Saturday, 2 January 2016

Castle of Dr. Brain - Won!

Written by Reiko

We're finished with the codes, and now the third maze of the game awaits. The walls of this third elevator are painted to look like space, apparently, while the elevator itself still looks like brown stone. The starry walls blend together so it's hard to see which way the corridors go from the visual information. In fact, it's weirder than that. Facing a wall directly displays a green sphere, but walls on the left display a bit of pink and walls on the right display a bit of yellow. An opening displays a wisp of white, like a galaxy, but of course when you get closer, there's nothing there at all. Once you see this pattern, it's easier to understand the walls, but it doesn't make any actual sense.

The wall to the left always has a pink dot, even if it looked like a white galaxy from farther away.

I map it myself, as usual. The pattern itself is more straightforward than the previous one, as there are only two decision points (areas where one vertical passage leads to more than one additional one), and for one of those, both of the vertical passages lead to the same area, so it's not even a fork in the path. I think the designers might have been getting tired by this point, or something. The puzzles should ramp up in difficulty a bit as the game goes on, not get easier.

This maze only has one fewer vertical passage than the previous maze, but it feels a lot easier.

The exit leads into Dr. Brain's planetarium. Again there are a number of joke objects sitting around, plus a curiously locked cabinet. The obvious puzzle is the planetarium itself, which requires identifying constellation patterns. Not only does this depend on external knowledge (which I'm familiar with), but it's very exacting. It wants you to select the correct stars that form one interpretation of four classic constellations. For one thing, the actual shape of each constellation is subject to a lot of interpretation (although which stars are included is generally set). For another, the constellations aren't oriented properly relative to each other. Nor are the relative magnitudes depicted with any sort of accuracy.

The bad jokes continue...

It's not really a puzzle, it's more of a guessing game. At a first glance, it's barely possible to tell that the stars are supposed to show constellations. Orion is easily identifiable, if rather squished-looking, and I'm sure that will be one of the four, but which stars the game will want to include is the question. The first one required is Perseus, so I started clicking stars, but after 11 stars selected, the game says, "You have run out of stars!" As if you could actually run out of stars...

But really, it's easier than it looks, even on Expert. The lower levels start connecting the stars with red lines when you're clicking the correct ones, but Expert doesn't give you that help. Even so, the four constellations are placed left to right in order, and the trick is to focus on the more densely clustered stars. The brighter-looking ones scattered around the perimeter are just a distraction. It helps to have a general sense of what the constellation is supposed to be, but Perseus is actually the worst, really. The stars they wanted for Perseus looked nothing like the shape of either the classic star map or the stars actually visible in the sky. Ursa Major was better - you have the Big Dipper in there, anyway. Cancer didn't have enough stars included, but whatever. Orion (which is my favorite constellation anyway) was fine; I got it on the first try.

Perseus and Cancer are terrible, but Ursa Major and Orion are mostly accurate.

This unlocks the cabinet, setting loose a tiny alien ship to zip around the screen. I clicked on it to trigger a game of Concentration, matching pairs of cards representing aliens and their home planets. I'm not sure it even has a minimum number of guesses, and you're not playing against anyone else, so it's straightforward to systematically work through all the cards and match them all. Finishing this puzzle makes a strange monolith appear in the room, maybe a reference to the 2001 movie.

The alien races would be right at home in a game of Master of Orion or Galactic Civilizations.

The last puzzle in the observatory (which is in the basement, by the way) is a game of match the planets, which is what the clue about the order of planets was for. The only tricky bit about this one is that the planets are moving around their orbits. So the ones close in are whipping around quickly, and the ones farther out go off screen periodically. No penalties for missing, though, so with a bit of careful clicking, I've got them all matched.

I think this room should have used the planet symbols for something, but I guess the target demographic might not know them. Actually, instead of made-up alien races, the first matching game should have been between planet pictures and names/symbols, with the lower levels using names and the Expert level using the symbols.

The symbols are given with their planets but never used for anything.

The monolith explodes and the screen dissolves, and suddenly I find myself in Dr. Brain's office, which is also in the basement. This would be a more normal environment than the observatory, except that there's a giant hand-shaped chair, a penguin lamp, and a henway sitting around. ("What's a henway? Oh, about 5 pounds.") There's also a screen on the wall showing an outdoor scene, apparently to give the illusion that the office is not in the basement at all. The desk drawer can be opened with the Ruby Key, revealing an object representing the decoder ring. I don't see the point of this given that I already solved the puzzles that require the decoder information.

