LayoutKitchen Laboratory: Return to Dark Castle Demo

In this edition of LayoutKitchen Laboratory I’m tackling the Return to Dark Castle Demo from Super Happy Fun Fun. The idea behind LayoutKitchen Laboratory is to attempt to make previously unplayable or difficult-to-play games playable by creating custom keyboards for them using AssistiveWare’s excellent LayoutKitchen 2.0 software.

One of the first Mac games I ever got was Dark Castle in 1986. It was a huge hit back then and spawned the sequel Beyond Dark Castle in 1987. The big problem with Dark Castle was its keyboard-intensive interface and quick pace, which made it impossible for me, as a Quadriplegic, to play. I did end up playing and finishing it anyways with the help of my best friend. He did the keyboard part and I handled the mouse part with my Headmaster Plus mouse. We ended up doing the same thing with Beyond Dark Castle. It was a blast and we both had a great time working as a team to conquer the Black Knight in both games. However, as fun as that was I often wished I could play it on my own. Little did I expect that over twenty years later I’d get my chance to do just that.

For nearly ten years a third game in the series entitled Return to Dark Castle has been in development off and on. Now it has finally arrived, at least in the form of a demo. The full game should be available by the time you read this courtesy of the publisher Super Happy Fun Fun. The story hasn’t changed much; "A new hero has arrived, ready to face the perils of the castle and destroy the cruel Black Knight once and for all". The full game offers over fifty brand-new levels, including all thirty classic, re-mastered levels from Dark Castle and Beyond Dark Castle integrated into a new, extensive quest. There’s also new secret rooms, mini-games, monsters, bosses, weapons, power-ups, and secret items. The ability to record your games for playback so you can share replays of your accomplishments with other players is a cool, new feature. Even cooler is the ability to customize your character’s costume for your own unique look. All these great, new features should perhaps make the long wait worth it.

I have been following the development of Return to Dark Castle but never figured I’d be able to actually play it, especially since my best friend, and former Dark Castle brother-in-arms, lives half-way across the country now. But then LayoutKitchen came along and everything changed. The control scheme has not changed much in twenty years. The keyboard controls the character’s movements (left, right, ascend, descend, duck, jump, etc..) and special actions (weapon, teleport, picking up and dropping items). The mouse controls the character’s arm so you can aim and throw rocks with it. Unfortunately just using one of the standard KeyStrokes layouts doesn’t cut it. There are certain instances where you need to press two keys simultaneously that aren’t modifier keys. For example, "e" is "Duck" and "a" is "Left". If you need to crawl left you have to hold down "e" and press "a", which is not possible in one of the standard KeyStrokes layouts. So using the text macro feature in LayoutKitchen I created buttons that took care of this problem. For example, I created a ’Crawl" button that is the same as "Duck" except it keeps you in the duck position without having to hold it down. Then you can simply click the "Left" or "Right" buttons to crawl in the desired direction. To get out of crawl/duck mode simply press the "Stand" button. The "--->" and "<---" buttons are the same as the "Left" and "Right" buttons respectively except they keep you running in the appropriate direction without having to hold those keys down. This is useful for doing running jumps because and it allows you to click the "Jump" key while running. The "Stop" buttons next to each arrow button simply stops you from running in that direction. Limitations in the text macro feature forced me to make separate buttons for the two-key simultaneous actions but it actually works pretty well. The rest of the buttons work as you’d expect them to with the "KB" button providing access to your normal KeyStrokes keyboard.

Return to Dark Castle is KeyStrokes-friendly. It has a fullscreen and windowed-mode and KeyStrokes works in both modes. In fullscreen mode KeyStrokes floats above the game and works properly when set to "Game Mode"

Even with this custom Return to Dark Castle onscreen keyboard layout it’s still not the easiest game to play. But the important thing is it’s now playable for people with severe physical limitations. I completed the tutorial and the first few levels with the difficulty set to "Novice" in just an hour, something I had no chance of doing before. The more you play, using this custom keyboard, you’ll eventually find a comfort zone and get the hang of it. It’s challenging but it wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t. Now on to vanquish the Black Knight!

Hardware Specs:

Minimum Specs:

  • Mac OS 10.3.9
  • G3 processor
  • 500 mhz
  • 128MB of RAM
  • 100MB of free hard drive space
  • Turn all special effects off to run at 15 frames per second

Recommended Specs:

  • G4 processor
  • 1.0 ghz
  • 256MB of RAM
  • 100MB of free hard drive space

If you’d like to try my Return to Dark Castle keyboard click on the Zip icon below to download it. You’re welcome to modify it if you have LayoutKitchen. Just open your Home folder and go to Library/Application Support/AssistiveWare Support/Keyboards and drop the file in there.

Zip - 3 kb

Paul Natsch


*Not available for Windows.