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Episode 21: Dungeons & DoomKnights


Scrobins

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A Homebrew Draws Near!

A blog series by @Scrobins

Episode 21: Dungeons & DoomKnights

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Introduction:

In the gaming world, where evolution and innovation is constant, the excitement of new firsts never wanes. Whether it’s the arrival of a new console, new tools & technology, or a new game showing off the possibilities of the previous two, being the first carries the power to excite imaginations over how this new thing heralds something we should take notice of, and get ready for what will surely follow. I’ve covered NESmaker games before, sharing the multitude of stories that enthusiastically draw new people into the homebrew community, but I have not yet had the pleasure to discuss the first game using the tool to launch a Kickstarter campaign (after Mystic Origins/Mystic Searches, which I hope to cover as well someday) and thus fire the imaginations of future homebrewers.

For this entry, I’m covering Dungeons & DoomKnights, a Zeldavania adventure game for the NES, and developed by Artix Entertainment, set in their Adventure Quest universe. As of the time of this writing, development of the game is complete and initial backer rewards are on the way! But if you don’t have a copy and want one, you can purchase the rom, regular edition CIB, or limited-edition CIB here.

 

Development Team:

Artix (Adam Bohn): game design & story

@dale_coop: programming

Clarion: pixel art & animation

Pixel Pete: background art

FJ: pixel art

Jongaar & Broomtool: music & sound effects

Rolith: level design & experimental ports

Diozz & Dage: box & manual art

Stryche: shipping & fulfillment

J6: “executive producer”

Glisel: coordinator & helpful ghost

 

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Regular edition CIB

 

Game Evolution:

Artix Entertainment launched their crowdfunding campaign for Dungeons & DoomKnights on Kickstarter on April 1, 2019. Backer tiers included a digital package, regular edition CIB with gray cartridge, and a Collector’s Edition CIB with a special gold cartridge in the spirit of the Legend of Zelda. By the campaign’s conclusion, 1,025 backers pledged almost $55,000 toward the project, breaking through numerous stretch goals, unlocking a celebrity voice actor for the game trailer (George Lowe of Space Ghost Coast to Coast fame), all backers having their name in the credits, an Artix AMA livestream, a director’s “un-cut” chaos rom (a bonus rom in which you play as the villain), signed manuals for physical tier backers, and an 8-bit map in AdventureQuest Worlds for all backers.

 

Gameplay Overview:

Dungeons & DoomKnights describes itself as a Zeldavania action adventure, mixing adventure and platformer levels. You play as the good paladin, Artix, who returned to his hometown only to find it decimated by Sepulchure, a master of the undead. Your quest begins with you chasing the DoomKnight on the back of a dragon, hoping to defeat him before he can reach his castle and muster his evil army for an even larger assault. With the help of your undead-slaying puppy, Daimyo, and Gravelyn, a mysterious warrior guide who was raised by the darkness, you might just have a fighting chance.

Gameplay consists of areas mixing Zelda-like adventure screens and Castlevania-like dungeons. The controls between the two types of screens are similar but have subtle differences. When playing in an adventure area, the D-pad affords you 8-directional movement, the A button uses your selected skill (Select toggles through available skills), and the B button unleashes your attack…or conversational skills. Meanwhile in a platforming dungeon area, the D-pad is limited to left/right movement, while the A button allows you to jump, the B button still attacks/talks, Select still toggles through your skillset, and Up & A lets loose a special attack. And along the way, you'll find a host of powers and treasures which will expand your skills and sustain you through your journey.

 

Writer’s Review:

Dungeons & DoomKnights delivers on its Zeldavania promise, channeling the quasi-overhead alternating with side-scrolling adventure screens of several beloved entries of Link’s 2D exploits and games like Dick Tracy. But a Zelda clone this ain’t (and a Dick Tracy clone remains on my wishlist...just sayin'). Like many games I’ve covered, Dungeons & DoomKnights knows where it came from, but stakes out its own territory, and masters it. The prologue takes care of the first chunk of exposition, allowing you to literally jump right into the action.

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But also FIGURATIVELY!

Gameplay is easy to learn, but practice is crucial: the adventure and dungeon screens can look very similar at first glance, but your movement is very different. Moving between screens can plant you eye to eye with a monster, so you don’t want to be disoriented with how to fight them off lest you take an immediate hit. Despite that challenge, this game’s difficulty is the right kind of exciting, like a high-fantasy horror movie in which you persistently worry what may lurk just around the corner or beyond that cave entrance. If I had to compare the gameplay of the different screens to other games, I would argue that the adventure screens feel like the original Legend of Zelda or Anguna: Scourge of the Goblin King, while the dungeons remind me of Astyanax or Dick Tracy (last reference, I promise…this time).

Dungeons & DoomKnights’ graphics are the quintessential cute but detailed, with sprites carefully designed to make use of each pixel, complemented by animations that are surprisingly dynamic. It was while making Artix run in place against a tombstone (like one does) to compare it to Little Mac’s running animation from Punch Out that I noticed how Artix’s shoulders also swivel when he runs. It’s a subtle point that could look ugly in less careful hands, but here it reinforces the gameplay’s smooth flow and meticulous crafting.

