A Master at Castlequest   14 comments

(If you’ve arrived here from elsewhere, you should read the series in order, as this post discusses gathering the last treasures of the game.)

I’m ready to check out of this one. There’s some sort of endgame section, like Crowther/Woods Adventure, and just like various Adventure variants, I have only partial confidence that it even is triggerable. A scan of the source code indicates I have otherwise found all the treasures. So, let’s do my final delve–

I was, rather satisfyingly, correct about the long sequence with the boat — since you open a hole past the moat, you can take the boat that way all the way to a spot where you can cross over to a small island.

You are at the base of a magnificent underground waterfall. A cool mist rising off the surface of the water almost obscures a small island. A tunnel goes west and stone steps lead up.


You are on a small island near a large waterfall. The sound of crashing surf can be clearly heard, although you cannot quite make out the form of the waterfall through the thick mist. A message traced out in the sand reads “GILLIGAN WAS HERE”. There are pieces of a wreck (the S.S. MINNOW?) scattered about.

There is a very large ruby here!

Rather less glamorously, my rope issue was resolved by finding an exit I had missed on my map. I used what I’ve termed the walkthrough method where I wrote a partial walkthrough just to be careful re-tracing my initial steps (and to feel like doing so wasn’t a waste of time, important psychological bit, that). My first thirteen steps (the game understands T for take):


In the process, in the underground section with a hunchback I found I simply had missed testing a particular exit. I also found, as a side effect, the hunchback is not doomed to die early: he simply acts as defense against the werewolf if it does a sudden attack no matter when it happens. I’ve noticed the rare occasion where the werewolf would cause instant death upon appearance, so this seems to be there simply to guard against that.

With the rope, I managed to go back to the room at the start of the game and retrieve a gold statue outside the starting window. Again, nothing too glamorous there, and even more unglamorously, I figured out my problem with the glacier: I needed to type IN as a direction and I could retrieve a crystal swan.

I still was fairly short on points and knew I was missing a section. Importantly, my use of the rope did *not* apply a grappling hook I had — I simply tied it to a bed. So I tied the to the grappling hook instead and went jaunting around looking for a place to use it.

I came across a cliff past the maze, and a final section:

You are at the edge of a sheer vertical drop overlooking an immense N/S cavern. Narrow paths head away to the east and west.

A rope is hooked to the top of the precipice.

There’s two places probably for atmosphere…

This is the disco room. Multicolored lasers pulsate wildly to the beat of badly mixed music. A stairway down is barely visible through the glare. A large passage exits south, and a smaller one leads west.


You have entered the land of the living dead, a large, desolate room. Although it is apparently uninhabited, you can hear the awful sounds of thousands of lost souls weeping and moaning. In the east corner are stacked the remains of dozens of previous adventurers who were less fortunate than yourself. To the north is a foreboding passage. A path goes west.

… but the remainder of the map was there to serve up a cyclops, and a wizard. I was short on items, and tried my cuban cigar on the cyclops.

You are in a tall tunnel leading east and west. A small trail goes SE. An immense wooden door heads south.

There is a fairly large cyclops staring at you.


The cyclops turns to you and says:
“Hey buddy!. Got a light??”


The light is burning dimly.


The torch is burning noisily.


The cyclops chokes from the rancid tobacco, and crashes through the door in search of water.

There is a cyclops-shaped hole in the door.

This really strikes me as Zork-reference territory — I don’t think if it was ever cleared up with the authors if either one had seen Zork, but both the Land of the Dead and the cyclops in close proximity seem like direct references. As you’ll see in a moment, the Zork references get even more direct:

The broken door leads to a cyclops lair with a sword. Taking the sword further on, it starts to glow:

You are in a tremendous cavern divided by a white line through its center. The north side of the cavern is green and fresh, a startling change from the callous terrain of the cave. A sign at the border proclaims this to be the edge of the wizard’s realm. A rocky and forlorn trail leads east, and a plush green path wanders north.

Your sword is glowing dimly.


You are in an immense forest of tall trees. Melodic chanting can be heard in the distance. The trees seem to be guiding you along a N/S path.

Your sword is glowing very brightly.

Just a bit farther in:

This is the wizard’s throne room. Scattered about the room are various magical items. A long message in ancient runes is carved into the southern wall. It translates roughly as “Beware the power of the Wizard, for he is master of this place”. Two green paths go south and east, and a marble walk leads west.

A powerful wizard blocks your way with his staff.

The wizard just vaporizes you if you try to attack him. This is where my previous work in generating a verb list for the game paid off. I looked at any I might not have used, and the only one that came up was WAVE. So instead of swinging for the jugular, I tried WAVE SWORD:

The walls of the cavern tremble as you unleash the terrible power contained in the sword.

The wizard, sensing a stronger power than his own, flees in a blinding flash and a cloud of smoke.

Glorious! Past the wizard I found a cache of money, which represented the last missing treasure.

This is the safe deposit vault, an immense room with polished steel walls. A closed circuit T.V. camera hums quietly above you as it pans back and forth across the room. To the east is an open elevator. Engraved on the far wall is the message:

There is an ornate skeleton key here!

There is a bottle of vintage champagne here!

There is an ivory-handled sword here!

A gold statue is glistening in the light!

There is a silver cross nearby!

There is a very large ruby here!

Perched on the ground is a valuable jade figure!

A sapphire sparkles on the ground nearby!

There is lots of money here!

A delicate crystal swan lies off to one side!

