While most folks may stick with The Order 1886 or Majora’s Mask as their most exciting releases this month, I have my eyes set on the smaller titles. One of which is Castle in the Darkness, an independent game head up by The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth lead artist Matt Kap with the help of indie developer powerhouse Nicalis.

Castle in the Darkness looks to contribute to the trend of callback action-platformers with classically inspired tough-as-nails gameplay. We got the opportunity to interview Matt about some of the ideas behind the upcoming title, as well as some other things:

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In what ways was developing Castle in the Darkness different from past games you’ve worked on? What things do you feel from previous games prepared you for this current project?

MK: I’ve started about a million games, but none of them were even close to being finished, so Castle In The Darkness is my first complete solo attempt :). Since starting it a few years ago, I’ve been working with Nicalis on great games like 1001 Spikes and The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. After having worked on those, I understand game design much better, which led to much of Castle In The Darkness having to be returned. I feel that the knowledge and experience I gained will be more beneficial in future projects where I’ll be able to apply it at the beginning of the project, and better predict the whole development process and in which order things should be done.

Other than Castlevania and Metroid, what other games do you feel most influenced Castle in the Darkness? In what ways?

MK: There are a TON of games that influenced Castle In The Darkness, but many of the influences are super obscure. I always liked the feeling of mystery when I saw an illustrated game cover for an old Japanese game and knew nothing about the characters or what was going on. The feeling that there was something awesome out there that I didn’t get a chance to play, and might have been as good as the heavy hitters, you know? Games like Legend of Valkyrie, Crystal Beans, Monster World IV, Tower of Druaga, Sorcerian, stuff like that. Sometimes the games didn’t meet my expectations, but that sense of mystery/discovery was still always there, and usually there was something about them that made them shine.
Maybe that was too much of an emotional/philosophical answer, hah. As far as other well-known influences, the soundtrack and speed of Castle In The Darkness are certainly influenced by the Ys series, the enemy monsters and effects are influenced by the Kirby series, and the menus and text boxes are influenced by the Final Fantasy series :).

Castle in the Darkness has a very simple story that makes way for the gameplay. The princess is in trouble, you are the only one who can save her. Do you feel that there needs to be more titles that explore the idea of having simpler storylines? Or rather is this simply part of the throwback theme of the game as a whole?

MK: Yeah, it was originally meant to just be a part of the throwback. In the era of gaming that I’m trying to make Castle In The Darkness fit into, stories about missing princesses were not only common, but celebrated! 

But… I decided at some point in development that I wanted to raise the bar a little bit and so I changed the story slightly.  It’s still simple, but now there’s a bit more depth to it. I think that games as a whole shouldn’t have a specific type of story/setting.  It really does depend on the game, and fortunately for me, I wasn’t setting out to make an emotional 4-disc epic :).

Recently, we are smack dab in the middle of a renaissance of action-platformers modeled after the SNES and NES era. Do you feel that Castle in the Darkness innovates on this trend in new ways? Or does the game aim for perfecting the already established foundations for the genre?

MK: I don’t think that it innovates much on this trend, but that wasn’t really ever the plan. What it does do is trims away some of the annoying/bad features that plagued games of that era, and adds some more modern game design sensibility to make it a faster and smoother experience.

I just really really wanted to make a game that 6-year-old Kap would have called his favorite, and I feel that I hit the mark!

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The success of the smaller independent title in the mainstream gaming media seems to only be increasing. As a person who has experience with successful smaller titles, how do you feel about the future of this trend? What do you think is next for smaller titles such as Castle in the Darkness and The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth as far as their place in the eyes of the media goes?

MK: I feel pretty optimistic about the future of this trend, and it seems that gamers are becoming a lot more open-minded. I made a retro-platformer, someone else might make something totally different, like a bird simulator, but somehow there could be an overlap of interest, which is super cool. With the rise of smaller downloadable games, people seem a lot more willing to try something new. The success of games like The Binding Of Isaac also show potential future game developers that a career in games is a very real possibility, so more people are getting into game development. Because of that, I think that smaller-scale independent games will continue to flourish for at least a few more years.

With Castle in the Darkness so close, do you have your mind set on what you want to do next?

MK: Yes, and no!  I have a ton of ideas I want to make, not all games, but I haven’t fully committed to any of them yet. Instead of biting off more than I can chew like I did with Castle, I will probably get some smaller-scale ideas or experimental stuff out first before jumping into my next Opus.

Nicalis has an track record of releasing excellent original and reworked versions of indie games. What is it like at the Nicalis team? What do you feel makes the product quality so high?

MK: It’s great to work with the people on the team. Mainly we all enjoy the same types of games, and for the most part, we get to be working on the types of games we enjoy! This keeps everyone motivated to do their best, and keeps the quality of the games high. Everyone on the team is awesome at what they do, so it’s a pleasure to get together with these friends and do our best to make something incredible together.

What is your creative process? How do you most effectively get the ideas flowing for current and future projects?

MK: I daydream a lot. I actually have trouble sleeping sometimes because I daydream while trying to fall asleep, and then I can’t fall asleep. I usually have an idea and think about it for months, and if I’m not sick of it by then, I’ll start working on it for real. I don’t rough sketch that much, though I probably should, but I don’t normally forget my ideas really.

Inspiration comes at the weirdest times too, and I’m not sure how to consistently get the ideas to flow. But they have been flowing lately, so let’s hope that it continues forever :).

What was your favorite game(s) of 2014? What game(s) are you looking forward to most in 2015? Why?

MK: I wish I had more time to just play games, but with 2 bands and a job and Castle In The Darkness, I didn’t have much time in 2014. I hope it doesn’t seem too arrogant to say that Rebirth was my favorite from 2014, but it really is :). Tied for 1st is the new iteration of Smash Brothers for Wii U, and strangely enough, the P.T. demo. For 2015, I’m really looking forward to Final Fantasy 15 and Silent Hills, though no one is really sure if those games will be out this year. I’m also really looking forward to our friends Discord Games’ Chasm and Tom Happ’s Axiom Verge! 

As a Binding of Isaac: Rebirth addict, I have to ask, what are your tips for beating The Lost?

Hahahaha… good one! The only luck I’ve had in the past was either Holy Mantle + Mask Of Infamy, or Gnawed Leaf + some familiars. But… there’s an even EASIER way! First, learn how to traverse time, then go back to about 2 years ago. Once you’re there, tell Ed you’re from the future and beg him to design The Lost so he’s easier to play as :).

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Castle in the Darkness launches on February 5th on Steam. Check out the official trailer for the game below, and stay tuned to KaboomShark for our review of the game!