Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Weekly Update

I am still debating weather to make this a bi-monthly update, or not, let me know what you think, or want, via the forum or comments down below. This week I will interview Jonathan Gay, one of the original creators of Dark Castle, and Beyond Dark Castle. He went on to create Flash, and then form his own company, Greenbox Technology.

Jon God: Have you ever thought about returning to game development?

Jonathan Gay: I really enjoyed building Airborne! and the first two versions of Dark Castle but I've have not been tempted to try another game. I find game technology very interesting but I've always spent more time programming than playing games and I find it's interesting to keep trying new things so it's been good to get to work in a variety of areas of software in my career.

Jon God: Have you gotten a chance to play Return to Dark Castle, if so, what did you think?

Jonathan Gay: I have not played Return to Dark Castle. I have a fondness for the simplicity of the original Dark Castle so it does seem like an interesting challenge to try and keep that feel while taking advantage of the capabilities of modern computers.

Jon God: What inspired Dark Castle?

Jonathan Gay: There were a combination of things. The technology we had available on the Mac was one driver. We had gained some skills with working with digitized sound on the Mac from Airborne! and I also did some work to get smooth flicker free animation on the Mac. We also wanted a game that made sense with the mouse and the keyboard as input. Many arcade games used a joystick but that was not available on the Mac. Having a talented artist and animator, Mark Stephen Pierce, on the team was also a new thing for Mac games at the time so that allowed us to do good animation. Mark was in San Francisco and I was in San Diego so we met for a couple days in San Diego to develop an idea, Mark started sending artwork and animation mockups and I started making it work.

Jon God: How long did it take to write Dark Castle?

Jonathan Gay: It took about a year.

Jon God: Was there anything you could remember that didn't make it into the games?

Jonathan Gay: There were certainly some sound effects we did not use. I think we used most of the animations that Mark created.

Jon God: Was the original vision of the game supposed to be scary or comedic?

Jonathan Gay: I think we are aiming for a touch of serious but fun. Kind of like the experience of the Pirates of the Caribean at Disneyland.

Jon God: Did you ever expect the games to do so well?

Jonathan Gay: It was early on the Mac so we did not really know what to expect in terms of sales. I wanted to make the best game on the Mac but I assumed that it would fade away in year or two as people wrote new and better games. The game sold well but we never really knew how many copies were out in the world as a result of piracy.

Jon God: A lot of people switched to mac, because of Dark Castle, and Beyond Dark Castle. In general, Dark Castle defined mac gaming for years, and showed what the mac was capable of, was it hard to achieve such quality?

Jonathan Gay: The key to the quality was the team of a good programmer and a talented artist. The game was certainly a lot of work. The startup screen was written in Pascal but the whole game was written in 68000 assembly language which can be tedious. The debugger, MacsBug, I used was not very sophisticated at the time so it was pretty low level work. Defining the animation offsets and sequences using assembler macros and def statements was also pretty tedious.

Jon God: Did you ever have plans for a third Dark Castle?

Jonathan Gay: No. SuperPaint was making much more money than the games for Silicon Beach Software at the time so that pushed the company to focus on graphics software.

Jon God: Did you ever imagine that 22 years later there would still be people playing what you helped create, along with having communities based around it?

Jonathan Gay: I never would have guessed it. I think Dark Castle was the first game on the Mac to bring together digitized sound, good animation and game play with a bit of depth. I think that first experience of hearing sounds react to you actions and working to get the timing right to get through the various levels seems to have had a lasting impact on people.

Jon God: How did you originally get involved with the project?

Jonathan Gay: I had met Charlie Jackson, the founder of Silicon Beach Software, at a Mac User group meeting. He did not have much startup capital so he was looking for programmers who could work and get paid royalities after the game sold. Since I was still in school and living at home, I did not need an income. The first game I did for them was Airborne! That did well so took what we learned about building Mac games, found an artist and we did a second more ambitious game, Dark Castle.

