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When games today just aren’t doing it for you, the solution is simple: Make a game pulled straight out of the arcades.
That’s what one independent developer, Juan Antonio — also known as Locomalito — did with his freeware game Maldita Castilla, which translates to “Cursed Castle.” He missed classic titles like Ghosts ‘n Goblins so much that he designed a game to look and sound like it was from the mid-80s.
“I put many things I like in the mix to create this game, from classic arcade games to medieval legends, places, and illustrations,” Antonio said. His creative process often begins with drawings in his notebook, like the sketch pictured here, before they assume life on the computer.
“I carefully studied the things I liked from the classics, how they work and look, and I adapted that to what seems right for a game like this without being too strict,” he said. “With an square resolution — 256 by 224 — sprites look big and things are always near your character. With a limited color palette and some image overlay, the game looks like [it’s] playing in an old, dirty cabinet inside some wasted bar. And the same with the music — that uses a direct emulation of the chips used in that era.”
Antonio and the game’s composer, “Gryzor87,” reproduced the sounds of the Yamaha YM2203 sound chip, which was used in many arcade game machines at the time of Ghosts ‘n Goblins.
“We are trying to rescue the aesthetics values from old-school video games like Commando or Black Tiger,” said Gryzor87. “For that reason, we have focused the game on graphics and sound. I tried to study as much information as possible about the native FM chips — YM2203, YM2151 — that those games had and started to build some sounds with TFM tracker, an application capable of emulating the YM2203.
“I also added some typical articulation figures by coding like drops, vibratos, and delays, [which were] used in those arcade games very often. The game uses a Winamp plugin to sound [like] FM native sound, so you can experience both the graphics and sound like old school video games.”
Antonio took inspiration from other classic games as well, not just Ghosts ‘n Goblins. He borrowed the enemies with shields from Sega’s Shinobi, the levels with “open explorable scroll” from Capcom’s Black Tiger and Tiger Road, the bosses and midbosses from Trojan (also by Capcom), and others.
“I think that starting a game with reminiscences of its influences is a good way to give players an idea of what they’re going to play, and it’s a way to show them how to play it without further instructions or tutorials,” he said. “I assume that players already know those games, and once they’re centered in [that] kind of gameplay, I try to make it more and more interesting as they progress through the levels — putting [in] secrets, structure changes, and unexpected stuff.”
He even consulted what he calls the “arcade of books” — Amadis de Gaula, a chivalry book written by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo and first published in the early 1600s. And the poem “Cantar de Mio Cid,” or “The Poem of the Cid” in English, was the influence for Maldita Castilla’s main character, Don Ramiro — who looks a lot like the knight Sir Arthur from Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Rodrigo Diaz (Ben Hur actor Charlton Heston) from the 1961 film El Cid. They’re good sources for a game based on medieval myths from Spain and the rest of Europe.
“The game is not something magisterial if you evaluate it thing by thing,” said Antonio. “It doesn’t break new ground — [that’s] not what I pretended at all. But I think that the sum of all those little parts make it a decent game for people who still like that kind of linear adventure but are actually tired of playing the same old games.”
And for adults with little time like Antonio, who want to play games in spurts no longer than half an hour, classics or faux-classics like Maldita Castilla can be played intensively in a quick session. Maldita Castilla itself has about 50 minutes of gameplay.
With games nowadays, “You have save options, but the whole gameplay feels like a succession of incomplete little plays,” he said. “With gameplay [in classics] totally condensed with new dangers and stuff reaching the screen every second, I really feel that I’m playing a full game — and having fun, like kids do when they play,” he said.
Antonio is considering Dec. 12 as a release date for Maldita Castilla but has yet to confirm.