Sunday, March 31, 2013

Indie Game Publications: Scroll Issue 9: Artdink and Gamespite: The Anatomy of Castlevania

The past few weeks have seen the release of two excellent self published works - the latest issue of Ray Barnholt's Scroll magazine, and Vol. 13 of the Gamespite Journal, The Anatomy of Castlevania.

This issue of Scroll focuses almost entirely on the Japanese developer Artdink. Most folks are familiar with Artdink through the likes of their off-kilter PSOne output, like No One Stops Mr. Domino!, Tail of the Sun, Aquanaut's Holiday and Carnage Heart (of which a port just recently appeared on the NA PSN). They're the sort of strange titles that proliferated back in the 32-bit era, before those pesky things known as "massive profits" became a concern.

What most probably don't know, though, is that Artdink has a long history of strategy and sim titles. In fact, if you go back to the early 90s, there's actually a lot of similarities between them and Maxis. People at the time thought so too, so Maxis was the one that published an localized version of their popular train simulator A-Train. Alas, the game rather flopped, so most of their titles have been relegated to Japanese home computer formats, all but nearly impenetrable to most. Ray has played almost all of these, and their history makes for fascinating reading, most of which hasn't been documented anywhere else. It's essential reading for anyone who visits a site like HG101. The PDF is $5, the print version from Magcloud is $17+shipping.

The latest issue of the Gamespite Journal follows the "Anatomy of" series, posted by Jeremy Parish on his website Telebunny (formerly Gamespite), which seek to explore the depths of both old-school game mechanics and their level designs. The Castlevania series is ripe for such analyzations, because they really are some of the best of the era - sure, their jumping mechanics might seem clunky, but it's all very deliberately so, and is essential to both the rhythm and the pacing of the game.

While the previous volumes have been trade paperbacks, this is a wider format book, filled with large spreads with level maps and tons upon tons of pictures. It focuses entirely on the first three Castlevanias for the NES, with quick mentions of the bizarre MSX2 offshot Vampire Killer and dire arcade game Haunted Castle. For anyone who's had the levels for these games permanently emblazened in their mind since childhood, it's another highly recommended purchase. It is pricey though - the softcover runs at $42 plus shipping costs, and there's no B&W version of the wide format book. There is a cheaper B&W trade paperback version, though it doesn't have all the same content, and due to the format, it missing the cool layouts. The content is also available to read freely here.

Incidentally, the next HG101 book will be about Castlevania. I actually purchased some booth space for the upcoming Too Many Games in mid-June, and I had hoped to have it ready for then, but time has been a precious resource lately, so that may not be possible. It will feature (almost) completely new reviews of the entire series, plus tons of additional content, including information on spinoffs, fan games, inspired works, soundtracks, comics and all sorts of extra stuff. Here is a quick picture of (roughly) of what it will look like - if you've seen the Sega book, it uses the same basic layout.


  1. thanks for this.

    and so fucking excited for the castlevania book you're doing. please let us know asap if we can preorder. i will be doing just that.


  2. That Scroll issue looks delectable. Frankly, this is the sort of games writing that deserves wider purchase in the field (read: it takes real, obvious work). Thanks for the tip!