Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Game 226: The Yendor's Castle (1986)

No, that's not a typo in my post title.
The Yendor's   Castle
United States
Copy of The Wizard's Castle by Joseph Power (1980), published by Keypunch Software.
Released 1986 for DOS.
Date Started: 31 August 2016
Date Ended: 31 August 2016
Total Hours: 3
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: 18
Ranking at Time of Posting: 48/224 (21%)
Ranking at Game #450: 181/450 (40%)
During my first, confused year of blogging, I didn't really care about issues of accuracy. If MobyGames said there was a 1985 roguelike game called Amulet of Yendor, I took its word for it, Googled "Amulet of Yendor DOS Download," and played what I found. But now that I regard myself more as a historian, I have to report that a) the game isn't a roguelike; b) there's no particular evidence that it's from 1985; and c) it doesn't even seem to be called Amulet of Yendor.

The "roguelike" part is easiest to dismiss, despite what practically every download site says. While the game does use ASCII characters, it has none of the other major features of a roguelike. Instead, it's a variant of The Wizard's Castle (1980), which I covered in a 2013 review. "Variant" is generous, as we'll see. The same game saw variants with more...well, variance... in Leygref's Castle (1986), Mission: Mainframe (1987), and Bones: The Game of the Haunted Mansion (1991). Each of these games features a multi-level game map divided into a number of discrete rooms, each of which may contain a monster, a treasure, or a trap.

The "roguelike" confusion might come from the name Amulet of Yendor, which of course is the name of the quest object in Rogue and NetHack, but the game lifts nothing else from these roguelikes.

Second, we have the title, which does not seem to be objectively determinable. The game compilation package, like MobyGames and several abandonware sites, calls it Amulet of Yendor, but the game's title screen seems to call it Yendor's   Castle--or, even more bizarrely, The Yendor's   Castle. (I'd chalk it up as an unfortunate typo in the worst possible place, much like Gateway to Aphsai, except that it's repeated in the next line.) The backstory makes it clear that the objective is to recover the Orb of Yendor, not an amulet, so calling the game Amulet of Yendor would make little sense. I'd blame the marketing department except that the game's file name is "amulet.exe" and later when you find the Orb, it turns out that a "precious amulet" is with it despite the backstory never mentioning the amulet. Anyway, in times of confusion, my policy is to go with the main screen, so The Yendor's   Castle it is.

Finally, there's the question of year, given as 1985 almost everywhere. But the game seems to have been published solely as part of a shovelware package released by Keypunch Software in 1986. Many of the file dates are from 1985, which probably led to the confusion.
The back of the shovelware package in which this game appeared.
A discussion of this entire Keypunch package is going to be more fun than reviewing The Yendor's   Castle specifically. The Minnesota-based company, which existed from 1984 to somewhere in the mid-1990s, was famous for making minor modifications to shareware titles and re-publishing them for profit as well as making cheap knock-offs of better commercial titles. Its first shovelware package--Arcade Bonanza--was headlined by Frog and Pac-Em; I'll let your imagination run riot on what games they copied.

Amulet of Yendor or The Yendor's   Castle appeared in a package called Swords & Sorcery, so poorly designed that the disks inside had hand corrections on the bland labels and didn't even come with sleeves. One of the other games in the package is The Golden Wombat, a breathtaking ripoff of Kevin Bales's Castle Adventure (1984, which is also weirdly listed as a "roguelike" on a lot of sites despite not even being an RPG). A third is NYC Adventure, which seems to copy the style of Infocom text adventures.

The fourth title in the package is Swords of Glass, which I reviewed in 2010 without knowing anything about its history. Most reviewers making fun of Keypunch dismiss this one as a Wizardry clone, but as we saw in my series of posts (cut short by a misunderstanding on my part), it had some amazing innovations for a game of such low pedigree, including cooperative multiplayer, the ability to make marks on walls, the ability to purchase weapon bonuses, an automap, a vault, and some truly interesting and challenging logic puzzles and cryptograms. Keypunch stripped all attributions from its games and in the 30 years since, no one seems to have come forward to claim credit for Swords of Glass. I still have a $50 Amazon gift card bounty out on that author's name. He or she deserves to be remembered.

