Dark Castle

dark castle graphic 1
Dark Castle is a classic platform game that was written by Mark Pierce and Jonathan Gay, way back in 1986 for the Apple Mac. So what's the big deal?

Each level (or stage) is basically 1 room, with no scrolling involved. Huh? All you have to do is work your way to the exit of the room without getting yourself killed (much easier said than done). You can throw rocks at things but you can only throw what you pick up. The game is quite fast paced, and each level has something quirky about it that keeps you interested. DC was quite a success, with its fabulous black and white graphics, sense of humour, cool (sampled!) sound effects and tough gameplay. I used to play this game on a mate's mac (about 15 years ago), and I thought it might be fun to play it again. Here's how events unfolded.

Turns out trying to run the game was much more difficult than expected!

Playing the original Dark Castle

Setting up the Macintosh Emulator

Dark Castle 5 screenshotAfter about 6 hours of stuffing around with all Mac Emulators possible, I ended up using MiniVMac. The file that you are looking for is "minivmac-2.8.1.bin.nmkwx86s.zip" - which is the latest version (2.8.1). Grab this file and unzip it to somewhere (for purposes of this article let's say you have put it into d:\games\emulate\mac\minimac).

(Side note: You'd think that these open source guys would know by now how to create a usable and understandable website. Oh no. Instead they have links to hundreds of slightly different versions of their code, each one as incomprehensable as the next to your average computer user. What they really need is a "Click here for the Windows XP version" and "Click here for the Mac Version". I note that Firefox has gone down this path).

Anyway. This zip file is compiled for windows, and contains 4 separate emulators. To be able to boot up a Mac, you also need the boot ROM, which unfortunately is still proprietary (which, quite frankly, is totally ridiculous). However poke around on the web long enough (and if you're conscience can bare it) you' ll find one. The filename that you're looking for is vmac.rom. Grab this file, and stick it into the all\English\Plus directory. Now try running "Mini vMac Plus.exe". If you're lucky, you should get a screen that contains a disk with a flashing "?" on it. This means that you have booted your mac and you're ready to insert your Dark Castle disk!

Setting up the Dark Castle boot disk

Well here's what I did to get the game playable. If there's an easier to way do the following, please email me!

  1. I downloaded VMac, and got it to boot. (This involved hunting down another rom). This was neccesary so that I could create a boot disk, and unzip Dark Castle onto it.

  2. Within VMac, I mounted my actual (windows) hard disk, and also created a 10 meg virtual hard disk.

  3. To make this virtual hard disk bootable, I needed an operating system to boot up from. For this I used the classic Operating System called "System 6". You can download a copy of the System 6 OS straight from Apple for free! Thanks guys!.

  4. Once downloaded it was possible to boot off the install, and then "format" my virtual hard disk with a System 6 bootup.

  5. I then needed a copy of my original Dark Castle game. This is titled something like "Dark Castle.sea.hqx". (A "hqx" is the equivalent of a "zip" file for mac.) With this file, I could copy it from my local HD to the emulator, and then unzip it to my virtual hard disk. Try here.

  6. Alrighty! I originally tried playing the game using VMac, but I found out that it had a terrible keyboard handler. I ended up using MinivMac, which played the game fine!

Playing DC

And here's the end result: dark castle graphic 2

Cool eh? A couple of things that you need to know. The keys used to play the game are "A W D" for movement, "Q" and "E" for action buttons, space for jumping, and the mouse for firing. (Hey wow, Quake uses the game keys! I wonder who came up with that idea?)

