Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Game 233: Leygref's Castle (1986)

Leygref's Castle
United States
Independently developed and distributed
Released in 1986 for DOS
Date Started: 31 October 2016
Date Ended: 31 October 2016
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: 19
Ranking at Time of Posting: 52/231 (23%)
Ranking at Game #460: 145/460 (32%)
Joseph Power's Wizard's Castle (1980) has proven to be a surprisingly durable game, probably because it was published as code that anyone could copy. And copy they did. We saw the pathetic efforts that went into The Yendor's  Castle (1986), which "improved" upon the original only by changing the name of the wizard from Zot to Yendor in the title and instructions while forgetting to change it in other game text. Leygref's Castle doesn't fare much better. When I played Mission: Mainframe (1987) years ago, I didn't think it was very good, but now I recognize it as a breathtakingly original variant of this line.
This game also forgets that its castle's owner is not "Zot."
The Wizard's Castle was based on an old mainframe Star Trek game from the early 1970s in which you explored 8 x 8 maps and found various items and encounters in each cell. The Wizard's Castle moved the action from space sectors to castle rooms but otherwise maintained the same spirit. You get 8 levels of 64 rooms each, all of which are a mystery before you enter them. Each room may contain one thing: a monster, a book that raises or lowers your attributes, a pool that raises or lowers your attributes, a chest, gold, a special treasure, an orb, stairways up or down, a sinkhole, a teleporter, or a vendor. The encounters found in each room are randomized with each new game. You don't know what each room holds until you enter it or use a flare from an adjacent room.
The original game, for comparison.
To find the object of the game--the Orb of Zot or whatever--you must find a "runestaff," which allows teleportation to a specific level and square. You must then figure out the location of the Orb by gazing in enough of the lesser orbs--which provide about a 50% chance of telling you the right location--to get double confirmation. After that, you teleport to the right room (it mimics a teleporter and boots you out if you enter "normally"), grab the Orb, and head for the exit.
Using the runestaff to teleport to the coordinates of the Orb.
Along the way, a host of things can increase or decrease your strength, intelligence, and dexterity, particularly since strength also doubles as hit points and intelligence doubles as magic points. You can also suffer a variety of conditions, such as blindness or having a book permanently stuck to your hands. Various artifact items relieve these ills, and vendors offer potions to raise attributes to a maximum of 18.

The games are meant to be fairly difficult and random. Each game only takes 10-20 minutes, so you're supposed to fail a lot--sometimes unfairly--before you win. It's not unlike Solitaire in that regard.

(The Wizard's Castle variants are, as far as I'm concerned, emphatically not roguelikes, though many sites list them as such. Although they feature minimal graphics and permadeath, they lack the quality of dungeon exploration and the complex inventory systems of true roguelikes.)
To this basic template, Leygref's Castle adds very little. Like The Yendor's  Castle, it copies the introductory text almost word-for-word from Power's original, even the bit about "esurient monsters." The name of the kingdom has been changed from N'Dic to Zantu. The "gnomic wizard Zot" is now the "Grey Elf, Leygref," and thus the object of the quest is the Orb of Leygref rather than the Orb of Zot. (In case it's not clear, "Leygref" is a rather lame anagram of "grey elf.")

The introductory screen from The Wizard's Castle (1980)...

...contrasted with Leygref's Castle. Except for acknowledging some of the new elements here ("crotchety old wizards," "a phantom"), it's the same.
The game interface has been rehauled a bit here, and I admit it's probably the best of the lot. It keeps the map and the character's inventory and attributes on screen at all times. Whether you possess artifact items is emphasized by highlighting them. Most valid options are offered in the status window. You rarely have to leave this screen.
A nice instructional summary of how the game works.
Leygref adds centaurs and wood nymphs to the available character classes, but like the standard classes--dwarf, hobbit, human, and elf--this doesn't really affect anything except starting attributes. 
"Character creation."
Leygref also adds a few more vagaries to the exploration. Chests can contain (nonsensically) wizards who curse you unless you have the gem artifacts to block them. A wandering "phantom" shows up in random rooms and can steal your gold or magic items--or leave you with a pile of gold. 
Fewer of the rooms are keyed to teleporters and chutes, so exploration isn't quite as chaotic as in the predecessors. On the other hand, a few elements make Leygref a little harder. In The Wizard's Castle, if you managed to get your attributes up to 18, you were set for a long time, since the underlying math let you kill monsters in one hit and characters with 18 dexterity were almost immune from being hit themselves. That isn't true here. Characters with all 18s routinely die in a few unlucky combat rolls--monsters typically whack away 5-7 strength points per hit. This makes the game feel even more random than the earlier variants.
Fighting remains primitive, but the battles take longer.
Leygref's developer also has strength automatically decrease by one point with every 9 moves, and dexterity seems to just fall by one point randomly every now and then. These factors, plus the difficult combat, keep you running to the vendors for potions every time you manage to amass the 1,000 gold piece cost.
Low on hit points again.
In the previous versions, magic--which has a strong chance of backfiring and depletes attributes fast--served in a "Hail Mary" role. You used it when you were out of options. Here, that's not possible because the developer made it so you can't cast spells if your strength is below 10 and your intelligence is below 15. This encourages you to use magic when you're feeling good, as an alternative to getting your strength whacked away in melee combat, but the attribute minimums mean that you're only good for a few spells.

