The Wizard's Castle
The Wizard's Castle is a fantasy dungeon crawler game developed by Joseph Power and published in the July 1980 issue of Recreational Computing for the Exidy Sorcerer in Sorcerer BASIC code. Power began development on the game in the late 1970s while he was attending Michigan State University after he saw Chip Bestler's game, Hobbit (itself based on the 1971 Star Trek). He began coding the game on paper using a TRS-80 BASIC manual, but finally programmed it on a computer when he had access to a Sorcerer. He finished his game around 1979 and it was ported to a couple other platforms as well, but it didn't see widespread release until it was published in Recreational Computing. Like many dungeon crawlers of the time, the game uses permadeath.
In the game, the player creates a character and enters the Wizard's Castle which is full of monsters, magic, traps, treasure, and, most importantly, the legendary Orb of Zot. The castle is a giant 8x8x8 cube of rooms and each side wraps around to the other, even the 8th floor wraps back to the first. The player must collect gold and weapons to defeat monsters in the hope of finding the Runestaff, which they will need to uncover the hidden whereabouts of the Orb of Zot. Once they collect the orb, they must successfully find their way out alive.
The game was popular enough to serve as inspiration for several copycats, but this style of game ultimately went extinct. For example, an updated version of the game was published in Swords and Sorcery by Keypunch Software in 1986. Their pirated version adds color and reworks a lot of the display layout, but is essentially the same.
I first saw this game around 1990 in the Keypunch Software shovelware title Swords and Sorcery which my cousin Brian owned. In the compilation, they renamed the game Amulet of Yendor in an attempt to obscure the fact that it was actually an old open-source game and also make it sound as though it had something to do with Nethack. At the time, I was unimpressed by the lack of graphics and random nature of the game, so I didn't make an attempt to play it. Many years later, after learning that Keypunch was just pirating older games, I researched where the game originally came from and found the original Wizard's Castle. After finding and beating so many of the other games from my childhood, I made it a point to come back and beat this one. It sat in my to-play pile for some time, until I finally decided to try and beat it. First, I discovered that the game I had was hacked to reveal the entire map from the beginning, so I tried a Windows port, but, finding it buggy, after failing to find an updated online version, I searched around for clean BASIC source and eventually found it. I beat the game on my first serious attempt on 2022-04-11. In my play-through I made extensive use of the lamp, and, while the game is certainly winnable without it, I have no desire to play it handicapped like that.
The game is open source. I have beat it.
Best Version: MS-DOS
— This section contains spoilers! —
- As far as 1980 BASIC games go, this would have been pretty impressive. By generating a random dungeon, the game makes good use of the limited memory available to computers of the time and the random nature of the game gives it some replay value.
- The game has some pretty clever and funny moments. For example, one of the books ends up being an old copy of Play Dwarf magazine.
- For those who have already beaten the game, it ways to handicap yourself. If you want to play in hard mode, start with a hobbit and no lamp!
- The game lacks balance. Hobbits are simply weaker races. They should have some other ability to justify having fewer stats. Also, a lamp makes the game vastly easier, so, not buying it from the onset is just self-flagellation.
- Because the game is so random, sometimes you'll find all the best treasures and staff very quickly, other times, you'll find yourself surrounded by powerful monsters right away. If the designer had incorporated a gradual difficulty curve as the levels increased, it would make more sense.
- Since all the treasures are put into the game every time, you will very quickly see everything the game has to offer.
- Due to their random nature, it's best to avoid warps, orbs, pools, and books unless you need to. And, once you have a decent amount of gold and good stats, there is no longer a need to as you can safely buy upgrades at a vendor. This means half of the castle's contents are best ignored.
- With only three spells, one of which is dangerous to use, magic isn't well thought out. I beat the game without ever casting a single spell.
- Having to go through all the questions with the vendors every time is annoying. A menu system would be preferred.
- Because the flavor text that appears in each room is random, it's also meaningless. Same with gazing into the orbs. It would have been nicer if it had something to do with the neighboring rooms.
- The game doesn't list the Runestaff in your inventory, so, it's quite easy to miss if you're no paying very close attention to the text during combat. I ended up killing almost every monster in the castle before, on a whim, I tried pressing T and realized I already found it some time ago.
- It's a minor thing, but your coordinates are displayed row then column, but the teleport is column then row.
- Though it's due to the hardware on which it was programmed, the game is severely lacking in media. There are no graphics, no sound effects or music, not even color text.
- By being totally random in its design, the game has very little in the way of plot progression and lacks depth. Once you understand how to exploit the system, winning becomes only a matter of getting a decent randomly generated map.
- Having to shine the lamp in each direction for each room is a pain in the butt, it should have automatically updated the map as you go.
- During my first play-through, I collected enough gold to overflow the variable! A trap should have been coded to prevent this from happening as it was with the player's stats.
Recreational Computing - 1980-07 - Page 10 - The Wizard's Castle - Instructions.
Because The Wizard's Castle was released as open source, I'm including it here. This download also includes the MS-DOS port, a hacked version with the map revealed, and the Keypunch Software version titled Amulet of Yendor.
- maizure.org/projects/decoded-the-wizards-castle/index.html - Source code with detailed comments.
- crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2013/02/game-90-wizards-castle-1980.html - CRPG Addict's review.
- derelllicht.com/winwiz.html - A port to Windows (buggy).
- github.com/gbirchmeier/wizards-castle - Ported to Ruby.