Castle Of Nightmares

By Mark de Weger

Originally published in EUG #73

Something I did not foresee when I began to supply Acorn Electron World on a DVD (instead of running it for free!) is that I would know when previous authors discovered the site. November 2010 I was flattered to find a number of orders from Mark de Weger, who wrote the Magic Mushrooms-style game, Castle Of Nightmares originally published for the BBC and Electron in Acorn User. Now I'm not too sure whether this game has been played by a lot of you so you'll find a new version of it here, in this issue of EUG.

Castle Of Nightmares is a simple platform game where you need to choose a route to a door which allows you to collect all the keys (mandatory) and cherries (if you really want to). This EUG version contains ten levels in total, a level editor and an atmospheric Mode 2 loader designed by me a few hours ago (having decided not to venture outside in the snow).

The ten levels were originally designed by Mark de Weger back in 1985 and were serialised in two issues of Acorn User - five levels appearing in Acorn User #053 and five more in Acorn User #054. The original game was also written to be expandable - the idea was that readers could design their own screens and add them to the ones that Mark had already created, up to a maximum of 26, one representing each letter of the alphabet. The editor works similarily, allowing you to load in a screen (A-Z) and edit it, or create a new one from scratch and save it as screen A, B, or C, etc.

For this EUG version, I have taken the original code and, whilst not changing the game in any way, dispensed with the idea that people are going to want to make it bigger. Instead the game has ten levels to complete, screens A-J. You can choose "the game" or "the editor" from a Repton 3-style menu, and I've got rid of many of the annoying Mode changes in the original that didn't really serve any purpose. What we are left with is a proper 'arcade' version of the game.

Castle Of Nightmares, unlike its contemporaries, stores the data used to define the layout of each individual screen as a separate file on the disc. The maximum number of files that can be saved on a DFS disc is 31, hence you could theoretically have 26 screens (A-Z) and five program files before running out of space. The EUG version, with only ten screens and five files (including the loading screen) therefore eats up a lot of catalogue space. There is no reason however why, if you do create new screens with the editor, that you cannot, as with the original, save them as screens K-Z, and then hack the game loader to change the number of screens to something other than 10.

Now let's turn to the game itself, which runs in Mode 2 at a passable speed (just!). Its ladders and platforms obviously need no real explanation but down the right hand side of the screen, you will find eight terrifying-looking rockets. Each of these is propelled across the screen from right to left depending on where you are in relation to it. Your only warning that a rocket is about to discharge is that it flashes once before it zooms toward you, giving you a few vital seconds to work out how best to avoid it.

You can run left and right, jump and climb up and down the ladders. Be careful that the ladder you are climbing actually reaches the platform and doesn't stop one character short of it - I've lost a few lives that way.

The collision detection in the game is not particularly brilliant - you sometimes need to do a dance on top of an object to pick it up. Beware also the brick-looking platform pieces - these disappear when you stand on them and need to be jumped on and off very quickly if you do not want to freefall to an early and messy demise.

There's no real back-story to this game other than to gain as high as score as you can before time runs out, but nevertheless it's pretty enjoyable and, I think, more so in this new format.