Tuesday 29 November 2022

Missed Classic 116: Castle Adventure - Introduction (1984)

Written by Michael

Many radio call-in shows had an oft-repeated, somewhat cliched line: "Hi! I'm a long-time listener, first-time caller." I suppose that describes me. I've been reading and commenting on the blog for a handful of years, and finally got around to writing my story and threatening planning to write a missed classic review about a memorable childhood game. The game I'll be talking about is somewhat special to me, because it was my first game of any form I played on a computer that I know of. I hadn't even played Lemonade Stand at school yet, it would be another year before they installed a row of Apple IIe systems in the elementary school library.

Around 1985, when I was about 7, my grandfather showed me this new toy he had. In the family room of his house, he had set up his new IBM Model 5160 computer (known as the PC/XT), complete with an amber monochrome screen and a daisy-wheel printer. It had the latest in cyber-security: that round key that would lock the keyboard. And along with some software programmed "borrowed" from the engineering firm he worked at, he also had some shareware and freeware programs, obtained from mail-order shareware vendors like PC-SIG.
The keyboard and printer were in a constant battle, over which one could make enough noise to drive my grandmother crazy.

Among these was a game that we wished us to play together. So each time I would visit, we would, perhaps, advance a little bit, and then promptly be interrupted by Grandma, calling us off to dinner, the movies, or something much less engrossing. He would print out the screen of each new room we visited, taping the printouts together (although they sometimes weren't quite to the same scale) and the table in that room showed our progress along the way. (Those under the age of, say, 35 may have wondered what the function of the "PrtScn" button on a keyboard was. Once upon a time, it actually functioned as advertised.)

The game was Castle Adventure, by Kevin Bales.
Another game would soon steal this title screen, adding a moat and playing Greensleeves.
I don't think we ever did finish the game, and while I tried to look at it again 15 years later, it was too much of a fight to get it to play properly. So, as I come to play this game now, it's with fresh eyes. I don't remember any puzzles. I've gone a few screens in before writing this introduction, and it seems vaguely familiar, but fresh enough that I'm glad I waited all this time.

It appears that Kevin Bales was just 14 years old when he wrote this game, and that seems appropriate to me, as I also had a popular program in the shareware world when I was that age. I learned this from a fan site for the game, and there was even an unofficial Windows remake of the game in the early 2000s.

So, let's take a look at the game, shall we?
Well, this seems simple enough.
We start the game just inside the castle, the gate firmly locked behind you.
I wonder If the Random capitalization Of Words means anything Special? Or is It Just the poor english Skills of a Fourteen year-old?
You can move your player around the old fashioned way -- the 8 directional keys on the numeric keypad. For me, this is always how I played keyboard games, and even when later systems added separate arrow keys, I would always just turn NumLock off so that I could use the original ones. I'm actually impressed that the diagonal keys were programmed, as many commercial games neglected this in the later years.

The game was designed using the ASCII character set, which many games afterwards would expertly improve upon.
Scott Miller programmed this gem of a game, and then later published Wolfenstein 3D.
So, time to test the instructions.
one hint: be sure to look at everything carefully!

So, the description mentions there is a gate.
I'm feeling somewhat inferior to a castle gate.
Of course, I cannot OPEN GATE, as somehow, I doubt I could win the game that easily. I suppose I'll need to go on a treasure hunt.
Never, never, ever, eat Noontonyt Nectarines....
Well, there's nowhere to go but North, so perhaps I'll head that way.
"I'm the butler, sir." "What do you do?" "I buttle, sir."
I choose to go left. In this room, there's a stairway, a couple of exits, and... an ugly ogre. The instructions for the game advise me that I will need a weapon to fight such a creature, but I've forgotten how insulted I was by the Very Strong gate at the entrance to the castle, and I'll attempt this battle bare-handed.
I suspect this screen sounds like this.
Maybe I should think about looking for a weapon.

So, this seems like a great time to pause, and let everyone guess how well this game will fare. After all, there's 83 rooms, and we've only seen 4 of them so far, and not one of the 13 treasures, so it's an open playing field. It's black and white, having been designed at a time when many users might not have had a CGA monitor yet. It predates King's Quest I with an animated character and a parser, so let's see how entertaining it is, or if I'm just looking back on childhood with rose-colored glasses.
In 1984, a monochrome monitor was around the price of Zork I, II, and III combined.
Want to check it out yourself? The game can be played on the Internet Archive, or downloaded from the fan site. I'm using a downloaded copy in DOSBox, with the CPU cycles set rather low (200) and it seems to be a fair emulation for me.