Jon God: The credits list Dick Noel as the person behind the sounds, but I have been unable to find any information on him, anything you remember about him?

Jonathan Gay: I never met Dick. He was a professional voice. He was reputed to have some work on some of the Flintstones cartoons but I was never clear on which character or how much he did. Eric Zocher went to his home studio with a list of sounds we wanted. Eric spent an afternoon and came back with an audio tape. Dick did pretty much all of the human sounds. The rat squeak was a women in the Silicon Beach office and the clanking noise was a metal part under a folding table in the office.

Jon God: How hard was it to fit a game of such high quality on two 800KB disks?

Jonathan Gay: Fitting it into the 128k of RAM on the Mac was a bigger issue than the disks. We had some very simple sound compression and some simple image compression but since the images were all 1 bit they weren't that big. Since the code was written in assembly language and the data for the levels was defined by hand, that part tended to stay small on it's own.

Jon God: Do you by any chance know when the game was released, more then just the year?

Jonathan Gay: I don't recall.

And there you go, see you again after christmas!


Each week, I hope to have a puzzle for you to solve, which will somehow relate to Dark Castle. This week's puzzle is in the form of a description without the word it belongs to, relating to castles.

Description: I am a punishment frame that usually grips victim's hands and head, so onlookers can throw garbage.

Answer for last week's puzzle: Atilliator


Feel free to send in feedback, what you did/didn't like, what you'd like to see, ect, as I would love to hear it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Weekly Update

(Apologies on this taking 2 extra days)

I am debating weather to make this a bi-monthly update, or not, let me know what you think, or want, via the forum or comments down below. This I will be talking to a member from our community, and one of the moderators of the Dark Castle Forum, we will be talking about the community, history, and his currently work in progress Dark Castle website,

Jon God: Hello, thank you for joining me today.

gruz: My pleasure. *Smiles*

Jon God: Let's start with the Dark Castle forum, what was it like to find a community of people that also still played and enjoyed Dark Castle?

gruz: I honestly never thought I would find such a place, it was a real delight to see that other people were still interested in a game I grew up with in the 80's.

Jon God: How did you originally find the forum?

gruz: Hmmm... I believe it was through Wikipedia. I remember I registered on the forum, and lurked for a few days before I felt that I had something to add of some value. I posted a link to a guide on how to setup Mini vMac on a keychain flash drive. After I posted that, I was surprised on how friendly the community was.

Jon God: Let's move forward some time, you were the first moderator for the forum, and I have often called you the fastest, mod on the forum, is this something you're proud of?

gruz: Hahaha, I was and still am glad to help out whenever I can. I took the responsibility pretty seriously when I first was appointed moderator. Actually it was unhealthy, as I'd be checking the forum 30 times a day or more, every hour that I was awake. I honestly am glad that we have a team of people now. La Porta and Izdale make life a lot easier for me now, and they do an excellent job. Thanks guys.

Jon God: What do you think draws people to the Dark Castle series?

gruz: I honestly feel that the majority of modern computer gamers who have never played the originals, or even Color Dark Castle, probably won't be into the series if they're coming into it in 2008. The thing is though, that the originals sold millions of copies on several different platforms. Those people still exist, and the sounds and graphics of the originals were so good that they're burned into people's brains. All they need is to see or hear those things to instantly spark the Dark Castle memories buried deep in their brains, and they're going to want to revisit the old games, or buy Return to Dark Castle.

Jon God: Do you think it's just circumstance that Dark Castle has a community following it, when most games from the same period have little to no following, or is it something about the game?

gruz: Definitely the game. People love great graphics, sound, and gameplay, even still to this day. Dark Castle delivered something that was unseen at the time, and nothing could come close. People remember it because of just that. Although the graphics aren't what they once were, I still love them. In fact, I have been known to hit command-option and click on the demo button in the title screen and just watch it for a while.

