Silpheed Stress Test – Part 1

Silpheed CoverSilpheed
Sega CD, 1993
Developer: Game Arts
Publisher: Sega

In my recent Time Gal writeup, I posted a link to the official throne room of Subspace Briefcase. I expected it would engender a few laughs. What I did not think it would engender, though, was a challenge. Mere moments after my Time Gal post went live, I received the following message from some shadowy ne’er-do-well:

challenge

Apparently this reader (1) really likes looking at pictures of bathrooms, or (2) has some reservations about my game playing acumen. Sir, in case you haven’t noticed, this is a VIDEO GAME site. To challenge my ability to conquer a mere VIDEO GAME is to challenge my ability put food in my lizard’s mouth. Griselda and I will not suffer this lightly, and I DEMAND SATISFACTION – which I will obtain by absolutely demolishing Silpheed in mere minutes.

Silpheed (Sega CD) - Introduction Screenshot 2015-05-27 20-37-43

Silpheed was one of 25 random Sega CD games I purchased on eBay for $30, and subsequently neglected to play for weeks on end. You can read the last post for all the exciting details on that transaction. All that aside, I was not unaware of Silpheed prior to having my shooter skills besmirched. It’s well-known for having the finest “polygonal” graphics on the Sega CD. Just take a look at this intro:

“Good God,” you say, “that could almost pass for a PSX game. How did they do that?” Well, the truth is, they didn’t. While the player’s ship and enemy combatants are nothing but polygonal goodness, the backgrounds are actually video footage. Video footage deceptively rendered to look like polygons rendered in rendered in real-time, but video footage nonetheless.

So, Silpheed is a technical achievement, yeah. I heartily recommend that you read all about it here. But I’m not here to praise it. I’m here to crush it. Probably doesn’t matter that I suck at shooters. Probably doesn’t matter that I don’t have my teenage reflexes anymore. How tough could this possibly be? Bring on Stage 1!

Nailed it on the first try! Sure, took a few hits, but the shields stayed intact. Kill me to death. HA. Barely made a scratch!

My reward for besting the first stage? A brief cutscene wherein I am told that I’m out to stop some fat guy in a dirty trenchcoat and a cut rate Geordi LaForge visor who has “networked jacked” the computer which controls the….

Silpheed (Sega CD) Clip 2 Screenshot 2015-05-28 20-27-07
Max Headroom has really let himself go. Go EVIL, that is.

SNORE. I need no reasons. I AM DEATH INCARNATE. STAGE 2. GO.

Silpheed (Sega CD) Screenshot 2015-05-28 20-36-30

Oh hey, wait, a weapon select. Looks like I’ve got some choices here. Choices which I WILL NOT BE TAKING. I shoot forward and no other way. It’s the code of the space cowboy.

Hey, as far as “asteroid field” levels go, that one was pretty intense – and pretty good looking. Damned if it wasn’t visually confusing, though. It was nigh-impossible to tell which asteroids were in the foreground, and actually capable of damaging my ship. Thankfully, I had all that beautiful digitized speech to direct me in the right way. Also, please note that the boss actually ran away. Some might take my failure to destroy it as a sign of weakness; I choose to take it as the game recognizing my skill. YAWN. STAGE 3.

Well come on. If you aren’t going to refill my shields, how am I supposed to beat the level on the first try? That’s just cheap. Stupid cheap game. And where were those chatterbox buddies of mine this level? In Stage 2, it was “watch out for that giant asteroid on your left.” Now all they have for me is “there’s too many?” If there’s too many, why don’t you get off your radio and help me out, chump? BOGUS.

Silpheed (Sega CD) - Stage 3 Gameplay Screenshot 2015-05-28 21-05-39

Hey, at least I took down 0002 masses over 400001 pounds before I went out. Okay, Silpheed. You may have killed me, but you haven’t killed me to death. I will be back. Probably next Thursday.


Played on original hardware, upscaled to 720p through a Micomsoft Framemeister. All footage and screens captured through an ElGato HD60.

Time Gal

Time Gal Footage Screenshot 2015-05-13 19-14-26Time Gal
Sega CD, 1993
Developer: Taito/Wolf Team
Publisher: Taito

Some time ago, I purchased a box of 25 unidentified Sega CD games from a seller on eBay. The games were in questionable condition, but the price was right ($30 for the whole bunch), and I was eager to put my recently acquired Sega CDX to the test, so I took the plunge. Most of those games turned out to be terrible early ’90s FMV games, which sat on my shelf, unplayed, for months.