Still, no matter how difficult the game, the randomness means that eventually you'll get lucky and find the runestaff in one of the early combats, get the coordinates, and acquire the Orb within a few moves, not unlike a game of Solitaire that starts with a bunch of aces in the front row. Even if you're not so lucky, the key to winning is to take it slow, make use of flares (they're copious) and don't enter monster squares when your strength is low.
"Great Rot!" substitutes for "Great Zot!"
There's less fanfare to winning here. In earlier versions, the game recapped your moves, gold, and magic items when you escaped with the Orb. In Leygref, you just get a quick screen saying "You're out with the ORB" before hitting the DOS prompt.
Leygref's Castle was programmed by Frank Dutton of Independence, Louisiana and circulated as freeware (though he does solicit contributions of an unspecified amount). On the copyright page, Dutton says that it is based on a "computer game which has been in the public domain for some time," apparently referring to The Wizard's Castle. I'm not a copyright lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that just because the original appeared as code in a magazine, it's not in the "public domain." My view is bolstered by the fact that the magazine code has you type a line that says "(C) Joseph Power." Making a few changes and selling it strikes me as a bit unethical, but of course that seems to be common with some of these RPG lineages. 
It add your own "copyright" to this program despite acknowledging that you copied it.
The game rated a 19 on the GIMLET--one point higher than The Yendor's Castle, reflecting a slightly improved interface. We'll see one final variant of this series in Bones: The Game of the Haunted Mansion (1989), which like Mission: Mainframe promises some cute variations. I won't be sorry to see the end of this lineage at that point.


  1. I have attempted to play this game in the past. Didn't care for it. Reading your review lets me know that I probably made the right choice in not pursuing it further.

    1. I mean, it's not like it would have taken a huge amount of your time, but overall, no, I wouldn't recommend it.

    2. I started playing this game in my middle school years, I believe. It has always been my go-to/quick stress break/stop-thinking-about-work game. It is much like solitaire in that sense. I believe that, much like 70s/80s TV shows, if you didn't watch it then you won't like it now. I loved it then and still love it now. I know I would never have picked it up in this age/culture and liked it. I am currently rewriting the game in Swift :)

    3. I could see it serving a Solitaire-like purpose. The entire Wizard's Crown lineage offers pretty quick gameplay that could distract you fromt he world for a brief time.

  2. Yaknow, I get the idea that in 1986 people weren't experts in knowing the differences between categories of intellectual property like they are today. Today, it is beyond obvious that trademarks, copyrights and patents are all totally different, but nobody but attorneys knew back then. The source code was published in a magazine, of course you could copy it! Why else would they make the source code public? Richard Stallman didn't write the Gnu Public License until 1989.

    Moreover the (C) three-character sequence was not recognized as a legal copyright mark. Only the symbol © gives any validity. There was a big legal case about this in the 90s IIRC. The copyright notice needs to have the year of creation, which this game's notice lacks. Moreover it also doesn't specify what kind of copyright, all rights reserved? Some rights? Which ones?

    I know now that I've spoken up that someone is going to totally say everything I've said is wrong...which pretty much proves my point about people today being extremely knowledgeable about IPR. It's not just for attorneys, it's an internet survival skill. You can be sued and your real name discovered if you are perceived to mess with the wrong IPR holder.

    1. A good point- it's easy to forget how the internet affected copyright so drastically. Youtube used to be the wild west before they implemented ads...

