So, if you’re on this site, you probably already know about The Basilisk’s Maze. As of this writing, it’s currently my only game (aside from that fish game) and the alpha is the main attraction of my site. The thing is, the first prototype I released on here was Alpha 3.2. There were eight iterations of the game that I only showed to friends and family, and a lot of the most crucial design decisions were made even before any of those. When I first launched this blog, I speculated that at some point I’d talk about the early days of The Basilisk’s Maze’s development and show how it evolved into its current form. So to do that, I present to you: “Beware the Basilisk!”, a four-part series recounting the origins of The Basilisk’s Maze!
In this first part, I’ll talk about what gave me the original idea for the game and the origins of its monstrous antagonist. In the next two parts, I’ll discuss how I went about building the two core pieces of the game: in part 2, it will be the maze, and in part 3, it will be the monster. Finally, in the last part, I’ll give a quick tour of all the prototypes I compiled for the game before making this site, from Alpha 0.5 to Alpha 3.2, and what was added and changed from version to version.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
When I first thought of the game, I wasn’t even trying to think of game ideas. I was basically done with Food Chain (aside from a few issues I had to figure out to get it released), and I was already building prototypes of what I thought I was doing next. However, one day, I was watching a little video where somebody traced back popular genres to the earliest example he could find. Surprisingly, I was most intrigued by what, according to the video, was the first horror game (which is weird, because it was easily my least favorite of all the genres he covered).
The game in question was for the Sinclair ZX81, an old model of personal computer from the UK. It was known as 3D Monster Maze, and in it, you navigated a first-person maze and tried to find an exit without getting caught by a Tyrannosaurus Rex that wanted to eat you. Sound familiar?
If you want to see this game for yourself, somebody’s actually put up an emulated version online (along with a bunch of other ZX81 games).
What struck me about this game is how much it managed to get out of so little. All it had were the crudest of graphics (they were text-based, for crying out loud!) and the simplest of gameplay (and as I would later find out, the simplest of AI, too). Despite all this, it managed to create an exciting little chase scene with real tension that made you worry that you’d run into that big lumbering dinosaur before you could find your way out. Not bad!
I guess that’s when my mind went to work, and I started thinking, “Wow! What a delightfully simple, yet engaging idea! I should use it!” It seemed the ideal premise for an arcade-style game, something that’d be great on a phone. It’d certainly be more unique than all those endless runners and connect-three games! So, I started thinking of what my take would be.
Choosing the Bad Guy
The most important part was going to be the antagonist, as the entire game was going to be centered around them. After a bit of thinking, I got the idea of using the antagonist from one of my first games, Little Dragon: First Taste. In First Taste, Little Dragon (a child version of Wamtu, the dragon from the logo) is playing outside when he finds a cave with a trail of gold coins leading into it. He remembers his father’s warning to stay away from caves, since the monsters in them could make an easy meal out of a young dragon child like him. Despite this, Little Dragon is overcome by the temptation of getting rich (he is a dragon, after all) and follows the trail inside to find a huge heap of treasure. However, his delight in his newfound wealth is cut short when he finds out the hoard actually belongs to (bum-buh-buh!) the Big Bad Basilisk! That was the setup. Long story short (not that it was that long to begin with), Little Dragon runs away, Basilisk chases him, Little Dragon gets cornered and has to fight Basilisk as a boss, Little Dragon wins, escapes, and learns his lesson to listen to his parents. The end. Oh, and there was a friendly ghost helping him out, but he was kind of annoying, and anyway, he’s not canon anymore.
The game ended with the premise that this was an extremely abridged and oversimplified version of the story told years later, and the real story was going to be told in Little Dragon Lost, the game this was supposed to be a prototype for (hence the name “First Taste,” because it was the first taste of a Little Dragon game, and Basilisk is trying to eat Little Dragon, so… it’s a pun). However, while I came up with a lot of gameplay and story ideas for LDL (including a surprisingly elaborate cast, world, and backstory), I never got around to making anything more than another prototype which I never finished. As such, Little Dragon and Big Bad Basilisk just kind of sat there “on the shelf” for years while I did other things, like Food Chain and college. Lots of college. But once I had the idea to do a monster maze game, I thought it would be a great opportunity to dig out these old characters and use them for something. Actually, mainly the villain, Big Bad Basilisk. As far as the “canon” is concerned, Little Dragon won’t be born for another thousand years.
The origins of Basilisk’s design are interesting, because even though he takes the name of a mythical monster, he’s basically my own creation. The idea of a basilisk as an enemy befitting a dragon came from a scene from Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke (the lady who did Inkheart). My basilisk’s design and abilities, including his mix of dragonish and avian features and his trademark paralyzing gaze, came from me mish-mashing the conflicting accounts as to what exactly a basilisk was (the definition of a basilisk may be the most hard to pin down of any mythical creature; heck, in Harry Potter, it’s just a big snake). And I also made him big enough to eat a dragon; I’m pretty sure I just came up with that part myself to make him more of a threat. At the end of it, I had a scary, mean monster to be the main baddie for my Little Dragon game.
While I originally had him simply as a mean monster who eats dragon children, I later gave him a backstory that set him up as an ancient menace to the Fairy Lands (the fairy tale world the game took place in. Really creative name, huh? Actually, there’s a country in it called “Fantazilan,” but I wanted to avoid a Narnia-type situation where the world is named after the most prominent country in it). Basilisk was defeated and driven underground, and a thousand years later Little Dragon would get lost down in his subterranean lair. His rather silly “Big Bad Basilisk” moniker would be a folk name he received later after he was more remembered as a legend than a real monster. He’d be like the boogeyman, a story used to scare children into eating their vegetables or stuff like that (“Now see here, Little Billy! If you don’t eat your peas, the Big Bad Basilisk will eat you!”).
For this maze game, I decided it would be set during the time before he was trapped underground and was widely known to be real and a threat to the Fairy Lands (so, no Little Dragon and no “Big Bad” part in his name). After giving him a bit of a redesign based off ideas I’d had since First Taste, boom! I had my monster!
Once I had the idea to use Basilisk, I spent an afternoon writing up a short Game Design Document and setting down all my initial ideas for the game. The player would take control of a citizen of the Fairy Lands (which basically meant you were some type of fantasy creature) and try to escape from the Basilisk’s randomly-generated maze lair before he can catch and eat them, while picking up some of his vast wealth along the way to use to unlock new characters and stuff. It’d be built in GameMaker: Studio, and it would be called… Beware the Basilisk!
To Be Continued…
So, now Alex has his idea and his monster. But will he be able to make a game out of it? How is he going to make those randomly-generated mazes? Will it be complicated? Can he use 3D Monster Maze as a reference? Will the new version of GameMaker: Studio not suck? And what’s with this “Beware the Basilisk” nonsense? What happened to the real name? Find out all these answers and more in the next Beware the Basilisk! Well, except that last one. That’s not explained till the last part, I think.
Until next time, you can always check out how The Basilisk’s Maze (not Beware the Basilisk) is doing these days, and what’s coming next for it. If not, well, have a nice day! And do something cool with it!