Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Castle [designed using Wander]: Victory!

I'm done with Castle, and to be honest I spent more time on it than I probably should have.  Sure it has a lot of historical curiosity, and a touch of historical significance, but those don't always translate into a great game.  Castle is... let's say it's interesting.  It has certain elements that would carry forth into gaming through much of the 1980s, though I wouldn't necessarily say that they are positive ones.  I'll explain later once I touch on the endgame.

The first thing I should say is that it's surprisingly complete.  I've played William Crowther's original version of Colossal Cave Adventure (though I didn't blog about it), which is the only comparable text adventure to Castle in terms of vintage.  That game is unfinished.  It has no ending, there are exits from locations that don't lead anywhere, and there's at least one section that crashes the game.  It's also of great historical significance, but the original version wasn't the one that was widely played and circulated.  I was expecting something similar from Castle, but instead I got a game that was much larger and much more complete.  That's probably because Peter Langston worked on it for years after its initial release, but I can only play the games in front of me.  Without the original code for Castle we'll never know.

That's not to say Castle is totally complete.  It has a number of bugs in the code, and I took it upon myself to roll up my sleeves and fix them, which was a tricky thing to do without violating the workings of the game.  I'm pretty sure I managed it, and I may just have the only version in which you can legitimately reach the true ending.  I'll mention the changes I made as they come up.

At the end of my last post I had just found the entrance to a missile silo, and upon opening the doors I'd ended up splattered on the front of a launching rocket.  When I went back there this time, I paid a bit more attention to the sign on the door.  It read: "...ILO.  To la...open doo...uck!."  I took a stab at filling in the blanks, and this time when I opened the door  I typed DUCK.  I wasn't expecting this to work, but not only did I dodge the missile, I found myself in the Missile Control Room.  (You can read the full message by lighting a match found later in the game, and that makes the puzzle a lot more explicit.)

(There's an error message that crops up in the shaft, to do with the OPEN DOOR command.  I fixed it by adding a backslash or two, and now the message doesn't appear.  Missing punctuation is the most irritating thing about coding, and the easiest to miss.)

Blowing up the portcullis

There was a screen flashing here, asking me for a target.  I tried a few things, which involved multiple restarts, as you only get one shot.  I couldn't blow up the moat, or the bridge, or the honeymoon cottage, or even the castle drawbridge.  Eventually, after going through my notes, I hit on the correct answer: the portcullis that had been blocking my way south.

The only exit from the Missile Control Room was a hatch leading up, which exited at the Crossroads where the game begins.  (I fixed a bit of code here as well.  Exiting the Control Room is supposed to change the Crossroads so that the hatch is visible, but the original code didn't point to the right place.  It works now.)

I retraced my steps back through the castle courtyard, and found that the portcullis was a smoking ruin.  To the south were some gardens, where I found some jewels and an ugly frog.  Kissing the frog did nothing, so I took it with me instead.  The jewels end up being useless in the game.  The frog is part of the endgame, which I'll discuss once I get there.

Finding the frog.

There seemed to be nowhere else left to explore.  I couldn't figure out how to cross the moat, or open the drawbridge.  The shaft leading up to the missile silo led downwards as well, but I couldn't find a way to do so safely.  I figured that the only thing down there would logically be missiles, anyway.

So, with nothing left to do I set about testing every possible exit direction in every location.  I normally do this as part of my standard mapping procedure, but for whatever reason I was a bit lax with the early stages of this game.  Eventually I found what I was looking for at the bottom of the well: a secret passage leading north-east.

This led to a secret stairway, with four locations and four buttons.  Two of the buttons are bad, and will block the way back to the well.  If you press these, your escape later on will be much more difficult to figure out.  The other two open secret doors that lead into the castle proper.  There's also a passage that leads into a small maze of prison cells, which can be completely skipped; there's nothing in them.

The castle is big, with a lot of locations that don't really serve any purpose.  Instead of laboriously detailing my exploration of it, I'll hit the highlights in point form.

