Random House Dips into Game Publishing with Free-to-Play 'The Black Crown Project'

by Joseph Leray

The Black Crown Project

Here's your eldritch curio for the day: Random House UK -- yes, the book publishing giant -- has released a free-to-play interactive fiction game called "The Black Crown Project."

Penned by Rob Sherman, "The Black Crown Project" is a weird fiction tale about a newly-employed clerk at the mysterious Widsith Institute whose job it is -- so far -- to read read files. I've played enough to use all my available action points twice, which has allowed me to stab a dying pig with a ballpoint pen and be carried to my desk by some arcane horror.

It's all been very weird, a touch overwrought, and somewhat pulpy and Lovecraftian, but there's a certain tone and texture to the setting and premise that would be fun to explore. Here's an official synopsis:

Over the course of the story, users will begin to learn about the mysterious figure of the Miasma Eremite, who journeyed to the town of Loss, through the exploration of numerous bizarre objects and documents brought back to the Institute from its singular civilization.

Prepare for a weird and wildly imaginative experience, as you don the Dutch Frame, meet the mysterious clerk Wayle, confront the terrifying Shushbaby, descend to the Marvel Ouse and begin to uncover the nefarious Black Crown project.

Sherman has a knack for body horror and sci-fi, and I'm happy to see Random House giving game design a crack, but I wish they hadn't picked the most unwieldy and pernicious mechanics to do so. "The Black Crown Project" uses the standard free-to-play "energy" system, a limited number of turns that have be refilled over time, with an option of paying $2.50 to refill them instantly.

Even worse: during my brief time with the game, it offered to let me pay for something called "Eyam's Cleft." I can't tell if it's an in-game item or another piece of the (admittedly fascinating) story, but I do know I'm not jazzed about paying for the opportunity to find out.

One last high point, though: "The Black Crown Project" runs on Failbetter Games' Storynexus platform, a browser-based interactive fiction system. Anything that makes game development and design easier and more accessible (e.g., Twine) sounds good to me, and Storynexus is currently in open public beta.

[The Black Crown Project]