Alas, the same cannot be said of the "author" of The Yendor's   Castle, who did nothing more than copy the freely-published code of The Wizard's Castle and change a little text, add the manual text to the opening screen shots, and add some color and formatting to it. A few errors are fixed (e.g., the game now asks "what is your sex?" instead of "what sex do you prefer?") but an equal number are introduced. Here's the background text from the originally-published Wizard's Castle in the July/August 1980 Recreational Computing:
Many cycles ago, in the kingdom of N'dic, the gnomic wizard Zot forged his great orb of power. Soon after this he vanished, leaving behind his vast subterranean castle filled with esurient monsters, fabulous treasures, and the incredible Orb of Zot. From that time hence many a bold youth has ventured into the wizard's castle. As yet, none has ever emerged victorious.
And here's the introductory text from The Yendor's   Castle:
Many cycles ago, in the kingdom of Zantu, the grey elf Yendor forged his great Orb of Power. Soon after this he vanished, leaving behind his vast subterranean castle filled with esurient monsters, fabulous treasures, and the incredible Orb of Yendor. From that time hence many a bold youth has ventured into the wizard's castle. As yet, no one has ever emerged victorious. 
Pro tip: if you're going to plagiarize someone else's work and sell it for a profit, change not only the names of the kingdom and wizard, but words like "esurient." 
The original game didn't have nice borders around the introductory text. But the original game did spell "palantir" correctly.

The plagiarism is so bad that I'm 99% sure the publisher was originally going to leave the title as The Wizard's Castle, or something similar, before a last-minute decision to do a quick find-and-replace and put Yendor's in there instead, leading to the awkward title. Every time the word "Yendor's" or "Yendor" appears in the game text, as in the opening screen above, there's a curious extra space or two after it, like it was a last-minute substitution for something else. "Wizard's" has the same number of characters, so maybe it wasn't that, but clearly some substitution happened.

Commands in the game, identical to the original.
Both games offer elf, dwarf, human, and hobbit character classes, allocation of attributes to strength, intelligence, and dexterity, and an initial purchase from three types of armor, three weapons, a lamp, and any number of flares.

Both games take place in an 8-level castle of 64 rooms each, arranged in an 8 x 8 grid. The contents of each room are randomly generated with each new game. About half of the rooms have nothing in them; the rest have exactly one thing: a monster, stairs up or down, a sinkhole, a magic pool, a chest, a book, gold, flares, a "warp" (teleporter), a vendor, a crystal orb, one of eight artifact treasures, or the Orb of Yendor itself.
The game map. The ???? squares are unexplored.
As you start the game, all rooms appear on the map as question marks. You reveal them by walking around or using lamps and flares to check out the contents of rooms immediately adjacent to you. The game occasionally throws atmospheric messages at you ("you sneezed"; "you stepped on a frog"; "you hear a door open and close"), but they're all randomly generated and don't necessarily give you hints as to nearby rooms.
Not gonna lie. I'd probably buy it.
Combat is pretty rote, consisting of basically attack, retreat, or bribe the monster to go away. Characters with above 15 intelligence can cast one of three spells--"Web," "Fireball," and "Deathspell"--but they're all risky and they subtract directly from strength and intelligence. Victory rewards you with gold and sometimes an amusing line suggesting that you cooked and ate your foe.
I try my luck with "Deathspell" and emerge victorious. Apparently, there's a 25% chance of it backfiring on you.
Character development comes primarily in the form of buying items and attribute-increasing potions from vendors, drinking from pools, and reading books. The latter two options are risky, as they can lower statistics or curse you with lethargy (monsters always get a first attack), blindness, forgetfulness (explored map disappears), and other conditions, including changing race or sex. The various artifact treasures, if found, generally serve to ward off the potential curses.
Take it away, Kenny.
There isn't a lot of strategy; just a roll of the dice every time you engage in one of these special encounters. There is a kind-of role-playing decision involved in whether to attack vendors. If you kill one, you get all his stuff, but every vendor in the game becomes hostile.

