It’s A Steal: Castle Doctrine Alpha Released

that went well

Huh, that was quick. Then again, everything I experienced of Jason Rohrer’s home invasion MMO-ette The Castle Doctrine last week did come across as essentially finished, so I suppose there’s no reason not to release it to the world now. The version the Passage dev has put out is billed as an ‘alpha’, in that time/Mojang-honoured tradition, and sells for half-price while that’s the case.

I believe the Castle Doctrine to be fascinating, and if it’s also discomfiting that’s because it’s the intent. However, lest some level the tiresome accusation that it’s an example of a developer being too smart for their own good at it, the other thing to know about the game is that it’s also a tight, tense game of base-building strategy, which requires no investment in the socio-political themes in its backdrop.

It’s a more modular, flexible take on the trap construction element of Dungeon Keeper, with the added dark thrill of knowing you’ve perma-killed a rival player if they don’t manage to outwit your design. People are going to design some incredibly fiendish, ingenious home defence setups here, and I suspect seeing that’ll be worth the price of entry alone.

The alpha costs $8, which includes a lifetime ‘subscription’ to the main server plus tools to run your own private one, and comes in both PC and Mac flavours.


  1. Lambchops says:

    I would never say too smart for their own good but I’m just not a fan of the concept really. Just find it a bit disturbing. There’s nothing wrong with that intent and sometimes I’ll buy a game knowing that’s part of what’ll make it an interesting experience but this one (and similarly Introversion’s Prison Architect) just doesn’t quite sit right to me.

    All accusations of “but you probably play game x” are of course justified I don’t have much rationale other than a gut feeling of distaste.

    • Joshua_Anderson says:

      what Monica responded I didnt even know that a mom can get paid $5897 in one month on the computer. have you seen this link… link to

    • slerbal says:

      I completely agree with you. I have no issue with them existing, but they both make me feel uncomfortable and definitely don’t work for me as escapism. I think they might work for stoking my anxiety though… yeah, best if I don’t :)

      Edit: I just want to emphasise that I do applaud the game for being made though, and for stirring the conversational pot. Also I think Jason’s responses below are excellent :)

  2. zain3000 says:

    Just in case anyone is wondering, it comes in the “third” flavour as well. Penguin.

  3. Muzman says:

    If nothing else you have to hand it to him for digging into his own psyche, proper artist style.

    I do think the end result sounds a little like Ken Levine saying Bioshock was neutral on the subject of Objectivism: Even if that’s the case and you’re sympathetic to it, in the end it (in this case the endless cycle of security and fear) is something you can’t represent without making it look ultimately self defeating and absurd.

    It’ll be interesting to see how it develops. Another comparison that springs to mind is Black and White’s claim to reflect you as a person and how you think about society, people, children et al. In truth what it reflected was people’s assumptions of and approach to game mechanics.
    (Not saying Rohrer is making any grand claims about what this game says though)

    • mutopia says:

      If he could achieve that somehow (making it feel absurd) then he will have succeeded at making a statement, accidentally or not, although of course even absurdity is subjective. Like you say it’s very hard to tackle, let alone in a game.

      PS. Rohrer if you’re reading this yes I was (one of) the person who made some questioning comments on RPS about your personal views but I just want to re-emphasise that I’m not being snooty; I’ve never thought and do not think the gun violence epidemic is a laughing matter, doubly so after watching The Interrupters last night (which is a really solid documentary everyone should see) but I’m a very opinionated person on lots of issues and I couldn’t stop commenting on stuff even if I wanted to (sad but true).

      • frightlever says:

        If Jason Rohrer reads random comment threads about his games then he’s an idiot.

        • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

          He actively participated in the last one.

        • Tiax says:

          Care to explain why ?

        • TomA says:

          Bit out of order, I’ve seen people taking part in comment threads on their games in the RPS comments quite a few times, I don’t understand the logic in writing them all off as idiots for no reason.

        • Jason Rohrer says:

          Well, I am kind of an idiot for participating in comment threads, and it’s burned me more times than it’s helped me. You know, once you’re explaining, you’re already losing, and all that.

          So, as a general rule, I don’t participate (and I wish I could avoid reading them, but I just can’t).

