Friday 19 February 2021

Missed Classic 92: The Palace of Deceit: The Secret of Castle Lockemoer (1991)

Written by Will Moczarski
The beauty of the days gone by.
...and just like that a whole new can of worms has opened up. This post was originally meant to be about Cliff Bleszinski’s Dare to Dream, or game 122 on this blog. I was so excited to finally cover my first main game after 11 missed classics, and aren’t you excited, too? I mean, Cliff Bleszinski, aka CliffyB is among the more recognisable names of the ever-booming video game industry, nostalgically revered as the creator of the shareware smash hit Jazz Jackrabbit (1994) and universally acclaimed as one of the main designers of the Unreal (1998) and Gears of War (2006) franchises. He was also largely responsible for Infinity Blade (2010) and Bulletstorm (2011) but at least to my humble ears these two names don’t ring out as loudly. Like so many others, Cliff got started with adventure games, and his main shareware endeavour before Jazz Jackrabbit hit the disk drives of the mid-90’s was called Dare to Dream.

Dare to Dream is a visibly self-made point-and-click affair released in three episodes starting in 1993 but that is a story for another day as you may have guessed from this post’s title. Why? Let’s just say OCD got in the way.

The most superficial research will turn up the fact that Dare to Dream is actually not Bleszinski’s first adventure game but, depending on the way you count them, either his second or his third. Before it came The Palace of Deceit in two separate incarnations: The Secret of Castle Lockemoer, coded and released in 1991, and The Dragon’s Plight, remade and published in 1992. The Dragon’s Plight is a de-facto remake of The Secret of Castle Lockemoer and uses an interface that looks like a distinct stepping stone on the road to Dare to Dream. Even better, both games are graphic adventures: while The Secret of Castle Lockemoer has a text parser and relies on its elaborate ASCII graphics (just wallow in the beauty of the in-game screenshot above!), The Dragon’s Plight is a no-nonsense point and click game. I wonder why it wasn’t suggested for the blog when we got to 1992 but maybe its supporters are rather few.

Both games, The Palace of Deceit and Dare to Dream, were dug up for crapshoots and YouTube retro walkthroughs, however most of them concentrate on The Dragon’s Plight. Their belated internet popularity probably has to do with their designer’s later reputation. Whatever the reason, I will play through both Palaces before finally getting started with Dare to Dream and save all of those other Let’s Plays for later. Apparently, they are both rather short so they’ll be done and dusted by the time I reach the next post. But we’re not yet there, so let us first talk about what the game is actually all about.

The Secret of Castle Lockemoer starts with a long-ish paragraph about the game’s history, and it’s too curious not to be read by you, so here it comes:
This adventure was produced through many hours of toil and labor on the author’s part. He blew off his homework many a night to fix bugs and his grades suffered. He was severely beaten by his mother with a spatula repeatidly. His spelling is now pitiful, and he can only groan once for yes and twice for no. On top of it, the only girl he ever loved outside of his spatula wielding mother, the lovely Tammi Lynn Kent, decided to stay with her ugly boyfriend instead of going for this talented, handsome, hung, moderately built dude. He is emotionally crippled from this experience. He needs your donations to get back on his blistered feet and write games, fight off his mother, do homework, and somehow defy the odds and prevent his relocation to California and marry this pretty thing. Asta La Vista, Baybeeeeeee….

– The Roaring Slime (and DON’T call me Bufford!)
So it’s a high-school game, in the venerable tradition of Richard Garriott’s Akalabeth or, to pick an example from the adventure genre, Greg Hassett’s body of work. That makes sense as Bleszinski would have been 16 years old in 1991. He apparently started the game at the age of 15 and started working for Epic Megagames in 1992, aged 17. When I was 17, I had very, umm, different things on my mind. Pubescent humour aside (really, Cliff? “hung”?), this opening paragraph doesn’t tell us anything about the game just yet. Personally, I liked the joke about his pitiful spelling (I read it repeatidly and it made me smile every time) but I assume that Mr Bleszinski would no longer refer to women as “pretty thing[s]” these days. Growing up is not all bad, I guess.* I feel that “DON’T call me Bufford!” should be a reference but all I come up with is the 2011 album (and thus released twenty years later) Don’t Call Me Buford by Bluford Birdsong. Oddly, there is also a 2014 book by Antonin Varenne called Retribution Road with a character named Bufford who objects to being called Buffalo. Is there a joke I am missing? CAPs if you manage to enlighten me!