Late in the game, after you've acquired a bunch of artifacts, visiting the vendor becomes tedious.
A turning point in the game comes if you can find a vendor after amassing enough treasure to purchase potions that increase your strength and dexterity to around 18. At that point, it becomes very difficult for most monsters to kill you and exploration becomes a lot safer. Moreover, since 18 is the maximum for anything, you can mostly say no to anything that might put you in danger, as there's no potential reward.

Ah, so now, suddenly, we're after an amulet, too.
Finding the Orb of Yendor can be difficult. It isn't displayed as such on the map, and you can't walk directly into its room (you end up warping out). Instead, you have to teleport there with a Runestaff, found in one of the game's random combats. Crystal orbs scattered throughout the dungeon will tell you the Orb's location--but they only have a 50% chance of telling the truth, so you need a couple of confirmations. Most of the time, they just show you nonsense, like "you see a soap opera re-run," or the contents of some random square.

Whoops! The author forgot that the wizard in his version of the game isn't named "Zot."
Warps and sinkholes make it tough to explore systematically, but that's basically what you do, ameliorating misfortunes with trips to vendors to restore weapons, armor, and attributes, until you find the Runestaff and enough encounters with crystal orbs to reliably place the Orb of Yendor. When you think you have the right location, you teleport to it, acquire the Orb--and Amulet, apparently--and then make your way to the exit.
Ah, but he remembered here. He changed the original's "Great unmitigated Zot!" to...'rot.' Huh?
The only major change from The Wizard's Castle that I could identify, aside from the text edits and a little formatting, is that the contents of each room are spelled out instead of annotated with a letter (although the introductory text, copying the original game manual, says that the map is annotated only with single letters). The only sound is in the form of an error beep when you type something wrong.

The Wizard's Castle calls your win "an incredibly glorious victory!" instead of just "a glorious victory," but otherwise the two winning screens are the same.
For a GIMLET, therefore, I have to give it an identical score to The Wizard's Castle except to subtract one point for so many of the text edits creating typos and inconsistencies. The final score is 18. This entire branch of games aren't really RPGs in a classic sense, but they have a Solitaire-like satisfaction in their brevity and mindlessness. They'd make good smartphone games.

If I'd known how blatant this copy was before I started this entry, I would have declined to play the game entirely, but I got pretty far before the extent of the plagiarism became clear, and I promised I'd get started again before the end of the month, so here we are. The Keypunch stuff was interesting, anyway. Moving on, it's long-past time to check in with Fate: Gates of Dawn.

Until this afternoon, I had an entire post written about Wizard's Crown, discussing in detail its tactical combat system and tracing the development of that system from the earliest RPGs through Galactic Adventures and SSI wargaming in general, and from there to Gold Box games and Disciples of Steel. It was going to be a comeback worth waiting for. Then I lost the entire thing--the same thing that happened to me before with a recent post on The Magic Candle II.
After some experimentation, I figured out how it happened, and here's a warning for other Blogger users. Your key enemy is Blogger's auto-save feature, which cheerfully runs every few seconds and updates your post-in-progress with the latest variant of it, even if 3 seconds ago you had 6 pages of text and currently you have none. At that point, as far as I can tell, the post is completely irrecoverable.
How does your post go from 6 pages of text to none in the first place? It's happened to me a few times now, mostly from reasons that were entirely my fault, like accidentally hitting CTRL-A before typing something or by accidentally having the same post open in two edit windows. But a third reason is more insidious, and I don't know if it's Blogger's fault or Firefox's: in certain circumstances (I haven't nailed down all of them yet), hitting CTRL-Z for "undo" deletes the entire post instead of just undoing whatever you did last. It seems to always happen when you're at the beginning of your post, for instance. I recommend never hitting that keyboard combination while in Blogger.

