I've written and podcasted about Aardvark Software in the past -- the firm was one of the earliest microcomputer software companies and produced a number of adventure games. But some of the company's products have not survived, most likely because the quality was not always up to commercial standards. A case in point is this week's adventure, Vampire Castle for the Commodore 64, written by M. Basman and (I believe) ported from an earlier OSI/Compukit version. I'm running it using the VICE emulator.
We're not given any introductory text, but presumably we'll be exploring a castle and dealing with a vampire at some point. The BASIC program borrows from the Scott Adams style, tersely presenting the location, visible objects, and obvious exits, though it does not use a windowed display so the text simply scrolls up the screen. INV is the inventory verb, the traditional I shorthand does not work; more annoying is that we have to type GO EAST, for example, as there are no N/S/E/W shortcuts.
I can't really recommend playing Vampire Castle, because while the game itself isn't difficult, getting it to run to completion was a serious meta-adventure that soon became an extended exercise in frustration. I had to find some bug fixes online, and create a couple myself, just to get through the game! So I'm happy to spare others the headache by documenting my playthrough experience below, despite the inevitable...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
We begin in the Entrance Hall (presumably of the Vampire Castle) with nothing in inventory. There's a timepiece here, and a sign reading "THE VAMPIRE WAKES AT MIDNIGHT," so there's a bit of time pressure on us -- we can TAKE TIMEPIECE and READ TIMEPIECE to see that (in my playthrough) it's already 8 : 7, which I'll interpret to mean 8:07.
Heading east takes us to a library where a scroll and a bookcase are visible. The scroll reads, "NOT ALL EXITS ARE OBVIOUS," which we kind of inferred from the OBVIOUS EXITS ARE display. But we can take a hint and PUSH BOOKCASE to open up a downward passage.
There seems to be some glitching here in the text of the tape image I found online -- we find ourselves in a HIDDEN C.RID. -- maybe a HIDDEN CORRIDOR, with exits leading N.TH and UP. There's also a rope here, which we can take, and oddly, when we try to GO NORTH the parser snippily responds CAN'T.
I suspect we're cruising for a crash here, as it seems all instances of OR are being represented by a graphics character -- east of the library is the ARM.Y, for example. We'll take the axe here, anyway -- are we setting up for a game of Clue?
East of the armory is a... .WER? A Tower maybe? There's a sledgehammer here, and some visible parapets. We can try to GO PARAPETS, but YOU FELL AND DIED, ending the game.
Hmmmm. Let's do some more mapping before we try to solve that one. West of the entrance hall we find a study, with a fire in the brick fireplace. GO FIREPLACE is an obvious though fatal thing to try, as YOU BURNED TO DEATH and the game is over again. We can't EXTINGUISH FIRE or PUT OUT FIRE on a retry, so it looks like we have to do a little bit of puzzle-solving work here.
I suspect the character glitch is what's preventing us from going north downstairs from the library -- I think the corrupted N.TH word displayed may also be used by the parser. But before we go looking for bugs, let's try to TIE ROPE -- TO WHAT? -- TO PARAPETS so maybe we can climb more safely... nope. Can we GO ROPE instead of trying to GO PARAPETS? No, apparently. We can try to TIE ROPE ... TO ME as well, and the parser seems to accept it, but we still fall and die.
So what's going on here? Well, fortunately the CASA Solution Archive informs us that a user named ogreid at GameBase 64 has provided several bug fixes to the BASIC code. Replacing lines 580, 1020, 1070 and 1130 with his or her recommendations allows us to get rolling again. But I'm still seeing the same typo on the directions? Retyping line 162 where the string constants are defined seems to fix the problem.
Now we can GO NORTH from the hidden basement corridor, finding an Alchemist's Lab containing a flask of oil. North again is a store room, with a crate and a bucket and another passage leading up, taking us on a one-way journey back to the study with the fireplace.
Can we get some water in the bucket? Well, we can't POUR OIL on the fire, so it seems we should try to find some other liquid at least. We can't OPEN CRATE, but we can BREAK CRATE -- WITH WHAT? -- WITH AXE... no, WITH SLEDGEHAMMER... no. Man, that's a tough crate! READ CRATE tells us DON'T HAVE IT, even if we do, apparently because it can't be read.
Now when I try to GO PARAPET, I get... a syntax error in 580? Ack. Maybe I should just re-download this file from a different source -- like GameBase64. This version seems much more complete, with a completely different opening. Strange!
At least now we have some idea about the object of the game -- there are ten treasures we're supposed to find. But as we continue, we realize that this is a completely different Vampire Castle game! That certainly accounts for the differences, but this isn't the game we're supposed to be playing.
So we'll have to go back to the Aardvark version I found, and see if we can get through it somehow. I start by re-correcting line 580 to:
Now I can climb up to the parapets -- but I had to look at a walkthrough to learn that I should not have responded to "TO WHAT?" with TO PARAPETS, but just PARAPETS when tying the rope. That's why I was still dying after I thought I had fastened the rope safely in place!
