Zach Lazarus Discusses Low-Fi RPG Creepy Castle
with Julie Morley
Creepy Castle just recently launched on Kickstarter and has already acquired over 50% of its funding goal. We posted an announcement piece about the campaign recently and since then I’ve interviewed Creepy Castle’s Creator and Dopterra founder, Zach Lazarus, for a more in depth look at Creepy Castle and what the future may hold for it. Here’s what he had to say.
Cliqist: For our readers who are unfamiliar with Creepy Castle, could you tell us a little about it?
Zach Lazarus: Creepy Castle is a vast, exploratory, turn-based RPG that twists up combat with Duels- a mechanic that presents the player with a skill-based challenge. It’s full of quirky characters and takes place in a unique fantasy setting.
Cliqist: Creepy Castle’s visuals, soundtrack, and sound effects are directly inspired by retro graphics – Creepy Castle’s style feels like a blast from the past, actually – what made you want Creepy Castle in this style?
Zach Lazarus: I really love old games, and they have a specific inherent charm. Some of Creepy Castle’s inspirations are Metroid, La Mulana, Montezuma’s Revenge- all games with old low-tech graphics, but also, all games that give the player a refreshing amount of authorial control over the experience, which I think is a really amazing, modern thing, and a bit of a running theme with my design.
The old-styled graphics of the aforementioned games, too, lend authorial control to the player; between the chunky pixels, your imagination gets to work and fills in a lot of detail on its own. I think the exploratory style of game is a very nice match to retro graphics. And of course, it’s just an aesthetic I like a lot!
Cliqist: Window and icon customization is a unique game quality; though a minor aesthetic it actually gives the player a great sense of control, freedom, and personalization. What brought up the idea to do this? How many/what kind of options for windows and health bars/icons will players have to customize?
Zach Lazarus: I’m glad that you appreciate the feature! I think this all really ties into authorial control. The more traits about a game that are chosen by a player, the more invested the player becomes in the game. Regarding the life visualizations, the bars were originally the only display mode for HP, but after a while, I found myself wanting a more literal indicator of health, which became hearts. I still acknowledged reasons to keep the bars, not to mention some of the other teammates liked them more, so letting the player choose what kind of readout they liked most seemed like the natural thing to do! I definitely want to make more window styles, and we’ll probably end up including more ways to represent health. Marius wants to see a written representation- for example, instead of seeing a full HP bar or filled row of hearts, you would see “Healthy”, and as the character took more damage that would go down through adjectives like “Wounded” to “Defeated”. I’d like to add a simple numeric readout, too: like HP 6/6.
Cliqist: One aspect of Creepy Castle that is appealing to players is the multiple scenarios, each with individual storylines and characters. Why divide Creepy Castle up into different scenarios rather than create one massive story? From what I remember reading, all these scenarios are connected by similar elements and actually combine to make a major overall story.
Zach Lazarus: I think compartmentalizing a big game into shorter scenarios has a lot of benefits. I’d say when it’s done, Creepy Castle in its entirety will be about as long as some jRPGs- but individually, the scenarios are quite shorter. With normal jRPGs, you’re on a very linear track for a very long time and it can be exhausting. Breaking the full game up into scenarios and giving the player free choice between them lets the player avoid the fatigue of being railroaded for a long time and gives them some choice in what they want to experience from the game next. It’s also a great way to very organically let multiple characters stand on their own as protagonists, with their very own challenges and ways to overcome them. As contained experiences, scenarios allow me as a designer to bring specific aspects of Creepy Castle to the forefront and focus on specific feelings and themes. Creepy Castle does force a bit of linearity in the player’s progression through the scenarios, though- for instance, the eponymous scenario Creepy Castle is the first available. This linearity is used to introduce duel types one by one and acquaint the player to the style of gameplay. When you beat it, you’ll open up two more scenarios, and playing through one of those scenarios will, in turn, open up even more. The final scenario is unlocked by completing all of the others. With scenarios, the player can be given a very rewarding experience in a more concise time frame- they get to build themselves up, experience a story that moves swiftly between important points, and get to an exciting finale without the more intense time commitment a typical turn-based RPG requires.
