I’ve been playing a fan translation of the first King’s Field game, and it’s fascinating. Some of the ways the design leans into its technical deficiencies are really clever. They don’t have a lot of textures for the world, so they apply them to areas with unique geometry.
For example, the first floor has 5 major sets of textures used throughout. You’ve got a set that looks like stone walls and dirt floors that gets paired with regions that are generally straight and feel carved out, but that occasionally take odd twists and turns, like they were just digging around the environment. Then you’ve got a big area with a kind of brutalist design that is huge, angular hallways made of stone that stretch off into the black fog draw distance. Shops and homes get divided up into rooms with a wooden-plank texture over everything. A couple of special areas are related to the dragon shrine that was originally situated in the graveyard, and they are much nicer looking and more elaborate than the rest of the floor, with carved pillars and insets in the walls for decorations (that are gone). But then you get the tunnels. These use a strange, blue-ish texture and are very difficult to navigate compared to the rest of the floor. They twist and diverge constantly, and until you can find the map (which took me quite a while), it’s extremely easy to get lost in them. I eventually found a little room where a pyramid juts down into the room from the ceiling, that serves no purpose (for now, maybe they’ll be important later). Later, on the second floor, more blue tunnels appear, and it becomes apparent that they cut paths through and around the rest of the geometry of the shrine (and even more inverted pyramid rooms show up). It gives the tunnels a weird, alien feeling, like they were made by something uninterested in the existing pathways.
What gets me about all of this is how the game manages to evoke not just a sense of place, but a sense of history to the world. With just 5 simplistic sets of textures and some thought put into the geometry, they’ve managed to make a space with a sense of history, where you can feel how new structures were built around old ones and passages between them are cut through.
I’m a bit of a sucker for early 3D games, and I love seeing how they manage to overcome their limitations with this sort of clever design. It’s really cool.