Meanwhile, the game’s music is a deep, metal jam session, like a bass-led love letter to high fantasy. I listened to a number of fantasy adventure soundtracks to find an apt comparison, but nothing came close; most of the other games that one might presume are comparable in sound might have a bass line you can identify, but it’s usually buried under high-pitched chirps, as if those tones were a requirement of any game with knights and monsters. The closest analogous chiptunes are the bass grooves of Sly Dog Studios, with its layers of dark, guttural ambiance. Dungeons & DoomKnights revels in a soundtrack that conveys this game is a dirty struggle, that it’s the PG-13 big brother to all the fantasy games you played before, and you’re going to enjoy every gritty minute of it.

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Christopher Lee would be proud

 

Interviews:

For all the juicy stories, I journeyed into the dungeon and spoke with several members of the development team about their adventure and various past quests…

 

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Artix

@ArtixKrieger

-Before we dive into Dungeons & DoomKnights, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a game developer? What is the origin story of Artix Entertainment?

Thank you for interviewing me on Dungeons and DoomKnights! Our studio, Artix Entertainment will be celebrating 20 years of creating and publishing games next year. You want the real story?

When I was little, my friend and I were obsessed with Castlevania. We were out at a restaurant having lunch with my parents, rambling on and on about the game. My father looked at us and said, "If you guys love video games so much... why not make one?"

Inspired, we literally ran to my friend's house. His father was a well to do construction guy and they had a computer. We spent the next several hours going all out to make the greatest game ever! Turns out, it was not possible to make a game in Microsoft Word (At least not in those early days of the 1st version of Windows).

Building games became a lifelong obsession. After years and a thousand never-completed games, I created a prototype for a weird, anything-goes fantasy game called AdventureQuest. My goal was to get just 100 people to play it 3 times (because if they played it less than that, that meant they did not like it.) THEN... I could say "I built a real game" and finally cross it off my life's goal list. But we did not get 100 players.... we got thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and then millions. Over the past 20 years over 200 million accounts have been created for the original AdventureQuest which is still updated every single week to this day. We grew an amazing team of creative people and made and continue to update a lot of other games too. You can see the things we are up to at www.Artix.com.

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Weekly updates? Now THAT’S a quest

 

-You burst onto the homebrew scene with Dungeons & DoomKnights, but in truth you’re a veteran in gaming with popular franchises such as Adventure Quest and DragonFable, among others, under your belt. How would you describe your aesthetic?

My grandfather always says, "Don't take life too seriously, no one gets out of it alive." Our games are an anything goes casserole of the dark, fun, and funny.

 

-Have you noticed any changes in your style or game development preferences over the years?

Absolutely! Our path of game development has grown from 2D Flash games to 3D cross-play Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games, to a new game for the 1985 NES. A straight line of upward technological progress.

 

-In your opinion, what makes Artix’s various games so popular? What makes for engaging stories and designs?

"Marketing! Get ready for AdventureQuest the Flamethrower. The Kids will love it!"

Our most popular games are updated weekly with new monsters, weapons, stories, and features. It is like releasing a free DLC every week... for each game. We would do this for Dungeons & DoomKnights too, but we are having a hard time getting everyone's NES console to connect to the internet.

 

-The “Dungeons & DoomKnights” name evokes that classic Dungeons & Dragons fantasy feel, not to mention the shared “D&D” abbreviation. Do you participate in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns? What about the genre resonates so strongly with you?

One of our backers officially coined it "D&DK". And... somewhat surprisingly, there are only two DoomKnights in Dungeons and DoomKnights. Which is at the heart of the game's somewhat tragic story.

I love classic tabletop role playing games. Most people do not know I am an avid collector of old school Dungeons & Dragons and Battletech games, books, and magazines. We were just joking around when we came up with the name for this game. It also sounded better than DoomKnighTech.

The fantasy genre offers complete freedom. You can encounter chickencows, dragons, find a crashed spaceship, and then raid a vampire infested castle. It is extremely freeing.

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And I thought chicken fried steak was confusing enough already

 

-What tools do you use to create?

Dungeons and DoomKnights is a "Zeldavania" built on NESMaker 4.1.5 with an insane amount of custom 6502 Assembly language code. Also used Shiru's Screen tool a lot.

Our artist, Clarion, got us all hooked on using Asesprite for pixel art. We keep one GIANT master file with literally all the pixel art in the game in it-- then copy/pasta individual pieces out into the sprite sheets. We also love Pyxel for doing background tile sets and paths. Photoshop was used for everything else.

Jongaar & Broomtool did all 20 of the game's chiptune songs in FamiTracker. Not sure what they used to do the heavy metal remixes.

We have two discord servers. One is for backers where we release new ROMs for testing. The people there are AMAZING! We also have a discord server for the team. We meet there and work together in voice chat, sharing our screens, and rapidly hurling spiel art and code fragments back and forth at each other. Sorta like a 6502 ASM food fight.

 

-Artix’s games are generally designed for more modern platforms, what inspired you to develop a game for the NES?

A few years ago I was going through a real rough patch. Not making excuses but running a studio doing non-stop releases for as long as we do can really run you down. I was looking for something to re-spark my passion for video games. Went on a walk with a stick in the woods. Thought, "You know, I have my old Nintendo in storage... I should pull it out and raise my children 'classically'!"