  1. Yep, I certainly remember playing this as a child. I don't remember it containing any animated characters though, I wonder how that would work in text mode? And yes, it has a few puzzles.

    Getting the maximum score requires qrsrngvat rirel fvatyr rarzl, naq V qba'g guvax lbh pna unir rabhtu urnygu gb znxr gung cbffvoyr, rira jvgu gur fuvryq naq gur fvatyr urnyvat cbgvba.

    I'm going to guess 30 points on sheer nostalgia factor, because it doesn't really have a lot else going for it. But certainly, props to writing and releasing a game at age 14, that becomes as widespread as this one!

    1. I guess I meant "animated" for the fact that you can move them around, and the NPCs move around the screen as well.

    2. @Radiant, since I've finished the game, and I'm just waiting for the posts to come up in turn in the blog, I can read this ROT13 now. :)

      It wasn't a concern for me because gur synfx pna or ersvyyrq, nygubhtu V arire arrqrq gb qb gung. V cynlrq jvgu punapr gur jubyr jnl, naq fheivirq. Rira jura V jnf 7, V qba'g guvax V ybfg n svtug bapr V jnf nezrq.

    3. Gur synfx pna or ersvyyrq, ohg vg jvyy bayl urny lbh bapr. Lbh pna gryy ol gur erfcbafr; gur svefg gvzr vg fnlf "Gung jnf tbbq; V srry zhpu orggre abj", naq fhofrdhrag gvzrf vg whfg fnlf "Gung jnf tbbq".

    4. V fhfcrpgrq gung, ohg jnfa’g fher vs gur fhofrdhrag gvzr vg jnf orpnhfr bs gung ernfba, be orpnhfr V unqa’g tbggra uheg va onggyr, gunaxf gb gur uryzrg.

  2. I fondly remember playing this as a kid... reckon it has a lot to do with my present day preoccupation with castles (well, that and Interplay's "Castles"). I recall in the late 80s putting a really solid session into this, and then entering a room where the wall had appeared to crumble. I walked through it and was congratulated for escaping the castle. In hindsight, I think it was likely some buffer overrun... but for years I wore it as a victory. It's time to right history.

    As for a score - I'm going to say 32. To this day I like simple, approachable ASCII adventures like this (I wasted an entire holiday playing "A Dark Room" recently).

  3. Going to go with 19 points. I bet it doesn't stand up.

  4. This kind of quaint old-school adventures are always interesting. Let's say 27.

  5. Kingdom of Kroz seems like a very interesting and surprisingly good action game made with ASCII characters.

    It's really ironic that a game like this can be an actual better game than many modern titles by simply being a game instead of a movie where you click some buttons and always win.

    1. Kingdom of Kroz was one of many in a series, and I eagerly played each one, and then learned the cheat codes and played some more. I used Kingdom for the post just because I liked the screenshot, but I also considered using the game series ZZT, which is probably more like Castle Adventure in the pacing.
      The makers of Kroz went on to things like Duke Nukem, and the makers of ZZT now bring us Fortnite. They both did well for themselves, I'd say.

  6. I think 24 is a good score for this one

  7. Can't say I've ever played this or Kingdom of Kroz, but ZZT was a pretty fun little title...or at least all the mods that came out for it were. ZZT was somewhat unique in that it had an early thriving mod scene, as the full game came with a very powerful editor. A lot of those could probably be considered adventures in much the same way as this was...well, maybe.
    Fun fact, Scott Miller's mishandling of Wolfenstein 3D is what directly caused Doom to be self-published by ID, and no doubt the reason why they published titles like Heretic later on. (apparently there were quite a few orders for Wolfenstein that just got lost, making the boys at ID very keen to not work with them again)

    As to the actual game score, I'll say 21.

    1. I remember liking the Kroz games a lot more than ZZT. ZZT was more like this, adventure-style exploration, but the only puzzles I remember were fetch quests, like getting a key to open a door. Kroz was action, but it was fun in its simplicity. Also, at the time, Apogee had much better games than Epic, so I paid more attention to their releases. (Commander Keen vs. Jill of the Jungle isn't even a fight.)

    2. I don't think I've ever played either base game, I was talking about the Best of ZZT compilations, which did have some more adventure-style levels/mods.
      I think the whole Apogee vs Epic thing depends on the year. I can't speak of their '80s efforts, but I think Epic's latter games were better than Apogee's later games, with exception to Mystic Towers and maybe DN3D. One Must Fall 2097 and Jazz Jackrabbit were some of the finest DOS action games on the era. Of Epic's early games, the only one I can remember is Jill of the Jungle...which I would say in no contest with Commander Keen's first three episodes, simply because episodes 2 and 3 of Keen were generic and forgettable.

