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Crystal Castles (video game)

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Crystal Castles
North American arcade flyer
Developer(s)Atari, Inc.
Publisher(s)Atari, Inc.
  • Franz Lanzinger
  • Barbara Singh
  • Susan McBride
Platform(s)Arcade, Acorn Electron,[citation needed] Amstrad CPC,[1] Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Atari 2600, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum[1]
  • NA: July 8, 1983
Atari 2600
March 1984
Mode(s)1-2 players alternating turns

Crystal Castles is an arcade video game released by Atari, Inc. in 1983. The player controls Bentley Bear who has to collect gems located throughout trimetric-projected rendered castles while avoiding enemies, some of whom are after the gems as well.

The game was made by Franz Lanzinger and was the first game he ever developed. He joined Atari in 1983 and was initially tasked with making a game like Asteroids (1979). As he was developing the graphics for it involving the unique backgrounds, the game began to develop into what became Crystal Castles. It is a maze video game with warp zones to higher levels and an ending, which were not typical in arcade games in 1983.

Following the game's release in arcades, it was released for the Atari 2600 home console and various home-computer lines. Critics often complimented the game for its unique graphics. Bentley Bear appeared in educational home computer programs from Atari as well as Atari Karts (1995) for the Jaguar. Lanzinger left Atari after developing the game and, after attempting to get the rights to the character, he developed a similarly styled game with Gubble (1997).


The first level of the arcade original. The initials of the player with the highest score–FXL here–are built into the castle.

Crystal Castles features Bentley Bear as the playable character. In the Arcade flyer, the narrative states that Bentley Bear went to the land of Crystal Castles to gather gemstones.[3] The Atari 2600 manual alters the narrative slightly in that, after having a nap, Bentley found himself in a huge castle where he was trapped by Berthilda the Witch. To escape, he had to collect gems while avoiding the Berthhilda's minions.[4]

In the original arcade game, the player controls Bentley with a trackball throughout a maze of 16 different playing fields. Bentley can also jump, by pressing a button, which allows him to avoid obstacles.[3] The player can collect the gem stones scattered through the maze to gain points. Because some enemies eat gems, players can earn bonus points for collecting the last gem on the board. Other items appear, such as pots of honey, that give bonus points.[5] Different enemies follow unique patterns, such as trees who try to find the quickest path to Bentley and are stunned briefly if Bentley jumps over them. The Gem Eaters can be defeated if Bentley runs into them while a gem stone is rising up through their body.[6] Each level has four waves; the fourth one features Berthilda the Witch, whom Bentley can defeat when he wears the magic hat located in the maze. The hat otherwise makes Bentley briefly invincible to enemies.[3][6] In the game's ending, the players receive a congratulatory message and ranking based on how many lives they have and a bonus score based on how fast they played, followed by an animation that reproduces animated rectangles.[7]



Franz Lanzinger was the developer of Crystal Castles. Lanzinger had been programming on his own since 1971 and had dropped out of a mathematics degree at the University of California in Berkeley to pursue a career in scientific research.[8][7] Lanzinger was fan of arcade games and when his friend Brian McGhie was hired by Atari as part of a testing group, Lanzinger was recommended to Atari by McGhie due to his proficiency in coding in assembly language and was hired in 1982.[8] It was the first game he ever developed.[7] Lanzinger later thanked McGhee, including his initials "BBM" in a level in Crystal Castles.[7]

Franz Lasinger was fan of the arcade game Centipede (pictured) and Millipede which used a trackball for controls. This led to using one for Crystal Castles.

On arrival at the company, Lanzinger had to choose from a book on approved projects and chose one titled Toporoids, a variation of Atari's Asteroids (1979) arcade game. He was without a development system for his first month at Atari, leading him to spend the first few months working on a Mainframe computer creating three-dimensional backgrounds as the intended topology of the game. He recalled he would make five or so variations of the backgrounds each day. As he developed them, he began experimenting with them, and created an E.T.-like character that would move along the architecture, and he began to feel he could make a very different game than Toporoids.[8]

At this time, there was no theme or enemies in the game. Lanzinger and some co-workers began thinking of ideas for the game and developed a Fairy tale theme such as moving trees and a witch from The Wizard of Oz (1939).[9] The idea of Bentley Bear came from these sessions. The bear was initially named Bear Braveheart, which was changed by Atari's marketing team feeling it would be offensive to Indigenous people. A competition was held among the engineering team to rename the character with Bentley being chosen.[10]

Lanzinger was a fan of the games Centipede (1981) and Millipede (1982) which used a trackball to control the game, which led him to using one in Crystal Castles. Lanzinger wrote all the code for the game. Two graphic artists employed by Atari contributed to the art, such as Barbara Singh who created the majority of the motion objects and Susan McBride who also contributed a few. Atari programmer Dave Ralston helped design some additional mazes when prototypes were being placed in arcades. Initially, there were 12 mazes, with Ralston helping design some of the more complicated mazes from the later portion of the game.[10]

