Black Crown… The New Game From Random House
Black Crown Project is the very first interactive online novel launched by Random House. Dare you take a job at the Widsith Institute of Bespoke Diseases?
“If Rob Sherman knitted, he’d be knitting with intestines.”
Yup, that’s the kind of sentiment we LOVE to see here at Mookychick and, judging by what we’ve seen so far of Random House’s first ever interactive fiction, the Black Crown game, we’re tempted to agree that the author has an utterly compelling, wildly dark and fantastically macabre style. One which had us gripped from the very first word. Throw in the fact that the entire thing was inspired by a battered old suitcase filled with strange artefacts and you have a totally must-try, must-see, must-play formula.
Black Crown… Game or novel? You decide.
Recalling the nostalgia of old school text gaming, the Black Crown project feels like another updated version of those classic choose-your-own-adventure novels – albeit one with far more disturbing choices than choosing which door to go through. One such option? Having to decide whether to use an ink pen to put a dying pig out of its misery OR stroke its head and soothe it in its final moments. Like we said, incredibly disturbing. And yet it’s the decidedly oddball nature of the game that makes it so addictive.
So what’s the story here?
Well, all players will, when they log into Black Crown for the very first time, be presented with an interview. It’s… well, it’s sort of a job interview, really – but a job interview conducted by the shady Widsith Institute, whose work is managed by the application of bespoke diseases (BESPOKE DISEASES?!). You’ll be asked a series of questions and then thrust into a number of odd predicaments, each also apparently a part of the interview – the dying pig, a beast described as being infinitely more honest than humans, is just one small tiny factor of this.
What is this suitcase? What is inside it? Where are you going? Oh, Black Crown.
At each screen you’ll be given several actions to choose from, and new ones will often open up the more you explore. You’ll gather items as the game seems to collect information about your personality and performance, but what exactly this information means and what it’s used for is unclear. The thing about Black Crown is that you never really know what’s going on, though this just adds to the mystery: who is the Miasma Eremite? What happened in the town of Loss? What is the terror behind the Shushbaby? What do all of these strange artifacts and documents mean? And why are pigs such a big deal?
The thing to remember about Widsith is that it isn’t just your typical dark organisation. These guys work in lush-looking green fields atop a hilltop and they RELISH self suffering; in fact, the higher up the ranks you go, the more grotesque you end up looking. It’s through the diseases and mutations that they infect you with that you find success – so no, this isn’t about infecting the general populace. These guys want to keep the germs to themselves! And it doesn’t feel like its about money either. In fact, none of the usual cliches apply. We have no idea what’s driving the Widsith folk to tirelessly sort through old documents – but (you guessed it) that’s what makes us so desperate to find out. And we’re just happy that the medium of this meaty mystery is such a confounding fusion of poetry, literature, audio, art and gameplay. It makes burrowing into those story nuances all the more exciting…
There’s obviously something going on at the Widsith Institute – and it’s up to you to figure out what. But, being as the game is tailored to adapt to each individual player, each and every single clerk within the game will experience something entirely different. This is not a follow-through mystery; it’s more a tangled spider-web of different leads, different clues and different snippets of information – and it will take all of your wits and brainpower to deduce what really happened here.
And it’s not all contained within the game, either; it’s all about rummaging for information, what you pick up first, what catches YOUR eye – so, though it’s available online, Black Crown offers the ability to “rummage”. There are multiple ebooks that players can purchase to delve even deeper into the world, or they can spend money within the game itself to open up things like “premium” story segments or to move the narrative along more quickly.
“Black Crown represents Random House’s ambition to push the boundaries in online storytelling, experiment with new business models and launch a new author in a groundbreaking way,” says Dan Franklin, Digital Publisher. And, looking at the sheer scale of what they have achieved, alongside Rob Sherman and Failbetter Games, they have done this and more. This is, quite possibly, the most exciting step in the narrative experience we’ve ever seen. Why just download an ebook when you can download yourself INTO the ebook, after all?