As my kids were playing Kid Icarus, Simon's Quest, and Karnov I started wondering, "How did they even make these things?" I found the movie "The New 8-Bit Heroes" on Amazon Prime. It was a documentary about Joe Granato and his quest to build his childhood dream game. A little Google-fu revealed that 1) He lived just an hour away from me; and 2) He was working on a toolset for NES devs called NESmaker. So I purchased the software and entered his first ever "Byte-Off Challenge" which was a 1-month challenge to build an NES game.

That first version of NESmaker was pretty rough, and I was BLOWN AWAY by how friendly and inviting the members of their community were. It took me right back to those early days of the internet.  Everyone on their forums went out of their way to help each other. People like Dale Coop, Kasumi, CutterCross, Chronicler of Legends, and countless others.  I had found my happy place. Never would have bet, that at this stage of life, I would be learning 6502 Assembly XD. Or enjoying it so much.

My submission to that first Byte-Off was "Artix: Knight of the Living Dead". I had so much fun making it! Maybe too much. April 1st was coming, and every year we do jokes across our games. This year I made a post saying that "The next major game in the AdventureQuest series is coming... exclusively for the 1985 NES!" Everyone laughed. Until they clicked the link and saw it was real. We had launched a Kickstarter for Dungeons And DoomKnights: An 8-Bit AdventureQuest.

 

-If I’m not mistaken, Dungeons & DoomKnights was the first project from the NESmaker community brought to Kickstarter (aside from Mystic Searches). Did you feel any pressure being first out of the gate, helping introduce the community to a wider audience?

Oh yes... I jumped the gun. (and probably a few sharks)

Originally, Dungeons and DoomKnights was not intended to be a big project. We did not expect many backers. Just enough to do a small run of physical carts-- which would make it a fun and memorable project. The game itself was expected to be an expanded version of my Byte-Off submission with all the bugs fixed.

BUT......

Once the Homebrew community caught word of this, I came under heavy fire. Not just from them, even Joe Granato was mad at me. I had really jumped the gun. What I was doing had the potential of setting a super bad precedent and ushering in an age of NES shovelware. It was at that moment, I realized this was not just going to be an expanded version of my Byte-Off submission... it had to be the best game I have ever made. And from that moment on, that is what I was creating.

So if anyone wondered why my 2-month game project turned into 2+ years.... now you know. Once you play Dungeons and DoomKnights, you will instantly see the heart, love, and dedication put into it.

 

-Tell me about your creative process while working on Dungeons & DoomKnights?

For the past two years, I do my normal work in the days, have supper with the family, and then at 9:30pm (after the kids are Zzzzz) I work with Clarion on Dungeons and DoomKnights until ~1am. On weekends, if my mother takes the kids, I get two full days to focus on it.

The team has a Discord server. We join voice chat at night and share our screens while we work. We spend most of our time flinging files back and forth at each other. Dale Coop is in France, so as the testers encounter bugs and I have "great new ideas that are 100% certain not to break the game! (™)" I post them. It always shocks me when I wake up in the morning and he already fixed or added the feature.

The team has grown so much during this project. Clarion's art is my favorite part. We come up with monster ideas.... then I will do a really terrible stick figure that occupies the correct space of the sprite sheet. Then Clarion uses art wizard magic to make it look amazing. We jammed all of the monsters, NPCs, and weird things into that game that we could.

 

-Ever since my first episode, artist M-Tee planted this idea in my mind that a game’s protagonist serves as the player's point of immersion in the game, informing how we understand the game's world. I also believe that the protagonist’s design serves as a reflection of its designer. What was the intention behind Artix’s design? Do you see yourself in him?

Every single one of our previous games allows you to create a custom character, choose your name, and how you look. But there was no publicly accessible internet in 1985 and the NES could not connect to it even if there was. So, in Dungeons and DoomKnights, you are playing an alternate history where you (the hero from our other games) never existed. You play as Artix, a young "paladin" seeking to avenge the people of your town from the DoomKnight and his evil forces the undead. Along the way you meet popular characters, monsters, and locations from the AdventureQuest games.

And haha, yes...  I have played Artix as my character in every game I have ever played since the 5th grade. Even wrote Artix as my middle name on my High School Diploma o_O. I really like the character. He represents everything I aspire to be.

 

-There are several photos of you in a full suit of armor (along with the Power Glove), where did you acquire it?

Oh. I live in a sorta castle-looking place. There is armor and swords all over the place here. If you are ever in Tampa, FL let me know so we can have you over for dinner.

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It’ll be Medieval Times, the HOME VERSION. Wait, do I have to fight for my meal?

 

-Given the wider, interconnected AdventureQuest universe, are there any bits of story you want audiences to know that exist only in your head canon?

Gravelyn (pronounced Grave-Lynn) is the DoomKnight's daughter. She was raised in his flying undead castle. Being raised by zombies, ghosts, and ghouls, she probably does not realize she is actually.... alive. As a child of darkness, this path is the only one she has ever known. In Dungeons and DoomKnights she serves as your reluctant, yet seductive guide to dark powers through the game. But what there were literally 0 bytes of space left to communicate through text... is that her father truly loves her. Being a good dad sorta puts him at odds with his life's goal of conquering, eradicating the living, and annexing our world to the Plane of Darkness. It is entirely possible that some part of her father has been intentionally pushing for the "true ending" of the game to happen. Maybe he knew that out of her extreme desire for approval from him would cause her to create the circumstances that conclude the game-- any of them. That he might have done everything that happened in this game just to save her.