Fast forward about a year, and I’m looking for a game to play so I can get some practice slapping our shiny new logo (courtesy of my brother, the very talented Dave White) on some video captures. In an attempt to justify the amount of shelf space dedicated to Sega CD games in my throne room, I randomly chose Time Gal as my test case. I’m glad I did – this game is worth far more than the $0.83 I paid for it.

Time Gal is an arcade port of a Japanese laserdisc game from 1985 – think of it as the Japanese equivalent of Dragon’s LairFor the uninitiated, that means that the game is ostensibly a collection of what we have come to know as “quick time events:” the player watches a series of animated sequences (not unlike a cartoon), directing the protagonist through occasional button prompts. Failure to properly respond to said button prompts results in failure. That’s it and that’s all – there’s no direct control of your character. If this doesn’t make any sense to you, I suggest watching the videos at the end of this post; it will all become clear very quickly.

Time Gal - 1941 A.D. Screenshot 2015-05-13 19-27-18
Apparently her real name is “Reika Kirishima,” but you wouldn’t know that from playing the game alone.

In Time Gal, you control… uh…Time Gal, a time traveler from the 41st century, who is out to save the universe from this guy –

Time Gal Footage Screenshot 2015-05-13 21-17-22
His name is Luda. 99% of your interaction with him will be via this screen.

– who has apparently stolen a time machine in an ill-defined scheme to alter history and seize control of the universe. The plot isn’t really important – it’s a convenient excuse to send the player on a tour of recorded (and unrecorded) time’s most adventurous eras.

You’ll battle prehistoric sea monsters!

Time Gal Footage Screenshot 2015-05-13 19-13-46

You’ll battle both man and beast in the Roman Coliseum!

Time Gal Footage Screenshot 2015-05-14 20-44-58

You’ll fight your way through the giant skeleton invasion of 999!

Time Gal Footage Clip 6 Screenshot 2015-05-13 19-18-48

Hell, you’ll even square off against hover bike gangs in the apocalyptic future of 2001!

Time Gal Footage Screenshot 2015-05-13 21-26-45

Historical accuracy (or prognostication) isn’t Time Galstrong suit, but its levels are varied, colorful, and filled with action and humor. When a game amounts to little more than a series of timed button presses, setting is perhaps more important than ever, and Time Gal knocks it out of the park.

While the Sega CD version of Time Gal may seem primitive by today’s standards, it looks quite good for a “full motion video” game from 1993. Rather than simply compress the laserdisc video from the original arcade game, the developers opted to re-draw and re-color key frames, in an effort to make the game look as good as possible for the home CD ROM market. One need only compare the game’s introduction, which contains compressed footage from the original arcade game –

– to a video of the game in action:

While the gameplay loses some of the fluidity and detail of the compressed video, it’s far more vibrant and colorful. I’m fairly certain this approach kept load times down as well. Time Gal simply looks and plays better than other FMV games of its vintage.

There’s not much else I can say about Time Gal that hasn’t already been said. If you’d like to learn more about the game’s history and legacy, I would strongly suggest that you read Neil Foster’s excellent writeup over at Hardcore Gaming 101.

In closing, I offer you a playlist of all of the game’s stages, arranged chronologically, for your viewing pleasure – with most of my failures intact. Enjoy!


Played on original hardware, upscaled to 720p through a Micomsoft Framemeister. All footage and screens captured through an ElGato HD60.

Steep Slope Sliders

SteepSlopeSlidersCoverSteep Slope Sliders
Sega Saturn, 1997
Developer: Cave
Publishers: Sega/Victor

Note: This article in no way relates to the arcade version of Steep Slope Sliders for the Sega ST-V arcade system. If this in any way concerns you, consider yourself warned.

Commensurate with the mainstream acceptance of snowboarding as a legitimate sport, the “snowboarding game” really came into its own as a genre during the late ’90s. Sony’s Cool Boarders franchise saw the first of four annualized releases in the summer of 1996, and Nintendo released 1080° Snowboarding in early 1998. Numerous – otherpublishers threw their hats down the slopes as well. For my money, though, the best of the bunch was the Sega-published Steep Slope Sliders.

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-03 19-23-41

As the Saturn was well-into its protracted death throes in the Western market when SSS was released in late 1997, unless you’re a long-time Sega devotee, you’ve probably never heard of – let alone played – Steep Slope Sliders (which we will hereinafter refer to as “SSS“). But PLEASE trust me when I say that it is the best playing snowboarding game of its vintage. What SSS lacks in visual panache, it more than makes up for in pure playability. Offering fantastic controls and supreme replay value in place of graphical splendor, SSS remains a joy to play to this day.