Jon God: Let's move away from the old Dark Castles, a while ago, you registered the domain '', and have been working on it off and on since then, why should the Dark Castle community be excited for it?

gruz: We, as a community, aren't a particularly large one. We have our core members, and our drive-by members. I want more people, and more variety of opinions being thrown around on the forums. The main site of will probably offer nothing new to those that consider themselves 'Hardcore', but that was never the focus. My main goal with it is to spark those buried Dark Castle memories, and get people thinking about the game again. "Remember this game? Yeah? Wanna play it again?" Hopefully it will be worth the time and money that I'm putting into it, and eventually get some more people on the forums.

The downloads section however, is something that everyone will hopefully be able to enjoy. It's mostly completed and allows for custom levels and heros to be uploaded, commented on and rated on a 5 star system. You, Jon God, are working with me to provide some additional content also.

Jon God: I have seen the website and I think it's wonderful, I think other members of the forum will enjoy it quite a bit, and I can see the downloads section becoming the hub for downloads of Dark Castle related media around the web, any idea when it will be opened, or previewed to the public?

gruz: The downloads section will be officially opened up no later than when the level editor for Return to Dark Castle is released, even if it's not 100% how I want it. At this time, it looks like it might be opened up before the we get the level editor. It really won't do a lot of good until we get the level editor though, as the replay feature in Return to Dark Castle is still broken.

Jon God: Speaking of the level editor, have any plans saved for for the release of it?

gruz: Yes, I'm going to go take my laptop to McDonald's and create a wacky Dark Castle/Mc Chicken hybrid custom level.

Jon God: I dunno if I should take that as a serious answer, or just wait and see...

gruz: Next question.

Jon God: Okie dokie, having waited so long for Return to Dark Castle, what do you think of it, are you happy with how it ended up, or disappointed?

gruz: I absolutely loved Return to Dark Castle. I can't say that it captured me in the same way as the originals, but I'll be honest, there's no way that it could have. I love it for what it is, and I think that it's a great step forward for the series. The game feels a bit behind though, and I probably would've loved it even more if it was released back in the early 2000's. Stuff happens though, and I can understand where they're coming from. I'm hoping that Z Sculpt will deliver our next fix before the end of 2010, we're ready for more. The Zacks have earned a bunch of lifetime fans with this game, don't keep us hanging.

Jon God: I hear you, so what about your youtube channel, I remember you talking about making a video comparing all versions of Dark Castle, but I don't know it's current status, feel like telling us about your channel?

gruz: My Dark Castle YouTube channel is another way that I am trying to spark those Dark Castle memories in people's brains. It's a lot of fun for me to make videos when I have free time, so I try to post at least 1 Dark Castle video a month. The channel used to be my own personal channel with videos of family and pets, but after I had posted a bunch of videos to it, I decided to transform it into a Dark Castle only channel. I want to thank everyone who's taken the time to comment on my videos and subscribe, it means a lot.

I've had the files and footage for the comparison video on my desktop computer for quite a while, and was pretty much abandoned for a while. I've recently picked the project back up, and decided to do something different with it. It'll be basically what it was originally supposed to be, but probably a lot more info and critique. It's probably better that I waited on that project.

(EDITOR'S NOTE) If you are reading this and haven't subscribed to his channel yet, what are you waiting for, click here and subscribe.

Jon God: Alright, preference, do you prefer Dark Castle, or Beyond Dark Castle?

gruz: Dark Castle, it's what I played first. I always loved how much better Beyond Dark Castle looked though...

Jon God: Fair enough, got any closing comments?

gruz: I want to thank the community for being so awesome.

I also want to thank Z Sculpt for not giving up on DC3.

Jon, thanks for your Dark Castle passion, it's given us all hours and hours of entertainment.

Support Paul Pratt, without him we'd be playing Dark Castle on crappy emulators like a bunch of jerks. DONATE TO HIM.

Keep an eye on (there's a hidden message in the website, can you find it?)

Have a good day everyone!

Jon God: Alright, thank you for your time, and constant work around the Dark Castle Community.