 

-How did you first connect with each member of the development team? What was the working dynamic like in your collaboration with them?

I am so grateful to have all of these creative people in my life. Here is the short version of how I met each of the team. I love these guys so much.

Clarion - Had previously worked with us on the MechQuest game. Had not talked to him in a really long time and he mentioned liking pixel art. Asked him to join me in the Byte-Off and we have been working together ever since.

Dale Coop - I had been reading Dale Coop's solutions, code tips, and comments on the NESmaker forum. Everyone went to him for help. He had become quite a celebrity there. During the 1st Byte-Off Competition I ran into a problem and messaged him. Next thing you know I had watched all three seasons of Twin Peaks and took David Lynch's class on Master Class (not joking.) We became good friends. Dale and his family flew here from France and stayed with my family for a week. We went to visit the NESmaker studio together. This project would have never been possible without him. His young son created the Kubo series of game. My kids love Kubo 3. You should check it out if you have not already. Keep your eye on that boy... he is really something and if there was a stock on him, I would be all-in investing in it.

Ultimate Gilby - We were both members of the NESmaker community and somehow realized we only lived a half-hour away from each other. He came to the Secret Underground Lab (our office in Tampa... which does not actually have basements. Nothing has basements in Florida. It is all sand down there). For a D&DK live stream for backers. We became instant friends. He has been working on his upcoming NES project, Hazard.

Jongaar - I was at a restaurant having sushi with my wife. Bitcoin was surging at the time. I was looking at it on my phone. This fella with long blonde hair was sitting next to his girlfriend. He looked over and said, "Oh, you too?" and showed me his phone which had the same app open. I told him I did not know much about crypto currency yet. The Secret Underground Lab was located in the same plaza. So we all went to my office and he gave me a 3 hour long master class, setting me up to trade crypto. Then, he quit his job and joined Artix Entertainment full time as our Music and sound FX guy. When I told him I was doing an NES game and asked if he wanted to try, he said "HELL YEAH!"

Broomtool - Broomtool is Jongaar's longtime friend. He had been helping on the heavy metal mixes of the Dungeons and DoomKnights Soundtrack, and also working on the music for some of our other games. He is a super talented musician and joined us just in the last year.

Pixel Pete - In the early days of D&DK development, Pixel Pete did a lot of our background art. Many years ago, he had visited our lab while he was still a student. Later, he became a programmer on AdventureQuest 3D. He was a great guy to work with and we still keep in touch. He worked on D&DK while transitioning out to work on his personal dream project.

Dioz - Comic book cover artist with a long history of collaborations with Artix Entertainment, Dioz created Dungeons and DoomKnights cover.

Dage - Dage is a fan favorite artist of Artix Entertainment. We noticed his work from some of our art contests. We flew him to Florida and hired him on the spot. Despite his already massive workload, he has played an important role in keeping Dungeons and DoomKnights.... Dark.

FJ - Winner "Best Game" at the last Byte-Off, FJ is well known in the NESmaker community. His Pixel art is out of this world. He helped take our games art to the next level. It is probably bad form to talk about this publicly... but Clarion and FJ have an unspoken rivalry going. I think they keep pushing each other to new heights. Sorta like when Goku and Vegeta spar in DragonBall.

J6 - In the credits, J6 is listed as Executive Producer. We have no idea why. He said he wanted that title because ii means nothing X_X. I have been working with J6 for about 17 years. He has drawn art for nearly all of the Artix Entertainment games. Check out the wicked map he made in Dungeon and DoomKnight's instruction manual.

Stryche - We have an online store called HeroMart.com -- Stryche is in charge of it. He does the order fulfillment, creates new products, and puts things together for conventions. I first met him at Martial Arts. He was just a little kid at the time. When he became an adult, he was brought to the Lab by a mutual friend. We have around 47 full time employees at this time. Nearly a month later, I noticed he was working in the HeroMart room every day with orders. I asked our Controller, "Did we hire Stryche?" He replied, "No." We hired him. Next thing we knew Stryche was running the place. He is looking forward to assembling and shipping everyone their physical carts.

Glisel - As our coordinator, Glisel makes sure I am working on the things I am supposed to be working on. During the day, she is best described as a disembodied voice that haunts my home-office. When my children enter my home-office, at any time, they say "Hi Glisel!" ... even if Glisel is not online. Even know as I type this, you can hear her, "Artix, hurry up. You have a meeting in 10 minutes." #GhostsAreReal

 

-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing Dungeons & DoomKnights? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Challenges? Oh yes. O_O

Oh yes..........

I had been working 16+ hour days with no end of the project in sight. My other projects had fallen behind. We stumbled on what appeared to be unsolvable bug after unsolvable bug. The backers were getting restless. I had health problems. My grandmother passed away. Then I lost my father.

So if anyone reading this should find themselves in the horrors of "Project Hell" and everything feels like it is falling apart... here is a list of what I did to take Dungeons and DoomKnights it to the finish line:

        Write your goals down on a piece of paper every day
Seriously.

        Be brutally honest with your backers.
Be 100% transparent. It is OK to be cheery and optimistic, but always give it to them straight. They are a part of your project. They want to be aware of the bad times. And they want to be there with you when you push through and ultimately succeed. Because that will be their win too.

