Vampire Castle (1980)   4 comments

Aardvark released six adventure games in 1980; so far we’ve seen Trek Adventure, Deathship, Escape from Mars, and Pyramid.

Vampire Castle is (as far as I can tell) Mike Bassman’s only adventure game. It was, as usual, originally written for Ohio Scientific computers, and (also as usual) later ported to the Commodore 64.

From the Aardvark November 1981 catalog.

Rather unusually, there was also a MS-DOS port.

The sign says “the vampire wakes up at midnight”.

I went ahead and played the Ohio Scientific version as I did with the prior games, but I should note while the “concealed goal” idea mentioned in the instructions above seems cool conceptually, in practice here it’s bizarre; I’m in a game called Vampire Castle, I wonder if there might be some enemy I might need to defeat, one that likes to hang out in coffins?

This is also a quite straightforward and easy game, where I only got stopped twice (once from parser trouble, once from a genuinely interesting bit where I had already used up a resource). Hence, I think it’s an ideal test-bed for something I’ve wanted to try for a while: make a map not of the game, but of the inter-relation between puzzles. (If you desperately need a traditional map — and I’m not going to begrudge you because a fair number of visitors to this blog come for the maps — CASA has you covered.)

Now, this is not an novel enterprise; game designers make this kind of thing all the time[1], but I haven’t seen it as much from the player end, and I figured it might be an interesting device in my arsenal to have if I’m stuck on a game (perhaps allowing the ability to use structural solving, for instance).

To go there, I need to explicitly spoil the entire sequence of the game, so veer away now if for some reason you plan to play this first. (You can play the MSDOS version online at this link; it has some differences from the original but is close enough.)

Here’s a public domain spooky moon picture for spoiler space.

The game starts in an east-west hall with a fireplace, a library, and a parapet accessible. You also find an axe and sledgehammer in the same hall. Entering the fire leads to being burned to death, and GO PARAPET leads to falling, so those puzzles aren’t solvable right away. The library has a scroll indicating not all exits are obvious, and PUSH BOOKCASE opens an exit down.

The down-exit goes to a secret passage with a rope, a flask of oil, a bucket, and a crate. The axe can be applied to break the crate and get some wooden stakes.

The rope is sufficient to go to the parapet and TIE ROPE. This opens up an area with a key, holy water, and an oar. You can get the holy water with the bucket.

Once obtaining the water, you can DROP WATER at the fireplace to extinguish the flames. Inside the fireplace is a torch but nothing else; however, you can BREAK FIREPLACE to open a secret passage[2].

The hidden passage leads to a boat, which you can row as long as you have the oar. Then there’s a tapestry nailed to an overhang. The overhang is too high to reach, but if you haven’t destroyed the crate yet, you can drop it and use it as a step-stool to reach the overhang and remove the nails (using the sledgehammer, which apparently doubles as a regular hammer). This lets you pull down the tapestry and get to a secret passage[3].

There’s then a rusty door which requires oil to get through, followed by a room with a coffin. Opening the coffin (using the key) reveals the vampire; if you’ve got the wooden stakes you can then KILL VAMPIRE and win.

Only having the parser understand the first two letters of each word wrecks havoc on one’s spelling.

That’s the setup, here’s my diagram:

Dotted lines indicate a resource is used up.

I’m not happy with it yet; it looks like something meant to be read by computers rather than people, it doesn’t lead to any extra insights, and on a more complicated game this is going to turn into a nightmarish tangle. So, I need to keep experimenting.

Maybe:

1.) Rather than insisting on an arrow for everything, have some “distance connections” indicated by matching numbers (like on some complex text adventure geographical maps).

2.) Make the objects smaller and more like unified lists, so the actual puzzle-events have more space.

3.) Mark the crate in a special way indicating it’s possible to waste it before it can be used (that is, if you break it before using it as a step-stool, the game is soft-locked).

Any suggestions along these lines are helpful, I might take another crack at this soon. In the meantime, I’m down to 7 games to go before finishing off 1980!

[1] Does anyone have a lead on what the first extant documentation is for this sort of map? (That is, a map of puzzle relations, not a map of geography.)

[2] This is the spot of the game I had parser trouble. BREAK WALL didn’t work and the fireplace itself doesn’t appear as a listed noun when inside; it’s just in the title of the room.

[3] This is the second place I got stuck, because I had destroyed the crate already, and in evaluating my potential objects for use, I forgot to account for objects that existed only in the past. I’m also not sure why you can’t just apply an axe to the tapestry to get through.

Posted December 8, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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4 responses to “Vampire Castle (1980)

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  1. The rope is sufficient to go to the parapet and TIE ROPE. This opens up an area with a key, holy water, and an oar. You can get the holy water with the bucket.

    This is a most striking coincidence. I wrote a vampire-themed adventure game called Nosferatu when I was fourteen — see http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/tech/advent/nos/ for details and indeed source code — and I included a puzzle very near the start where you had to tie a rope to a balcony and climb down. Some years later when I played Scott Adams’ The Count, I found that one of the firs puzzles you encounter is a flagpole that you have to tie a sheet to in order to climb down. Now I find that Vampire Castle also has the same puzzle right near the start!

    There must be something about vampires and rope-climbing puzzles!

  2. Well, I surely feel intelligent now. I got stuck after exploring the Entrance Hall, Study, Library, Armory, Tower, Hidden Corridor, Alchemist’s Lab and Storeroom. I probably should have thought of tying the rope to the parapet, but 1. I ran up against the inventory limit and 2. I had trouble even referring to the parapet other than “tie rope” to what? “parapet”, so it kind of became a blind spot: I got reponses like LOOK PARAPET “You don’t have it”, GO PARAPET “You can’t go there”, which I guess are because the PARchment scroll has the same first three letters?

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