I think scenarios also let Creepy Castle “cheat” a bit and feel like much more than just a single game- rather, I feel it conveys the effect of trawling through a whole series of games, and I think that’s going to end up lending the ultimate ending a really big punch.
Zach Lazarus: Originally, Dopterra was just me- the “brand” I created art and games under. In time, my longtime friends began stepping in to collaborate more and more. Really, we’re just all friends lending our abilities to each other. We’ve always been friends first and foremost, and Dopterra is simply what we identify our collaborations under Cliqist: What is the Dopterra site all about? I’ve seen a couple of game features, tool reviews, and news pieces on it – but the listing is short Will this site progress into a broader gaming journalism site or anything else? I can see it being an interesting platform for indie developers to find latest projects or useful tools.
Zach Lazarus: I’m glad you can! I would love to use the site for enthusiast press pieces and tool reviews, but it’s still in its beginning stages, as you can see. Some big things I want to add to the site are webcomics, like a prequel tale centering on Moth’s first adventures in the Dopterra universe.
Cliqist: The duel type aspect of the combat system is pretty unique but can be a bit confusing. You described that every enemy will have their own set of duels with their own twist – are duels character specific moves (for example, only one character can use the Quick-Draw duel and its opponent may only be able to do Parry) OR are all characters capable of doing these duel-skills, but they all have a distinct/unique quality about them? Could you shed some more light on this?
Zach Lazarus: Every character has the ability to take part in every duel, but each enemy has its own specific selection of duels. Samurai and swordfighters would be more likely to have Quick Draw and Parry, and enemies that try to physically overpower you would have Sumo; all enemies with techniques that involve grappling the player will have the Struggle duel type, and so on. Furthermore, every enemy has their own adjusted versions of each duel minigame; an introductory Parry will be pretty easy to keep up with, and on the opposite end of the spectrum a scenario final boss or optional boss will have a rapid-fire, overwhelming barrage in their version of Parry. Every duel type has a lot of adjustable qualities we can use to make enemies have unique experiences, so it’s not just a linear slider from easy to hard, either- enemies have the capability to do some really interesting things in their personal iterations of duels.
Cliqist: Have stretch goals already been organized for Creepy Castle? If so, what are they planned to be? I was unable to find much information concerning this on the Kickstarter page.
Zach Lazarus: We do have some stretch goals in mind, but I tried not to focus on that too much until I saw how the Kickstarter would go- I really didn’t want to come off as cocky, like the funding was going to be a surefire thing. One of the things I would personally love to put in as a stretch goal would be a head-to-head two player battle mode where you compete through duels.
Cliqist: Currently Creepy Castle is scheduled to be released on PC. Will there be a Mac and Linux version available? Are you planning to expand to consoles if stretch goals are met?
Zach Lazarus: I would absolutely love to expand its release to more platforms, and I’m almost 100% sure we’ll do that, but I don’t want to jump the gun and make any promises. I would really like to do these as stretch goals I don’t exactly have the hardware I need to port Creepy Castle over and a stretch goal could obviously help with that. I’d really like to get Creepy Castle on Mac, Linux, Android and iOS.
Cliqist: After everything with Creepy Castle is said and done, will you consider crowdfunding for any future projects?
Zach Lazarus: It’s still really early, but I already want to say yes. It’s a really great experience. I think the ability to build an audience makes the process better for both the developer and the player- the developer gets to know their audience, and the player will get a better game because of that- and in a lot of cases, even leave their mark on the game in a fun way.
Cliqist: If you could sum up Creepy Castle in five words, what would they be?
Exploration, RPG, Action, Adventure, Insects!
Thanks to Zach for taking the time to answer our questions! To learn more about Creepy Castle you can head over to the Creepy Castle Kickstarter campaign page.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/julie.jpg” ]Julie Morley is a freelance writer and comic artist from Spring, Texas. She attended the Academy of Art University for two years, studying Animation and Illustration. Whilst here, she learned about writing comic scripts, storyboards, and general storytelling. Since leaving college, she has been working on personal comic projects, stories, and illustrations. She aspires to release a self published comic within two years. For the majority of her life, she has been playing console games, typically being third-person shooters and sandboxes. Her favorite game of existence is Dark Cloud II (Dark Chronicle) and her favorite Indie game is Gone Home.[/author]