Stay tuned, next week I will have an exclusive interview with Jonathan Gay, one of the original creators of Dark Castle, and Beyond Dark Castle, who went on to create Flash. If there are no problems the blog should be up Wednesday, December 24th, some people know it as 'Christmas Eve.' :P This is one interview you wont want to miss.


Each week, I hope to have a puzzle for you to solve, which will somehow relate to Dark Castle. This week's puzzle is in the form of a description without the word it belongs to, relating to castles.

Description: I am a castle worker skilled in making crossbows, what is my title?

Answer for last week's puzzle: Embrasures


Feel free to send in feedback, what you did/didn't like, what you'd like to see, ect, as I would love to hear it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Short Weekly Update Delay

The update for this week will be shortly delayed, it should hopefully be up before the end of the week if not sooner. If it's not up by the end of the week, I will give you another update, sorry for the wait guys, just hold tight.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Weekly Update

I am going to try and start a weekly update, which will give us a look into Z Sculpt, and what goes into developing and porting Return to Dark Castle. This week, will focus on the rumroed PC port, and development of Return to Dark Castle, via an interview with Zack Morris.

Jon God: So, when was it decided that there would be a PC port of Return to Dark Castle?

Zack Morris: Well, I can't say anything conclusive about this, because nothing is set in stone and SHFF is not sure about the ramifications of doing a port, but I can say that it is something we considered soon after finishing the Mac version. Before that, the prospect was just too ominous.

Jon God: Does that mean you've given up on Mac gaming?

Zack Morris: Definitely not. The Mac is a bigger market now than ever before. Lately we've given up on limiting ourselves to just the Mac, because the market is fairly small compared to the vast ocean of all platforms combined. The iPhone store has been a big surprise, so if something like that was implemented (either through the iTunes store or otherwise), we'd see the Mac market more closely approach its actual size of maybe 10% of PC games.

Jon God: I recently brought up to you Mac Game Arcade a similar system to Steam, but for mac, which falls in line with what you were just saying, does that mean we can look forward to seeing your older games, or newer games from you on this or similar systems?

Zack Morris: The other Zack and I are busy making our game engine compatible with the iPhone and other platforms so that we can "write once and run anywhere". This is comparable to the workload we faced when we ported Dark Castle from OS 9 to OS X. After the engine is updated, we are going to recompile all of our games under it so that they can be rolled out under other portals. We'd very much like to get modernized versions of all of our games into as many venues as possible, especially the low end since they might find new appeal there.

Jon God: Have you been watching the success of the retro acrade games on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and Wiiware?

Zack Morris: More like being blinded by it. Those platforms are revolutionary, as big a paradigm shift as the internet was for shareware back in 1995. The difficulty lies in being in the right place at the right time to anticipate new markets. It's apparently much easier for a Flash developer to get on Xbox Live Arcade than it is for the typical baggage-laden Mac or PC developer. That's why we're updating our engine to be not quite so Mac-centric. I correspond daily with a guy making a tidy sum from his iPhone game, and he has big plans for the Wii.

Jon God: Looking at the success, of say, Jonathan Mak (Creator of the PlayStation Network game, Everyday Shooter) does it seem like a path you might want to follow? For clarification, Jonathan Mak was a independent game developer, who was found by Sony, and now has a mutli-game deal with them, and they give him breathing room to make whatever he wants.

Zack Morris: That's what I would call a path to stardom. Not everyone can be a Jonathan Mak (back in my day I aspired to be John Carmack, hah), but we can all aspire to be better artists, designers and creators. My hat's off to him, but I think perhaps we are too far down a different trail. Success for us will be having a stable presence on the web and developing markets, and make enough from that to be an independent studio. Shareware games were somewhat of a means to an end for me, so I don't see myself as having the passion to be in the spotlight, so to speak.

