“Ya can never trust a goat, can ya?”: The Count Lucanor

This week on Lunch Zone, Nathan continued the Spook-tober theme with the 2016 horror adventure game The Count Lucanor by developer Baroque Decay. In it, players assume the role of a snotty 10-year-old who’s mad at his mom because his father left for war. Oh, and it’s also his birthday (or was it his bidet?) and his single mother is too poor to buy gifts. What’s a kid to do but set out on an adventure? The story takes a sharp turn when the kid meets a goat herder (named Goatherd, I think…) who gets him drunk on wine. The kid wakes up in a hellscape of rivers of blood and demonic, dancing goats before finding his way to a castle that…wait, was that there a minute ago? In the castle, the kid meets a thing that explains a lot about how Willy Wonka Count Lucanor is looking for an heir. All the kid has to do is guess the thing’s name (and also traverse a dangerous castle, ostensibly). The gameplay centers around exploring the castle, finding chests that give you candles, mostly, but also clues for guessing the thing’s (we’ll call him Rumps) name.

What struck me about this game – and there was some discussion of this on the stream – were the choices to *sometimes* overtly address its gaminess diegetically and then sometimes not. For instance, early in the prologue, the Kid (who probably has a name but I’m purposefully not bothering to look it up. We’ll call the little snot Ingraciatius. Actually, that’s too long — Kid works just fine.) says aloud to no one in particular that he uses the ‘E’ button to interact with things. He also makes frequent reference to his ‘inventory’ when attempting to help old women abuse pigs or marooned merchants cook their books. It’s an interesting design choice that blurs the line between the semiotic and procedural domains of the game. However, as Nathan learned near the end of the hour, this transparency only goes so far. Early on in the castle, he encounters a raven bathing in a water fountain who tells him that, for a coin, he’d be saved. From who? Death, the raven answers. However, what seems like an (albeit on-brand) bit of color turns out to be the game’s save feature that, while not actually saving the player from death per se, certainly saves them from repeating basically an entire play session. Oh well – there’s always next week.

Ryan House

Ryan House is a PhD student in Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Twitter: @ludoscholar

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