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Dark Castle: a herculean effort to port this game to CD-i

>> Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A CD-i game considered 'unplayable' on CD-i because of clunky controls and sloppy framerates, Dark Castle was one of the very first games to be developed by a third party on CD-i, funded by Philips. The game originates from 1986, when the original was developed by Silicon Beach Software for the Apple Macintosh (the same team who did the CD-i version). Back then, the game was only in black and white but was a popular game on the Mac. I never paid attention to this game until recently I discovered some history of Silicon Beach and how Dark Castle came to be. Let's have a look at Dark Castle and how it plays.

Dark Castle is a 1986 computer game for the Macintosh published by Silicon Beach Software. It was designed and illustrated by Mark Pierce and programmed by Jonathan Gay. Dark Castle is a platform game where a young hero named Duncan tries to make his way to the evil Black Knight, dodging objects as well as solving occasional puzzles. The game is notable for its use of sampled sounds to great effect. A sequel titled Beyond Dark Castle was released in 1987 (on Mac). A second sequel, Return To Dark Castle, was announced in 2000, and, as of 2007, has been finished by Z Sculpt Entertainment. Return to Dark Castle is currently being prepared for release on Mac by Delta Tao Software and Super Happy Fun Fun.



Movement within Dark Castle is typical for most platformers. Duncan can run, jump and duck, and can throw a limited supply of rocks at his enemies. More rocks can be found in little bags along the way, as well as bottles of an elixir that provides a one-time antidote to bites of the numerous rats and bats found around the castle. To defeat the Black Knight, Duncan needs a magic shield and the power to hurl fireballs, both of which can fortunately be found within the Dark Castle. The game begins in the Great Hall, where the player can choose from four doors. The large center door leads to the Black Knight. One other is marked with the shield and the remaining two mysteriously alternate between the fireball course and a more troubling path. The game can be played at three different skill levels, the hardest "Advanced" level containing more enemies and a few extra surprises.



It's pretty obvious this game was not made from scratch for CD-i, but it's a rather rough port regarding the very slow responsive controls of the games. Added to a slow gameplay and slow framerate, the CD-i version wasn't really a lot of fun to play. But, I admit, Dark Castle was the very first platform game on CD-i. No-one did this before, so that's probably how Dark Castle still was a unique experience on CD-i back in 1991.



This game had 15 levels, which came out of the 4 doors in the Great Hall, the first two doors are random.

* Left most door (usually): Trouble 1, Trouble 2, Trouble 3.
* Farther away door on left side (usually): Fireball 1, Fireball 2, Fireball 3, Fireball 4.
* Middle Door: Black Knight 1, Black Knight 2, Black Knight 3.
* Right Door: Shield 1, Shield 2, Shield 3, Shield 4.



The bulk of the game is side-viewed, involving single screens to pass through, which incorporate ropes, cages and trapdoor. There are enemies walking, flying and hovering through this, and many of them respawn. Unusually your weapon to take them on (rocks) can be thrown through 360 degrees, which aims to make the gameplay more realistic and methodical. The screens were linked by hub screens, which the player passes through simply by clicking on a door.

Some remarkable trivia bits: -Falling into holes in the floor does not cause death but instead leads to a dungeon ("Trouble 3") which can be escaped with some effort. On easier difficulty levels, this is a delay and a source of annoyance. However, this may be strategically necessary on the harder difficulty levels so that you can stock up rocks and elixir.
-Playing Dark Castle with the computer's clock at December 25, the Great Hall or the throne room (respectively) will have holiday decorations (like the Christmas Tree).

Movement controls were upmost horrible. Walking, especially jumping and walking down the stairs require precise timing but the controls were kind of slow and grogy, often resulting in certain death. Monsters keep regenerating endlessly, some bigger monsters only pass-out for a short period of time, in addition to your limited number of rocks you can throw makes it frustrating, not to mention trying to aim to the direction you want is worse than climbing and jumping combined sometimes.



The entire game was first created on the classic Macintosh, which is a 512x384 1-bit (black and white) screen. All of the playfields and sprites needed to be redrawn and the game logic rewritten to fit the resolution of CD-i. Some of the areas you need to get through are extremely difficult and frustrating. For example, you can spend 5 minutes getting to a jump that must be timed properly, then missing the jump, then having to do it all over again. Compare the screenshot above with the one below from the original Dark castle game on the Mac:



In 2006, a version for mobile phones was released/ Over the years, the CD-i version was the last official version of the original Dark castle, published in 1991. Since the original was made in 1986, the game was ported to Amiga, Apple IIGS, Atari ST, Apple Macintosh, MS-DOS, Mega Drive/Genesis, Commodore 64 and the last version: CD-i.



It is believed the release of Dark Castle (and its problems) was the reason why the ICOM adventure games like Deja Vu and Uninvited were never released on CD-i. "From what I remember the engineer who put it together refused to do any more work on the ICOM games (it was the same person who did Dark Castle), he was already too burned out from making all the fixes to Dark Castle so the two projects (Deja Vu and Uninvited) were killed off without ever being tested."

Thanks to Z Sculpt

2 reacties:

tokio,  October 3, 2007 at 11:17 AM  

bad game, but i never this side history. it puts it back on my wishlist now! was this also released in a normal jewelcase, not that big box?

Bas October 8, 2007 at 6:48 AM  

The game credits itself claim the game is 'based on the silicon beach Dark castle game', which looks like Silicon Beach is not behind this port, while it sais on the box. Maybe a person from AIM or a second party? Now I'm confused again!

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Marco Polo - Infogrames
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Merlin's Apprentice - Philips Funhouse
Microcosm - Philips Freeland Studios
Micro Machines - Codemasters
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Voyeur - Philips POV
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Whack-a-Bubble - Creative Media
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Who shot Johnny Rock? - CapDisc
Wordplay - BEPL
World Cup Golf - US Gold
Zaak Sam, De - Toneelschool NL
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