The Castle Doctrine
The Castle Doctrine is a turn-based MMO about burglary and home invasions. Bear with me, here.
First ImpressionsI started off with my family and a vault in an empty house, with a princely $2,000 to spend on home improvements. With some playing around, I realised that I could place walls, wiring and various security appliances around the house. There were some teething problems, since there aren’t really any instructions, but it seemed clear to me that I would want to make my place as difficult to burgle as possible. I put the vault in the middle of the house and built a doorless room around it. Dusted off my hands and grinned smugly. That should be that. Like to see them cut through that one.
All that hard work done and I decide to go see what other people have tried, so I hit “Done” and get a strange screen:
“Prove that your house is fair:”…eh, how? Then I realised what was going on. This was a simulation and I had to show that the challenge I set up was winnable. I had to rob my own house. I couldn’t, of course, my house was extremely, prejudicially unfair. That was the whole point. I was also unable to skip or escape out of the screen. Hitting ESC just brought up the pause menu (more on that later). I realised that the Suicide button was the only way out and hit it.
I arrived back into the Build Your House screen, but I was back to square one; I had $2,000, and nothing in my house except my presumably loving family and a vault. This was going to be tougher than I’d thought.
After a LOT more tinkering, I figured I had a pretty good trap set up, an elaborate series of circuits would trigger in sequence, seeming to trap the burglar in a corridor tantalisingly close to the vault, but then with some careful backtracking, they could get past the electrified floors and grab the loot. I hit Done and began my dummy run. I accidentally got electrocuted and died, losing all of my work. What a fucking dummy.
When you hit ESC you bring up the pause menu – anything you type into that goes to the server, which Rorher can read through, a brilliant idea for feedback. I made several notes about how annoyed I was that a simple accident could kill me in a simulation of robbing my own house. It didn’t seem to make sense, so I went back to the game and tried setting up something similar again.
I tested it and accidentally died. Again. Fucking again. I made some more notes. I set up the house again. I died in my own Home Alone-like palace of pain. Right, that’s it, I thought. I’m going to bed.
I hit ESC to get to the menu so I could quit, but the image of the defenceless family and vault with $2,000 in it, in a big empty house somehow resonated with me. I didn’t want to leave them defenceless. I wanted to come back to something, anything at all.
Right, just one more pass, I said, just one more quick little setup and then I can rest easier knowing that someone else will pay the ultimate price for daring to cross my threshold. Having created my funhouse at least fifteen times by that stage I had gotten pretty good at it, and I was proud of my handiwork. Instead of quitting, I thought I’d have a look at what else was going on. I mean, it’s an MMO, right?
Hmmmm. Three people died, huh? Well, I couldn’t resist. I double-clicked and got the now-familiar screen I got when playing the burglar, only this time of course the place looked totally different, since it was built by someone else. What’ve I got to lose, right?
Turns out this asshole had pitbulls. Two of them. So I died. And lost everything. All of the work I had done. FFS. I started again. I had no choice at this point. I robbed two houses successfully, armed with drugged meat and a gun. I got a serious nest-egg going! I was killed. I started over. A couple of times.
It’s a very interesting game; full of good ideas, both conceptual and mechanical. I like the art style. I don’t know how finished it is, whether the gang of pre-alpha testers I’m a member of is expected to help make the game more fun or just more stable. As it stands, I think that not being able to tweak the design of your house without risking death is a big mistake (more on that in a future post). I know it got its hooks into me, but I was genuinely annoyed by it – it kept slowing me down, regulating my speed and fun.
I like that all of the players are anonymous, it makes it something of a hybrid, both MMO and single-player. You don’t chat with anybody or fight them in real time, you just assault one another’s homes. The only realtime element is the “Leaderboard” – the list of unattended houses.
>The Little Things The Castle Doctrine has some lovely little touches...
- Your family always faces towards you – I think it creates a sense of responsibility.
- The method of ensuring every house is solvable by making you solve it before you leave is very elegant.
- When you drug the dogs, you still have to go around them, or you’ll wake them up, so you have to be careful where you drop them.
- Dogs and cats trigger pressure plates, so they can be incorporated into a trap system.
- Your wife carries half of the money in the house, so as a burglar, you have to option to kill her or let her go.
- When a family member has been killed, the remaining members don’t run when an intruder enters. It feels like they have nothing left to run for.
- Chihuahuas are provided as stand-ins for pitbulls.
- Houses can be rigged so they can only be broken into once. IF you’re clever.
- Players are given randomised, anonymous names.
- No chat system.
- You can search for people who robbed you by name to find and burgle their houses.