Dave Taylor (ddt) – Cúchulainn 10 Minute Pitch
Everyone knows Dave Taylor. He worked on the Doom and Quake series, went on to found Crack dot Com, has done a lot of other stuff in between and presently still has his hands in a variety of pots. If you don’t know Dave, you probably should. He’s well connected in lots of funky ways, and he’s who I usually turn to when I’m looking for someone away from my traditional path. I don’t remember when or where I first met Dave, but it’s been a long time. Dave and I share secrets, and that makes it fun.
You start the game with a cinematic of Cúchulainn walking down a path towards a large manor as he is playing with his sliotar (ball) and hurley (club), as a puppy follows him, clearly eager to fetch the sliotar. Cúchulainn suddenly bats it into the air in the direction they had walked from, and the puppy tears down the path, returns the sliotar, drops it, and then suddenly takes off in terror.
Confused, Cúchulainn turns around, and sees what scared it, a huge guard dog that instantly leaps on him and throws him to the ground. The screen becomes a blur or fur and saliva and blood amidst growls and grunts and then suddenly a choking sound. The camera pulls back, and Cúchulainn pulls his bloody hurley out of the dog’s throat. The expired dog looks like a surprised roast pig with a sliotar jammed deep into its throat instead of an apple.
The puppy returns, barking fiercely at the huge, dead guard dog but from a safe distance. Alarmed by the commotion, Culann emerges from behind the reinforced front door of his manor dabbing food from his mouth with a napkin while his visiting friend Forgall Monach impolitely continues tearing into a leg of mutton, and they are instantly joined by Culann’s personal guards who quickly surround Cúchulainn awaiting Culann’s orders.
Forgall’s daughter Emer is hiding behind Forgall’s gaudy robe looking fearfully at the slain guard dog and in awe at Cúchulainn. Forgall notices his daughter’s interest, gives Cúchulainn a dirty look, then whispers something in Culann’s ear.
Culann’s forehead furrows in anger as he hears the whisper, but before he can speak, Cúchulainn requests that Culann let him replace the dog with his own service until a suitable replacement is grown. Culann is impressed and accepts with a nod, then retreats back into his home. Forgall spits a mouthful of mutton at Cúchulainn, grabs his daughter by the hand, and forcibly drags her back inside. As she struggles vainly to be free of Forgall’s grasp, she locks eyes with Cúchulainn just as the door is slammed shut in his face by the guards.
Cúchulainn wipes off his bloodied hurley on the fur of the guard dog’s corpse, while the puppy gingerly approaches the slain guard dog. The puppy then marks the corpse with some pee and walks over to Cúchulainn and sits by his feet as he assumes his position outside Culann’s door standing guard. The cinematic ends.
From here, the game becomes an overhead one. You can move within a limited range with a thumbstick, dpad, or arrow keys, and you can attack by using your ranged weapon (starts out as your sliotar and hurley, upgrades to slings later) another thumbstick like Robotron, or by using a mouse over your target. You can also automatically use your hurley as a melee weapon simply by moving into an enemy.
If you move into an enemy just after he has attacked, he will be vulnerable, and if you have upgraded from your hurley to an edged weapon, you have a chance of beheading him in your counter-strike. If you do, then you will be given only a moment to aim, as Cúchulainn spins around and slaps the head in the direction specified using the flat of his sword blade, as if hitting a sliotar. It will fly towards its enemies like a massive sliotar.
The severed head carries with it Cúchulainn’s Specter of Fear, which will infect and begin to slow and devour strength from any enemy it hits, and it will spread to any other enemy who comes near the infected. As each enemy dies, the Specter grows stronger, surging power from the infected corpse into the next nearest enemy. This chain reaction continues until no one is left to infect.
You defend Culann’s grounds by taking out waves of incoming baddies. You can’t let one of them past you, or the game ends. If you lose all your HP, you will go unconscious, and if you are attacked while unconscious, you will die and also lose.
The puppy follows you in the game, barks fiercely, but stays away from the fight and mostly marks the bodies of your enemies with pee. More importantly, he chases after slingstones thrown but brings back various weapons and armor strewn on the battlefield to Cúchulainn from where the slingstones hit or landed.