Okay, let's hope we're in better shape with the code now. Now we can reach the lower tower -- we could pick up the oar here, if not for the seven-item inventory limit we're now running up against.
So we'll explore to the south, finding a chapel, where we see a key and some holy water. Somehow, if we GO UP from the chapel, we find ourselves back in the armory downstairs? Ah, the parapets are apparently somewhere below the main floor, which is why we go from the tower to the lower tower.
The holy water must be in a non-portable container of some kind, as we must TAKE WATER -- IN WHAT? -- BUCKET to carry it along. Can we put out the fire with it? EXTINGUISH FIRE, PUT OUT FIRE, THROW BUCKET, THROW WATER, POUR WATER and EMPTY BUCKET all fail, but we can DROP WATER to put the fire out, turning it to ashes.
Inside the fireplace is a torch, or a .RCH actually, which we could take if we weren't also having problems with TO being turned into a graphics character. Retyping the associated data line 184 for the torch seems to clear that problem up. It doesn't seem we can take the ashes from the fireplace.
What else can we do? Well, we can try to BREAK FIREPLACE -- NOTHING HAPPENED. Hmmmm. But if we go inside the fireplace, then we can BREAK FIREPLACE -- WITH WHAT? -- SLEDGEHAMMER to open a secret passage to the north. (The parser seems to treat a lot of these more complex commands situationally -- if we don't have the right object, or at least a plausible one, we don't get the further prompts and nothing happens.) The passage leads to an underground lake, with a boat -- probably what that oar is for, and we should also bring the key from the chapel, one suspects.
Now we'll GO BOAT, and ROW BOAT to arrive at a gallery. After we get out, the boat drifts away -- trying to TIE ROPE to the BOAT before going anywhere doesn't seem to help, so this is apparently a one-way trip. We can try to GET TAPESTRY here, if we drop something first -- I'll drop the oar and the crate for now.
The tapestry is nailed to an overhang when we try to GET it, however, so we'll have to GO OVERHANG and then GET NAILS to free it up. Except we don't have a hammer? Hmmmm. Ah -- while we couldn't BREAK CRATE -- WITH WHAT? -- WITH AXE, we can BREAK CRATE -- WITH WHAT? -- AXE! Now we have some wooden stakes, but still no hammer.
We also note that, now that the crate is broken, we can't GO OVERHANG -- it's too high, we must have been using it to climb up earlier. Oh, and maybe the sledgehammer will work as a nail-pulling hammer too, though that usually isn't the case. So it's necessary to backtrack a bit... and yes, the sledgehammer allows us to GET NAILS and drop the tapestry.
Oddly, even though the tapestry drops, we don't see anything new until we GET TAPESTRY, revealing a passage north. This leads to an antechamber with a rusty door -- or a rusty DO. thanks to another item text problem. Aaargh! Well, we can still try to OPEN DOOR -- but NOTHING HAPPENED. Another data statement update is called for, and we have to restart and play back through to this point again.
Now we can OPEN DOOR... wait, no, we still can't? UNLOCK DOOR, maybe? Oh, it's rusty -- can we EMPTY FLASK? DROP OIL? Nope, but we can OIL DOOR to open it.
We are now in the Vampire's Tomb (well, actually, the VAMPIRE'S .MB), with a closed coffin at hand. We have a sledgehammer, some nails, and some stakes, so it seems we're somewhat prepared to deal with the fiend.
Let's try to OPEN COFFIN -- we can now see the vampire in the coffin, though there's not enough description provided to know if we're
dealing with a bald Max Schreck/Reggie Nalder Nosferatu, or a
handsome Bela Lugosi/Frank Langella lord of the undead. He's just a VAMPIRE IN COFFIN. But no matter, we'll just -- well, we can't STAKE VAMPIRE, or HAMMER STAKE, and INSERT STAKE just produces an inventory listing. But we can KILL VAMPIRE -- WITH WHAT? -- STAKES -- and abruptly, and disappointingly tersely, victory is ours!
I wasn't sure if we'd actually made use of a few of the objects, so I went back and left some things behind -- without the torch, we can't see anything in the dark Vampire's Tomb, and we need the key to open the vampire's coffin. I presume that if we're too slow about our business, the vampire wakes up and kills us at midnight, but I didn't feel up to verifying it; with all the restarting and replaying, I'd only burned about an hour of game time when I got to the end, so it's not like the timing is very tight.
I don't think the byte code problems I ran into were Aardvark's fault -- most likely some corruption in the archives over the years -- but the other bugs are real and the parser's somewhat cryptic assumptions are annoying in many situations. It was definitely a challenge getting through Vampire Castle, but for all the wrong reasons, and it'll probably be a while before I take on another Aardvark adventure.