Gargoyle Castle (1980)   8 comments

I am constantly surprised by what keeps coming up in these games. From a distance, the adventures of this era blur together, and might as well be one mass of guess-the-verb puzzles and questionable spelling. Up close, especially after playing enough of them, it starts to be easier to pick up on unique ideas and clever finesses. Every one of the creators was human and wanted to make something that included their own vision, even if there was a lot of copying going on.

I was hoping for a quick knockdown from 1980 with an obscure TRS-80 game by an author (Kit Domenico) who only has two games to his credit (this one and Ice World War from 1981). I figured Gargoyle Castle would be simple and wouldn’t have much to say about it. This was reinforced by the game being another treasure hunt (find the 10 treasures and win, attain glory, etc.)

The very start also seemed straightforward:

TAKE BIRD is a fail — the bird flies away. Ok, that’s at least predictable. I then tried to go WEST and got trolled hard, and then things started to get very unusual.

After recovering from ignominious death via the very first room exit, I noticed the “points for sloppiness”. What’s that about?

It turns out not only do you get positive points for storing treasures in a designated area, as usual (10 points each) you get deducted points for non-treasures that just happen to be lying around. After some experimentation, any “non-treasure” item causes a 1 point deduction while lying on the ground, unless it’s in the “Pit of Garbage” room.

In other words, to get a full score you need to properly discard of trash. The only game I can think of off the top of my head with a comparable idea is Sub Rosa, 35 years later in 2015.

The general effect has been for me to keep caring about every object in the game, even after it’s been used to solve a puzzle. Nice bit of continuity, that.

I marked the “opening area” in purple.

Structurally, Gargoyle Castle starts with a small area that opens up fairly soon after to the entire map. The opening segment gave enough structure I didn’t feel weirdly aimless like in Ghost Town.

The puzzles seem to be more along the lines of “converting ordinary items into treasures” than “beat obstacles and scoop up the shiny things in the rooms that follow”. For example, you find an “OLD BOOK” and an “EMPTY BOOKCOVER”. If you then “COVER BOOK” the book is now a GUTENBERG BIBLE and officially becomes a treasure. (I’m pretty sure none of the real Gutenberg Bibles have covers so this was slightly silly, but the puzzle still gives a good idea of the sort of conversion going on.)

I switched from a TRS-80 emulator to a TRS-80 MC-10 one once I realized I needed to save my game (the emulator linked here, I find it more stable for saving games to tape than any of the black-and-white emulators).

This structure is leading me not to necessarily wonder “what puzzle would this thing solve” but “which two things could be combined?” or “which thing could be converted after some act into a treasure?” For example, there’s a “mound of trash” in one room — is there some nugget of treasure hidden within, and if so, how do I find it? Even though an “antique shovel” isn’t considered a treasure is there a way to make it one (it is, after all, an antique). Does a tulip bulb combine with anything?

One other curious aspect: you can dig a hole anywhere outside. Not only that, but in each case, it makes a new room that you can go down in. There are not that many outdoor spaces, so this wasn’t a giant leap, but this is literally the first text adventure I’ve played where you can dig essentially anywhere that would be reasonable.

Of course, one of the holes led to another ignominious death.

I’ve found 6 out of the 10 treasures, and I’ve been having fun so far, so hopefully the fun holds out for the last 4? The “exploration of object interactions” emphasized over “exploration of space” really does make the game feel like something different.

Posted February 20, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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8 responses to “Gargoyle Castle (1980)

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  1. ” you can dig a hole anywhere outside. Not only that, but in each case, it makes a new room that you can go down in.”

    Can’t dig a hole from inside a hole, I presume?

  2. Another game in which you earn points for cleaning up after yourself is SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS Lost Pig. (The last lousy point comes from cleaning up after yourself in some way which I have forgotten. I should replay that.)

    • I don’t think I ever got that point, I will have to check it out.

      One difference here is that some of the mess already exists, so the player needs to leave things better than when they started.

      • There may be some mess that’s not yours. I remember one of the themes is that other people/creatures have been coming and messing with the gnome. Also, there was a pig running around.

  3. It seems the new dug room is always the same one. That can be handy to “teletransport” objects among far away locs in the map.

    • Neat trick! I’ll have to test it out. (I’m curious now if the gargoyle coded to drop in the hole if you dig in that one particular place, or if it shows up after a set number of holes.)

  4. Pingback: Gargoyle Castle: Stuck | Renga in Blue

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