          HOWEVER, this here is RPS, which is where the smartest and most open-minded game players in the world seem to congregate. That’s why I gave Alec all the exclusive access to the game before anyone else.

          Now, one more quick attempt to explain “my views” and what this game is about:

          When I considered buying a gun a few years ago (after my wife was attacked), it was the first time I ever held a handgun (yup, in the US, you can walk into a store, and they’ll hand you a gun and let you click away with it). It was a strange experience.

          There are loads of reasons why I didn’t buy it, but a core reason was fear. I worried that I’d end up killing myself or some innocent person with it by mistake (or on purpose, in my worst moments). Or, our kids, a rowdy bunch, would get hold of it somehow. My wife makes the point that we’d probably end up using it on each other during the peak of a heated argument. Yikes.

          Now, most of these fears are unfounded. We have knives in the kitchen that we’ve never used on each other. Our kids have grown up to respect kitchen knives as potentially dangerous, and they’ve been using them safely since they were toddlers. On the other hand, a cut toddler finger (it’s happened) is quite a different story from a bullet through the chest. And we do keep the razor-sharp Japanese cleaver up high (a cut OFF finger is again a different story).

          But there’s an inherent tension in all deadly security. The more dangerous it is, the more effective it is for it’s intended purpose, but also the more dangerous it is for you, the person it’s supposed to protect. “Gun safety” supposedly involves locking the gun away out of reach—where it will be entirely useless if you actually needed it for security. Thus, I suspect that most “home defense” gun owners store their guns unsafely (bedside table drawer).

          And THIS tension is, in part, what my game is about: it is just as easy to permadeath yourself with your fiendish traps as it is to permadeath an invading player.

          Security has a cost. Heck, even locking your front door has a cost (because sometimes you will lose your keys).

          Now, all that said, even though I’ve decided that gun ownership is not for me (just like, I dunno, LSD and prostitution are not for me), I still firmly believe that everyone needs to make their own choices. Yes, dangerous things can be used to violate social contract and hurt other people, but I think we can deal with those violations directly as opposed to outlawing the dangerous things themselves.

          Obviously, this opinion of mine differs significantly from a lot of readers at RPS.

          Though I hope you’ll agree that my position is more nuanced than “psycho gun nut.”

          • lordcooper says:

            You just got yourself another sale, despite your anti-LSD propaganda.

          • exogen says:

            I’m going to spend my last 8 dollars on your game, after seeing this.

          • crinkles esq. says:

            Jason, I doubt you read my reply from a couple articles back (I wish RPS had reply notifications), so I’ll summarize quickly my suggestion, regarding the gender issue: I think it would be more inclusive to allow females to play as a woman (a woman with a husband and kids to protect) and perhaps even type of relationship (straight/gay). I realize you made the game based on your own experience, but giving these options would enable more types of people to identify with the concepts you’re playing with.

          • cptgone says:

            @ crinkles esq:
            i just started the game, and my in-game wife is called Janet – which means ‘gaylord’ over here ;)

          • Captain Joyless says:

            I respect that you have a position:

            “I still firmly believe that everyone needs to make their own choices. Yes, dangerous things can be used to violate social contract and hurt other people, but I think we can deal with those violations directly as opposed to outlawing the dangerous things themselves.”

            The problem is that 90% of what you just said (ie, the reasons you chose not to buy a gun) has nothing to do with that position. You’re just taking it as an article of faith that “everyone needs to make their own choices” without examining what that actually means or whether or not it actually has any bearing on reality. In short, whether or not you chose to buy a gun has no logical bearing on whether anyone should be allowed to choose to buy a gun.

            “Everyone needs to make their own choices” is just a talking point that gets recited without support or explanation. And I’m sure everyone agrees that there are limits to it that aren’t reflected in the statement itself.

            For example, in America, we don’t enforce racially restrictive covenants that run with the land. We don’t allow other compacts to might restraint trade, like where I pay someone not to do business with you. Various libertarian authors draw a line in different places. Ironically, booby-trapping your home is illegal in every state and nobody seems particularly upset about that.

            You can’t just recite a totally general principle that sounds nice and then conclude that a particular policy should be enacted. So, “psycho gun nut”? No. Uncritical adherent to a reactionary cultural movement that is expressly tied to fear assuaged by dangerous totems? Absolutely.

