Monday 21 December 2015

Castle of Dr. Brain - Introduction

Written by Reiko

The Castle of Dr. Brain (and the other Dr. Brain games) was one of my favorites as a kid. I was into numbers and puzzles, so while the adventure elements are very light, the variety of the puzzles, plus the trademark Sierra wacky humor, made them so much fun to play.

There's not much for story here: the Castle of Dr. Brain itself is just a setting for the wide variety of puzzles you face. You're unceremoniously dumped at the front door of the castle, and one puzzle after another awaits. The documentation will tell you that the goal of the game is to win a position as Dr. Brain’s position, but the game itself doesn’t tell you that until the end.

The game was advertised as being educational, along with other titles like Bookwyrm’s Mixed-Up Fairy Tales, Mixed-Up Mother Goose, and Ecoquest. Below is a page from an original Sierra catalogue (courtesy of describing Castle of Dr. Brain as having an “outrageous gauntlet of mind-twisting puzzles and nerve-wracking challenges.” As a job interview, it’s pretty outrageous. As a game, it’s really not very nerve-wracking, but you know, it’s aimed at 8-10 year olds. I don’t think I ever wondered as a kid if real job interviews ever involved solving puzzles. I should have, because the interview for my first job out of college included a hands-on test in Excel and Access (it was a data analysis job).

The controls are the same as any Sierra game of the era: right-click to switch between the eye and the hand; left-click to examine with the eye or manipulate with the hand. Inventory and other options are only available from the bar at the top.

One unusual button is the one on the far right, which gives a general description of the room. I don't remember seeing that so much in other games. Usually if you "look" at something that isn't specifically described, then you'll automatically get the description of the room, which is often true even here, so the button is rather redundant.

Most useless button in the control bar.
 I didn't use any buttons except inventory and control panel, really.

I'm not going to bother with the "journal" sections for this game because there's no distinct character voice or need for immersion. Literally the only things we know about the PC are that he wants to find Dr. Brain, and that he's good at puzzles and persistent (if he gets to the end). TV Tropes even calls him a Featureless Protagonist.

The game offers three difficulty settings: Novice, Standard, and Expert, and this can be changed at any time. I'm going to be playing on Expert level because I've already finished the game some years ago. Plus I'm probably better at puzzles now than I was as a kid. The game also offers the possibility to "buy" hints or partial answers with "Hint Coins," and starts you off with four, although I'm not going to use any. I’d probably first put out a request for assistance and let you guys chime in, if it comes to that (which I don't expect it will).

The game opens with a bit of an animated sequence culminating in lightning illuminating the castle itself, showing how very strange it is. The opening music starts with Bach's classic Toccata and Fugue in D minor. You might think from this that there will be a horror theme to the game, but there's really no sign of this later. Mad scientist craziness, yes, but not horror.

That bridge has got to be a health hazard if it conducts lightning like that.

When the first screen appears, it's clear that Dr. Brain's taste in decoration is just as bad as might be expected, given the mad scientist archetype. Who puts flamingoes by their front door? The only thing to do here is ring the doorbell. Naturally, rather than summoning anyone to open the door, this triggers the first puzzle, which is a take on Memory.

Next time, let's get puzzle-cracking!

Castle of Dr. Brain is available on the Internet Archive for anyone who would like to play along with me.

I could find very little about the history or making of the game. If anyone has anything to share (I’d love to hear some stories about this game from Corey Cole!), please leave a comment. Or if you have stories or memories about playing it, do share.

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 90 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.


  1. This was a brief but fun game. A big Finnish PC games magazine in the 90's had occasional A3-sized posters, and one of them was an enlarged screenshot of that panoramic introduction view. I had that poster on my wall for a few years...

    My younger sister liked the Dr. Brain series even more than I did.

  2. I'm looking forward to this very much! 52

  3. "Brain and brain! What is Brain?"

    (Sorry, I just couldn't resist referring to one of the most infamous piece of original Star Trek:

    Interesting to see how Dr. Brain will fare, being more of a puzzle game (at least it can't get high story points). Let's say 47.

  4. I'd guess this will score a little low, because it might not fit the categories very well. I've not played it though, so perhaps it will surprise me?

    I'll go for a score of 50.

  5. My guess is 40. And I actually hope to play along in my free time. I enjoyed the Dr. Brain segments of QfG4 and want to see how this relates to that.