At the heart of SSS‘ charm is its ease of access; the slopes may be steep, but the learning curve isn’t. Your boarder can perform three basic actions in SSS: jumping, flipping, and grabbing. Through the use of the Saturn’s shoulder buttons, you can spin clockwise or counter clockwise while performing any of those three basic tasks.

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-03 20-04-33
Surprisingly acrobatic for a man made of rectangles.

That’s it, and that’s all – there’s nothing else to learn. Got a hankering to try for that front flip 1080° indy nosebone you saw on last nights’ X Games? All you have to do is jump – if you get enough air, just lean on the shoulder button of your choosing, push ‘grab,’ and throw in a press of the ‘flip’ button when you’re good and ready. You’re only limited by your imagination and the game’s very permissive laws of gravity. This may not seem particularly revolutionary, but compared to the controls employed by SSS’ closest contemporaries, which relied on much more complex button inputs, it’s remarkably simple and intuitive.

Steep Slope Sliders! Clip 3 Screenshot 2015-05-05 19-41-10
Believe it or not, that sign says “Portland.” The dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland.

But let’s just get right out and say it: compared to its competition, SSS is not a pretty game. 3D graphics were never the Saturn’s strong suit, perhaps due to the fact that the system was designed to render quadrilaterals, as opposed to the triangular polygons rendered by the PlayStation and… well, every other system ever. While SSS runs very smoothly for a 3D game on the Saturn, it could be considered be some of the best empirical evidence for the age-old “Saturn couldn’t do 3D” argument. Just take a look at the beautiful cubed heads on display on the character select screen:

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-03 19-24-35
Sometimes, I like to pretend that sweater-square-head girl is in a relationship with rectangle-face-goggle dude. It adds flavor to the game.

Screenshots do not do SSS justice, though – the game looks MUCH better in motion. SSS keeps its courses varied and interesting, and maintains a consistent frame rate when it counts. Things move so quickly, you barely notice that you’re sliding through an avalanche of chunky bitmaps. Take a look:

Additionally, to add an extra bit of visual flair, SSS makes use of the Saturn’s internal clock to simulate real world time zones. Playing SSS on the East Coast of the US at 8 PM? If you select the Japan course, you’ll be sliding down the slopes at 9 AM. For the most part, this is a fantastic feature, effectively giving you four different versions of each of SSS’ seven main courses.

Unfortunately, this cuts both ways. There’s a reason people don’t snowboard on unlit mountains at 4:00 AM – it’s dark. Really dark. I defy you to tell me what you’re looking at here:

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-05 20-35-28
Hope you packed your thermal goggles. It’s so dark you can’t even read the text.

Unless you answered “a rocket buggy doing a back flip with a 720º twist,” you’re wrong. If you did answer “a rocket buggy doing a back flip with a 720º twist,” put down your Saturn controller and go apologize to your parents. SSS’ time progression feature, while innovative and fun, renders roughly one third of the game’s courses unplayable at any given time. Fortunately, if you’ve got a burning desire to run any particular course, time progression can be disabled. The warm embrace of daylight is only a few button presses away.

Careful readers of the last paragraph may have noticed that SSS lets you play as a rocket buggy. It also let’s you play as a penguin…

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-03 19-47-03

… and a dog on a snowboard…

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-05 21-00-05
Trust me, it’s a dog on a snowboard. Why would I lie?

… and an alien, an anime girl, a UFO, and all sorts of other crazy characters, some of which are remarkably full-featured. The developers really piled it on in terms of unlockable extras, including four bonus courses, some of which are set in space.

And I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Steep Slope Shooters, the unlockable “snow shooter,” which features the greatest two-sentence plot ever conceived:

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-03 20-03-13
If I wanted to avenge my brother, I would probably decided to entry the badminton game. Much less risk of injury.

So, SSS plays like a dream, and has more than enough character to make up for its visual shortcomings – but how does it SOUND you ask? Well, if remarkably well-composed electronic music is your thing, you’re in luck. SSS has nine such tracks, which provide a wonderfully appropriate “late 90s’ extreme sports” vibe to the snowboarding action. You can even listen to them through a neat visualization feature in the option menu! Personally, though, I don’t know why you’d listen to those songs, particularly where the soundtrack features two perfectly good Engirsh j-pop ballads which have absolutely no place in a snowboarding game:

The music in SSS really is fantastic – but the only things you’ll ever remember about the soundtrack, no matter how hard you try, will be “Hold Me Close” and “Kiss.” I have friends who haven’t played this game in over a decade that still can’t forget these songs. To be honest, somewhere in the back of my mind, I think they’re why I come back to SSS every once in a while – and that kind of scares me.