I mentioned that originally when playing DC on VMac the keyboard handler totally sucked. So before I tried MiniVMac I thought to myself, "I know.. I'll try the PC port of the original game": dark castle graphic 3

This version is interesting for a few reasons. Because it's in a lower resolution (320x200) than the Mac original (512x342) it looks crap. For some unforgivable reason, it's using VGA 16 colors. The sound effects have been cut down, and instead of using the mouse you have to use the keyboard to shoot. This version was quite good, except that the colours really made the game suffer. Interested, I now hunted down another port, the mega drive version: dark castle graphic 4

Note that I said version, not port. After playing this one for about 5 seconds it's obvious that they did a complete re-write of the code! Now I can see that they were doing the mega drive users a service, this version of the game is pretty cool and fun.. except it's not the same as the original. Movement is slightly different, thrown rocks don't arc in a nice way (they just move in a straight line :), and everything is just a few pixels off. However, the color looks really fantastic and if you hadn't have played the original, this version is pretty good.


Oh yeah.. there was a sequel! "Beyond Dark Castle" - which was another killer game! This one has more things to pick up, newer nasties and is now scrollable! This naturally makes it slightly different, yet it's still clearly DC. The level design is very atmospheric, and has bigger and more difficult levels. Another classic.

Return to Dark Castle. This looks like a planned DC3 version which is still not completed. And based on the website it looks like it never will be :)

Some background links:

  1. Delta Tao - now own the rights to the game. They have done a color version, but it's Mac only!
  2. MacGamer - have reviewed the new version, and give a history of the original.
  3. Google's directory of Dark Castle websites.
  4. Author Mark Pierce is now the CEO of "Super Happy Fun Fun and has written a great article titled "Top Ten video game attributes".
  5. Jonathan Gay was the CEO of "FutureWave Software" until it was bought out by Macromedia! He is now CEO at Macromedia and has written a bit about his history.

Wrap Up

DC is still a great game. Addictive gameplay, responsive movement, imaginative ideas, and a very nice difficulty level (Easy, Medium and Hard). I'm yet to finish the game on hard! Playing the game on MiniVMac is practically exactly the same as playing on the original. Strongly recommended!

Walk-through for Advanced Difficulty

Alrighty, I've finally worked up the skills to finish DC on all difficulties. The ending is the same on all three :). Finishing it on advanced just drops you down into Dungeon 3 and keeps the difficulty on Advanced. My high score was 118,470 - though I could do better if I started the game on Beginner and worked my way up.

Dark Castle high score

Here's some pointers for playing on advanced:

- Shield 1 is very difficult due to there being lots of boulders and mutants. You'll have to find a couple of extra positions where you can jump over them (right up the top) while shooting the mutants. Just everywhere for the speed otherwise you'll be stuffed.

- Shield 2 isn't too hard, but a bit of ducking is involved. Once I have worked my way over to the other side of the screen I normally end up shooting the birds and not bothering to splash the dragon.

- Shield 3 is pretty easy, except if you don't have enough potions. If you get here with only one or two potions, you can keep going back to Shield 2 to pinch a few, but be careful that you don't lose any lives!

- Shield 4 is no problems, just remember where the platforms are and start killing those bats!

- Fireball 1 is a bit tricky, similar to Shield 2. I've been jumping into the middle of things and using my shield, then shooting everything in sight when I get a chance.

- Fireball 2 - you can swap between the previous screen to replenish your rocks. Very difficult level, and there's only 1 way to do it (that I could work out) - it's actually hilarious, the programmers definitely had fun doing this one!

- Fireball 3, no problems.

- Fireball 4 I found very difficult. No tips needed here except keep on shooting those eyeballs!

- Black Knight 1 - not too hard, but you'll have to find some "safe" spots so that you can hide from the mice and shoot the gargoyles. There's three spots that I use - top left, bottom middle and bottom right.

- Black Knight 2 - not too hard, but sometimes the boulders can make it a bit tricky. I advice charging your way up to the top and killing the Henchman as soon as you can.

- Black Knight 3 - Very difficult! The gargoyle comes extremely often and the mugs bounce twice off the walls! The best advice I can give you is to do your best to work out where you can stand that will safely hide you from the mugs. There's not many spots so you'll have to resort to your shield very often. Difficult but do-able! Good luck!