So this afternoon, I had finished the text of my post and went to insert the lead image. I chose the wrong one, so after it appeared, I hit CTRL-Z to undo it. The entire text of my post vanished. Before I could react by closing the window without saving, auto-save happily replaced my previous draft with my now-empty draft.

Lesson learned: I need to take periodic backups outside of Blogger, even though I've yet to find a text editor that preserves my text formatting without introducing a bunch of garbage coding that messes up the layout of the post. (I guess if I just copied the HTML, I'd be okay.)
But I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate re-writing things I've already written, which means I probably won't revisit Wizard's Crown after all. It's for the best. I wasn't really enjoying it anyway, and despite its importance in the development of SSI's tactical combat approach, I was probably right to quit the game back in 2010. Maybe I'll try again ahead of The Eternal Dagger in 1987.


  1. Hey Chet, welcome back from your Summer vacation. An audacious plagiarism and text editor troubles? It's like you never left.

    Between your return and the new Chrontendo episode last Sunday, it's been a good week for chronogaming. Glad you're back.

  2. Welcome back and greetings from the end of my vacation. Did a quick googling and couldn't immediately find an option to turn off the autosafe feature of blogger. Instead a lot of rants about similar problems like yours. But one post claims CTRL-Z can be used to get previous versions of your article, maybe helpful (I have never used blogger so can't really say)

    1. CTRL-Y usually does the opposite of what CTRL-Z just did. Does that help in the case of Blogger being balls?

    2. Trust me, hitting CTRL-Z again was the first thing that came to mind, followed by hitting CTRL-Y. But while "undo" does work (most of the time) if you MANUALLY delete text, it doesn't work when CTRL-Z itself is the cause of the deletion.

    3. Addict, I'm not sure it would help - especially as it's been a few hours already - but you could try looking for the lost data in your browser's process memory as described here:

      Great to have you back, BTW.

    4. I'll throw in my tool as well: it's called textarea cache and is an expansion for firefox.
      Saved me a bunch of forum posts already, even survives a browser crash or deleting all your text (as far as I have experienced).

  3. Without actually reading the post yet, I think I speak for hordes of your readers when I say, "Yes! YES! Yes yesyesyesysys. Yay!"

    Also, "Um, we totally understand, glad you took the time you needed, all that jazz. And, yippeee!"

  4. So glad you're back! I need some good reading and this blog is it. Now to scroll back up and actually read what you wrote. :)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Wizard's Crown spoiler:

    You can ignore the weapon immunity of Wardpact demons by using quick combat.

    And a bug exploit, here for posterity: you can rest for 999 days to make money every time you stay at the inn. As a kid, that was a big part of how I survived in the early to mid game. I always rested for 986 days for some reason. (I did it so much that seeing the number 986 brings back memories of playing Wizard's Crown.)

  7. Okay, it's a funny joke that you copied the game by putting extra spaces between "Yendor's" and "Castle," but if you don't remove them, I won't be able to read your post without having to seek therapy by the time I'm done.

  8. Like many others, I hasten to the comments to welcome you back before even reading the article.

  9. You could give some of these a try if you're up for experimenting:

    I've heard good things about Sublime Text from bloggers before, but it might be more than you're willing to shell out to deal with errors like this =/

    Welcome back, by the way!

    1. Huh? Sublime Text is free, been using it for years.

    2. Personally, I'm a big fan of Notepad Plus Plus for text editing purposes.

    3. I mostly use emacs right now, but also do like Notepad++.

  10. Chet is back, and all is right with the internet once again.

    Now I have something to eagerly anticipate every few days! Welcome back!

