Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Backtracking: Wizard's Castle (1980)

I had to look up what "esurient" meant. It means" hungry."

[Edit from 25 February 2013: Almost three years after I posted this, I gave this game a longer review, won it, and scored it on the GIMLET scale. I recommend that you just jump to that one.]

We needn't spend a lot of time on Wizard's Castle (1980), even though it shows enough promise to be slightly addictive if I gave it a chance. It is an entirely text-based game, similar to the earliest versions of Rogue. As Matt Barton says in Dungeons & Desktops (2008), it is notable less for what it is and more for how it was released: it was printed as 5000 lines of BASIC code in the magazine Recreational Computing. I'm not really sure who I have to thank for the DOS executable version I'm playing.

I don't know if you can read the screenshot above, but the setup is that:

Many cycles ago, in the kingdom of N'Dic [yes, really], the gnomic wizard Zot forged his great ORB OF POWER. He soon vanished, leaving behind his vast subterranean castle filled with esurient monsters, fabulous treasures, and the increadible ORB OF ZOT. From that time hence, many a bold youth has ventured into the wizard's castle, as of now NONE has ever emerged victoriously! Beware!!

In the following character creation screens, you can choose from an elf, a dwarf, a man, or a hobbit and then choose your sex. You start off with points allocated to strength, intelligence, and dexterity (based on sex and class) and a pot of 8 additional points you can distribute as you wish. You then buy some starting equipment with a limited pool of gold pieces.

You control your character through a series of text commands, primarily moving one of the four cardinal directions through the game map. The (M)ap command brings up a "map" of the level, which is an 8x8 grid. Each of the "squares" in the grid contains either nothing (represented by a period) or an encounter (represented by a letter). The encounters are varied, including (M)onsters, (V)endors, (T)reasure, (B)ooks, and stairs (U)p or (D)own.

In combat, you have three options: (A)ttack, (R)etreat, or (B)ribe. I'm not sure what the mathematics are behind the attack. I dispatched a bear and a troll handily enough but then was slain by a balrog--quite a challenge for the first level! Oddly, you don't seem to have any hit points; getting hit depletes your strength.

An interesting game, and one that again shows some influence on Rogue (the character creation process is frankly more advanced in Wizard's Castle), but not one I'll be playing until the wee hours of the morning.

Nope, not nearly foolish enough.

Barton praises the game for its coding efficiency but concedes that it is "a fairly simple game, with no graphics and only a meager story." Keep in mind that Richard Garriott was selling Akalabeth the same year, which featured actual graphics in two different perspectives. In that context, we might view Wizard's Castle as the last gasp of the pre-commercial CRPG.


  1. So is this where the "Orb of Zot" in the Dungeon Crawl roguelike comes from?

  2. Nice, I'm pretty sure I hadn't heard of this game before, and I'm a Dungeon Crawl developer!


  3. its basically an enhanced version of hunt the wumpus

  4. Wow, it's pretty enjoyable to just read a succinct point of view about some of the earlier ones, i think you should try and do a few of these on the ones you've missed, and maybe on some of the less entertaining crpg's in the future.

  5. Seems you have been playing the IPCO version of Wizard's Crown... sorry, Wizard's Castle. It is somewhat different from other version as the map content is uncovered from the beginning.

    I have enjoyed this game when I was digging through the archeology of CRPGs. (Not that it is a real RPG, though.) It is based on an earlier BASIC game called HOBBIT, and there were many shareware and freeware remakes with interesting themes. I remember "Bones", with a zany horror theme, and "Mission Mainframe", a sci-fi bureaucracy variant.

    MobyGames has a few further variants in it's "Wizard's Castle variants" game group. (I'm the one responsible for it :)

    Cheers, GE

  6. Good work…unique site and interesting too… keep it up…looking forward for more updates.

  7. Whoa, this post somehow reminded me that I spent hours playing ... oh no, what was it called? Well, the game looked just like this one, but it was certainly not Wizard's Castle, as it had a one-word name that made no sense to me as a child.

    Oh, checking GE's "Wizard's Castle variants" link, it is Leygref's Castle, and you are about to get to it! Hooray! I guess I just could not get past the word "Leygref," assuming it meant something and I was just not smart enough to know what, haha.

    1. I didn't give either game--or any of the games in this "backtracking" series--enough attention. I should have just played them fully like regular games.

    2. To be fair, for myself I really wouldn't even consider giving them an hour and write whole blog entry since they seem to be very much what today is called user created content, like creating a mod by using a level editor, only back then they could just take the source code of the games and change them themselves. Although of course I'm glad you did it for us, some seem to be important enough part of crpg history.

    3. I'm probably going to be revisiting Wizard's Castle coming up here, for reasons I'll explain when I post about it.

  8. I remember on my very first try I found the staff you need, in order to progress, fairly quickly via random teleportation, but soon after that everything went tuxy-turby - I got blinded, a book bound itself to my hand and eventually I quit out of frustration, imagining the poor character limping out of the castle, using the staff as a walking stick while holding onto it with the book stuck to his hand. XD

  9. By the way, I've rewritten this game in C with binaries for multiple platforms, so if you want to play it again please check it out.
    Nothing fancy, just straight up text-based goodness.


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