The Eternal Castle: Remastered is a Mac and Windows PC remake of a classic MS-DOS action game lost to time. Or that’s what its developers say, at least. While it shares the harsh, high-contrast look of titles of the time, The Eternal Castle was never a real ’80s game at all.
Purportedly inspired by a long-lost game from 1987, The Eternal Castle: Remastered is a difficult, side-scrolling adventure game reminiscent of genre masterpieces like The Prince of Persia and Another World. You control a pixelated yet fluidly animated character across barren wastelands, shooting your way through dangerous soldiers, traps, monsters, and more. The retro visuals are expertly paired with modern touches, like crisp, stereo sound effects along with a high-fidelity soundtrack.
These elements might convince you that The Eternal Castle: Remastered is an homage to some obscure game. The Eternal Castle never existed, but the developers are trying hard to convince us otherwise, so much so that the mystique is part of the game itself.
On the game’s Steam page, game director Leonard Menchiari waxed nostalgic about playing The Eternal Castle in his youth. He shared his supposed memories in an update from December 2018, which goes heavy on the whimsy:
He was mortified, terrified. He could not tell his parents because he felt so bad about breaking something he cared so much about, so he didn’t. As a result, his dad sent the computer to get fixed, the metal piece was gone, and all he had left was a broken unusable floppy.
Eventually that floppy got thrown out, so he never got to play that game again. Such an easy thing to fix, but he was too young at the time to know what to do. He kept thinking about it ever since.
The Eternal Castle: Remastered is a remake of the impression this supposed game left on him. However, in the game’s press kit, it’s clearly stated that the game is an effort to “achieve something that gets as close as possible to the dream-game [the developers] wish they could’ve played when they were kids.”
That discrepancy is where things get interesting.
On Sept. 15, 2016, a member of the RGB Classic Games Forum named “JohnM” uploaded screenshots and files for a game called The Eternal Castle. The images sure looked like a game from 1987, and he mentioned that this rare game was actually “one of the precursors of most of the next generation cinematic sidescrollers.” However, despite the low-resolution screenshots found in the upload, the actual game files themselves didn’t work, as two other forum members pointed out. A day later a user called “JMenko” uploaded similar files to the Internet Archive.
The game didn’t resurface until until Oct. 23, 2017, when a member of the classic Prince of Persia community forum happened upon those files for The Eternal Castle while looking for other, similar action games. They discovered that they couldn’t get the game to run. Unlike other folks who happened upon the unusable files and moved on, this user decided to look into why they weren’t working.
Upon some investigation, they learned that the upload for The Eternal Castle had files from the original Prince of Persia, a game that would’ve come out two years after The Eternal Castle. “What are these files doing in a game supposedly from 1987?” they wondered as they explored further. Buried among the uploaded game files was also code for Star Control 2 and the original Doom, two other games that came out well after 1987. The supposed screenshots from The Eternal Castle also had metadata from Photoshop, which Adobe first released in 1990.
Another anachronistic discovery was found when trying to run the setup executable for the game. As the application ran, some of the on-screen text referenced a special mode that DOS can run in. But DOS didn’t have that feature until 1989, as one Twitter user pointed out.
So DPMI is the DOS Protected Mode Interface, which is a standard to let DOS programs run in protected mode, allowing them to access more than 640k of ram on 286-and-above processors. Doom uses it, which is why it's mentioned on the startup screen.— foone (@Foone) January 6, 2019
It was first drafted in 1989.
But does it really matter if The Eternal Castle: Remastered’s history is a work of fiction?
It’s clear that the game was heavily inspired by the games it supposedly influenced, and it makes for a game that plays just as well as those classics. The rotoscoped animation, even on the primitive looking sprites, is immediately impressive. Despite the stripped-down visuals, characters move with a real sense of weight and momentum, and the desolate landscapes create a believable sense of place, even if they are only rendered in a few colors. Plus, the game benefits from modern technology, like improved frame rates and high-quality audio.
After playing the game for a while and learning about its fabricated history, it’s hard to tell what I’m more impressed by: the craftsmanship in creating a modern interpretation of a classic adventure game, or the lengths the developers went to in crafting this game’s false history.
Either one is a worthwhile reason to check out The Eternal Castle: Remastered on Steam right now.