  11. Always type your unformatted text on a desktop program like Word, or in a Google Doc, and keep it safe there. Then paste it on Blogger and do the formatting as a last step. If it happens to you again, you will only lose the formatting pass.

    1. Before pasting to blogger, it's good to paste on Notepad to clear the formatting from Word or google Docs. But yes, it's a good advice to not work directly on Blogger.

    2. I started writing all my blog posts in Notepad after losing one myself. Very annoying. Blogger should have some sort of snapshot system where the previous four auto-saves are available to be recovered to.

  12. Welcome back!
    Long awaited and strong in the details as always. It is a joy to read your postings again. Thank you!

  13. Thank GOD you are back and posting...

    I never realized how much I looked forward to your blog posts. I love this blog, brings back some good memories of games I played as a kid, and love seeing reviews of games I could have played but didn't have the means back them to buy.

    1. Reading comments like this, I'm partly flattered. The other part of me wants to turn into an angry black lady who says something beginning with "y'all" and ending with "need Jesus."

  14. Chet, welcome back!

    What TAG does now is have all of the real copies of posts drafted and managed in Google Docs. This solves a different problem for us than for you because the admins can then make comments and such, point out each others' typos. We only load the post into the interface at the end. Although some of the formatting has to be done twice (plus the images have to be re-inserted), we don't have to have too many people have access to the blog panel and there's never any worry that something is going to be eaten.

    Not the same as your problem, but I think the editing interface has clearly become less stable over time. I hope you can find an alternate place to draft you work. Losing two posts is awful.

    1. What i really hate about Google Docs is that there isn't a "find" with "match whole word" option, because i usually forget to write "I" in caps, as you can see.

    2. That's probably the best solution. It preserves the spirit of Internet storage (you will never get me to use the c-word) but in a more stable system.

    3. I use c-word frequently, but I spell it "cluster", like dem hackerz did in the good old days.

    4. I use c-word frequently, but I spell it "cluster", like dem hackerz did in the good old days.

  15. Welcome back. Nice to see you are still eager to continue your research.

  16. It's a shame that you lost your Wizard's Crown post. I would have loved to see your commentary on the evolution of the tactical combat system. While I'm a big fan of Wizard's Crown and The Eternal Dagger, I can understand why someone would not like it. The combat system is essentially the whole game, and if you find combats to be tedious there's not much lore or puzzles in the game to make up for it (with the exception of some puzzle areas late in the game). It definitely is more entertaining if you're thirteen and it's the only new game in your library!

    The Eternal Dagger is a better game with a more flexible magic system (some would say overpowered) since sorcerers can cast multiple spells per round with high casting skill. This allows you to actually use a few spells like Change Terrain effectively that were useless in Wizard's Crown.

    1. Yeah. I have a lot I want to say about the game, but I just can't bring myself to re-write everything right now, and I don't want to hold up the close of 1985. I'm sure I'll come back to it eventually.

      Agreed on the combat. It's a fascinating system for historical purposes--particularly what it produced in other games--but not only is it extraordinarily tedious on its own, I generally do better with the quick combats.

  17. I've been enjoying Wizard's Crown quite a bit lately, I'm kind of surprised you don't like it. Is it because it's more tedious compared the Gold Box games or what?

  18. I feel your pain. Same thing happened to me with a book review I was writing once. Lost a whole day's work. Lesson learned: from then on I wrote my posts in notepad. Ctrl-A-C-V into blogger, then run through and add bells and whistles while proofreading. Because you ALWAYS proofread. Spell check is not enough- I once typoed "I shat on the floor" for "sat".

    1. I published a review once with the phrase "it is worth nothing..." in place of "it is worth noting..." (!!).

    2. I published a review once with the phrase "it is worth nothing..." in place of "it is worth noting..." (!!).

  19. I've lost many comments over the years, here. Leaving a comment is always, ALWAYS a struggle, where I have to flip around between different browsers and different profiles and futz and futz and futz, and sometimes I don't manage to figure it out. It's not like it's a major loss on your end or anything, but there have been several times over the years where I've wanted to say something, and was unable to.