          • tormos says:

            Jason, this post convinced me that my shallow cash reserves wouldn’t be going to someone I can’t personally support. Thanks for that. Also don’t write LSD off too quickly :)

          • billyphuz says:

            @Captain Joyless:

            I’d suggest that “Everyone makes their own choices” is also pretty far removed from “Uncritical adherent to a reactionary cultural movement that is expressly tied to fear assuaged by dangerous totems.” It’s clear that Mr. Rohrer has indeed spent some time thinking about this, and in so doing has probably thought about public policy relevant to his position.

            I don’t know much about libertarian discourse, but I have a sense that it is the banning of the -object- and not the -use- that rankles these types. To put it another way: shooting innocents/boobytrapping your house/pushing drugs on kids = not okay; shooting a home invader/learning how to make a boobytrap/smoking marijuana = the “grey area” of debate; owning a gun/owning boobytrap materials/having a marijuana garden = should be TOTALLY okay. Perhaps “Everyone makes their own choices” is an oversimplification of how society should behave but I think it’s an attempt to rail against the “you can’t have this/say this/see this other thing” notion that is seen by some (you?) as a way to prevent Bad Things from happening.

          • mutopia says:

            Definitely a lot more nuanced, yes, though I never considered you a gun nut (but I might describe US culture as a whole as being somewhat pre-occupied with these things). I do agree with Captain Joyless though, that it is unquestioning of a widely accepted belief in America. While there is a worldly body of evidence to the contrary (as in, in much of the rest of the world guns and their proliferation make everything demonstrably worse, as they do in the US if you try to see reality more plainly for what it is and less politically or ideologically motivated).

            For example; while knives can be used as weapons (as could a vase or an electric cord), their primary function is the preparation or consumption of a meal. Guns are designed and purposed for killing people, whether it’s handguns or automatic rifles (even hunting rifles and shotguns, historically and to this day, been purposed mainly for ‘security’ reasons). Right down to the mass of the projectile and the energy of the propellant.

            We teach kids to be careful using knives because we want to prevent harm, while people are taught to be careful using guns so that its harm might be focused on its intended victim. I don’t want to get too philosophical about it, but the distinction in the function matters much in the real world; your brain is wired to use a knife as a tool, but it is likewise wired to use a gun as a weapon. Luckily you’re way too clever to not be aware if this. And we all agree that without knives, vases and electric cords, the modern world would quickly descend back into the dark ages! :D

            My point is this: if you, as a society, face the choice between one kind of reality, and another, which would you choose? So putting all practical, political and ideological rhetoric aside for a moment; would you have one where guns are prolific or not? (And before you answer, consider that (and how) it can really be, for all intents and purposes, that simple).

            I hope most people would not choose the world where guns are prolific, and I strongly suspect the only (bad) reason to have a gun in such a world would be because you’re afraid of what other people with guns might do to you and yours. And because we’re now venturing into the nebulous and absurd realm of nuclear strategic (un)logic, game theory, and mutual assured destruction, it becomes almost impossible to think of the issue in any other way than immediate, short-term short-sightedness (ie get a gun and keep it close)

            I also think that this debate has become so politicised (and so many have such large stakes) in the US that it’s left a large part of society incapable of even imagining change. Instead opting to buy into illusions of the founding fathers’ supposed prophetic wisdom on this issue. Or how letting guns be prolific somehow keeps government honest (it doesn’t and never will). Or that all the millions of deaths are somehow “worth it”, because they died for American freedom on some bizarre plane of reality. Or that a gun keeps you safe. These are all illusions, which do great harm that could realistically have been avoided.

            The issue we’re discussing, by the way, is gun proliferation, and it doesn’t help to call it anything else.

            Anyway, I make a distinction between this discussion and your game, which looks very fun and potentially deliciously gamey, I look forward to trying it out soon.

          • Phantoon says:

            You or your wife are liable to murder each other in a heated argument?

            Shouldn’t the game be about protecting children from parents?

          • Geen says:

            And thus, my money goes into the magic internet box.