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-03 20-24-30
Given the circumstances, “Salvation” does not appear to be an appropriate name for this trick.

SSS really doesn’t offer much in the way of “game modes” – you just pick a course and try to rack up the fastest time and largest score you can. Since all you’re really going for are skill and speed, SSS’ remarkably robust replay editing suite is a welcome inclusion. With the replay editor, you can save your best performances and play them back ad nauseum for any of your friends that happen to be stuck hanging out in your parents’ basement with you back in 1997. No, I never did that. Why do you ask?

In any event, the replay editor isn’t exactly final cut pro, but it lets you put together some pretty impressive music videos, at least by late ’90s game console standards:

Despite its rough appearance, SSS shreds by on the strength of its gameplay alone. Throw in a host of extras, solid music, and a dash of that late ’90s Saturn innovation/weirdness, and you’ve got yourself the rare extreme sports game that stands the test of time. If you’ve got any fondness for the Saturn, or snowboarding games in general, Steep Slope Sliders is definitely worth your time. Trust me: it never gets old.


If nothing else, I am confident that Steep Slope Sliders is far more enjoyable than Heavy Shreddin’. Played on original hardware, upscaled to 720p through a Micomsoft Framemeister. All footage and screens captured through an ElGato HD60.

The Dungeonkeeper: An Interview with Kurt Kalata of the Castlevania Dungeon

So you want to learn about Castlevania, huh? Nowadays, that’s not too tough. Just plug it into Wikipedia – you’ll have more information on the series than you could conceivably know what to do with. With just a few minutes of “research,” you’ll be able to fake your way through any cocktail party conversation about the Belmont family tree. It’s highly unlikely that anybody has actually ever had a cocktail party conversation about the Belmont family tree, but, hey, hypothetically, you could do that.

But it wasn’t always that easy. In the “early” days of the Internet, video game coverage was still primarily relegated to magazines, and retro gaming coverage wasn’t necessarily high on their priority list. If you wanted to immerse yourself in the apocrypha of any given game series, Wikipedia wasn’t an option – you had to rely on websites maintained by the most hardcore of gaming fans.

dungeon97logo
The original logo of the Castlevania Dungeon.

For the Castlevania series, that website was the Castlevania Dungeon. From its earliest days, the Dungeon was enthusiastically overflowing with information about every title in the series, including some that were completely unknown to Western audiences. Created and maintained by Kurt Kalata, the site was the go-to destination for all your Castlevania needs. Wanted to play that rare version of Akumajou Dracula for the X68000 that had yet to make it out of Japan? The Dungeon had your back. Curious about the secret ending buried deep within your Symphony of the Night disc? The Dungeon had the audio rips at the ready.

book

These days, Kurt’s the Head Editor over at Hardcore Gaming 101, where he recently compiled his tremendous wealth of Castlevania knowledge into written form – yes, he literally wrote the book on Castlevania (which you can, and should, purchase here). While that book, Hardcore Gaming 101 Presents: Castlevania, now serves as the definitive compendium of vampire slaying knowledge, the Dungeon still persists to this day. Recently, I had the privilege to chat with Kurt about the creation Dungeon and the early days of gaming fan sites. Whether you’re an old school gamer, a fan of Castlevania, or just nostalgic for the good ol’ days of Geocities, I think you’ll find his responses both enlightening and entertaining. Enjoy!

In an effort to capture the spirit of the early days of the Dungeon, we’ve populated the interview below with images and audio from the early incarnations of the site. All credit goes to their original owners and creators, and many of them are still available on the Dungeon to this day.

LET US GO OUT THIS EVENING FOR PLEASURE. THE NIGHT IS STILL YOUNG!

dungeonbloodbar

SSBC: I believe I first encountered the Castlevania Dungeon back in early 1998. North American Saturn releases had slowed to a crawl at that point, and my local Electronics Boutique had started importing Japanese titles. Eager to play a “new” release, I picked up a copy of Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight off the shelf, only to run into a wall of indecipherable Japanese text. Desperate for help, I dialed into AOL and turned to the Internet for answers. That search led me to the Castlevania Dungeon. The vast wealth of Castlevania knowledge collected on your site helped me complete one of my favorite games of all time – so first and foremost, thank you for that.

simonvKK: You’re welcome! I remember picking up Metal Slug, Radiant Silvergun and the Konami MSX Antiques Collection at Electronics Boutique back then too. I remember them stocking Nocturne in the Moonlight, but I already had it by that point.