    1. In your copious free time, right ;) But what do you mean by "Dr. Brain segments of QFG4"?

    2. If you've beaten, or played far enough in, QFG4, you'd know.

    3. Reiko, there is a character in QfG4 (Doctor Cranium) that claims to be the great-grandfather of Doctor Brain. I do not recall how he knows this, but his section is a takeoff on the Doctor Brain series with a few puzzles required to get into his laboratory.

      This might mean that Doctor Brain takes place in the same universe of Quest for Glory and Hero-U! Or... probably not.

    4. Sounds like fun! I never played very far into QFG4, so that makes sense. Now I'll really have to give it another try.

  6. 43. And stop bothering Corey! I want my Hero-U!

    1. I do too, but realistically they're likely taking a holiday break anyway.

  7. 42. I'm thinking it'll score somewhat poorly as it's not really an adventure game.

  8. Nobody's guessed in the 30s, so I'm going to be a pessimist and guess 36!

  9. I am a big fan of this game. However I don' think it will get a very high PISSED rating... I will go with 45!

  10. I was going to take 48, but I see Anonymous has it. So I'll go for 49. Hey, it's my one game as a solo designer, and I'm very proud of it.

    Adventure game? No, not really, but the marketing department decided to brand it that way, and it sold very well to adventure game players, so they were probably right.

    It's late 1990 and Lori and I are just finishing up Quest for Glory II. We assume we will dive right into QG3, but Ken has another idea. He calls all the Sierra writers and game designers into a meeting, and asks each to submit five ideas for educational games. One of his example proposals is "Mathemagical Mansion", a game to teach math as you go through rooms of a mansion.

    Among other ideas, Lori submits "Mixed-Up Fairy Tales". She figures that Ken and Roberta will like the idea because she pitches it as a sequel to Roberta's popular Mixed-Up Mother Goose. My proposals include "Castle of Dr. Brain", which I figure Ken will like because it's a riff off Mathemagical Mansion.

    Both games make the short list and Ken assigns me an artist (Jon Bock) to make a prototype. The only other game chosen was Ecoquest, to be designed and written by Jane Jensen (later known for Gabriel Knight) and Gano Haine (later a Producer at Electronic Arts and other companies). Ken likes the prototype and gives Castle of Dr. Brain the go-ahead, but assigns a different lead artist (Andy Hoyos).

    Dr. Brain was a perfect project for me. I loved reading "brainteaser" books when I was a kid (okay, and still as an adult). My idea was to take some standard puzzles from puzzle books and convert them to the computer.

    Problem - After studying a dozen or so puzzle books, it seemed as though all they had were variations on four or five puzzle types, none of which would be much fun in a computer game. So I came up with a few original ideas, and brainstormed a few more with Lori, and started to put the game together.

    Castle of Dr. Brain was one of my best experiences at Sierra - I got to lead the team and do most of the design myself. It might be the only Sierra game completed ahead of schedule, under budget, and almost bug-free. The art and music were perfect, and the game got great reviews.

    Then Sierra took the sequel away from me and assigned it to a junior member of the writing staff, but that's a story for another day.

    Dr. Cranium in Quest for Glory IV? We wanted to use all the Gothic Horror, and particularly comedy Gothic horror, tropes in that game, so of course we needed a mad scientist. Since QG4 is the only QG on which I was a full-time game designer (as opposed to a programmer who helped with the design), it made sense to use a variation of Dr. Brain in the game.

    1. Thanks for the information on making the Dr. Brain! It sure is interesting to hear what went on behind the scenes in Sierra.

    2. Awesome, thanks for the stories!

      I'm slated to cover Ecoquest later on as well. We'll see how the educational aspects of both of these hold up.

    3. I'm going with a nice alliterative 44. Enjoyed the game a lot as a kid!

  11. Thanks for posting the link to this game on Internet Archive. That allowed me to easily play through it myself. Overall I enjoyed it, although I decided to look online for "how to do 4x4 magic squares" and didn't really find any advice other than to get the total for each direction (which I could already get). I also threw my hint coins at the constellation puzzle, because seriously, f--- that.

  12. Heeeey, is this the first game with the Hint Coins concept? Decades later, they'd be the only way I'd get anywhere in a Professor Layton game.