Kingsway combines a lot of things that a lot of people love. Like Clash of Clans, it is not demanding of your time. It is a game that you can play while half paying attention, the kind of object that doesn’t need you to pause it while you’re checking Twitter on your phone. It is a game that you can play while doing other things, and that makes sense, because it’s a game that is pretending to be the thing you do while you’re trying to do something else. That’s a little confusing, and I’ll admit that I find Kingsway a little more high concept than it needs to be. It’s a game that’s pretending to be an operating system, but a throwback operating system, Windows 95 or 98, the kind of clunky interface that never quite let you do the things that you wanted to.
And the translation makes sense. There are icons on the fake OS desktop that allow you to access all of the old-school parts of a classic role-playing game. There is a little character sheet with equipment depicted in all of its glory. There is a bag, and a quest log in the form of an email log, and there’s a map with combat prompts that appear whenever you need to fight things.
Cleverly, combat itself is an act of manipulating the operating system. Windows pop above each other, and progress bars of your own attacks and enemy maneuvers contest each other as they crawl across the screen to the right. When a special attack happens, like a bomb, the window hops bombastically across the screen, replicating the movement of a real-life bomb. This is a way, presumably, of making the operating system idea more “game like.”
From top to bottom, Kingsway forces us to think about the divide between games and all the other things that are flying in front of our face at any given time. Spend a day trying to get an audio setup working correctly, or video recording software working just the way you want, or even just organizing files, and you can see how an operating system’s quirks and intricacies bend toward the shape of a game. If games are about distinct rulesets that govern possible behavior, and the act of play is filling out those rulesets in ways that each player finds interesting, then Kingsway is revealed to be more than a role-playing game packaged in a new and intriguing way.
It’s a game that pulls back the curtain on many of our interactions with computers and how they are shaped by our expectations. Windows 98 certainly had a “core loop” of interactions that I had to perform on it, near constantly, in order to connect to ancient internet or play contemporary games. But there was no extrinsic system of rewards, no leveling and loot, and that’s where Kingsway shines. Because it shows us that those particular modes of reward that present us with a feeling of progress are what signify “game” for us in the contemporary period. Kingsway demonstrates that it isn’t about what you do in a game, it’s about what you get for doing it.
From a purely pragmatic point of view, playing that experience was the most interesting thing about the game. Once you get beyond the novelty of one thing pretending to be another, what lies at the bottom is a standard, well-executed RPG system that is about managing time, stats, health and magic points. Borrowing from roguelikes, your character has one life, and the game is mostly about preserving yourself and leveling efficiently so that you can defeat the appropriate bosses so that you can win the game. This was not something that I found particularly interesting in itself, but I tend to not be super excited about games that are fundamentally concerned about making numbers go up. Lots of people are, and if you’re one of them, you should try out Kingsway immediately.
Kingsway was developed by Andrew Morrish and published by Adult Swim. It is available for PC.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.