    2. You don't need to include a copyright notice at all, (C) or ©, for a work to be copyrighted. A work is automatically copyrighted when it's created, unless the creator explicitly waives the copyright. There are limitations on suing for damages if you haven't registered the copyright, but you still own the intellectual property.

      This wasn't always the case; it did use to be the case that you had to include a copyright notice in the work to retain the copyright—which is how Night of the Living Dead famously fell into the public domain. But the law was changed to remove this requirement in 1976, a few years before Wizard's Castle came out.

  3. Reading this, it occurred to me that this genre didn't really die out; modern variants are quite popular on mobile (example: Dungelot) and have appeared on PC (Runestone Keeper). Generally they are refered to as 'rogue-lites' or 'roguelike-minesweeper crossovers' - the origins may have been forgotten. For the origin, people usually suggest reference points like the roguelike Lost Labyrinth.

    They're quite fun. Basic gameplay has evolved towards a fairly standard set of tropes which the two I mention display. Of the two I mentioned, Runestone Keeper is harder and better.

    1. Having not played either of those, nor Leygref's Castle, can't comment for sure but sounds like Strange Adventures in Infinite Space also belongs to same lineage.

    2. I was also reminded of Strange Adventures in Infinite Space while reading this.

      I would classify these games as being adjacent to roguelikes, but agree with CRPG-A that they don't directly qualify. At the same time I'm not sure I'd call them roguelites, but that's possibly because I subjectively associate that moniker with the recent indie trend that began with Spelunky and Shoot First.

      As for roguelike/minesweeper crossovers, the premier example surely has to be Desktop Dungeons. It's much more it's own thing than a Wizard's Castle clone, but there are some similarities.

  4. the only other time i've heard/seen the word esurient used is in monty python's cheese sketch

  5. I used to have this game on my Tandy 1000 back in the 80s... it wasn't played much! I spent much more time dying routinely in the old Hack that became NetHack in later years!

    I'm off to have some camembert and fromage blanc!

  6. Reading this review reminds me of how great this blog is... it's easy to take for granted what you're doing here, but your experience with all of these games provides us with a lot of access to knowledge about how, where, and why all sorts of different kinds of games are made. The fact that you know as much about the lineage of this very forgettable title is pretty cool. Reading your blog is as good as (if not better than!) going to History of RPGs 101...

    1. I've got to agree with this - this sort of secret history is a lot more interesting than reading about games everyone already knows, entertaining though those posts are.

      It's a pity that the interesting, different games are also usually a bit rubbish. Thanks for playing them, Chet, so we don't have to.

    2. Even though I don't really like such games, I certainly don't mind the experience spending 2 hours documenting them. It adds another total to my ticker and a little more knowledge about RPG history. It's not all about having fun.

      It's embarrassing to go back and look at my first attempt at the game, when I guess I wasn't interested in history or the names of developers at all. It makes me want to replay my entire first year.

    3. Don't do that, man.

      You obviously started this a passion project.

      Your metamorphosis into an academic of the subject is a by-product of the journey.

      As long as your posts on future games acknowledges those earlier games that inspired them, you are free to espouse those influences where credits are due.

  7. If I took Wizard's Castle, altered the name to White Castle and sold it as my own creation, could Frank Dutton sue me for it?

    1. The hamburger chain will sue you though.

  8. At least he acknowledged the original. Reading back on arcade conversions from the 80's there were quite a few unlicensed ripoffs that sold for full price on platforms like the C64.

    1. Katakis comes to mind here, sorry, Denaris, sorry, I meant R-Type :)

    2. You mean Alien: The Game? :)

  9. About the incoming planet's edge, all the contemporary reviews seem to be of the second half of 1992, even if mobygames lists it as 1991

    1. The game executable itself contains the copyright notice: "Planet Edge V1.0 Copyright 1991"

      However, it is true that it wasn't until 1992 that the game was reviewed. Also Wikipedia and show 1992.

      Maybe programming was finished in 1991 but it shipped in 1992?

    2. Also the original box has 1991 printed on it.

    3. "Maybe programming was finished in 1991 but it shipped in 1992?"

      I think this may be the case, yes.

      I doubt that, having this game released in, let's say December 1991, reviewers waited for more than 6 months to say anything about it, more in a time when there was not so many CRPGs as now.
      Also, it's not an unheard practice for one publisher to hold one game if they have just released another one in the same category (Might and Magic III) to not compete for sales against each other. And with MM3, there would have been no competition.


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