly disconnected, what mechanics are completely broken? Equally while I won’t attempt to persuade you any given game is or is not boring – that being in the eye of the individual – buggy? badly designed? Given what a proportion of your premise I dispute, I don’t think I’d stand the proverbial snowball’s chance of explaining to you “what people see in SR2.”

    How have you gotten along with other Elite style games?

  11. Dan (WR) says:

    I used to enjoy all of the Cinemaware games to be honest. All of the individual game elements were simplistic and crap, but there was something about that cartoony bombast that made of their games appealing.

    Having a giant ant stalk towards you as you try to blow its antennae off. Delivering haymakers to nazis. Knocking down walls with a catapult.

    And! Busty nurses and disrobing princesses!

    They tied together such pulpy elements that it was hard not to be drawn in – and they were graphically impressive for their day.

    Nowadays I wouldn’t touch a game composed of simple minigames with a ten foot bargepole. The idea of a game like Rocket Ranger where I wouldn’t be able to even start a mission unless I rythmically pressed a button (and I invariably fucked it up), is anathema to me now. Hell, I hate Bully because I see it as a serious of shit minigames.

    I’m not sure if you could replicate the appeal that Cinemaware games had at the time. Much of it was graphical and conceptual, and we’ve now battled bugs and nazis aplenty. But at the same time I think there’s room somewhere for delivering games streamlined into simplistic little chunks drawn with a broad brush – perhaps for young and casual gamers.

  12. simbo says:

    Well, Lords of the Rising Sun has been quoted as inspiration for the original Shogun: Total War – and it shows, being a similar collection of minigames. The difference: the minigames in S:TW were complex in themselves.

  13. Ginger Yellow says:

    I have very fond memories of the original Defender of the Crown (on the Atari ST), but maybe that’s because it was extremely unstable and would always crash after a few turns. It was like forbidden fruit.

  14. Panther says:

    I went into this thinking you were going to talk about the classic from 1987,
    link to abandonia.com
    But then I find out not only is there a remake, but its crap?
    Well, the old one was fairly crap too mind, but I found it quite tough, especially the jousting, but I was only young.

  15. Del Boy says:

    I’ve got quite fond memories of the original, I was about eight at the time and…..well……everything’s great when you’re eight.

  16. Nick says:

    I’d like to see Spycraft again.. with more involved spybits and gagetry and less FMV. However it was actually quite good originally, certainly the best “interactive movie” I ever played, and although that wasn’t difficult as they were mostly awful, it still stood up as being fun.

  17. gorgonzola blue says:

    blablablaretarded… the only point of Cinemaware games was to showcase the Amiga graphics. Back in the day a colourful baboon on screen would sell thousands of machines.

    Casual games your parents could have played, using the new technology and the ‘movies’ gimmick to wrap it nicely. Pretty good back then.

  18. Donald Duck says:

    WINGS and It came from the desert (II) were Cinemaware right? Man those were fantastic. I’d love to see them in an updated shape. Fallout 3 has a miniquest that really brought back memories of ICFTD II and got me thinking a mod in that engine would make for a perfect modern day version.

  19. rocketman71 says:

    And let’s not forget music. Cinemaware was great at the time.

  20. Fumarole says:

    Shogun: Total War had minigames?

  21. theleif says:

    @ Ginger Yellow
    “it was extremely unstable and would always crash after a few turns. It was like forbidden fruit.”

    Wow that remind me of Moonstone. One of my favourite games ever. Not Cinemaware but very buggy.

  22. Keith Nemitz says:

    I really wanted to like ‘It Came from the Desert’. It had lots of B film class, but I don’t even remember the gameplay, except that it was antithetical to the kind of story it was telling.

    Modern day equivalent, may I suggest: ‘Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!’. It has Fibbing, Taunting, Flirting… as sub-games, and the overarching game is an RPG.

  23. mujadaddy says:

    …another shout-out for the original DotC (C64, here). Played the hell out of that game.