Jon God: I know your hands are tied in terms of what you can say about the future of Return to Dark Castle due to SHFF. However, if it were up to you, would you want to port Return to Dark Castle to some of these services? (Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, WiiWare, iPhone games library)

Zack Morris: I would very much like to port Dark Castle, but truth be told, I'd like to see our engine ported so that we have a full cross-platform library. Then we get all of the rest of our games ported for free, like people using SDL or other libs.

Jon God: I know you cannot talk numbers about the sales of Return to Dark Castle, but compared to your expectations, how is it doing?

Zack Morris: It's doing far better than any of our other games ever did. We've been able to work fairly independently now for 6 months, and I've paid down my student loans and other debts substantially. The problem is that the Mac market is not so much limited as it is remote. The signal to noise ratio is enormous. We'd probably see 10 times the sales on the iPhone, not so much because it's a bigger market, but because it's more convenient than anything that's come before, once you pay your "iPhone entry fee". The total sales are perhaps a little lower than our original expectations, but the possibilities that have opened up because of it, far exceeded our expectations.

Jon God: Moving back to the development, what were some problems that came as a surprise when original developing Return to Dark Castle?

Zack Morris: The long duration of the final push from release candidate to final was unexpected for sure. Also, memory management became a non-issue in OS X, so much of our optimized OS 9 code to get DC3 running in 20 megs of ram became cumbersome. Zack did all of the actual game programming, and I remember he spent the most time fine-tuning the level engine and sprite management. I spent the most time making optimized blitters and 16 bit color code for PowerPC, which surprisingly became slower than plain loops when Apple move to Intel. So the biggest surprise of all was Apple constantly changing their code base. We just never saw that coming when we thought we were done back in 1999. When we came to terms with that, I suppose I was surprised how easily we adopted OpenGL or moved from 8 to 16 bit color. I'm still surprised how cumbersome input devices and force feedback are on all platforms. So there are hurdles we ran into by using the wrong approach. For example, Quicktime is a tremendously complicated API that does things that Flash does trivially. So at first glance, something that DC3 does that looks simple was actually very complicated. The swinging ropes use a complex blitter that's a few lines of code in OpenGL. In a way, all of DC3 came as a surprise, both in complexity and time required, but at each step of the process, I can't see how we could have done anything differently. It was a perfect storm of setbacks, but we learned a lot of what not to do. And, I am grateful every day that we aren't the Duke Nukem Forever guys!

Jon God: Has the delay of the level editor surprised you?

Zack Morris: Yes and no. The editor itself was essentially done the day we finished DC3 in-house. Unfortunately, we didn't anticipate how much effort would be required to actually ship DC3. It took us many months of testing and bug fixes. So you multiply that amount of loose end cleanup, with the potential for people to really shoot themselves in the foot with the editor, and I can see why SHFF is hesitant to release it. That said, at some point you just have to let people run with it. Now that the initial sales of DC3 have run their course, I'm hopeful that SHFF will release the editor. Its release is tied into some other decisions that I won't go into, but there is a big support workload involved, similar to the one we faced and continue to manage, involving the Replay system.

Jon God: When do you expect we will hear about Z Sculpt's next projects?

Zack Morris: Well, Zack and I just started a new schedule at our day jobs that has me working 3 days per week and him 2. Before that, we were working too much overtime, which left us just 2 days per week to meet and write code. We should release an iPhone app in a few weeks, then an update to DC3 to fix the graphical bugs people have been experiencing on the newest Macs, and then our engine should be updated enough to release updated versions of some of our games. We are constantly diligent, which is hard to demonstrate to the public, so it's mostly a matter of finalizing our engine. I would say that just 10% of our time goes into actual game design. The techniques I learned for internet play in Khufu are going into the engine, and Zack and I each have a new game planned for early spring, which we will announce on

Jon God: Just a few more questions.

Zack Morris: Ok.

Jon God: How was it to finally release something you had been working on for so long?