    3. I'd argue that the later Keen games (4-7) far outstrip Jill. The only thing Jill had going for it was beautiful VGA graphics, but the animation was choppy at best, the side scrolling merely passable. It was meant as a game to show off how pretty your new VGA monitor was. Keen was all about the game. It will as programmed originally as a Mario clone, in hopes of landing the PC license to port the bestselling NES games, but when that didn't happen, they made something so much better. The animation was smooth, and the gameplay perfect, it was so polished.

      A separate note, the very first game that Scott Adams did, the prelude to forming Apogee... was a a text adventure. Beyond the Titanic. I tried to play it, back when I was 9. I don't remember how it stacks up.

    4. Oops. Scott Miller.
      Shouldn't type this stuff when it's just 4am.

    5. While I agree that One Must Fall is amazing, Epic's early work is pretty much trash, Jill being a prime example. Its VGA graphics consist mostly of easy gradients, I'm not sure if the word "beautiful" applies here; Keen 4 looks much better. Calling themselves "megagames" and dissing Apogee at every opportunity probably wasn't a good start either :P

    6. Perhaps its because the only DOS machine I ever had was after the fact, but it strikes me that beyond being in VGA Jill didn't have much going for it in the visual department, since its animations were on par with the original Keen which was released...2 years before it. That's kind of a lame effort in retrospect, but thinking about it, that seems to be par for the course for Epic, getting to things after Apogee. (except fighting games)
      (also, there is no Keen 7, unless you're talking about Keen Dreams, which is alright, except that trying to hit things with those darn arcing flowers isn't very fun)
      That said, while Keen 4-6 were pretty fun and mostly unchallenged by PC platformers, Jill wasn't exactly a slouch. It had some interesting, open-ended level design, better weapons, and a few interesting gameplay twists.

    7. You're right, I was thinking of Aliens Ate my Babysitter as 7, when it was 6. Truly the best game of the series.

      I had remembered Jill having some jungle backgrounds, but I've looked at screenshots and I will remove my statement about it being beautiful. It wasn't anything to look at, AND the animation was choppy and jerky on my (at the time) up-to-date system I had back then. I still liked it, but only a little bit.

      I was more about gameplay than looks, so I really liked the original Duke Nukem games, before the 3D.

    8. There are fan-made sequels to the series, but I doubted that was what you were thinking of.
      You sure you're not just thinking about some other DOS game? I know Xargon had some backgrounds, but I don't remember if that was anything more than sky. It would certainly fit the beautiful quote if it was.

    9. Jill of the Jungle is the only platformer I've actually finished. I never even played much Mario back in the day. I tried Keen but didn't get very far. With Jill, I really liked the mechanic of turning into different creatures, and the difficulty was set just right for me (i.e. low). If you're a better platformer gamer, I suspect you'd find Jill shallow.

    10. Maybe someone should create the "Apogee and Epic MS-DOS Platform Pilgrim" blog! I'm personally a fan of Commander Keen and especially Dangerous Dave.

    11. I played the early CGA ones non-stop, there was one in a temple that was simple in gameplay, but I was addicted.

    12. @Anonymous, er...mine? I mean, my own blog isn't just about those two, but since a lot of their side-scrollers are shooters there tends to be overlap with my own mission of playing through various shooter-related genres. I've even already covered Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion two months ago, and I'm planning on getting to the Keen games sometime soon. (not as a result of this conversation, Id's FPSes were coming up and I wanted to cover their major games)

    13. I also have reviewed some of these older games on my blog, which I plan to return to soon as well. Kroz and ZZT appear here.

    14. Also, a few years back, a former Apogee employee wrote an incredible history of Apogee and all the games we're talking about are in there.

  8. I remember playing this on a friend's monochrome 286 in, probably 1985 or so. It never occurred to us to do anything but rush the rooms and explore and die, but we were kids and wanted some quick appeal. Some great classic games were just around the corner

  9. This game looks tantalizingly familiar. I don't know if it's just the monochrome aesthetic or not. I vaguely remember an exploration game like this that I tried to play at a time when my computer was too fast for it, so when you entered a room, an enemy could rush over and kill you before you had any chance to defend yourself. But I think the main character was displayed using some kind of ASCII smiley icon rather than the little chevron shape in the screenshots here.

    I suspect there isn't too much to the game, anyway, so I'll guess 20.

    1. Some of the NPCs use the smiley face. You'll see pictures in the next post.