        Create a Habit
I used to try to create everything in a burst. But it is better to create the habit of making progress every day. For BIG projects, persistence wins out.

        See yourself finishing it in your head
I know it sounds cliche, but literally if you can see it, you can achieve it. I always need to see it done in my head before I do something (that I am actually going to finish.)

        MicroSprints
When the going really gets tough, try chopping your giant project into super tiny pieces. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

        Wear the Clothes you wore when you were last successful
Weird human hack. If you put on clothes that you associate wearing when you are doing something important, or super good-- it changes the way you feel and can make a huge improvement in your work.

        Just do ONE next thing
Some days were so tough... that the only way I could get myself to do ANYTHING, was just to force myself to do one, super trivial, super simple thing. Then I would find I would just do the next thing, and the next thing, and before I knew it, I was back on a roll.

        Start with a draft, make it work, then polish
At the start, I tried to make every screen perfect before moving onto the next. A far better strategy is to make a draft. Then make rapid edits to the draft. Get it working. Then go back and do a super round of polish to make it shine at the end.

        Reading instead of TV at night
I find that when I read at night, instead of watching TV, my mind is better rested, and I am more productive the next day.

        Reduce Coffee, Increase Water
I tend to constantly increase the amount of coffee I drink.... Thinking that more = better. Turns out, water makes the coffee work better. Reducing the coffee to 3 cups a day and adding lots of good water = more mental boost.

        Hire a Coach
At the deepest pit of my project hell, I hired a time Management Coach to help me get my schedule in order. Feels weird to say I needed help, but at that time I sure did. Of course, there are books out there that can do the same thing or finding an equally passionate peer who is working hard on their project can help motivate and drive you too.

        Make unmovable deadlines
For a big project that you have 100% control over, one of the BEST ways to push it hard to the finish line, is to have hard deadlines that you cannot move. Sorta like when that book report is due Friday, and it is Thursday night XD.


-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, NES or otherwise? Any dream projects?

We have new releases for all of our major games every week.

After the physical Dungeons and DoomKnights are shipped to backers, I would like to make a 3DSen version, and wrap it in an executable that we can publish on Steam.

This year's big project is a Mobile & Steam port of our most popular game, AdventureQuest Worlds (www.AQ.com). We have been working like crazy on this project.

Also in the background, we have been semi-secretly working with a company that builds robotic prosthetic limbs for children. We are building a little interactive game to help teach how to use the arms.

Please do check out the new stuff we are doing at www.Artix.com

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

I am really hoping Dimension Shift gets finished. It has the most beautiful art. I am really looking forward to playing all of the game demo's being released in the NESmaker community next month. They are going to be showcasing a ton of games at the Midwest Gaming Classic. I know FJ is working on something special for the show.

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Screenshot from Dimension Shift

 

-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

Thank you so much! I hope there is something of value here for everyone reading this. I am going to attend the Midwest Gaming Classic convention this November. I think there are going to be some NESmaker events. So if you or anyone reading this is going to be there, would love to meet! Drop me a message at any of the social media accounts below.

BATTLE ON!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ArtixKrieger

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/artixkrieger

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/artix/

Itch.io: https://artixgames.itch.io

Discord: https://www.artix.com/Discord

Website: https://www.Artix.com

 

 

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Dale Coop

@Dale_Coop

-Before we dive into Dungeons & DoomKnights, let’s catch up! How have you been since we talked about Kubo 3? How’s Seiji?

Seiji and I are doing very well, thank you. I hope you and the readers are too. Seiji is now 9 years old, growing up and is quite busy with school and hobbies.
 

-Between the work you do on yours and others’ games, and Seiji’s work, is there a friendly father-son rivalry between you two?

Haha... no, not really.

Seiji and I are not really in competition. He creates worlds, characters, stories and uses the tools at his disposal for that. Me, I'm more in the shadow, I code what creators like Seiji need (in order to use in NESmaker)... It's more of a complementary job.

I'm happy and very proud that Seiji can go ahead with his projects and realize his ideas. I don't know what he will do in the future. I don't push him, we continue to work together sometimes when he asks, when he has ideas. But he has many other interests.

The rest of the time, I work on other projects.

 

-At one point during Kevin Hanley’s NES Spectrum Marathon, we were talking in the chat, and you mentioned that at one point, you were working on 5 different games at once! Can you tell us more about what you’re working on? How do you juggle so many projects at once?

Exactly, until a few days ago, I had 5 projects in progress on which I was working...

First of all, there is "ZDey the Game" by Art'Cade, a nice little project for the street artist Tim Zdey who wanted a simple NES game, short, scoring, very arcade... for the ZDey arcade cabinet (made by Art’cade). This is a commission. The project started in 2019, there were a few months of sleep. But we finished the game recently. The official release took place a few days ago at an event organized in Paris. The arcade cabinet is beautiful and seeing my game running on it is a great pride.

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Screenshot from Zdey by Art’cade

Since last year, I'm also working on "REKNUM Souls Adventure" from Nape Games, a small adventure platformer. Having been called on the previous project, PLOID, as a consultant coder, I naturally joined this new project to manage all the code this time. We have finished the game and are currently in the beta phase.

A project I'm also helping out is my friend Raftronaut's (Jordan Davis) project: "Arcade Raft". It's the arcade version of his famous game “Space Raft” released last year. Jordan is a very close friend and I'm happy to code anything he wants for his project(s). He also helps me with the musical part of my personal projects.

