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The Castles of Dr. Creep Revisited

Under construction - your comments appreciated!

Castle of Dr. Creep Title Screen

Hello and welcome! This web page is intended to become a resource for all friends of the classic C64 game "Castles of Dr. Creep" by Brøderbund Software and the unauthorized spin-off "Dungeons of Dr. Creep" by the Star Frontiers.

The Hack

Back in 1985, a small band of ingenious crackers known as the Star Frontiers had so much fun with the original game that they perpetrated a fantastic hack: they - or probably basically Quark himself - figured out the file format used by the game and created their own sequel with a full set of brand-new levels. "The Dungeons of Dr. Creep" where an immediate hit with fans of the game, and not very many people even suspected that this was a product of the seedy hacker underground.

After the release, the documentation was stored away and eventually loaned out to an interested outsider who had always wanted to do his own levels. But as they say - "a week went by, and now's July..." (quoted from Frank Zappa's "Stinkfoot"), and nothing ever came from it. The Creep files were stashed away between other old papers, and over the years they collected an impressive amount of dust.

The Revival

More than a decade after I had gotten out of the C64 scene, the old "breadbox" was making a comeback, thanks to such wonderful emulators as Per Håkan Sundell's CCS 64 (See the Emu section of my C64 Page for a small list of recommended emulators - I'm plugging CCS&$ here only because I'm particularly satisfied with it).

I was lurking in comp.emulators.cbm and talking to my old friend and c.e.c. regular Minstrel on a regular basis. I still remembered that I had the Creep files stashed away somewhere, and we both agreed that it would be a nice move for retrocomputing fans if the info in those pages was made public on the 'Web. Well, here we are!

The File Format

There is now a semi-complete specification of the Dr. Creep file format online. Sadly, my day job and my other hobbies limit the time I can work on it. Do come back from time to time and check again. You can send me an Email or leave an entry in my guestbook if you have any additions, corrections or questions - or if you'd just like to motivate me :-)

Tools

Of course you could just take the level format and hand-code a new level byte by byte - but I don't think that this would be a sensible approach. So I have started to work on a set of tools that should make the level creation process much less painful.

For portability reasons (and because I need the exercise) my tools are all written in Perl. Unix systems should have the interpreter preinstalled, and if you're on a Win32 platform, you can use the excellent freeware port done by Activestate. The only non-standard module I use is XML::Parser, which I use in creepasm to parse the level description. If you're using Activestate Perl on Win32, you can just run the package manager ppm and do an "install XML::Parser" to download and install this module automagically.

Right now I'm beta-testing the programs. Once the worst bugs are ironed out, I will make them available here.

  • creepdis will convert a binary level file to an XML-style textual description (tentatively called SCDL, for Simple Castle Description Language) of a level. You can see some sample output for the Tutorial level. The program is currently in a beta stage - it works fine on Tutorial but exhibits a few problems with other levels. I'll just have to see if those are out of spec or if I've got a bug in there somewhere.
  • creepasm builds a binary level file out of a SCDL file. This works fairly well now - at least I can rebuild the Tutorial level and it works :-) Besides basic debugging, I'd like to improve the error handling for buggy input.
  • Since the Creep file format allows to include multicolor bitmap graphics, it would be nice to have a suitable editor or even a converter that would output usable data. Right now I'm thinking about a quick fix - a small tool that would take a Koala Painter image and cut a specified rectangle out of it. I haven't start to work on this yet.
  • There has been some interest in getting a GUI-based level editor. Ideally, this program would also use SCDL as input/output format. I don't think that I'll be able to do this in the near future.

Files and Resources

  • Scan of the original Design Sheet for Dirty Tricks Room #5. I realize the quality is lousy, but then the original is pencil drawings on a photocopied page of notebook paper, so I'm glad there's anything to see at all.
  • A draft of a blank Castle Design Sheet in PNG format, saved at 300 dpi. Obviously there's still work to be done on this one.
  • I have started to make A Commented Hex-Dump of the Tutorial Level File. Right now there's just a bit of data to get a feel for the structure.
  • The Creep Level file format is unwieldy. I think it would be a good idea to define a clear, XML-style level description markup that could be transformed in whatever was needed - be it level files for the original Creep, or maybe somebody else's level format. Check out this markup of the Tutorial castle and let me know what you think about it.

Links

  • Thanks to the intrepid hacker called segra, there is now an open source reimplementation of Castles of Dr. Creep available on sourceforge.net. You must have a disk image, containing the levels in order to play, though.
  • Minstrel has located the homepage of Ed Hobbs, the programmer of Castles of Dr. Creep. He has even a summary of the game in his resume!
  • I have put up a C 64 Demo page that features some of my favourite demos. Included are (amongst others) the Star Frontiers "Pacer" and "Bouncing Ball" demos by Quark and Ming's "Wassermühle" as well as the intros to the "V" and "Uridium" cracks.

FAQ

Why do you have a FAQ section that's virtually empty?

Well, you have to start somewhere :-) Other people put things like how to properly spell "standard" in German in their FAQs, so they tend to be bigger. Ask me a good question, and I'll put the answer in here. And if you have a good answer for some of my questions, more power to you!

Can't you write proper English?

Well, I try to, but I'm not a native speaker. If you have any suggestion on how to improve spelling and wording of this text, please let me know.

Where did the Star Frontiers get their name from?

From the Science Fiction Role Playing Game of the same name that was produced by TSR, inc. in the early 1980's. The James McCameron Star Frontiers Library is a good place to start if you look for more information about the game.

Where did Quark of Quarksoft get his name from?

From the subatomic particle. Deep Space 9 wasn't invented yet in 1985, so it could not have been the Ferengi bartender that inspired him. It is also unreasonable to assume that anybody would name himself after a German language idiom for "rubbish!" or "nonsense!"´, or the dairy product which would be the primary meaning in German.

 


Auswege: Impressum, Haftungsausschluß, Datenschutz, thb's 64'er-Seite, meine Homepage.
Links: Imprint, thb's C64 page, my homepage.


Thomas Bätzler, Thomas@Baetzler.de
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