Cyningstan DOS Games

Games for Early PCs

The Anarchic Kingdom: from the Dev Diary

Choosing players in The Anarchic Kingdom
Choosing players in The Anarchic Kingdom

Wednesday, 26th May 2021

Now that The Anarchic Kingdom is out of the door, it's time to look back over the development process and share it with those who are interested. You'd think that such a simple game would have a short development life. But development of this game started in about 2006, on a different platform.

Back then I was interested in developing for the Psion Series 5, a once popular handheld computer that had become obsolete half a decade earlier, but which still had some features you couldn't get on more modern devices. The main one that appealed to me was that you could program it right out of the box. Like the home computers of the 1980s, it had a built in programming language similar to BASIC. And in the Psion machine it was pretty powerful - powerful enought to write your own games.

Rewind another decade or so to the mid 1990s. Back then I was interested in Bulletin Board Systems, of the type that you dial into with your phone and a modem, rather than with telnet and an internet connection. A big feature of these was "door games", additions to the BBS software that implemented games in a usually scrolling ASCII format.

One of those games was Barren Realms Elite. It had a sci-fi setting, and had the typical scrolling ASCII interface. You had a territory for which you could buy military units, and send them against other players. It was very popular on the BBS scene.

So a decade later, although I was writing more complex games on the Psion, the simplistic gameplay behind Barren Realms Elite appealed to me. The Psion had an Infra-red eye that allowed devices to communicate with one another. I had multiple Psions, so I thought of writing a game to take advantage of that. Since I was planning something new, I wanted a simple game mechanic to use so that I wouldn't be grappling with complex gameplay at the same time as new (to me) technical issues. So I designed a simple game about eight medieval kingdoms that defend themselves with castles and send knights and footmen to attack one another. I called that game Demesne.

Demesne was pretty near completion after few weeks of programming. It lacked the graphical assets, but the gameplay was complete. The infra-red communication was nearly working; that is to say it was working, apart from being able to recover from broken infra-red connections, which required a restart of the program by both players.

This last problem stumped me, and in looking around for help I realised something that was obvious to many: the platform was dying. Online information was difficult to find, and nobody else was developing programs for these devices any more. So I put the project aside and, before long, moved on from the platform.

The ideas behind Demesne lay dormant for over a decade until a game jam inspired me to pick them up again this year, as I'll describe in a post next week.


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