* Although looking at this, he appears to have enjoyed nicknames along the lines of “the roaring slime” for decades to come:

After the funky introduction there is a shareware screen with blinking fonts – even in 1991 that would have been considered a bad design choice – screaming at me to PLEASE REGISTER!! The game’s title is spelled wrong (“The Palace of Deciept”) and a registration at “Atomic Revolution Software” owned by Cliff Bleszinski would set me back $5 if that was still possible. I am a bit reluctant to fork out $5 and send it to the address seeing that it’s likely that Cliff’s parents still live there. I will, however, try to contact Mr. Bleszinski for an interview for this blog and ask him if it’s possible to reimburse him somehow. Speaking of references, it makes me happy that Cliff appears to have grown up in North Andover, MA. Andover is one of my favourite tunes by Mostly Other People Do The Killing, a band that for a while made it a habit to name their tunes after small towns in Pennsylvania (I think).

If you don’t register, the game will load regardless. However, I am loathe that this is the Pirates! brand of copy protection, meaning I’d be able to play the game but not to win it. After a while, the title screen appears, and my PC speaker goes wild. The title is all but unreadable but something may be lost in translation here. I’ll let the ASCII connoisseur(s) among our regular readers decide whether it’s supposed to look like this.
Apparently, the game had a beta tester which is the welcome sign of a professional attitude towards an amateur’s high-school game. Boris Gershman, let’s hope you did a good job!

Clicking ENTER gets me to a simple picture of a book containing the backstory of the game; it’s a nice touch but a bit much to read it all in that basic DOS layout (I’ll spare you the trouble and paste the text below). It’s a pretty standard fantasy plot with that little bit of fourth-wall breaking that made the beginning of David Fox’s Labyrinth (1986) special:
Once upon a time in a land far, far away lived an evil wizard who terrorized his people without mercy. He hurt, tortured, and killed the kind inhabitants. The people, of course, didn’t like death and destruction, so they had the great wizard of the land call forth a warrior from years ahead to rid the land of this horrible menace. He is to be intelligent, strong, clever, and must be able to complete the task at hand. The people all gathered for the hero’s coming through the magic port. 
“Damn!” you yell after getting killed in MUSHA again on your favorite home videogame system. You whip the control at the floor and get up to go to work when you notice that you never heard the control hit the floor, like it always does. Turning around, you see that some kind of hole has appeared in the floor. You step in, and are pulled through! You fall for hours, and land in a medieval town, somewhere in the past! A wizard comes up to you and says “Welcome!” ..
Whee, we’re the hero from the future! Also, is this the first PC adventure game that references a console game? MUSHA is a vertically scrolling shmup for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. Bleszinski doesn’t go all TRON on us, so we enter the medieval setting through an unrelated hole in the floor.

The backstory continues:
“Where am I? What’s going on? Where the heck am I? Can I have some answers?” The wizard tells you the whole tale about the evil wizard, and how you must enter his castle, make it through two floors of puzzles, and find the wizard and kill him. When you do so, you will be able to go home, and continue your life as it was. “How do you expect me to do that? Do I look like Arthur or somthing**?” you ask cynically. “You will find the inner power to defeat the evil wizard Garth. Use the items you find in the castle to solve the puzzles, and remember to think logically and that there is always a solution to any problem, no matter how impossible it may seem. There is always a way out. And, remember, they don’t call it ‘The Palace of Deciept***’ for nothing. The wizard smiles and the people cheer as you are zapped to the castle. “Great!”, you think, and gaze up to the stormy clouds far above your head. “This should be interesting!” …..

