Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Making of Dark Castle

Richard Moss (via Hacker News):

Pierce thought it was stupid and incoherent. Instead, he said, “Here’s what we’re gonna do.” In a fit of sudden creative inspiration, Pierce drew out a storyboard of the whole game, which he called Dark Castle. It would be a quest against an evil Black Knight who can only be defeated by surviving a series of trials and obtaining a magic shield and the power to hurl fireballs. He told them, piece by piece, approximately how the game would work. The Silicon Beach people in attendance — Eric Zocher, Charlie Jackson, Charlie Jackson’s wife, and Jonathan Gay — had no objection to being talked to that way. Pierce was the expert. If anything, they were impressed. The five of them plus the ten-year-old son of one of Jackson’s friends then spent the rest of the afternoon sitting around a whiteboard, fleshing out the story and brainstorming ideas for the details of specific rooms and weapons.


Zocher digitized the sounds and refined them in his Wave Edit program to fit the constraints of the Macintosh. Both the 512K and Plus models, but not the original 128K, would be supported this time. He also developed Version 2.0 of his custom sound driver, which could now play compressed sound files. Dark Castle had seventy-two sounds, including Noel’s voice characterizations; a lightning strike and the opening few chords of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, for the game’s title screen; and a variety of environmental sound effects, such as running water (recorded from sinks and toilets) and clinking chains (recorded by dropping the little metal ring that locks the legs on a fold-up table).


Aside from its landmark control scheme (the W, A, S, and D keys controlled movement, while the mouse took care of aiming and shooting, as is the standard today), its wider influence would be limited, however, to only those who played it on the Mac. DOS, Apple IIGS, Sega Mega Drive, Amiga, Commodore 64, Philips CD-i, Atari ST, and MSX versions would follow over the next several years. None caused much of a stir — some for poor timing or limited marketing, others for minor imperfections that marred the overall experience and made it harder to justify the effort of beating one of most difficult games of the era. The best known of these ports, the DOS and Mega Drive versions, actually did Dark Castle a great disservice. They offered garish, blocky, color renditions of Pierce’s detailed, hand-drawn, black-and-white artwork, and they paired this with an inferior animation engine and awkward, slow gamepad and keyboard-only control setups that muddied the precise and idiosyncratic mouse and keyboard controls of the Mac original.

See also: The Internet Archive, current versions of Lunatic Fringe, Maelstrom, and Myth II.

Update (2018-04-18): Riccardo Mori:

Love this spread on MacUser (April 1987) of the beginning of the Dark Castle review by Linda Joan Kaplan. (The review is 5 pages long).

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The book this was published in, The Secret History of Mac Gaming, is freaking amazing, by the way.

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