    If you're having the same kind of trouble.... please, by all that's holy, find a new platform. This software is dismal. I figured it must be worth the endless hassles by being great on your end, but if it sucks for you *too*, it's not worth dealing with. Allow me to grovel at your feet and beg you to move us to something that sucks less. We'd happily chase along after you. (well, unless you go to Facebook. I've spent too much time avoiding them to ever voluntarily use any service they offer.)

    Welcome back, by the way. "The CRPG Addict" is the first entry in my bookmarks toolbar (it used to be the BBC, but I lost Live Bookmarks when I dropped Firefox). You're in the single best bit of real estate on my browser. It's nice to see you taking advantage.

  20. Welcome back! Amazing what publishers could get away with back in the day - is it known if these type of knock off software houses were profitable/successful?

  21. Welcome Back! Really looking forward to more RPG history analysis.

    As to your vanishing text problem: Please, for the love of all things you love, type your article using Notepad++ or similar editors. Then, when you're finished with the raw content, paste it into Blogger or somewhere else where you add HTML tags, images, formatting, whatever you please.

    After all, substance comes before style, or doesn't it?

    1. Just testing my updated profile...

    2. I second Notepad++, which does a better job at retaining even unsaved text files in-progress after a total system crash than anything a web browser window is capable of clawing back.

    3. I've got to say, I love notepad++ for that, even if I've mostly moved to emacs + LaTeX for writing. (I missed kill-to-end-of-line a LOT)

  22. Welcome back! Thanks for your hard work!

  23. Firs, Thank you for coming back. Good survey of the Key Punch line. You did a pretty good job of analysing Wizard Crown back in 2010. Your post on Real-Time vs. Turn Based Combat also documented the history well. That remains one of my favourites of your work.

  24. Safe to say this was a pretty [sic] game, then. I genuinely appreciate how carefully you investigate these titles, typos and all.

  25. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesSeptember 2, 2016 at 2:43 PM

    I remember a completely original story, a complex one about a commander who became the hero after the phasing of another spaceship; he partnered with a emotionless security guard, a friendly member of a Semitic religion, two members of species, one of which had destroyed the other. He was killed and brought back to life in a broken body by a suspicious man, joined a rebel group after seeing the corruption in the government and in the end, died but created changes that would echo for ages. That story was called Babylon 5, and came out in the 90s.

  26. Yendor came for free with my first PC--a nice 8088 with a whopping 256k of RAM and a 20mb hard drive (what a luxury!)

    Bundled with it was Bouncing Babies, Vampire's Castle Adventure, and a couple others that now I'm obliged to try and find out what they were.

    1. Well, that's an interesting recollection. It suggests that this game was published independently from the other Sword & Sorcery titles at one point. Are you sure it was the same one?

  27. Welcome back Chet! I'm really happy to read you again.

  28. Welcome back. If blogger is giving you trouble, perhaps you can use a word processor to write the text and just copy/paste it into blogger when ready. You can much better control the save/backup process with a non-web app.

  29. The Lazy Game Reviewer did a cool video series on Keypunch Software.

    I'd give Notepad++ a try: Very familiar windows interface, nice HTML highlighting, and such. Also, it constantly writes your file to disk, so even if the computer crashes you don't lose any work. EVEN IF IT IS AN UNSAVED FILE. That is, it doesn't overwrite your existing file, it keeps a second 'current' copy in its own directory.

    That said, there seem to be a buttload of files that let you write your post in them, with formatting then upload it straight to blogger, including one my Microsoft. Might be worth looking at?

  30. Good lord!
    I just came back here and there's so many posts to catch up to!
    BTW, is that book that causes hand stickiness the aforementioned PlayDwarf?


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