  4. kinglog says:

    I don’t want to enter the political discussion about gun laws but want to inform others that the Castle Doctrine law is by no means the most dismissive law we have in USA for shooting people – I moved to Florida recently and our Stand Your Ground law is horrifying (and was international news last year when a young man was shot down):

    link to

    I’ll probably buy this game, though won’t play it much – this is my pattern with Jason Rohrer games.

    • Captain Joyless says:

      The castle doctrine isn’t a strictly American law. It originated in English common law almost 400 years ago.

  5. FullMetalMonkey says:

    Not ominous at all…but it just cost me £6.66.

  6. Aaax says:

    Bought the game in the afternoon and played it for many hours now. Wonderful game, 8 dollars well spent. Luckily IRL I was never robbed, so I see the game more as a puzzle.

    It’s possible to build impenetrable castle in about a hour. I got about 40 bulldogs, 40 grand in cash, a lot of concrete walls, elaborate maze and so on, with 0 sucesfull roberies, with noone realizing it’s possible to rob my safe in about 8 clicks. Of course, I died stupidly while making my maze more fun to my own traps. I especially like how you can play with psychology of the burglars, like luring them somewhere (into a maze!). Huge fun to watch people running into certain death while waiting for someone to think outside the box.

    Few suggestions:

    it’s too easy to farm people leaving their house in default state and so to earn approx 1500usd in few clicks.

    some tooltips would be welcome, or at least page explaining funtioning of each element.

    more vanity items to make it more like a house would be great. floor textures and stuff.

    it’s huge pain in the ass to make the basic 2K layout again and again. it would be good to be able to save a basic layout and use it later again.

    anonymity of burglars is something I’m not sure is a good thing. If someone kills my wife, I want revenge. Why not to give players the option to reveal their nickname, if they wish? Perhaps something like “upgraded” CCTV could be in game and you could later pay detectives to find houses of people you want to rob?

    some items like statues, diamonds etc… that could be stolen without robbing the safe or killing wife would be good. Just for the moments when you have nothing to do with money. But of course, you need to get out alive if you want to steal them.

    and finaly, when I spend some time building my house, I don’t explore more wealthy and interesting houses because it’s madness; you 99% times die. So I just keep farming default houses and easy houses for money, which gets tedious after a while. Why not to put there some mechanic, such as emergency escape for hefty fee? Or hiring someone for like 10k (meaning character you can control for burglaries) so you can try to explore?

    also it’s not clear what happens to my house when I log off etc… it should be made clear.

    aaand… I would buy the game for a friend or two, but if I can’t invite them to my house or rob their houses, what’s the point?

    • Pirate says:

      I’m pretty amazed by this game. It’s simple yet allows for incredible complexity of contraptions.

      What I don’t like right now is that you can skip the initial building stage. When you start a new game you can buy some expensive backpack items (guns, explosives etc.) and try to rob a rich house. There’s really no danger in it. Once I figured that out the game became a bit boring. I’ve robbed a freaking fortress this way. Maybe it’s the fact that there’s not much players now but I’m getting the same houses to rob, over and over. With enough tries you can figure out how to rob any house. After a bunch of attempts on the richest player at the time I made it out with a about 21k and a bunch of artwork and consumables.
      I built a fortress myself, trying not to make the same mistakes as the guy that I just robbed but ended up dying to my own dogs. They are really effective ;)
      This puts the game upside down from what you have experienced. I rob the rich and dangerous houses. Having no money or house to worry about I can keep trying without the fear of losing anything.

      • Jason Rohrer says:

        Having no money or house to worry about I can keep trying without the fear of losing anything.

        Yep, that’s an important ingredient in real-world violent crime, eh? Generally, the people doing the robbing don’t have much to lose. Rich people generally don’t go out mugging people on the street!

        And, in this game, you only have nothing to lose for a while…. once you nail a big score, like you did, you switch into super-cautious mode, trying to protect what you have, and not taking risks. You might stop robbing all together at that point.

        And, if you DO kill some semi-rich guy who tries robbing your house, he’ll come back instantly as someone with nothing to lose. A good house is a thug-generating machine.

        Also, I think that if the game didn’t allow you to have nothing to lose, ever, then everyone would be too cautious (turtle), and no robbing would ever happen, which would make the game stop working.

