Earlier this week notorious indie developer Jason Rohrer - of Passage and Sleep is Death fame - announced an all new game entitled The Castle Doctrine.
Billed as "a massively-multiplayer game of burglary and home defense", it certainly piqued our interest, so I caught up with Rohrer over Skype to figure out just what this new project entailed.
First off, the title is in reference to a law where it's okay to kill someone if they've invaded your property ("it doesn't work if you invite them" said Chief Wiggum in The Simpsons episode that taught me this law).
Rohrer found himself fascinated by this notion of protection and burglarising after briefly living in Las Cruces, New Mexico where crime - and protecting oneself from crime - was a way of life. While he was never robbed personally, his next door neighbor was robbed twice in the span of one year - once in broad daylight - and on one mid-afternoon bike ride Rohrer's then pregnant wife was bitten by a boxer. "We felt like we were constantly unsafe there," Rohrer explained.
Much like the similarly New Mexico-based Breaking Bad protagonist Walter White, Rohrer found himself intrigued by the danger. "I kind of felt excited by all of it," he said. "I felt like it was an action/adventure - a chance to be a hero and a protector and everything."
"It got me thinking about things that I'd never really thought about before. It got me into a gun shop thinking about buying a gun. I've never done that before. For safety reasons I had to carry weapons with me. Not just against humans, but against dogs. I had this telescoping police baton and pepper spray. I've actually pepper sprayed a few dogs over the time I was there."
Dogs, as it turns out, were Rohrer's biggest gripe about the place. "If you weren't being chased by a pitbull you were being mobbed by a group of chihuahuas," he said. "There are dogs in The Castle Doctrine as a result."
Even before the Las Cruces episode and the dog attacks, Rohrer often fantasised about these hostile situations. "In my entirely life I've never been robbed, but I've thought about it a lot," he said. "It's something that's very sort of primal for me. Back when I was a little kid I remember laying in bed at night wondering what I would do if my house was broken into. Would I hide under the bed? Would I go and grab my BB gun?"
"Back when I was a little kid I remember laying in bed at night wondering what I would do if my house was broken into."
As exciting a power fantasy as Las Cruces was, it wasn't worth endangering his wife and now three kids for, so the Rohrer clan relocated. But the seed for The Castle Doctrine was set and Rohrer wanted to explore this criminal labyrinth further in his game.
The way The Castle Doctrine works is that everyone begins with a house and a small amount of money in their vault. They must use this money to purchase traps, dogs and other security devices to safeguard their 32 x 32 tile home. The catch is that the only way to make more money is to rob other people's homes.
The game is an entirely turn-based Roguelike complete with permadeath. Since it's turn-based there's no chance of the owner walking in on you. Instead you have to carefully negotiate whatever traps have been set for you. Step on the wrong switch or run into the wrong vicious house pet and you die. That's it. Your house goes on the market and your corpse is pilfered by the person whose home you're invading.
This means whoever sets the best traps - and can stay alive the longest - can build up an increasingly secure abode. It can never be entirely impenetrable, though, as before you leave you need to ensure that it's possible to make it to your vault without using any equipment. In this way it's essentially a Roguelike where instead of the challenges being randomised, they're created by other players and you're required to playtest a level before inviting others to enjoy it.
As far as choosing a house to case goes, you'll be given a roster of homes in the neighborhood with an approximate value attached to each and a counter dictating how many have died there. If someone gets really good at the game it could incite others to collaborate strategies online. It won't be a co-op game, though. You're alone the entire time, either setting traps in your house of burglarising someone else's.
It's a cold, lonely, dog eat wife world out there, then, but an exciting and suspenseful one nonetheless. Thankfully, we won't have to wait long to play The Castle Doctrine as Rohrer said alpha testing is coming soon and he's aiming for a final release by the end of the year.
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