** All spelling errors are true to the original text.
*** Could this even be deceptively deliberate?
There is always a solution to any problem, no matter how impossible it may seem? That’s exactly what us reviewers here at The Adventure Gamer really love to read, don’t we? It just screams illogical puzzles and reading the programmer’s mind.

Afterwards, I am dropped in front of the portcullis where a sign tells me to “Please Knock”. Will I dare? Join me next time, and don’t forget to guess the final score!

Session time: 1 minute
Total time: 1 minute

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 20 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. Oh yeah, regarding the title screen and graphics otherwise: the game is obviously meant to use the old DOS OEM character codepage 437, which isn't readily displayed nowadays. The ì and broken pipe characters should be vertical half-tiles instead. Getting those to show up may be a struggle, depending on what you're running the game on...

    1. In Dosbox, you could try "keyb us 437". To verify before and after the command, hold Alt and type "222" on the numpad to see if you get a half vertical tile or something else.

    2. Amazing, thank you, Kirinn! The title screen looks much better now, the graphics are slightly different (better), too.

  2. "CAPs if you manage to enlighten me!"

    It appears to be a line from the script to the 1980 Travolta movie Urban Cowboy:


    1. My suggestion would have been that the reference was to Back to the Future 3, where Buford Tannen doesn't like to be called by his nickname Mad Dog.

    2. Serves me right for showing up three days late. I was going to guess Buford "Don't call me Mad Dog" Tannen as well.

  3. A score guess Of 30, and I do miss the days (slightly before my time) of high school games being a normal thing. The best I had for me was a high school program of my own, a database of game cheats, that bought me more than a few Big Macs in high school.

  4. The game’s title is spelled wrong (“The Palace of Deciept”)

    Darn those spatula beatings.

    I am a bit reluctant to fork out $5

    $9.85 in today's dollars!

    1. $10 puts it about bang on for the price of an Indie game on GOG or Steam, and it is basically the same thing. That said even a $10 Indie game usually eliminates at least the worst of spelling errors.

  5. I will have to go for 28, though I love the humour and I agree the Deceipt thing may be intentional, the rest of the spelling mistakes are probably true mistakes. We forget how hard proper spelling is without all our modern tech, something I was reminded of very painfully when I had to write a few hundred pages recently. I was shocked by the amount of basic mistakes I made that Open Office kindly pointed out to me.

    I am really glad to see some high school programming, I wrote a simple down scrolling shooter myself in high school using ASCII. At some stage I wrote in some cheats, funnily enough my dad would not believe me that cheat codes were put in intentionally in games, he firmly believed they were mistakes in the code.

    That said, that ASCII art is LOVELY, and I look forward to many more of those gorgeous screen shots!

  6. 25 for the score, even if I agree with Shaddam that the ASCII art is awesome!

  7. I say 29. Solving puzzles in a castle brings back memories of my first point & click played and also my all time favourite game. Not a castle, but a Mansion

  8. I'll join in on guessing the score. I say 32... It's a high schoolers first attempt in creating an adventure game and certainly filled with sitting errors, but sometimes these efforts have their own ineffable Charme...

    1. *spelling* errors. Lol, how appropriate... ,:P

    2. I rather liked “repeatidly” :)

  9. For the longest time, I had never heard of this game. I really liked D2D, and I had played the remake of this game, but I wasn't aware that he did a text adventure. When I played it...I saw why...Regrettably, I'm going to have to go for 5.

    1. 5, as in five? That's quite pessimistic, MorpheusKitami! We'll see if it will really fare THAT badly. So far I think that PSYCHO is still at the bottom with a score of 10, right?

    2. Oh, I didn't notice that, Laukku. Thanks for the heads up.

    3. Glad to have made your day better by introducing you to one awful game more!