Archive for the ‘castles-of-darkness’ Tag

Castles of Darkness (1981)   3 comments

As we get deeper into adventure game history, it is harder to pick out “notable firsts”, but I think Castle of Darkness has to qualify on some level. It is the first adventure to make extensive use of animation and the first the graphically represent the player character from a third-person perspective; in other words, a direct predecessor of the entire “point-and-click” genre.

From the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.

It is the only game by Michael Cashen, and the only product published by The Logical Choice, a store chain in Baltimore. Quoting Michael himself:

Like a lot of small computer stores, back in those days, The Logical Choice had a meeting room where we fanatics gathered and discussed various problems. A big topic was how to maximize memory (64K RAM was huge then) and I figured out how to tap into the Apple II’s graphics in ways I could get a lot of bang for the byte. Castles of Darkness grew out of those methods since I could now fit a lot of information on a 5″ floppy disk. George, the owner of The Logical Choice, contracted to publish it and had to talk me out of writing a cassette version: I felt sorry for the many who had not yet graduated to floppy disks (most owners of the first Apple II’s transferred information with a standard audio cassette – and my Apple II Plus was one of the first: it had the serial number 00109).

This is “castles” plural, so you start out in front of two of them, here to break “the curse of the Evil Wizard Grimnacht”, who has plunged the world into perpetual night and captured a princess.


While all action is viewed from a far third-person perspective, the game is not free-roaming; you still put in parser commands, and the character animates when moving around or fighting enemies. A sample:

A pickax is the only helpful item to start; on the far east you can DIG ROCKS to find a secret passage (this took about fifteen minutes of noodling to find). Inside there is an orc; combat is just a matter of KILL ORC over and over, but the animation makes the game feel slightly lively about it. I then got stuck until realizing the interface concept here: you need to often refer to directions. FEEL NORTH reveals a secret exit, and OPEN NORTH is the way to open it. (I quit in frustration at an early play-through by trying to OPEN DOOR.)

The need to feel for secret walls is extensive enough this feels slightly RPG-ish.

Also interesting is the graphical conceit: rather than each location being custom, like in the On-Line Systems games, there are a set of “standard” graphics that get mixed and matched. A sample, so you can see the re-use.

I found a charm with the message 5-26-13-18-8-19-4-12-9-16-8-18-13-12-13-22-9-12-12-14. The numbers (when matched to the alphabet backwards) spell out VANISH WORKS IN ONE ROOM. This was useful when I encountered a wraith.

Typing SAY VANISH causes the wraith to poof. I’ve also encountered a troll which I can’t put a dent in (although he’s not blocking anything, so maybe you’re just supposed to avoid him), some locked doors and a locked chest, and a key I can’t reach.

The game mentions 78 indoor rooms, and I’ve got 19, so I’m about a quarter of the way in.

Posted November 15, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Castles of Darkness: Sounds   9 comments

I was already planning on this follow-up post to discuss the sound, but what I did not expect is what is likely the first sound-based puzzle in an adventure game. That is, a puzzle reliant on literal sound made from the computer, not as described in text.

To continue from last time, I had a key I couldn’t reach. Hidden in one of the many cracks of the rooms was a parchment that read


I originally tested this on doors (the usual use in adventure games) but I realized the locked chest might be KNOCK-able.

The chest had a METAL BAR and STRANGE RING. When you pick up the ring it is described in inventory as a RING WITH STRANGE SHAPES ON IT. The bar is described as a METER LONG BAR. (This is a general pattern of the game; the initial description of an object is less detailed than what you see when the object is being held.)

I was able to get the key with the bar (it was magnetic), which let me open a door to … a dead end.

As the game’s HELP indicates, you won’t get anywhere fighting this troll, its skin is too tough.

I was seriously baffled for long enough I pulled up the game’s hint sheet, but it led me to being even more baffled.

From the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.

The puzzles seem to roughly be in a sequence, and the one after using the key is CAN’T STOP CLICKING NOISE? Wait, clicking noise?

I knew there was sound (I had tested it and found in combat you could hear things; video below from Highretrogamelord)…

…but the game was silent otherwise, so I had shut it off (I sometimes play in scenarios where it would be impolite to have weird booping Apple II sounds, and to be honest, I’m not wild about weird booping Apple II sounds). After you hit the dead end, and assuming you can hear the Apple II’s noises, whenever you take steps, you hear (as the hints indicate) a clicking sound.

I still was somewhat baffled, although I did find LISTEN was giving a hint. If you LISTEN normally:


If you LISTEN after the clicking starts


Even though it isn’t mentioned as inventory, you’re supposed to look in your SHOE.


Inside there was a coin. Gah!

The only reason this is semi-fair is that there was a reasonably long puzzle sequence to get to that dead end, so I knew there had to be a secret of some sort. I don’t know if I would have ever got the idea of checking clothing on my own (I had to poke at a walkthrough, it’s not even clear from the hint sheet).

The coin’s magic word (EXCELSIOR) can be used on the second castle to open it.

There are some interesting items inside, like a ENVELOPE with a PILL where the envelope indicates you should eat the pill when lightning is about to strike. There’s a strange umbrella (PROPERTY OF M. POPPINS) and a “short, flexible yew pole” (I SEE NOTCHES ON BOTH ENDS). There’s also a dartboard on a wall (I have tried to throw the pole but no dice; maybe I need to assemble a full dart with items later).

I solved one other puzzle, but I need to rewind a bit first — remember when I said VANISH worked to get rid of a wraith? That was incorrect. Even if you don’t HIT WRAITH your character still is fighting, so what happened was I tried SAY VANISH at the same time my character coincidentally hit the wraith and it ran away. On a second playthrough (I was testing things out) I didn’t have the same effect and was baffled. Whoops.

