Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Gargoyle Castle (1980)

Once again, time pressures from life at large have led me to select an early TRS-80 adventure game coded in easily-hacked BASIC.  This week we're looking at Gargoyle Castle, written by Kim Domenico and (ostensibly) published by Panic Simulations in 1980.  The title screen lists the version number as PROTO 1.1, and there are a couple of bugs in this build that make it difficult to finish the game, so it's possible it was never officially released, though it's very close to being finished so if it wasn't it's a shame.

The game is written in BASIC, with an inelegant but fairly speedy approach to parsing based on lots of string comparisons and GOTO commands.  The interface is influenced by Scott Adams' seminal adventures, with a terse location/object/navigation window up top and the command entry/feedback section below.  It's a standard fantasy-themed treasure hunt, with some unusual but logical puzzles and a pleasant sense of humor.

I generally encourage readers to play these games independently before proceeding with my commentary, but this game's not quite finishable in its current form; we can get close, but the final puzzle falls into a gap between the story and the victory conditions that makes it impossible to score more than 90 of the possible 100 points.  It's still an entertaining journey to that stage, and there are ways to get around the issue which I will discuss below.  As always, beyond this point, be advised that there lie...

****** SPOILERS AHEAD! ******

The first treasure, * A LIVING CRYSTAL BIRD, is conveniently sitting right here at the start of the game... but of course, if we try to GET it, IT FLYS [sic] AWAY.  Heading W into the castle's moat causes us to drown due to the weight of our armor.  Under these circumstances, the game assigns us a score of 0 of 100 on the treasure hunting front, but also penalizes us for SLOPPINESS; I ended my first game within a few moves, with a score of -19.

The only thing shown in INVentory at the start is SOME VERY, VERY HEAVY ARMOUR.  Dropping it lets us enter the moat, but there doesn't seem to be anything interesting to do there.  We don't have to WEAR ARMOR to regain its protection, GET ARMOR is sufficient after our dip.

A GATHERING ROOM to the south contains a DULL RING.  We can't EXAMINE RING (no such verb exists, which rather limits our discovery options in this game) or READ RING, but if we try to RUB RING, we learn that I HAVE NOTHING TO RUB IT WITH.  It gets too dark to explore south of the gathering room, and west of it as well.  It seems we need some sort of light source.  We can't WASH RING in the moat, either.

After hunting around in the handful of accessible locations for something glowing or ignitable, I started to wonder... do we actually need a light source?  It turns out that, while the parser gives us the standard MOVING IN THE DARK CAN BE DANGEROUS! warnings, it is actually willing to tell us that we can't move in a given direction, and it lets us move in the valid directions without spontaneously falling down and breaking our neck.  Navigating this way allows us to reach the OLD STONE ARMS ROOM, where we find an old book, a TIGHTLY ROLLED SCROLL ("ROLLED BY SCROLL ROLLER'S UNION 207"), and a fuzzy cloth.

Now we can GET CLOTH and RUB RING -- THE RING GLOWS GOLD, though not brightly enough to let us see in the dark areas; it just turns the dull ring into treasure, as * A SHIMMERING RING.  As a side effect, the formerly fuzzy cloth is now a FAINTLY LETTERED CLOTH; it reads, "IN THE CLOSET, DUMMY."  We can UNROLL SCROLL -- a lighter falls out, and the scroll reads, "BURN IT UP, CHUCK."  The old book is in German, unreadable by our protagonist.

We can LIGHT LIGHTER to reveal the contents of the dark rooms.  One is a dim closet, where we can acquire a garden trowel.  The other is a DANK AND MUSTY DUNGEON, with * A HUGE RUBY and a long ladder.  We can only carry six items, so we'll have to start juggling objects soon.

Attempting to BURN SCROLL in the closet -- assuming those hints are meant to be used together -- reveals an opening in the ceiling.  It's too high to reach, but the ladder helps, leading up into a high tower overlooking the meadow.  There's a bridge to another castle to the west.

The new castle is large but fairly sparsely populated  -- there's a garbage pit with nothing in it, a library with an empty bookcover that is resolutely unREADable, and a roof-top garden that's otherwise empty.  Then things get weird, as a westerly passage leads past a TULIP BULB to a remote icefield where a caravan of ice beasts is visible.  A sign there lies half-buried in the ice -- "STAND BY FOR MORE ADVENTURE," it reads, suggesting that this was meant to be the first in yet another adventure game series.  We can take some GREENISH ICE here, but trying to MELT ICE yields only I CAN'T YET; it seems like there should be an emerald in there somewhere, if we can figure out how to dispose of the ice, but there isn't.

