Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Sorcerer's Castle (1979)

This week, we'll be venturing into Sorcerer's Castle, an early Greg Hassett text adventure which I hadn't gotten around to playing yet.  It was written in BASIC and originally published in 1979 (according to fairly reliable sources -- no date or publisher is cited onscreen) for the TRS-80 Model I computers.  It was also ported to the Commodore 64 later on, but we're playing it on the TRS-80 here.

Greg Hassett was a bit of a wunderkind back in the day, creating his own adventure games in BASIC and moving on to machine language while still in his early teens.  I completely missed out on his games at the time they were published, so I've been catching up on them all these decades later.  While misspellings tend to abound, Hassett's technology and designs are generally solid, and all of his games have been very playable in my experience.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to visit Sorcerer's Castle before reading through my playthrough notes below.  It's not a difficult game, though it requires more than the usual quota of mapping, and I'll be describing my entire experience here.  In other words, there are surely...

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

We begin ON AN OLD PATH MADE BY HORSES IN MEDIEVAL TIMES -- there's no further introduction provided, so it's not quite clear whether we are in medieval times at present, though there are no anachronistic items in our empty INVENTORY (INV is as short as the parser will accept, I does not work.)  To the south is THE END OF THE PATH, surrounded by a forest that I will assume presents a maze of some kind.  Going E from the starting point also leads us into being LOST IN A DARK FOREST, so I guess we'll have to deal with a maze before we get anywhere interesting.

While I'm pondering which way to go, a character named CHESTER THE JESTER appears to suggest that "PASSAGES THAT SEEM ALL ALIKE CAN SEEM QUITE DIFFERENT, JUST HOPE YOU'RE RIGHT!" before vanishing IN A CLOUD OF PINK SMOKE; he will show up from time to time to offer these sorts of hints, though they're not critical to success. 

We don't have any inventory items to drop around the maze to distinguish one location from another, so we're going to have to map this out by trial and error -- it seems like some rooms are different with similar descriptions, while others are clearly unique.  Basically, there's a dark forest with spruce trees surrounding the initial area; most rooms have only one or two functional exits, with the rest redirecting to the same spot, so it's not too hard to find our way out, arriving at a bridge south of the forest.

While we're mapping, Chester returns a few times to say something about "GULP GULP GULP, DRINK IT DOWN, I'M NOT SUCH A STUPID CLOWN!" before vanishing again.  He also warns us, "DON'T BRING THE SWORD TO THE SORCERER'S PLACE.  IF YOU DO, HE MIGHT CONFRONT YOU FACE TO FACE!"   This jester generally has the rhyming thing down, though his sense of meter is not really very good if you're, for instance, trying to keep time while he's aroun'.

Crossing the bridge presents no trolls, blockades or other puzzles, and we find ourselves traveling south into a VAST FOREST STRETCHING OUT OF SIGHT.  This is another maze like the dark spruce forest; we can find our way south to a MEDIEVAL CASTLE.

The castle's front door is locked, but we can find a bag of coins around the east side of the castle, and a set of keys to the west.  There's another forest location accessible from the west side of the castle, containing a GOLD PISTOL, potentially useful as a treasure and as a weapon.  From the south side of the castle, we can see a TOWER WITH A SMALL WINDOW IN THE FAR, FAR DISTANCE.  There's no EXAMINE or object-specific LOOK verb, though, so we can't get any more information about it from here.

Eventually a BLACK KNIGHT appears and kills us, so we may be working against time or randomness in some way.  Restoring from a recent save, we can UNLOCK DOOR and enter the castle.  We find ourselves in a SPLENDID CHAMBER 30 FEET HIGH -- where the black knight shows up again to kill us, while we're noting the Crowther/Woods Colossal Cave reference in the location description.

Restoring one more time -- I suspect the black knight's appearances are based on a move timer, so our luck will run out again eventually -- we go west of the castle entrance to THE MASTER BEDROOM, with a persian rug.  North of the bedroom is a DAMP, MUSTY LIBRARY where we can READ a BOOK on sorcery to learn the MAGIC WORD: ALAKAZAM.  It's always nice to see a sorcery tome with a sense of traditional pop culture in its incantatory phrasing.