  • The king's bedroom has nothing interesting in it, but one of the doors from the secret stairway leads in here.  Nearby is the Queen's Boudoir, where a gossamer gown can be found, and a Sanctum which contains a signet ring.  Neither of these items is useful.
  • Close to those rooms is a Guest Chamber with a gideon bible.  Trying to take the bible results in a snarky message about how it was put there to help people renew their faith, or whatever, but reading it gives you a clue that tells you where to use the match.
  • A storeroom in the castle has a sack of potatoes in it, which is essential for completing the game without starving to death.  You can still die of starvation, but the potatoes are the most filling food you can find in the game.  (Not that it matters, because the game lets you carry on playing after starvation anyway.  I never bothered to try and fix that in the code, because it was much too beneficial.)
  • The lower level of the castle features a mead cellar and various kitchens and rooms for servants.  There's a wine bottle in the cellar, and a knife and a match in the kitchen.  The match can be used to read the sign in the Missile Silo, as I mentioned before, and the knife can be very useful in escaping the castle if you've blocked the Secret Stairs.  The wine bottle doesn't have an explicit use, but I like to drop it in the Armory (see below).
  • There's a throne room, but you have to be careful when approaching it, as any weapons you're carrying will disappear, and I haven't been able to find them again.  There's a sign that warns you about it, though, so it's not unfair.  Sitting on the throne opens a door to the Secret Stairs, but you can't pass back through it the other way, and if you've pressed the wrong buttons in the stairwell you can trap yourself forever.
  • The Castle Armory is curious, in that all of the weapons are held to the wall by a magnetic or magical force.  Dropping an object in the room causes the game to crash, and this is where I had to go in an do some tinkering with the code.  I think Langston's intention was that dropping any object would trigger the C4 explosive on the wall, blowing everything up except for a mace that you can then take.  That's how it works after my rewriting of the code, though I'm not 100% sure it works in the way originally intended.

Blowing up the armory.

  • The drawbridge is up, and the chain that lowers it is too rusted to be moved.  You can break it with the aforementioned mace, and once opened the drawbridge leads to the portcullis area.
  • There are two other obstructions in the castle.  One is a barred door leading from the Grand Ballroom to the Courtyard, and I never figured out how to open this.  The other is a wooden panel that blocks the passage between the Guard's Quarters and the Banquet Hall.  This can be cut through with the knife.
  • The castle has an East Tower and a West Tower.  In the East Tower is a 30-foot-long wig, and in the West Tower, there is a distressed damsel.  Both of these are crucial to the end-game.

Once I found the damsel, I figured that the goal of the game was to rescue her, or perhaps win her love or something.  I spent a good deal of time messing about, trying to give her various items to no avail.  The first thing I tried to do was TAKE DAMSEL, but the message I got was a surprising one: "Don't be lewd! (This is neither the time nor the place)"  This implied that there was a time and a place, and believe me, I was correct.

Eventually I hit on the correct command: CARRY DAMSEL.  Which is bullshit, really.  It's what I was trying to do in the first place, only the game blocked me to make a sex joke about it.  I don't really appreciate puzzles that involve exact, precise word usage, but I'm pretty sure I have a lot of them in my future if I'm going to continue with this blog.

The damsel told me that if I could get her to the Crossroads she'd reward me, but there was a problem: as soon as I picked her up the stairs leading back down were blocked by a stone wall.  This one wasn't hard to figure out, given the wig in my possession and the fact that the tower was named after Rapunzel.  I tried CLIMB WIG, which allowed me to climb out the window and down.  Not all the way down, though: the wig frayed while I was climbing on it, and I had to scramble through a window back into the castle.  I was past the wall, but I still had to get out of the castle.

An improbable rescue.

There are a few ways to do this.  If you haven't blocked the Secret Stairs, you can just open the door by sitting on the throne, and climb up out of the well.  You can use the same exit by dropping into the maze of prison cells from the Armory.  If you've blocked the Secret Stairs, things get a bit trickier: you have to blow up the Armory to get the mace, and then use the mace to open the drawbridge.  If you've already blown up the Armory, it gets even trickier, as that area the becomes impassable.  The only way through is to cut the wooden panel with the knife, which will get you back to the drawbridge.

Once out of the castle it's simple to get back to the Crossroads, at which point the endgame begins.  Well, one of the endgames, because this game has multiple end sequences.  If you return with the princess, you get the following:

Well, if I must...

If you return with the frog, you get the following:

If you insist.