Oh! Of course (as I said before), I continue to work with Seiji. At the moment, we are finishing KUBO 1 & 2, a small cartridge which would gather his first 2 demos. It's a very small project, but Seiji wanted to make some small changes (or rather additions). It takes time because with Seiji, we work only a couple of hours per month. I can announce that it's finished, we just have to finalize the packaging (and manual) and then see what we can do with our friend Broke Studio (probably a very small print! for the fans).

On my side, I have one or two personal projects that I'm not really working on, due to lack of time or motivation... haha. But one day, maybe.

And finally, "Dungeons & Doomknights" from Artix Entertainment on which I've been working for 2 years, it's a "Zeldavania" game in the AdventureQuest universe, Adam Bohn (aka Artix) proposed me to join his team in this wonderful project, as main coder. And after some delays (Covid,...) the game is now finished and should be released in a few days. Can’t wait, it’s really an amazing project.

5 projects, it may seem like a lot, but they are long term projects. I work alternatively on each of them, depending on the feedback I receive or new ideas. Sometimes the priorities change. I am lucky that these projects take their time and have the people I work with are really kind. I could not have worked on projects with a pressure, or a release date too close, ...

Moreover, I don't work for money or fame, I accept projects that inspire me, passionate people and with whom I connect well. All the people I worked with have become very good friends.

And... I give little help, from time to time, on projects when I'm asked (recent example, some graphic glitch corrections on "Plummet Challenge Game" from Fista Productions).
 

-You’ve become an authority figure in the NESmaker community for your skills and advice. How does it feel to be looked up to by so many homebrewers?

It makes me happy, of course. I am flattered. But that is not my motivation. When I started developing in Assembly, I knew nothing about it. I discovered NESmaker and started like everyone else by following the tutorials and asking for help on the forum. I learned a lot from the community. After a while, I started to answer questions, in my turn and gave back the advice that I was given... and more. It's normal and I'm very happy to help if/when I can.

This "recognition" allowed me to meet interesting people, passion projects, ... And still today, people come to talk to me thanks to this, I am flattered and so grateful.

Often, I feel the impostor syndrome and am afraid of the day when the world will realize that I don't deserve all this. Because, honestly, I don't think I do such a good job. Haha...

The NESmaker community is growing every day, we now have many talented coders, much more skilled than me. Many of them share and help. I am happy. It's a very nice community.

 

-Do you have a different approach/attitude toward the games you work on for yourself compared to those for which you are commissioned? Is the experience of developing them different?

Not really. Whether it's a project I've been commissioned for or a more personal project, in both cases I spend a lot of time coding, fixing bugs and trying to implement new features useful to the project.

But, it's true that for a personal project, I'm more tempted to test more risky code ideas and try experimenting... and when it works well, with some hindsight, I can more easily propose and reuse it on other projects.

For example, on one of my personal projects, I had the idea of not using the NESmaker screen editor for designing my cutscenes and instead creating the screens in the NES Screen Tool (made by Shiru… I love that tool). Then, I would import those data into my project with some custom routines. This allowed me to overcome some of the limitations of NESmaker (the number and size of tiles available). I then reused that code in ZDey and in Dungeons & Doomknights.

 

-What was the working dynamic like with the rest of the development team?

It was a great pleasure (and an honor) to work with these talented people. Artix managed all the tasks, the progress and who had to do what. We have a server Discord where we chat every day... it keeps us on track and informed of everyone's progress.

Generally, I was given a list of tasks to code (implement, modify or correct).

I live in France, not in the same time zone than the other team members. We try to meet on the Discord. But usually when they log in to work, my day is over and I go to bed... and when I log in to work, everyone is already in bed. Haha… some days we sync’d our working time.

A very memorable moment, for me, last year, I went to Florida, I was welcomed by Artix. He has become a very close friend. He showed me around his area, his world and we got to work a little bit on DnDK together, irl. It was in February 2020, only a few days before the world situation we all know! (the Covid pandemic … for all the people from 2046 who are reading that interview)

 

-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in programming Dungeons & DoomKnights? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

We had many little challenges and surprises... Artix will surely tell some of them. On my side, the biggest challenge was to set up the save system, at the beginning of the project. Indeed, by default the games created with NESmaker do not offer a way to save your progress. Thanks to the forum, Kasumi and FrankenGraphics gave me all the help I needed to implement this in Dungeons & Doomknights. I also implemented a small selection system for it.

The save system can't really be generalized (that's why it's not proposed in NESmaker, I guess) because the information to save is project-specific. Of course there are some general information like the position in the map or in the screen or maybe the number of lives... but depending on the project, some people use and want to save the number of HP, coins, ammo, hp, character level, skills, ... all this depends on the features used/implemented in the project. The variables to save are quite different from one project to another.

Another concern we had was the limitation of the number of monsters. In NESmaker, we can only have 64 monsters (including NPCs)... this is a limitation of the software. But in a game like Dungeons & Doomknights, this is not enough. So Artix had to idea we could implement a system of "skins" (different tilesets for different screens), so that the same NPC object could be reused many times and look different each time. That one of the kind of things we had… I won't even mention all the little bugs we had that kept us busy for days. Working with Artix was a pleasure, he is a coder too, but above all he has the experience of managing a dev team on a game. That helps a lot.