As you go through levels, the puppy grows, and eventually its barks scare enemies from the area it wants to grab weapons and armor from, which means he can grab things much faster. Later still, it is able to attack lone enemies and take them out in order to get to a piece of armor or a weapon. When fully grown, the dog can tear a straight line through a thick group of enemies to get to the item it wants to fetch.
If you fall unconscious, the dog will also guard you while you regain consciousness and heal up.
Not long after the dog is fully grown, he takes your position guarding Culann’s manor entrance, but in exchange, you are given a chariot, the charioteer Láeg, and the horse Liath Macha.
The game now changes dramatically. Instead of moving Cúchulainn, you are now riding in the chariot and automatically radially circle Culann’s grounds as enemies attack from all sides. Up and down now changes the radius of your patrol around the grounds, but your speed stays constant unless you push right to slow down or left to speed up. You are always traveling counter-clockwise and always in the center of the screen.
You automatically behead if you simply ride by an enemy at a close enough range (without running over him), but you can no longer aim the heads. The Spectre of Fear either spreads or dies from the spot where you made the beheading. Your ranged weapon still works as before.
You need to stop attacking in order to pick up weapons and armor on the field as you pass over them on the chariot. You can never completely stop or go backwards, so if you miss it, you have to get it on your next time around.
The dog now no longer fetches things for you. It is assigned to your previous post and prevents anyone from breaching the entrance to Culann’s grounds. Your job is to thin out the attackers so that the dog can handle the load without leaking.
After several levels of this and various clues, you begin to suspect that it is Forgall who is behind these attacks. Culann refuses to believe his friend is behind this until finally, the dog fetches orders from a slain enemy officer, and Culann’s forehead once again furrows. He charges Cúchulainn with slaying Forgall, and offers his chariot team, his dog, and even his favourite sword to assist in the task.
Cúchulainn lays siege to Forgall’s castle using very much the same techniques as before, only now as he circles it in his chariot, it is wiser to be further away, and it’s harder to get close to the defenses. The dog is now riding on the chariot and sticks his head out the side with the thrill of the speed. He does not attack, but when he sees an interesting piece of armor or a weapon, he hops out, fights anyone in his way to get it, and then waits for you to come back around to run alongside the chariot and hop back into it with the find.
Eventually, you have to abandon the chariot and get through 24 of Forgall’s elite guards, and then corner Forgall on a rampart. Your dog comes with for this final push. He no longer fetches but instead stays by your side. If anyone gets too close to you, he bites, and if you fall, then he drags you to safety and guards your body from attackers while you regain consciousness and heal up.
If you use the head-hurling Specter of Fear technique against Forgall with his most elite guard’s head, the Specter of Fear will slowly drain Forgall of strength, making the final fight much easier, and until he is so weak that the Specter is able to push him off the side of the rampart if you haven’t already finished him off yourself.
In the ending cinematic, you get the gold and give it to Láeg, who stacks it up in the chariot and tops it with Forgall’s head with two gold coins over the eyes. After a touching goodbye moment between Cúchulainn and his faithful charioteer Láeg, Cúchulainn gives Liath a swat in the rump, and they’re off with their prize to Culann’s home. The chariot rides off into the sunset.
In a close up of Cúchulainn, we see him wiping a tear as Láeg rides off. Then Emer’s lips come into the close-up as she kisses his cheek softly. Back in a master shot facing towards the sunset and the retreating form of Láeg, she curls her index finger in a come-hither motion and then leads him by the hand off screen.
The dog begins to follow and then stops in the center of the screen and cocks its head as we hear the sounds of Emer and Cúchulainn kissing. Suddenly, her dress is thrown onto the screen, the dog catches it in midair, and puts it down gently. Then we see one of Cúchulainn’s boots fly over the dog’s head and offscreen. He fetches it and drops it next to the dress, then turns his back to the camera and towards the sunset. He sits obediently, assuming his guard position. The sun continues to set until the background has faded to black, and the credits roll.