Now, the reason I’m suspicious the ending might be broken is that the score acts oddly here; I checked at one point and had 275 points. I did a slight bit of object rearranging, and then afterwards, had 271 points even though the same treasures were in the vault. Some hidden timed element, perhaps? Either way, I got no messages indicating something signficant had happened, nor secret areas open up. I did find a real “ending text” scanning the source code but I’d rather only give it if I ever manage a true ending.

The game claims upon exit that I am a MASTER of Castlequest, which is honestly good enough for me.

ADD: Arthur figured out in the comments there’s a hidden time limit, and if you don’t get the treasures fast enough you don’t get the endgame. He made his own posts playing through the game here and here, if you want to see what the end is like. I also recommend his outstanding code comparison between Adventure and Castlequest (for example, Castlequest forces verb-noun order, while in Adventure word order doesn’t matter so you can GET LAMP or LAMP GET equally well).

Castlequest managed to avoid a lot of the pitfalls of 1979/1980 games; except for the maze with the bizarre changing names, the puzzles are essentially straightforward, and it was a longer game simply due to content as opposed to trying to get the player stuck on the same puzzle for hours. Most of the issues (ahem missing exits) I admit were essentially mine.

The framing around a nemesis to fight gave a slight bit more motivation than “just go find treasure”, and the castle structure also made the underground part seem less random (even when it started resorting to putting a jungle a few steps away from a glacier, and a disco room adjacent to the screams of the dead). It would be nice, still, to have a slightly more modernized port; there’s a save game feature, for instance, but it quits the game, and RESTORE only works at the very start of the game. The game also only understands ALL CAPS commands which turned out to be a source of 50% of the errors for me (especially when I kept switching back and forth to a map!) But in the end I am very, very, grateful both the authors (Michael Holtzman and Mark Kershenblatt) and Arthur O’Dwyer who helped rescue this game from oblivion.

As I stated on my first post about this game, The Pits (another lost 1980 game, this time on an online system called The Source) is also buried somewhere in the US Copyright Office. Anyone want to make a go at nabbing the treasure?

Posted April 12, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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14 responses to “A Master at Castlequest

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  1. “a disco room adjacent to the screams of the dead”

    Would that make it a Disco Inferno?

  2. Hey, I also had trouble finding the rope! (I observed from the map in your first post that you also seemed to have had trouble finding the smoking room and the entire upstairs, at first. There’s also a downstairs area which is inessential.) The endgame *is* reachable; and since you did collect all 10 treasures, I can only surmise that you must have been vafhssvpvragyl cebgrpgrq ntnvafg tabzr nggnpxf on your final trip to the vault. If you want full spoilers for the endgame (and some probably mildly entertaining differences in what we each found noteworthy), see my own “All the Adventures” homage starting at https://quuxplusone.github.io/blog/2021/03/19/all-the-adcastlequest-part-1/
    The source code also tracks the treasures you have “left to see,” just like Adventure does; so e.g. if you use the acid on a werewolf, making the statue inaccessible, then the endgame will trigger once you’ve collected *nine* treasures. I’ve always thought this countdown was one of the silliest bits of Woods’ code, so it’s interesting to see Holtzman independently(?) reinvent it.

    • No, I have the axe. It doesn’t do anything.

      (great writeup, by the way!)

      • Ooh. Studying the code again, I see that your treasure-related score is docked 1 point for each 5 turns you take over 250. So, if you’ve collected all 10 treasures and are carrying the axe *BUT* it’s turn 255 or later, then tough luck, the door is closed, no endgame for you. (And there’s no alternate ending, either; you just get to wander aimlessly forever.)

      • I added a paragraph and linked your posts for people who want to see the endgame.

  3. Giving no indication that there’s a time limit is pretty evil.

    • And odd for such a forgiving game. The hints are relatively generous and the puzzles are straightforward enough I didn’t need them (I looked them up afterwards). The silver cross I mentioned on killing the vampire isn’t necessary if you get to the vampire when sleeping, so it’s ok to miss that. There’s the auto-adjust on max treasure count Arthur mentioned.

      The only other thing that’s Hezarin-style evil is having “long” and “short” room descriptions differ in the maze (a puzzle you can technically solve in a meta sense by only showing short descriptions)!

      • (Thanks for the linkback!) I actually thought the maze of long and winding passages was really cute, in a good way. It cleverly plays with the “form” of the adventure game — foregrounding the rule that every room has both a long and a short description, and subverting the player’s expectation that the long and short descriptions should be somehow related. I hadn’t seen that gimmick before, and I think it’s quite creative. The structure of the reused descriptions is also (accidentally?) satisfying, in that there are exactly as many descriptions as rooms; and the structure of the maze is also (accidentally?) a little bit bottlenecky in a way that’s satisfyingly reminiscent of Crowther’s maze. All in all, this is my favorite maze since the rainbow garden maze in MCDO0551. :)

      • I haven’t gotten to 551 yet, I guess I have something to look forward to!

        Probably the “most clever” maze I’ve run across for the project is the pyramid from Warp, but I never really solved that one, I just bypassed it with an item that can randomly drop you in the right spot.

  4. Great write-up of the game!

    I noticed pretty early that there was something strange going on with the points and looked it up in the source code that points are subtracted when your moves exceed 250. This one I found a bit evil.

    Did you you figure out the last lousy point? (I looked it up in the source code)

    • I did not — I learned about it from Arthur’s writeup.

      • You can also bring the butler to “the heights of orgasmic pleasure” if you know the correct verb (yes, that one.) Personally I’d have preferred a French maid rather than a butler but whatever floats your (row)boat I suppose.

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