Often, it was Artix himself who came up with ideas for features, or workarounds,...

In the end, discussing and finding compromises is what allowed us to move forward.

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I mean, it seems like you all figured it out pretty well

 

-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon? Any dream projects?

Most of my current projects have just ended or will end in a few days. So I'm entering in a quieter period... good for reflection or experimentations on my personal projects.

I remain open to any request for collaboration or commission on small personal or artistic projects.

I don't really have a dream project, I'm already working on projects that I like.

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

I can't wait to have a copy of Alwa's Awakening in my hands. This game is beautiful (I played a bit with the demo). Brad Smith and Elden Pixels did an amazing job.

There is also Full Quiet from Retrotainment Games that I am looking forward to.

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Screenshot of Alwa’s Awakening by Elden Pixels

 

-Your signature on each forum belong to includes a quote that all you need is a “damn fine cup of coffee.” What makes a damn fine cup of coffee for you? Any companies you like in particular? How do you take your coffee?

Haha, yes, coffee is my work companion. I always have a cup of coffee with me, all day long.

I take my coffee black, no sugar and hot. I don't like it too strong. I don't have a particular brand. I like to discover coffee from all over the world. I really liked coffee when I was in the USA (it was the first time for me and my family). I'm pretty used to the coffee that we have here in France.

 

-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

Thank you, Sean. It's a pleasure to answer your questions.

Everyone run out and get your NES cartridge of Dungeons & Doomknights! And more seriously, keep supporting the NES homebrew scene, its creators, the artists. It's wonderful.

Thanks to all of you.

 

 

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Clarion

@Clarion_AE

-Before we dive into Dungeons & DoomKnights, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a pixel artist? What is the origin story of Clarion?

As a child I grew up playing the consoles that were passed down to me so I kind of got a chronological introduction to video games, at least starting with the NES. I started to draw characters in MS Paint and actually had a background in the Sonic fan community for most of my youth making custom Sonic sprites.

 

-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

For as long as I can remember, I had always looked up to Adam (Artix) so it’s really been a lifelong dream of mine to be able to work with Artix Entertainment. As for who I’m watching now? There are a few creators that I follow pretty closely. Paul Robertson, Toby Fox, Yacht Club Games, Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya and Joakim “Konjak” Sandberg to name a few.

 

-Do you feel your artwork has a signature aesthetic that is uniquely you? How would you describe the feel of your work?

If I were to describe my aesthetic it would be a cross between Mega Man and Scott Pilgrim vs the World. I really like cute things but... COOL cute things. I'm often told I make things too cute looking.

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Even if it makes you think about death and feel sad and stuff

 

-In your opinion, what makes good pixel art and game animation stand out?

I think style and colour go a long way and can make up for shortcomings easily. I'm a sucker for really nice colour combinations.

 

-What tools do you use to create?

For most of my life I've used MS Paint but years back I had switched to Aseprite as far as pixel art goes. However I'm also versed in Adobe Flash, Photoshop, Procreate and Clip Studio Paint.

 

-Do you have a preference for creating a particular platform? Does your process differ when working within a different set of limitations?

I don't really have a preference for creating on a particular platform, Genuinely I just enjoy making things. The process of making pixel art for a NES game did bring up limitations though, mostly with planning for size and colour restrictions.

 

-Tell me about your creative process while working on Dungeons & DoomKnights? How did you transform the concept art from the page to the screen for this game? How do you maintain the important details of that art given the limitations of coding for a decades-old gaming console like the NES?

This might be a little unorthodox, but I didn't really do much concept art on paper for this project I kind of doodled around until I got what I was looking for. For maintaining details you really just need to make sure you make the core features of a character pop, even if you have to over exaggerate them a bit.

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Nothing wrong with doodling

 

-What was the working dynamic like with the rest of the development team?

We're all friends so it was pretty great, everyone gets along pretty well and knowing we were working together on this project formed a really great comradery.

 

-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing Dungeons & DoomKnights? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

When things are daunting you kind of have to just do it. It can be intimidating staring at a blank page but the moment you start getting the ball rolling things get easier.

 

-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, NES or otherwise? Any dream projects?

Currently I'm working on Adventure Quest 3D, which is our cross-platform MMORPG playable on PC and Mobile Devices and picking away at a personal project on the side which might count as a dream project.

 

-Your Twitter feed includes some fun creations using licensed characters like the Power Rangers, Master Chief, and even Garfield. If you could be commissioned to work on a licensed game, what IP would you want it to be?

This might sound strange but I've not really thought too much about working on many different IPs. I've always preferred the idea of making my own stuff but if I had to pick something I think it would be Shovel Knight.

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

There's two projects I could think of off the top of my head that I'm looking forward to giving a shot. Firstly would be Chaos Between Realms by FJ, and HAZARD: Let us Out by UltimateGilby.

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Screenshot from Chaos Between Realms 2020 Byte-Off Demo by FJ

 

-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

I'd genuinely just like to thank you for giving me a platform to talk about Dungeons & DoomKnights and for everyone taking the time to read this. Thank you so very much!

 

 

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Jongaar

@Jongaar_AE

-Before we talk about Dungeons & DoomKnights, I want to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to be a musician? What led you to compose music for games? What is the origin story of Jongaar?

