The Crimson Diamond: Bringing the 80s to life

Stephen Schroeder
Aug 8 · 6 min read

Introduction

Today I’m going to be doing something a bit different, and that’s talking about a wonderful game I discovered through other members of the Adventure Game Jam in 2019: The Crimson Diamond!

The Title screen in the 2019 demo

In the Crimson Diamond, the player takes the role of Nancy Maple, an aspiring mineralogist looking for an in at her university by learning about a recently famous diamond discovered in Crimson, Ontario. The game is is a love letter to the EGA text parsers of the late 80s, and in particular one of my favorite games, The Colonel’s Bequest — the first Sierra game starring Laura Bow.

Time to get sleuthing, gumshoe!

Each game of course has some advantages the other lacks. The Colonel’s bequest was made by a team of writers, artists and programmers. The Crimson Diamond (at least as far as I know) is a solo project made today that can benefit from an adventure game engine and years of decades of history of design decisions. Keeping in mind these differences, I’ll still be largely comparing The Crimson Diamond to the Colonel’s Bequest since that’s a target it’s very clearly trying to hit.

After a brief place-holder introduction getting the protagonist to their destination, the game drops you off in the Crimson Lodge to begin exploring.

Ah jeez, what’s the point of even bringing it in these games.

Art

The first thing one notices is that, for a 4-bit color game, this thing is one is pretty! A lot of the backgrounds feel like they could have come straight out of an EGA game.

The dining room

While Nancy’s walk cycles are pretty slim, she has a whole host of other animations, even for seemingly trivial things like sitting down in the study, that surprised me and made the game feel polished. In addition the speech animations are also quite nice, and characters even have multiple speech expression animations!

The game doesn’t have a lot of sound yet, which can make the game feel a bit empty. The introduction music is tinny and hard to listen to, but otherwise the current sounds in game are quite serviceable. One thing I would like to see is more ambient sounds to make the game feel more alive. I don’t know what a lot of the wildlife noises would be like in the region, but perhaps small animal noises while outdoors at least.

Usability

The UI feels quite a bit different. In a text parser game, your hands are going to be on the keyboard a lot, so when you’re not merely navigating but interacting, you’ll want to use the arrow keys or numpad a bit. In Bequest, tapping an arrow key once in a direction Laura is NOT currently traveling will send her off that way, and tapping that same direction again will stop her. This has the benefit of not being as tiring as holding one’s finger down, but can have a tendency to overshoot one’s destination, which in Bequest can actually just kill Laura pretty frequently.

Is it a feature or a bug that it’s so easy to discover ways to die in Bequest? Maybe a little of both.

Nancy can walk in one of two modes: hold-to-move or press-to-move. Holding allows the arrow keys to transition between cardinal and diagonal directions to more easily navigate obstacles, and pressing is mostly identical to Bequest. There is a minor distinction in that Nancy has turning frames during which she cannot accept input, so rapid key presses can get lost. I would favor removing this input block.
Currently in Diamond, the player can skip text by holding a key down which can help to skip gobs of text of the player is replaying a part of the game, but it has an unfortunate interaction with hold-to-move:

Wait, shoot, can you repeat that?

Anyway, seems like there’s not a lot to do in the starting room, but you can catch up a bit with Kimi if you missed part of the intro. One thing that’s immediately noticeable is that you can’t right click to examine things like you could in the Colonel’s Bequest, so I imagine there will be some objects’ descriptions that I’ll have to fight the parser for.

Additionally, Nancy will not automatically open doors, and when commanded to do so will not automatically walk through them like Laura will. And as seen in the previous gif, there are a LOT of doors. Nancy also handles a bit more jerkily: hold-to-move moves 7 pixels at a time at time intervals determined by player speed, which can be a pretty large portion of the screen. It’s actually surprisingly difficult to enter the initial doorways this way, since they are only about 9 pixels tall and are right next to the screen edge! She also moves up and down vertically regardless of the perspective of the scene, which makes navigating around obstacles a little more irritating, often crashing into walls when moving up or obstacles when moving down. The “perspective walk” in The Colonel’s Bequest is able to take advantage of the way rooms are laid out and avoid obstacles this way.

The “Perspective Walk” doesn’t go straight up and down.

You can also open all kinds of drawers and cabinets and get cute animations for doing so, but they are almost all empty. Exactly one of them gives a message that it may have something later, so continuing this game it is probably the only one I would ever check again.

Mechanics

The text parser works much the same as one would expect, and most of the game is about questioning the characters via the text parser, learning about them and the world, and using that information to make new discoveries. Diamond now has a readable notebook which displays objectives that progress the game, which is quite nice. Nancy is also able to listen in on conversations to learn more about the characters.

Spying?? Tsk tsk, Nancy.

Currently the game does have you make some gameplay decisions about spying: Nancy can only eavesdrop when no one else is in the room, so she has to navigate the world to that state first. If this is explored further, it would be an improvement on what was done in the Colonel’s Bequest which had no real decisions involved in spying: it was always safe and straightforward to do so, and the player should always do it.

That’s all for now!

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of this game! I’ll probably do another one of these once the full version is out.
Thanks for reading!

Stephen Schroeder

Written by

Digital and Tabletop Game Developer

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