Star Castle was an old arcade game released by Cinematronics way back in 1980 (and was ported to the Vectrex home vector console a few years later). This game is also known as Space Castle, Stellar Castle and Space Fortress. The alternate titles were all bootlegs.

The story

Castles of the future will be made with rotating energy fields, instead of mere stones and mortar. It is up to you to eliminate the evil threat lurking inside the Star Castle.

This game was designed by Tim Skelly and programmed by Scott Boden and is one of the more overlooked vector games out there. One notable thing is that the stars in the background actually form an outline of the centerfold from the February 1980 issue of OUI (a porno magazine). The management at Cinematronics nearly recalled the game after they found that out (5000 of them had already been shipped). But, they finally realized that no one can even see anything dirty at all, you can barely even see the stars at all, much less figure out that you can connect the dots to form a naked lady.

This game also featured some very primitive early AI. The sparks would actually learn your movements to some extent. This was barely noticeable, but it was indeed coded into the game.

The game

You control a spaceship in a field of stars. In the center of the field is a round fortress composed of three spinning force fields, inside is a large space cannon. The ship has a similar feel to the one in in Asteroids, but it is a bit larger.

To defeat the cannon you must blast your way through the rings and shoot the cannon itself. That is easier said than done because a new set of rings appears each time you blast an old set completely away. So you have to try and preserve a bit of each ring, and hope for a lucky shot at the cannon, which will probably fire at you as well if it has a clear shot.

The cannon isn't your only enemy. Three indistinct "sparks" begin on the rings, but soon break away to pursue your ship, they are easily blasted, but they will return again and again.

You would score 10 points for each outer ring section you blasted, 20 points for each center ring section, and 30 points for each inner ring section. Blowing away the cannon itself would score you an extra life. This game does not seem to have a maximum score like most early games, but a bug slows the game down a bit after 182,000 points.

Early versions of this game allowed for almost unlimited play by flying a pattern of going off the right side of the screen, then the top, and rotating to fire a few shots on each pass. A later revision to the game fixed this "bug" by speeding up the sparks slightly.

The Machine

Star Castle machines came in a white upright cabinet with a black front section. The sideart covered the top half of the machine, and showed a scene of two blue spaceships on a red background, along with the title. The marquee was black and included the scoring information, while the control panel and monitor bezel were decorated with geometric shapes that were supposed to represent the interior (or possible exterior), of a spacecraft.

The control panel has no joystick. Play is instead controlled with four buttons, fire, thrust, rotate left, and rotate right (just like Asteroids). Although some bootleg units may have joysticks.

This game uses a black and white vector open frame monitor, but it has several color overlays installed to make the rings different colors (I actually found a set of torn up Star Castle overlays inside one of my games).

Where to play

You can play this game under the MAME emulator. It plays perfectly on even a slower computer, but you are not using a true vector monitor, so you really are not getting the full experience.


You can also find a real Star Castle machine (or a bootleg version). This title is usually a good buy because it often goes for cheaper than most vector games, a good working model can usually be had for $200 - $400 USD (YMMV, prices current as of Feb, 2002). You should be aware of a few thing when purchasing one of these. The first is that vector games tend to develop more problems that other games, due to the complicated game boards and vector monitors. So you may have to repair your Star Castle eventually. The second thing you should be aware of is that there were a lot of bootleg Star Castles made. A real one should be in a Cinematronics cabinet, and will have the red and blue sideart, if it doesn't, then it is probably a bootleg. If it has a joystick, then it is a bootleg, if it says anything other than "Star Castle" at the top, then it is a bootleg (or has had the marquee replaced incorrectly). You should not pay nearly as much for a bootleg (prices are still based on condition and location, but should be substantially lower).

If you have one of these, I would pay a few dollars and get a new set of EPROMs burned for it (that is if you have the newer version that won't allow you to do the pattern trick). It is only four ROMs that need to be replaced. Simply download the "Star Castle (Older)" romset for MAME, and have someone burn those to EPROMs for you (there are many people on the web who will do this cheaply). Then you will be able to learn the flight pattern and rack up some impressive scores.

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