While developing the game, he spend $2,000 as a tax write-off playing arcade games as research. he stated that he felt it was important to got to an arcade and that it helped him "make good decisions about game design. it pushed me in the right direction."[11] Watching others players games like Tempest and having to take long periods of time to get to the level of play they wanted to be at inspired Lanzinger to include warps in the game, to let advanced players get to the more difficult stages early and to keep game time low for more income on a coin-op. The secret of the warps are shown later in the game to alert players to them.[11]

Crystal Castles for the Atari ST was programmed by Andromeda Software, a company based on in Hungary.[12]



Crystal Castles was released in arcades on July 8, 1983.[13] In Japan, Game Machine listed the arcade game on their December 15, 1983 issue as being the fifth most-successful upright arcade unit of the month.[14]

Both the Atari 2600 and the original Arcade versions of Crystal Castles was re-released in various compilation formats, such as the Atari Anniversary Edition for Dreamcast and PlayStation in 2001, Atari 80 in One for Windows in 2003 and the Atari Anthology for PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2004, Atari Greatest Hits: Volume 2 for Nintendo DS in 2011, and the Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration (2022) compilation for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Steam, and Xbox One.[15][16][17][18]



Reviewing the original arcade release, Bill Kunkel of Electronic Games described the sound and graphics as "top notch", but made Crystal Castles a solid game was its play value.[24] Michael Blanchet of Electronic Fun with Computer & Games said that while "unimaginative maze games abound", Crystal Castles benefitted from a "fresh and novel approach"[25] Roger C. Sharpe writing in Play Meter found the games graphics and cabinet to have "stunning" artwork, and highlighted the games personality, writing that "what's nice about the game is that players have a storyline. You do get a sense of movement as you finish a screen and then watch Bentley move to another as it quickly takes shape on screen."[26] In Electronic Games 1985 Arkie Awards, Crystal Castles received a Certificate of Merit in the Coin-op Division. The award was to which was to salute "the upper crust of gameware" which did not win any major award.[27]

The Atari 2600 port of Crystal Castles was released in March 1984.[28] In 1984, several ports for Crystal Castles were announced, including the Commodore 64, Apple IIe, IBM Personal Computer, and VIC-20.[29] In 1984, Andy Harris wrote in TV Gamer that none of the home versions of the game had the superb graphic quality of the arcade game, which was constantly entertaining with several surprises.[30][31] Reviewing versions for the BBC Micro and Commodore 64 (C64), "Nicky" of Computer and Video Games stated they "haven't played such a satisfying game of grab-the-loot-and-run for a long time" noting both versions ran quickly and were faithful copies of the arcade games.[32] Reviewing the C64 release, the reviewers in Zzap! disagreed on the overall quality. One reviewer fond of the arcade game recommended it to fellow fans, another felt it did not live up to the arcade game while another felt the game was "little more than glorified Pac-Man".[23]

In retrospective reviews, Brett Alan Weiss of Allgame gave the arcade game a four and a half star rating out of five, noting the game had memorable characters, catchy music, addicting gameplay and was a "beautiful game."[19] In 1995, Flux magazine ranked the game 95th on their "Top 100 Video Games."[33] In his book The Video Games Guide, Matt Fox gave the arcade game a two out of five star rating, finding the building-block like graphics unappealing and that the all the gems, enemies and Bentley appeared small which made the game "worlds away" from the immediacy of Pac-Man.[21] Reviewing the game in 1989, ACE commented that the arcade release was "one of the most addictive cabinets ever", and that the budget release from home computers by Kixx was "ultimately pointless, yet totally unputdownable arcade entertainment."[1] Zzap! re-reviewed the budget re-release; while finding it repetitive and difficult to control, ultimately they wrote that "the Pac-man concept still has a lot of strength (look at Pac-Mania on the Amiga) and this is one of the best versions around."[34]



Following Crystal Castles, Lanzinger began development on an arcade machine based on the film Gremlins (1984). He visited the set, but he left Atari after a dispute with Atari over residuals paid to coin-op developers for sales of home conversions.[7] He initially left the video game industry before working for Tengen on their ports of games like Toobin' and Ms. Pac-Man.[7]

Crystal Castles did not receive a sequel. In the mid-1990s, Lanzinger formed Actual Entertainment to create a sequel to Crystal Castles. The group could not get the rights, but they developed a similarly themed game titled Gubble (1997).[7] Bentley Bear reappeared in educational programs such as Bentley Bear's Magical Math for the Atari ST and as a playable character in Atari Karts (1995) for the Atari Jaguar.[35][36] Lanzinger stated that Crystal Castles remained his favorite game on which he had worked, but later said that he did not think of the implications of using a trackball for the game, saying "In retrospect, having a trackball is a hindrance as it's hard to get the feel right with a different controller."[10][7]