This time when the knight shows up, we have the presence of mind to try to SHOOT KNIGHT -- and now THE KNIGHT DISINTIGRATED [sic].  We're free to explore a corridor south of the entrance, visiting a BEDROOM WITH A STONE FLOOR and acquiring the PRICELESS SAPHIRE [sic] there, and then stopping by a BEDROOM WITH A WOODEN FLOOR to pick up a FLASK OF LIQUID (we have to GET LIQUID, not GET FLASK.)

At the south end of the corridor, we find a BEDROOM WITH A DIRT FLOOR (though there's no DIG verb to follow up with) leading to a PRIMEVAL CONFERENCE ROOM, which leads in turn to a MAZE OF TWISTY LITTLE PASSAGES, ALL ALIKE.  We have some inventory items in hand now, so we can map the maze out and find our way to several new locations. We can enter the tower glimpsed earlier, though it's just a scenic waypoint, and also find our way to the brink of a pit which we can freely enter to pick up a GOLDEN SWORD.

North of the pit is a BARREN CUBICAL [sic] with a velvet pillow in it -- there's no onscreen distinction between treasures and non-treasures, so it's advisable to take everything that seems pretty or valuable.  We do have an inventory limit of 7 items, however, so I'll guess that the key and book have served their purposes and leave them behind for now.

North again we reach THE END OF THE CASTLE, with some forest visible through a small window that's slightly ajar.  We're told YOU CAN GO NOWHERE!, as there are no obvious exits, but we can OPEN WINDOW and JUMP to land in a pile of leaves, leading back into the spruce forest near the start of the game.

Returning to the castle, we resume exploration west of the vast north-south corridor.  We find a DUSTY PANTRY with markings in the dust that read, "GO SOUTH TO DUNGEON."  We have a pistol and a sword, and nowhere else to go at the moment, but the crack leading south is very narrow so we'll have to be choosy about what we take with us.  Fortunately, Mr. Hassett has given us a DROP ALL command, but even with nothing in hand THE CRACK IS FAR TOO SMALL FOR YOU TO FOLLOW.  And there's no GET ALL command!  Hmmm.  Well, following up on Chester's earlier comments, we'll try to DRINK LIQUIDSOMETHING SEEMS DIFFERENT NOW...  the crack is now a towering hole, allowing us to pass through the crack to a PRIMATIVE [sic] ART GALLERY sporting a PRICELESS PAINTING.

Removing the painting reveals a locked vault in the wall, which requires a key for opening.  So I've left the wrong item behind, it seems!  Retrieving the keys and returning here, we OPEN VAULT and obtain a gold bar.

West of the art gallery is another maze, this one with a note from Mr. Hassett: "THIS IS NOT THE MAZE WHERE THE PIRATE HIDES HIS TREASURE. -- GH."  The Colossal Cave influence is strong in this one!  Checking our SCORE reveals that we still have 0 points, so we haven't succeeded in storing any treasures in the proper location, assuming that's a factor here.

So we'll retrieve some more items -- we didn't need to drop anything to squeeze past the crack -- and map out this maze.  There's a giant opal to the south, and we can make our way to a KITCHEN with silverware and a DINING ROOM with a pewter cup.

An alcove east of the dining room leads to a study with a king's crown, leading to a sitting room that leads... directly into the dungeon!  With AN EVIL SORCERER JUST WAITING TO CAST A SPELL ON YOU HERE!  And YOU CAN GO NOWHERE!  And A PIRATE JUST APPEARED AND CHARTLED [sic] before stealing all of our treasure and hiding it... wait for it... DEEP IN THE MAZE.  Without the golden sword, we're summarily dead as the sorcerer casts his evil spell!

So we restore once again.  We must need to take care of the pirate before we encounter the sorcerer, or find a weapon that isn't made out of gold.  Or maybe SAY ALAKAZAM -- nope, I DON'T KNOW WHAT A "ALAKAZAM" IS.  Maybe it's a verb?  ALAKAZAM works but just provides a quick escape from the dead end of the dungeon back to the dusty pantry, with no effect on the wizard.