To the south we find a tomb with an unlight flashlight and a funerary urn.  OPENing the URN yields a * PLATINUM SMOKING PIPE.  There's a museum with broken, destroyed displays, save an ANCIENT SHOVEL which, as it turns out, is extremely useful for unearthing additional treasures.

Gargoyle Castle seems unfinished, in part because many potentially interesting rooms, like a HALLWAY WITH WARRIORS IN BAS-RELIEF IN THE WALL STONES, don't contain any items or puzzles.  A BEDROOM FIT FOR A KING hilariously notes that "IT SAYS 'KING' RIGHT ON THE CURTAIN."  The king's bathroom contains a coiled rope and a mound of trash; a torture chamber features a wicker cage and glowing coals.  OPEN CAGE claims SOMETHING FELL OUT, but there doesn't seem to be anything new in the room or in inventory, so this is probably a bug.

A room with a TALL GOLDEN THRONE includes a small plaster plaque set into the floor -- ah, at last, we have found a place to DROP * TREASURES HERE AND SAY SCORE!   Delivering two treasures nets us 20 points out of 100, so there must be ten to find in total.  There's a also a socket and a bottle of polish here.

We need to find quite a few more treasures, so let's see what we can do with the various objects we've discovered so far.  COVERing the old BOOK suddenly reveals it is * A COMPLETE GUTENBERG BIBLEDIGging in the meadow where we began our journey creates a HOLE, and inside is... a LIGHT BULB, apparently in good working order despite its burial.  If we SCREW BULB in the treasure room, the empty socket becomes * A TIFFANY LAMP.  We can MELT ICE with the glowing coals in the torture chamber, yielding COLD COALS and THAWED WATER; no treasure there yet.  Can we invoke a classic adventure trope and capture the * LIVING CRYSTAL BIRD with the wicker cage?  Yep!

What about the tulip bulb?  We can try to PLANT BULB, but my initial attempt yielded only I DON'T HAVE EVERYTHING I NEED.  I have the tulip bulb, the garden trowel, the ancient shovel, and some thawed water.  What am I missing?  I had to dig into the code to learn that I need items 12, and 15, and 29, and need to be in location 14.  Aha -- we need some compost!   We can dig in the garbage pit to find SOME WELL ROTTED COMPOST, then PLANT TULIP in the flower garden to yield -- a few turns later -- a * RAINBOW COLORED TULIP.

Digging another hole in the meadow yields a BLACKENED, DISCARDED CROWN -- though there seems to be a bug here, as if we go UP from this new hole we can come out in the garbage pit inside the castle where we were digging earlier.
Digging in the tomb produces another hole containing * SOME TRIANGULAR GOLD COINS.  And now we're up to 9 treasures!   Where could the tenth one be?  I looked at the code again to learn that we're supposed to have * A ROPE BOUND GARGOYLE.  But we haven't even seen a gargoyle, though we do have some rope from the King's bathroom.

I finally found the gargoyle in a hole I'd previously dug -- and with armor on for protection, I was able to TIE GARGOYLE with the rope -- but if we try to GET him after that, the game ends without giving us credit for finding this final "treasure."  I had to pore over the code some more to confirm that we have to TIE GARGOYLE in the treasure room to get credit.  But he originates in a hole in the windswept ice field, normally (a general hole handling bug, because the HOLE is always the same "room", sometimes causes him to appear elsewhere) and any time we try to GET him, the game gives us a final score and ends at that point. 

The gargoyle doesn't seem inclined to follow us around, so I had to fake the final steps to the victory condition by forcing the gargoyle to appear in the throne room so I could tie him up there and end the game.  (FYI, one can break out of the BASIC code, set LC(31) = 15, and CONT to do this.)  And now our adventure is finished:

Yay!  We're done... except for that darn sloppiness penalty, whose purpose eludes me.  The code suggests that the author wants us to leave every portable object that isn't a treasure in a hole, or in the moat, or in the garbage pit.  Any "leftover" objects get counted against us, but it didn't seem worth the trouble to clear that up.

And that's Gargoyle Castle.  If it was ever released, I'd be curious to know how the final version differs from this prototype.  It's very close to being complete, and almost playable to the end, it just needs a few bug fixes and tweaks to reach a proper professional standard.  If the author Kim Domenico ever runs across this post, I welcome him or her to drop me a line and let us know what became of this game.


  1. Ported the Code to TRS-80 MC-10 and found the bugs you mentioned and fixed them. Decent game when proofed.

  2. There is a PC version too by Richard Kelly made in 2002, written in QB/PDS.