I wonder if that office chair is actually comfortable. Looks like it could be.

The Job Skills board is the next puzzle. I have to match the plaques and awards from the previous puzzles to the various skills that they prove I supposedly have. First the grid at the bottom just shows the skills, and it doesn't seem to matter what order I click on them in. Once they're all in the grid, then the items appear and I can start matching them. Some are easy: the constellation for "Cosmic Consciousness", the hourglass for "Timeliness" and so on. A couple of skills could apply to more than one puzzle, but it's not too hard to fit them all in by process of elimination.

Timeliness matches the hourglass, and so on.

The end of the quest is near! Dr. Brain himself speaks from behind the bookshelf. Naturally, the bookshelf is another puzzle, and the clue sheet from the robot puzzle is the key to it. (In an actual adventure game, the game wouldn't tell you this outright, of course.) This is a combination puzzle in the sense that it's a puzzle to follow instructions, but it's another puzzle to decode the instructions. It's in cipher, but it's a simpler cipher even than the cryptogram from earlier, which is probably deliberate in the sense that the information in that cryptogram wasn't important, but the information in this one is critical. With context, though, it's even simpler.

The original cryptogrammatic instruction sheet.

The instructions have to do with moving books around, so the word "cppl" clearly represents "book", and that alone illustrates the cipher sufficiently: it's a single shift backwards by one letter. So a = z, b = a, c = b, and so on. The only trick is that numbers are also shifted by one. So the first instruction, "Hfu sfe cppl gspn 5ui tifmg," translates to "Get red book from 4th shelf." And so on. The completed instruction sheet:
  1. Get red book from 4th shelf
  2. Get green book from 3rd shelf
  3. Put blue book on 4th shelf
  4. Get purple book from 2nd shelf
  5. Get yellow book from bottom shelf
  6. Put red book on 2nd shelf
  7. Put green book on 2nd shelf
  8. Get blue book from 4th shelf
  9. Put blue book on bottom shelf
  10. Put yellow book on top shelf
  11. Place chicken (or was that a henway?)

The bookshelf before I start moving things around.

I simply follow the instructions, and the bookshelf slides away, giving me access to the Control Room, and the ending sequence. I have finished all the puzzles, and Dr. Brain himself appears to congratulate me, walking out from another door. For some reason, he slides behind a screen and his face appears larger than life to talk to me. He assures me that I have won the position of his assistant, and invites me to meet his "friends". Credits roll in Brain-fashion by sequentially displaying black-and-white animated pictures of each of the staff members. (If he's so smart, though, why does he need programmers to program his games for him?)

Hi Corey! (Lori's also credited for "Design Assistance and Necessary Discipline".)

He also gives me a point total of 199 points. I poked around a bit (now that I finished the game), and I suspect I lost a point for failing to solve the first clock puzzle in less than 60 seconds. That wasn't obvious at the time, of course, and I'm not going to go back and redo it now. But if you're going for a perfect score, that's something to keep in mind.

I missed the last lousy point...

Then, in true absent-minded professor fashion, he says he'll have to make some more puzzles for me, and leaves. The screen shows him departing in what initially looks like a rocketship, and later looks like a hot air balloon, heading for the Island of Dr. Brain, which of course is the next game in the series. I hope this blog lasts long enough for me to cover that one with you as well!

Off goes Dr. Brain to the next game.

Next time we'll have some final comments and the rating.

Session Time: 1 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 7 hours 30 minutes


  1. A fun puzzle game, by the looks of it. Plenty of cheesy Sierra humour too.

  2. I wish I had owned this back in the day, I would have loved it

  3. I'm surprised this hasn't been reissued on GoG. It's probably one of the simplest Sierra games to get running on modern hardware.

    When I was at Sierra, I lobbied to convert it to consoles, but they didn't think there was a market for a puzzle game on consoles. Later, Brain Age and similar games took that market (of which there was plenty).

    You can get Castle of Dr. Brain on ebay and Amazon, about $30, so less than the original price.

  4. I found that I could use the decoder ring on the coded sheet in the inventory screen, so I didn't have to do the legwork of the substitution cipher. I would have been annoyed trying to do the cipher by hand.