Backtracking again, we explore more of the domestic area beyond the kitchen.  There's the OFFICE OF THE SORCERER with a platinum pen available, adjoining an empty drawing room.  Do we have time to do anything with the sorcerer?  It seems the pirate only strikes once, so maybe we need to trigger him without our key weapons in hand.  We'll need to figure out where the treasures get hidden, anyway, so let's go hunt that location up now that it seems we've mapped the game out fairly thoroughly.  Assuming the author's hint is correct, we'll look for treasures in the other maze of twisty passages.  It appears that this pirate can't afford a treasure chest, so he just scatters everything randomly.  But the maze is fairly small, so it's not too hard to reclaim everything once we've got it mapped out.

Chester the Jester continues to pop up, suggesting that we shouldn't read the book?  And that some treasure might be outside under a tree?  And that the black knights can't be killed?  Not sure if this is new information or intentionally misleading or what, but I'm starting not to trust this joker.

It feels like we're close to the end of the game now.  We can SHOOT SORCERER with the golden pistol, but the game suggests that something unidentified vaporizes in the process; if we KILL SORCERER using the sword instead, his scepter remains behind, so we'll choose that option.  Assuming we have discovered most of the treasures at this point, where are we supposed to store them for SCORE?  The starting location works in some adventures -- but not in this case.  What about the tower?  Nope.

We're seeing more black knights show up now, but it seems if we have the Sorcerer's scepter in hand, they run toward us but crash harmlessly into walls and vanish, instead of killing us.  And, after much trial and error, it appears that the proper storage location is the area directly outside the castle, on the north side.

Not all the treasures are worth the same number of points -- most count for 10 or 15 points of the 225 possible, but oddly enough the velvet pillow appears to be worth 20.  So now we have a little trudging to do, working within the inventory constraints to bring all the treasures out of the castle.  The sorcerer's scepter proves to be the crowning touch, worth 50 points to earn the full score of 225 -- though there's no laudatory announcement or formal end to the game, taking a bit of the shine off of our achievement.  Victory is ours, just the same!

Sorcerer's Castle appears to be one of Greg Hassett's earlier efforts -- there's no release year onscreen or in the source code to confirm the 1979 release date listed in other sources, which would put it after his earliest works from 1978.  But it's written in BASIC, unlike his more sophisticated later games; moreover, the parser dictionary is limited, it's a standard-issue fantasy setting without much atmosphere, and there's no plot to speak of, just some mazes and straightforward puzzles.  But playing through it was a pleasant diversion, and I think I've played through the author's published body of work now -- the only game I appear to be missing, Mystery Mansion, doesn't seem to be in online circulation and as far as I know its existence is only suspected based on a reference in one of Hassett's other titles.  I hope it turns up someday, but for now we can close the book on a collection of very playable text adventures from an author active in the industry's early years.  Onward!


  1. I don't know what became of Greg but I just came across this article. He was definitely not using my engine for his games. I think he may have modeled them on a Softside Dogstar adventure. http://atariarchives.org/bigcomputergames/showpage.php?page=100

  2. A little more on Greg's work http://adventure.if-legends.org/Mad_Hatter_Software.html

  3. Hi and thanks for this article, I used to play this game and it was one of my favourites, could never finish it though. Will be trying again after all these years and hopefully not peeking at the walk through. I remember getting stuck anf typing in "help" and Chester the Jester would pop up and say, 'there is no help for you here!' Thanks again

  4. Mystery Mansion definitely seems to have existed. You can see it show up in ads in mid-1980 in some magazines, and it was even given a brief review by Captain 80 in the Sept/Oct 1980 issue of 80-U.S. I agree that no one seems to have found and dumped a copy, though.

    Example Ad, p79 - https://archive.org/details/80-microcomputing-magazine-1980-07

    Captain 80, p34 - https://archive.org/details/80-U.S._Volume_III_Number_5_1980-09_80-Northwest_Publishing_US