Friday 23 March 2012

Game 14: Shadowgate - Introduction

You would have thought that CGA might have gone away by 1988, four years after King's Quest

If there’s one thing that this blog has taught me, it’s that sheer determination and perseverance almost always leads to rewards. Apart from the games I’d already played through previously, I think there’s only been one game (Leisure Suit Larry) where I didn’t run into a significant brick wall at some point and even that game had me scratching my head a few times. Getting through Mortville Manor was a huge challenge for numerous reasons, not least of all the terrible translation and the illogicality of the plot. Both King’s Quest III and Maniac Mansion had their fair share of nasty puzzles that caused me no end of torment, but I persisted and was in every case rewarded to great satisfaction. However, there’s one game that sends shivers down my spine, and not for the reason it was likely designed. Uninvited! Just thinking about it makes me want to cower in the corner and tremble uncontrollably. No other game has given me so little in return for intense logical application or even determined trial and error. I wanted to enjoy the game…but I hated it!

If Shadowgate has a strange round grinning creature that just wants to fly, I'm quitting immediately

What’s any of the above got to do with the fourteenth game on my list? Well, ICOM released four games in total in their MacVenture series. Déjà Vu was the first (which was still challenging but nowhere near as frustrating), the second was Uninvited, and the third…yeah you guessed it…is Shadowgate. Call me a coward if you will, but I’m genuinely scared about starting this game, fearing that my next two weeks might be filled with tear-your-hair-out frustration and nights of aimlessly wandering around ugly CGA environments. It really doesn’t help that the little I’ve read about the game suggests the player dies at nearly every turn and Computer Gaming World’s review claimed the game was a step up in difficulty from Déjà vu and Uninvited. But…I’ve decided to man up, let go of all preconceptions, and go into Shadowgate expecting to win! It’s by far the most popular of the ICOM games, so it can’t be completely rubbish, and a few of you out there (Zenic for one) have commented that you enjoyed this game much more than Uninvited.

This cover suggests more horror than fantasy, but it's what's on the inside that counts right?

So what’s it all about? Shadowgate was originally released for Apple back in 1987 before being ported to numerous other formats including DOS in 1988. It uses the same interface as was used in the previous two MacVenture games and, unfortunately, was ported to DOS in glorious palette 1 CGA. While Déjà Vu was a detective game set in 1941 Chicago and Uninvited had a haunted house scenario, Shadowgate appears to have a fantasy setting (albeit a dark one) where the player takes the role of the “last of a great line of hero-kings”, with the aim of saving the world from an evil Warlock Lord who is attempting to summon a demon Behemoth from the fiery pits of Hell. The box artwork is fairly Lovecraft-ish so I imagine this might be a rather dirty affair, but I’ve learnt to never judge a book by its cover so we’ll see. Speaking of books, I notice Nintendo went through a phase of releasing game related books around 1991, and Shadowgate was one of the games chosen for the treatment. The book is a prequel called Before Shadowgate and I have no idea whether or not it should be recommended, so read at your risk! Anyway, I’ve downloaded the game and a manual (which is for the Apple, but I can’t imagine it differs all that much) and am ready to enter Castle Shadowgate. If I don’t hear from me within a couple of days, well...just know that I died an honourable death.

All I know is that Uninvited came Before Shadowgate, so I'm not rushing to the bookstore


  1. Cool! I'll be joining you into the castle as well if time permits. I'll just start the game to get a feel of the gameplay...

    (10 minutes later)

    I need a drink. I've died like ten times already and am apparently hopelessly stuck in screen 2. Manual is no help either. Oh ICOM... here's hoping I'm missing some basic interface functionality... :-)

  2. Charles, excellent description. Explore more is my only suggestion. Also, how did you manage to die 10 times while stuck on screen 2?

    I've decided, I'm going to play through the DOS version this weekend. Wish me luck, as I've never tried to get DOSBox up and running before. I'm very familiar with all the puzzles, so it shouldn't take long to get through the game once I get it working. I'm more interested in seeing what the clues are for each room/item.

    The book is rubbish. It's kind of boring from what I remember, and only uses names of places (some people too maybe). Little actually translates to the game though.

    Oh! I think you should keep a death journal noting all the ways you've died. Death count in games like this are fun. Plus maybe it won't be as demotivating if you think instead, "oh! I've found another way to die, cool." :D

  3. Zenic, while looking around for clues I kept getting killed mostly by what I assume will be Shadowgate's implementation of the time limit or "urgency" factor. Thankfully I eventually found what I was missing -- my poor adventuring skills are to blame for this one. Thanks!

    I'll wait for Trickster's first post before sharing more specifics. :-)

  4. @Charles: What version of DOSBOX are you using to run the game? I'm having quite a few issues with the game so far and they vary depending on which version I use.

    Saving seems impossible with 0.74 and there are significant issues with the sound using 0.62 along with the graphics being very dark.

    About to try a couple of other different versions.

    1. I've tried different versions without luck. It seems you can get the game to work perfectly in newer DOSBOX versions, but attempting to save locks up the game. Playing it in versions 0.63 and earlier allows you to save, but the sound and graphics are affected.

      I guess I'll be playing with 0.63 until I know how to get through the game, then I'll use 0.74 to play it without saving, just to hear the proper sound.

    2. Trickster, I'm using DBGL:
      It's a cool frontend.

      As for your problems, I think this will solve them: you have to set "CGA" as the machine parameter (in the frontend, you have to edit the game profile properties and select cga in a dropdown under the "Machine" tab; I'm not sure how to set it in the regular DOSBox distribution)

      Hope that helps!

    3. This has changed my world! The game works absolutely perfectly in 0.74 and I've found nowhere on the net where anyone has managed to achieve that.

      Thanks Charles! The most well earned 10 points I've given yet!

    4. Wow, 20 points in 48 hours! Mmmhh I could get addicted to this. Maybe it's the Sierra bug... :-)

  5. Oh god.

    I knew I knew this game from somewhere, but your description finally jogged some brain cells enough for me to remember where I had seen it. It was 3 videos on youtube totalling 22 minutes of deaths from the NES version.

    First part is here. Don't watch if you don't want spoilers.

  6. Wow. The DOS version is terrible. I got it working on 0.74 (didn't try saving), but I noticed that speaking is broken (freezes up for me).

    There are definitely some differences that so far have made the DOS version more annoying. First is the limited inventory, not present on the NES version. Second, the warning about a torch going out is very easy to miss. Third, torches don't last as long. I could go on, but I might be spoiling parts if I do.

    All I have to say is good luck Trickster. I'll help with what I can, but this game is aggravating. Maybe the Mac version wouldn't be as bad.

    1. I would definitely recommend the Mac version, it works fine with MiniMac. It also looks and sound a lot nicer.

    2. I've tried to get the Mac version working for a couple of hours, and gave up for now at the point where I have the software and blank disk images, but need to figure out a way to create a Shadowgate disk image. It baffles me that someone hasn't gone ahead and put these two pieces together to post somewhere. I can only guess that distributing the individual parts is fine, but posting an actual image is a big no-no. Maybe I'll try to figure it out later.

    3. I took the liberty of sending it to you per email (if someone else is interested, just ask).

  7. Shadowgate can be streamed from at:

    Note that you can't save in the streaming version of DOSBOX they use, but if you want to give it a go with zero set up, give it a try.


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