Crystal Castles includes warps, pre-dating their popular use in Super Mario Bros. (1985).[11] It is also among the earliest arcade games to have a distinct ending.[11] Lanzinger wrote a two-page memo to his bosses stating that if video games are aspiring to tell stories, they should have satisfying conclusions.[10]

See also





  • Amrich, Dan; Barbagallo, Ralph; East, Mark; Hudak, Chris; Kitts, Jeff; Meston, Zach; Yang, Jeff (April 1995). "The Top 100 Video Games". Flux. No. 4. Harris Publications. ISSN 1074-5602.
  • Blanchet, Michael (December 1983). "Crystal Castles and Gyruss: Warp in Peace". Electronic Fun with Computer & Games. Vol. 2, no. 2. Fun & Games Publishing. p. 16.
  • Drury, Paul. "Making of... Crystal Castles". Retro Gamer. No. 51.
  • Fox, Matt (2012). The Video Games Guide: 1,000+ Arcade, Console and Computer Games, 1962-2012 (2 ed.). McFarland. ISBN 9781476600673.
  • Harris, Andy (April 1984). "The Arcade Scene". TV Gamer. United Kingdom: Templar Publishing.
  • Harris, Craig (November 30, 2004). "Atari Anthology". IGN. Archived from the original on January 26, 2023. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
  • Harris, John (December 6, 2007). "Game Design Essentials: 20 Unusual Control Schemes". Game Developer. Retrieved February 19, 2024.
  • Katz, Arnie; Kunkel, Bill (January 1985). "1985 Arkie Awards". Electronic Games. Vol. 3, no. 1. Reese Communications.
  • Kunkel, Bill (March 1984). "Insert Coin Here". Electronic Games. Reese Communications. ISSN 0730-6687.
  • Lacey, Eugene, ed. (November 1989). "Blasts From the Past". ACE. No. 26.
  • Machkovech, Sam (September 12, 2022). "The 103 Classic Games That Did, and Didn't, Make the Atari 50 Anniversary Cut — Retailer Leak Suggests Games from Arcade to Jaguar; Surprises Apparently Still Await". Ars Technica. Condé Nast. Archived from the original on September 14, 2022. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  • Morrissey, Mike (July 10, 2001). "Atari Anniversary Edition". IGN. Retrieved February 27, 2024.
  • Nicky (December 1986). "Crystal Castles". Computer and Video Games. United Kingdom. p. 32.
  • Penn, Gary, ed. (1986). "Crystal Castles". Zzap!. No. 21.
  • Ratcliff, Matthew J.W. (July 1989). "Review". ANALOG Computing. No. 74. L.F.P. ISSN 0744-9917.
  • Sharpe, Roger C. (February 1, 1984). "Critic's Corner". Play Meter. Vol. 10, no. 3. Skybird Publishing. ISSN 0162-1343.
  • Solomon, Abbot Neil (April 1984). "Mastering Crystal Castles". Microkids. Vol. 1, no. 3. Microkids Publishing, Inc.
  • Staples, Betsy (September 1987). "Atari Classroom". Atari Explorer. Vol. 7, no. 3.
  • Wayne, Stuart, ed. (November 1989). "Crystal Castles". Zzap!. No. 55.
  • Weiss, Brett Alan. "Crystal Castles". Allgame. Archived from the original on November 14, 2014. Retrieved February 19, 2024.
  • Weiss, Brett Alan (2009). "Crystal Castles". Allgame. Archived from the original on January 23, 2010. Retrieved February 20, 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  • "Atari Announces Atari Greatest Hits: Volume 2 Featuring Four-Player Multiplayer for the First Time". PR Newswire (Press release). Atari SA. January 6, 2011. Retrieved February 16, 2024.
  • "Crystal Castles" (Arcade flyer). Atari, Inc. 1983.
  • Crystal Castles. Atari, Inc. 1984. C019787-110 REV. A.
  • Digital Eclipse (November 11, 2022). Atari 50 (Nintendo Switch). Atari. Atari Karts: Every game console in the 1990s needed a mascot go-kart racer, and Jaguar got its with Atari Karts, which starred none other than Bentley Bear, the protagonist of the arcade game Crystal Castles.
  • "Complete Games Guide" (PDF). Computer and Video Games. No. Complete Guide to Consoles. October 16, 1989. Archived (PDF) from the original on January 5, 2021.
  • "Atari 2600". Computer Entertainer includes The Video Game Update. Vol. 3, no. 1. April 1984.
  • "Other Software Titles, including Atarisoft". Computer Entertainer includes The Video Game Update. Vol. 3, no. 4. July 1984.
  • "Crystal Castles". Computer and Video Games. United Kingdom. August 1987. p. 103.
  • "Crystal Castles". United States Copyright Office. Archived from the original on February 20, 2024. Retrieved February 19, 2024.
  • "Game Machine's Best Hit Games 25 - アップライト, コックピット型TVゲーム機 (Upright/Cockpit Videos)". Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 226. Amusement Press, Inc. December 15, 1983. p. 33.