Zack Morris: It was a huge weight off our shoulders. We don't want to go through that long of a development cycle again. Luckily we won't have to, because computers are finally starting to stabilize. There really is a best way to do most anything, which wasn't reflected in the underlying code of OS 9, which is what DC3 was based in. Now we can use modern techniques for a much faster turn around time. We have converted our engine to OpenGL, OpenAL and have rewritten some of the cryptic Apple file management and input device code using the standard c++ libraries and HID. We are still going to do 2D games, but they will have a much richer feel to them, more like a Flash game, except without the performance penalty.

I've personally started talking with more Mac developers, so have learned volumes about lua scripting and other rapid application development tools. If you base a game off of standard libraries, you don't have to worry about Apple changing them. That means that probably over half our workload just disappears for the next game. Which doubles our productivity and potential for success.

Jon God: What have you thought of the fan reaction to Return to Dark Castle?

Zack Morris: It's pretty overwhelming, but not so much so that I can't still be a part of it. *Smiles* We don't get flooded with emails or constant IM requests. I think the DC fan base is quite savvy and down to earth. Many of the fans have helped us with Khufu beta testing and I consider their comments invaluable. For the most part, feedback has been positive, but it's hard sometimes when people criticize bugs, because they simply don't understand how big the DC3 code is, or how many other projects we juggle. I often wish we only developed for a single console, like the Super Nintendo, because support would be a non-issue. I hope they aren't too disappointed with the setbacks, because honestly I think I would be in their place. For example, I'm no fan of DRM, and sometimes I wonder if we arrived at an acceptable compromise with eSellerate. The iTunes and iPhone stores seem to have found a middle ground. We have fixes in the works for inconveniences people have faced, and I really think that this stuff is getting better over time, albeit slowly. Hopefully the level editor will spark a renewed interest in DC3. We go through these long periods of inactivity and then a burst of new releases, so if people are still around when that happens, they won't be disappointed.

Jon God: Any closing comments?

Zack Morris: Just that, we are grateful to everyone for hanging in there, and never give up hope. Look at what's happened in the world in the last couple of months. Anything is possible, and I may not remember the years 2001-2008 very fondly, but they were pivotal years in my life. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, that sort of thing. After a decade of working on DC3, we hadn't really stopped to think what life would be like when it was done. But now, we're starting to think in new ways we hadn't anticipated. Zack and I feel like we've reached about 5% of our creative potential. We want to try making some tools and games to just make life a lot more pleasurable. Success doesn't have to involve great struggle to still be sweet. There are other ways of working and living. Thank you for the questions, I hope I answered them satisfactorily. And thanx for running such a great forum, I think I've enjoyed your community more than I've actually played DC3

Jon God: Alright, thank you for your time, and thank you for helping deliver a wonderful game to all those who've long been waiting for it.

Zack Morris: Thanks, 'till next time!

There you have it, I would keep your fingers crossed for more info from SHFF on the level editor.


Each week, I hope to have a puzzle for you to solve, which will somehow relate to Dark Castle. This week's puzzle is in the form of a description without the word it belongs to, relating to castles.

Description: The Arrow loops in the Merlons.

What am I?


Feel free to send in feedback, what you did/didn't like, what you'd like to see, ect, as I would love to hear it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dark Castle Level Editor news update straight from SHFF

Dear Customers and loyal Dark Castle fans,

SHFF would like to apologize for the delay in the release of the Return to Dark Castle Level Editor and we greatly appreciate the enthusiasm that the Italiccommunity has expressed regarding it.

With any software that we release, we strive to ensure that it meets with our quality standards. Once those standards have been met and we feel the product is ready for public release, it will be available from the SHFF website and all RTDC customers will be notified of its availability.

While we have your attention, we would like to also dispel the rumor that SHFF will be charging for the level editor. It has always been our intention to release the level editor as a FREE download and our position on this has not changed.

Again, we apologize for the delay and appreciate your continued patience.

Thank you for your support,

Mark Stephen Pierce
Super Happy Fun Fun, Inc.