The game, of course, wants you to have sex with whoever you rescued, and it won't take no for an answer.  In fact it won't accept any other command, except for the one that results in sexytimes.  Reluctantly I entered the command, and if I wasn't wryly irritated enough, I was dumped out of the game before I could read the victory message.  I hate it when games do this, just pure, unadulterated white-hot hatred.  I've sunk hours of my life into this thing!  I've even bloody re-coded your stupid game so that it works!!  Let me read the damn victory message!!!  Anyway, once my blood cooled I went and found the message in the source code.  It was totally worth it:  "Oooooooh!  Aaaaaaaaah!  Congratulations, you are an Expert Wanderer!"  Yep.  Totally worth it.

That's what I was talking about in the opening, with the elements that would carry forward into 1980s gaming.  There are a lot of games which treat sex as a reward, and they usually have an unpleasant, puerile "boys' club" atmosphere about them.  I'm not opposed to sex in games, really.  I love Leisure Suit Larry.  As with most things, the trick is in the execution.  The treatment here is in the puerile camp, and especially grating in that it comes in right at the end with little warning.  Despite that, I have to give Castle some props here, in that you have your pick of genders.  Your own gender isn't even specified, so it's quite progressive in that regard.

Speaking of progressive, there's one more ending I haven't mentioned.  You can rescue the princess, and you can rescue the prince...  But what if you save them both?  Well, Peter Langston thought of that as well.

Um, what if I just turn around while you guys do your thing?  Would that be okay?

Well, I say he thought of it, but he didn't exactly implement it.  The ending is in the source code, but there's no way to access it as written.  In the code there's a line that displays the message "Flirt!" if the frog and the princess are in the same area.  What it also does is change the princess into a frog, which makes the ultimate victory unattainable.  I'm not sure if this was intended, or simply a bug that never got ironed out.  Well, I got in there and fixed it, because I'm persistent in that way.

And what was my reward?  I'm glad you asked!  "OOOOOOOH!!!  AAAAAAAAAH!!  Congratulations, you are a Master Wanderer!"  A Master Wanderer indeed.

FINAL RATING:

Story & Setting: The story of this one is a bit garbled, and only comes into focus right at the end.  Even then, it doesn't make much sense.  The castle and its surroundings are quite well realised, even with the incongruous missile silo.  Even so, I can't quite bring myself to rank this as highly as Colossal Cave Adventure in this regard.  Yeah, I'm knocking it down for the sex ending.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters: The prince and the damsel are the only characters here, and they only exist as a reward for the player.  Not even being tied for "the world's best lay" can earn them an extra point.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: Text adventures never score well here, but I'm willing to give them extra points when they're well-written.  Castle has some good descriptions and writing (victory messages notwithstanding), about on a par with Colossal Cave Adventure, so I'll rate them as equals.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Mechanics: For the most part the game works well, but on the whole I would say that the parser isn't as strong as that in Colossal Cave.  Then there are the bugs.  When I have to dig into the code and fix a game, points are going to be lost.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Challenge: To be honest, the main challenge here was in getting the code to work properly.  As for the game itself, I feel like it had a decent balance, marred perhaps by a couple of puzzles that required very precise language.  It's also a little loose in its design, in that certain things that feel like they should be puzzles can be easily skirted around.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: I suppose I have to give this one top marks, don't I?  It was created in 1974, after all.  There is the caveat that it was updated throughout the 1970s, but even in 1980 having multiple endings was something of an innovation.  Rating: 7 out of 7.

Fun: I didn't have a great deal of fun playing this, but I really enjoyed digging into its inner workings.  That shouldn't factor into things, though.  To be honest, any game with bugs ought to lose points in this category.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Castle doesn't get the bonus point; I won't be coming back to this one ever again.  The scores above total 19, which gives me a final rating of 38.

Final Rating: 38 out of 100.

That places it below Adventureland and above Pirate Adventure.  From a historical perspective it perhaps deserves a higher spot, but to be honest I wasn't feeling this one.  If it had been properly functional it would have scored higher.

Speaking of which, if anyone wants the re-coded version of the game they should shoot me an e-mail, and I'll be happy to send the text files across.  You'll still need the rest of the Wander files, though (which can be found here).

Next: ZORK!  I've found a port of the original mainframe version, which I'm dating as 1977 even though the game was modified up through 1980.  Anything to move this up in the list, really.

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