Hello! Thanks for having me as a guest!
When I was younger, I picked up the guitar and really enjoyed figuring out how to play metal music. Eventually I discovered a genre of metal called folk metal and I fell in love with that sound. While learning how to write music in that style, I started scoring orchestral arrangements to accompany the guitar riffs I played. Fast forward a decade later and now I'm composing video game music with a lot of similarities to folk metal!

How I got started at Artix Entertainment is pretty unique. In 2017, I was at the sushi bar in my favorite restaurant, and I heard someone sitting next to me mention something about cryptocurrency. I just got into trading and found the whole concept pretty neat. I asked him “Are you into it too?” and we shared some laughs. We talked for a while and then he handed me his business card. The art on it looked so familiar... I put two and two together and realized he was the creator of games I once played as a kid. We ended up hanging out after dinner and from there, our friendship began.

 A few months later I had a random idea; I sent a text message to Artix and asked him if there was an official “AQ3D theme song” for a fun project I had in mind. He sent me an orchestral track which I ended up adding guitars, bass, and drums to, turning it into a “metal” song. Artix loved it! He extended the opportunity to have a go at composing music for one of his games, AdventureQuest 3D, and thus the creation of my alias Jongaar!
 

-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

There are a lot of composers that I think really permeated into my writing style -Jari Mäenpää, Henri Sorvali, Jeremy Seoule, and Grant Kirkhope just to name a few!

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Jari Mäenpää, or quite possibly Jongaar after he shaves
 

-Do you feel that your music has any qualities that are quintessentially you? How would you describe your aesthetic? 

When I write music, I find myself using a lot of guitar-like phrasing to pull the listener through different parts of a song. I enjoy writing a few themes per track and then doing what I can to make them shine, favoring a horizontal style of composition. This approach helped immensely when writing for the NES.
 

-You’re an outspoken lover of folk metal, what about that genre resonates so strongly with you? 

Hahaha yes! I really enjoy folk metal because it's so thematic and exciting. It often tells the tales of heroes, epic journeys, or otherworldly adventures through folkish instruments and lyrics paired with metal music. I love the energy.

-In your opinion, what makes for compelling video game music?

Hmm... in my opinion… anything with a hook that has a purpose. Whether it is trying to represent a desert with music, or an ice capped mountain, if it's “stuck in your head” I enjoy it.
 

-What tools do you use to compose, generally as well as for games?

For most of the music I write as well as sound effects, I use Reaper. Dungeons DoomKnights was a little different as I had to use FamiTracker.

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Providing yet another good reason people should not fear The Reaper
 

-Tell me about the development of Dungeons & DoomKnights’ music, what is your composition process? Is the creative process different compared to when you compose more traditional music?

The developmental process was a journey - there were a lot of late nights Artix and I spent together implementing changes and tweaks to our audio files to get them to work properly. Some nights were wins where we celebrated, other nights were the opposite... Still we continued! 

It was always exciting whenever Clarion would have a new set of sprites to get inspiration from, his pixel artwork influenced the music so much. I owe a huge thanks to CutterCross, a pinnacle of help and information for the NESmaker community, for their aid while wading through the waters of NESmaker and FamiTracker. Halfway through the developmental process we added another member to the audio team, Broomtool. Broomtool has been a tremendous help - he scored several tracks and sound effects as well as handled a majority of the audio engineering and made the audio fit on the ROM. We have worked together for several years but bringing him on board to the D&DK team really brought the audio to the next level. Thanks, Broomtool!

In regard to my creative process while composing traditional tracks and chiptunes, they are pretty similar, I write some melodies and stack them up with accompanying parts. I had to be really mindful of the rhythms when writing in FamiTracker to make the tracks loop correctly.
 

-Your work with Artix Entertainment spans a wide assortment of platforms for its games. How does your approach to composition compare between the NES and composing for modern platforms with different restrictions? 

The biggest difference would definitely be the limitations the NES has when it comes to what sounds you can produce and how many. Modern composing is nearly limitless, you can have hundreds of tracks while with the NES you're limited to just a few.


-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in your work on Dungeons & DoomKnights? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

I never expected that the first track I would write for the game would take up so much space. I quickly realized how important it is to use as little memory as possible. Some tips I can give are to keep things simple. If you’re stuck writing, work on your percussion, once it’s laid out the track is a lot easier to see. Cutting out notes in busy sections saves memory and can make interesting harmonies.

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit out of the loop for homebrew games currently in development, but I've seen a few shared within some discord channels that look awesome! When I have some more time to play I'd love to check some of them out!
 

-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

Thank you for inviting me to this interview! I had a great time sharing some stories!

Oh yeah, one more thing! Check out our remixed version of our soundtrack if you’d like to hear the Dungeons & DoomKnights chiptunes arranged as metal tracks. Broomtool and I shared a lot of fun nights recording and putting together that album and would love for you to give it a listen! Look out for the remixes on music streaming platforms when Dungeons and DoomKnights is released. Thanks again!
- Jongaar

 

Conclusion:

Thanks for tuning in to this latest episode of the series whose quest is to fetch the behind-the-scenes info that led to your favorite new homebrew games. What are your thoughts on Dungeons & DoomKnights its talented development team? Have you played any of the other AdventureQuest games? What homebrews are you eagerly looking forward to? Perhaps you’ll see it here soon when…A Homebrew Draws Near! Command?

 

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