So VANISH was still in play, but I got to use it here.

You can lift the cage (there’s a rope and pulley) but the wraith kills you. If you SAY VANISH first — remember this message came from the charm — it causes your character to go invisible. (Since the game is in third-person perspective, this is done purely graphically!)

This lets you get by the cage and get stuck by a large boulder, or at least that’s where I’m stuck at the moment. It seemed like a good stopping point.

Posted November 17, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Castles of Darkness: The Sun is Shining   2 comments

There were a few struggles remaining, but light has returned to the world.

Plus, I got to experience some Apple II voice synthesis.

From the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.

I had left last time on a bridge. I had an umbrella with M. Poppins on it, and the bridge was the right point to go flying. After OPEN UMBRELLA:

The new area has gloves which contain a boulder-removal cream, remarkably pertinent to the bridge dilemma. Using OPEN UMBRELLA again flew me over outside the castle, and I was able to walk back and apply the cream, getting rid of the boulder.

I then got a bit stuck until I realized that in addition to feeling for secret doors in the cardinal directions, I could FEEL UP and FEEL DOWN. sigh Thus began checking every single room in the game.

One room led down to some treasure and a “tarnished lamp”. Rubbing the lamp led to the voice synthesis: “THE MAZE, THE MAZE, THE MAZE”.

I tried to record the sound but was having trouble; I’ll update this post if I can get a video to work later.

This bit is optional — it’s supposed to be a hint as to where to go next.

The maze being referenced I found past another hidden staircase:

Some descriptions of various rooms:




The four adjectives can be recombined in 24 different ways, so yes, there seem to be 24 different rooms. I started to map hoping things would hold sanity, but quickly realized that wasn’t going to be the case.

From The Book of Adventure Games by Kim Schuette.

I figured I’ve proven myself enough in other games that I know how to map a maze, so I just looked up the route. The only thing to find in the maze was a STRING. Once you have the string, the flexible yew pole from earlier can combine to MAKE BOW. I also found some ARROWS on looking at the dartboard I mentioned last time.

(Incidentally, the genie’s hint changes after you’ve gotten the string to “BREAK BALL”, which refers to an event at the end of the game.)

I knew when I had my bow and arrows where to go next: a dragon I found off another secret door.

This is animated; you walk in, he breaths fire, you run away.

Here I was horribly stuck, because the pattern was to enter the room and get chased off without being able to type anything. I poked at the hint sheet again and found the clue LEAVE THE CIRCLE.

Huh? The only thing I could think of was a ring I hadn’t used yet.


I went ahead and dropped it off before entering the dragon room, and found I was able to react to the dragon rather than just run away. I was able to SHOOT, run away, SHOOT, run away, and SHOOT for a third time to slay the dragon. The accumulative damage being needed to slay the dragon was quite satisfying, but I had no idea what the ring was doing.

I found from commenter Odkin that my lack of sound earlier caused me to miss a clue: the game says BEWARE when you pick up the ring. That still makes the moment it happens kind of random, but it does impressively make for a second sound-based puzzle.

Past the dragon was a room of fire; I had a big roll of asbestos that I laid out in a way that reminded me of Kaves of Karkhan.

This was followed by one last locked door and me banging my head some more. I went ahead and spoiled: I missed the fact there was a bird earlier I could WHISTLE to and it would drop a MEDAL.

The medal has the description

ONE SIDE READS “A IS 26, B IS 25, Y IS 2, Z IS 1”

I already applied the code, but that last part of the text indicates the medal is also useful on locked doors. USE MEDAL opened up to the last room.

The wizard fries you unless you take the pill-of-lightning-resistance first, but TAKE PILL is easily followed by KILL WIZARD. You can then SMASH BALL (matching with the genie’s hint) to win the game.

Before signing out, I’d like to quote Kim Schuette, whose map I showed off earlier, writing in the early 80s:

The game offers a degree of animation and occasional spoken words, but some of the graphics leave a lot to be desired, particularly small and difficult to differentiate objects. Travel from location to location is on the slow side. Also, the limited vocabulary often makes progress frustratingly slow.

I can’t disagree with most of this? I think on some original screens the objects would look like a blurry mass (which really are tiny, check out those gloves on the first screenshot) and the trudging animation did start to get tiring when I had to keep looping back and forth (emulator turbo speed for the win, though). I find the comment on the parser most interesting, in that Mr. Schuette has tolerated quite similar (he called Savage Island Part 1’s parser “limited but adequate”, for instance) but I’m also guessing he didn’t use my “ram through a big verb list before getting too far in the game” method and just happened into run into issues by happenchance; I think USE MEDAL at the very end was quite a serious case in point (I’m still unsure what is being done with the medal, there).

In an analytical sense, the game had some pretty bad moments — needing to search every wall, floor, and ceiling, the tedious maze, the need to refer to clothing — but I still found the experience relatively fulfilling, I think just due to sheer originality. The 3D aspects of Deathmaze and other Med Systems works gave them an adventure-from-another-universe feel, and the same is true here. The intense focus on searching and occasional random combat (I left out some in my narrative where you just types KILL ORC or KILL WRAITH a bunch of times) yet utter refusal to incorporate “classic” CRPG elements like stats made the game feel quite different, and that’s not even including the unusual 3rd person animation aspect. I unfortunately can’t recommend the game for general play (it leaped off the cliff with the maze) but it’s still worth a peek from those fascinated by adventure game history. There’s an online version at the Internet Archive; at the very least it’s interesting to walk around the environment a little and see what protozoic 3rd person adventuring is like.

Posted November 19, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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