Saturday, February 9, 2008

Dark Castle - Beat the game on Beginner and Intermediate

The Mac was never a gaming platform. It never had a large userbase and Apple was uniformly awful at courting game developers (and sometimes the developers themselves are a little unreasonable). But, despite having far fewer games than its early Commodore 64 and Apple ][ brethren and later the industry juggernaut PC, it did have some gems.

One of those gems was released early in the Mac's life in 1986 and was called Dark Castle. This game, like many early Mac games was fairly revolutionary for its time.

First, the animation was incredibly smooth and life-like. It was a pleasure to watch the protagonist, Duncan, run, jump, and fall. This was three years before Prince of Persia with its rotoscoped animation (but after Karateka which had similar animation principles). Duncan's walking, running and jumping animations were quite realistic, but the game also had a good sense of humor by adding cartoon-like "hovering over a pit, then looking down and falling" and "banging your head and getting dizzy and
spinning around" animations.

The second major innovation to this game was its control scheme. The game is a platformer and the character is moved around using the keyboard (with WASD as the default keys). The character's main attack is throwing rocks and this is accomplished by aiming with the mouse. Yes, that's right - moving with the keyboard and aiming with the mouse, the same control scheme used by all PC-based first-person shooters today was pioneered by this game back in 1986, almost ten years before the system was first used in a first person shooter (Marathon, which probably not coincidentally was also for the Mac).

So, the announcement that the third Dark Castle game, Return to Dark Castle is finally coming out (it has spent 7-8 years in development) inspired me to go back and replay this game.

It is still a lot of fun, but like many games of my youth, it is a lot harder than I remembered it. I seem to recall being very good at this game and having no problem beating it, but I must have only been playing it on Beginner difficulty. I jumped right back into this game on Advanced difficulty and got my ass-kicked hard. Humbled, I started back at Beginner and relearned the game. I was able to beat Beginner and then Intermediate modes without much difficulty. Advanced is still insane. It took me luck, using all of my ammunition and about 16 tries to finally get the shield. I then died while attempting to get the fireball.

Still, this game brings back great memories. The sound effects are ingrained in my brain - Duncan's grunt as he jumps, his "Whoa, whoa, whoa, wrmmmbrblblblblblb" when he smacks his head, the mutant's taunting, the raven's caw, and the wizard's mumble. Despite not having many games, the early Mac had some good and unique ones.

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