        As a player, you switch roles a lot during the game, serving as a robber to keep bothering a rich guy now, and later serving as a rich guy to be the target of robbers.

    • Jason Rohrer says:

      Thanks for the feedback. There’s a lot to think about here, for sure. The farming of default-state houses is certainly a problem. That’s part of what the alpha is for: to see how people behave on the server so that the game can be tweaked.

      Regarding revenge, you DO see the name of whoever robbed you. Each security tape is labeled with the name of the robber that did it. You can then search for them by name to try to get your stuff back. However, if they’re already dead from other causes, they won’t show up in the search anymore (the state reclaims money and goods and paintings when a robber dies).

      Crazy that you got up to $40K cash! I wish I had been logged into the game at that moment to see it.

  7. cptgone says:

    – for a sec i thought the paintings were made by players. might have been a fun side feature IMHO.

    – i tried to use the search function, but somehow didn’t manage to enter text into the text box.

    – i ‘visited’ a few homes with dead wives, but never saw a dead kid. coincidence / player ethics / game design?
    i did see some crippled cats though :(
    (i had built a moat and bought lots of cats. running from a burglar, they had fallen into the moat…)

    • KirbyEvan says:

      I think you never see dead kids because while wives supply half the money, kids are a waste of 20 bucks unless you really want to watch the world burn.

  8. colinmarc says:

    I like this game – it is interesting and compelling in strange ways.

    So far the biggest problem i’ve seen is that having a family is a huge liability. Without a family, you don’t need to have a clear exit path, and you can make houses that are basically unpassable. I saw one with electrified plates by the door that activated after a certain number of steps (probably using a cat+pressure plate). So once you got inside, you were trapped there. Inside, there was powered door and about 20 sticky plates that presumably had to be activated in some specific combination (using voltage-activated switches). Hooray, information theory! I tried the pressure plates in a random order, then suicided when that didn’t work.

  9. tentacle says:

    I’m loving the game, however, MOST of the houses out there aren’t playing “fair”. Meaning, the house has had someone attempt to rob it which means he has (in most cases) let loose the dogs and they are waiting right by the door, making the level impossible. It’s not just dogs but also traps and such. Or they’ve sacrificed their family to avoid having to “leave an exit path”.

    The whole “prove your house is fair” becomes kind of moot when 9 times out of 10, the moment you walk in the door, you know even the owner couldn’t get through here.

    I do really love the idea that houses don’t reset after every robbery, as it’s fun to stumble upon someone else’s debris, but maybe it would be a better game if they did.

    Also, I love permadeath but I wish I could watch the surveillance tapes of my previous house(s) even after I’ve died.

    • tentacle says:

      Reply to self now that I’ve played a bit more… I think my 9/10 is exaggerated, but it is still way more common than I’d like.

      I REALLY wish there was a surveillance tape library. There was one $160000 house on the scoreboards for a couple days (the typical combination lock approach, with a not-imho-fair-cannot-exit-trigger) and hundreds had tried and died on it. Then one moment it was gone, someone had beat it. I would’ve loved to watch that tape!

      • KirbyEvan says:

        I agree with both the library, and having tapes saved for previous houses.

        I dunno if it’s a design choice to have death also rob you of the knowledge of your downfalls, but it’d be nice to keep the tapes to study for trap houses later on.

        Left my house with 4000$ after playing for 4 hours, looking forward to have 23$ in the morning, haha!

        Highly recommend this game if you’re into strategy, roguelikes, or puzzles.

        Probably the most devious fun I’ve had in a year.

        • tentacle says:

          I just made a house that I think is probably impenetrable. You had to walk a specific pattern on the open ground to get to the safe (the right pattern would lead a dog to a switch that turns of the electric floor). Any misstep and the dog would be fried, making it unsolvable.

          Sadly, the game seems to like to timeout or disconnect, and it seems that more often than not, that also mean death.

          I could live with that, if I could still view the tapes my awesome fortress might accrue, but when your handiwork is so easily lost just because of some timeout, it’s actually devastating to my motivation to make the same effort again.

          It’s alpha, so I can’t complain, but this REALLY has to be figured out one way or another before release.