Lots of folks were Castlevania fans back in ‘90s. What inspired you to go the extra mile and create a website? Now, it’s easy to get a functional website up and running. Back then, though, it was considerably more difficult, and the prospect of any kind of ad revenue, compensation, or recognition was remote at best. Undoubtedly, you invested a lot of time, effort, money, and care into the Dungeon – was it just for the love of the game(s)?

Well, it wasn’t too difficult really. HTML is super simple to learn, and both Geocities and a lot of ISPs were giving out space as an incentive to create home pages (though space was always an issue: Geocities offered 2 MB back in the day). But, this was free, so I never really spent any actual money on it. Conversely, I never really received any money either. Any of the folks that redesigned the site after that worked on it for free too, even though I kept it updated. No one really expected any compensation for it, because it was before the days of Adsense, crowdfunding or any type of monetization. Eventually, we were allowed by Gamespy to host ads, but for a site like the Castlevania Dungeon, it only brings in pennies a day.

Dungeon97
The Castlevania Dungeon as it appeared in early 1997. Trust me when I say it looked far more amazing when captured at a lower resolution.

In a lot of ways I tended to operate in a bubble. I created something I thought was cool, and if other people thought it was cool too, then I was pretty happy. I still kinda go by that philosophy nowadays, though I also take in feedback to improve my own work. And for anything commercial, I need to take into account whether it’d be worth the time investment to create it. But otherwise, it’s just something I find personally fulfilling – criticizing games, cataloging recurring elements, digging into development trivia, and so forth.

x-whip2How quickly did the Dungeon take off? For lack of a better term, when did you feel that you’d “made it” as a fan site? Now, you’re recognized as one of the definitive authorities on Castlevania, appearing on podcasts and even writing a book. Did you ever imagine that you’d be perceived as such?

x-dracI can’t remember when I started it – 1999, maybe – but when I created a forum and a community became established around it, it began to feel like people were paying attention to it. Years later, I’d meet people that were part of the retro game scene, become friends with them, and then they’d realize, “hey, you created The Castlevania Dungeon didn’t you?” It’s still weird when the Internet meets real life.

You founded the Castlevania Dungeon back in 1996. By the time I encountered it in 1998, it was practically bursting at the seams with information about Castlevania. The site appears to have grown quite rapidly. The emulation scene (as well as the Internet in general) was exploding at the time, but the Dungeon contained information about games and systems that were practically invisible to American audiences at that point. I had no concept of what an MSX or Sharp X68000 were until reading about them on your site. What was your primary source of information back in the early days?

DungeonCensored
During the “early” days of the Internet, the Castlevania Dungeon was one of the few sites to contain detailed information on the differences between North American and Japanese Castlevania releases. The images above, which remain on the Dungeon to this day, might just be some of the earliest documented evidence of video game “censorship” on the web.

One of the main reasons I created the site was because I discovered emulation, and with it, the MSX. I was a big fan of Konami games, and they were a huge supporter of that computer, so discovering all of these alternate versions of my favorite NES titles (Vampire Killer, Contra, the “real” Metal Gears) was like uncovering a treasure trove! I wanted to share that discovery with people.

New information usually came from people that e-mailed me with things – usually folks that were a little older and were either big into the import scene or lived in Japan. For example, for a long time, no one really knew about Haunted Castle, the arcade game. Someone might have vague recollections of playing it a decade ago, but it wasn’t covered in any gaming magazines and it was never very popular. The only proof that it even existed was that someone had scanned the front of a soundtrack CD that had a small, cropped image from the game (it was this album). I remember the night it was added to MAME. I was super enthusiastic, but of course, the game isn’t very good, so it was a huge letdown. It was similar to the X68000 game – I think there was a scanned box shot somewhere, but no one really knew what the X68000 was until someone discovered a Japanese-developed emulator and some disk images, so I uploaded it on the site and everyone was able to play it.

Dungeon98
The Castlevania Dungeon in 1998. Note that the menu bar in the left frame is designed to look like a life bar from Dracula X: Rondo of Blood. Little flourishes like this made the Dungeon stand out from the pack.

How exciting was it to discover the “hidden” ending files for SOTN? Were there any other “discoveries” that you remember fondly?

It was pretty cool! Someone had released a utility to read PlayStation sound files and discovered those there. It fueled rumors that it was possible to obtain this ending, but since no one knew anything about it, eventually we gave up hope and realized it was probably something that was planned but never implemented. As for other discoveries, the existence of the “lost” Castlevania games mentioned above, the arcade and X68000 games, were exciting finds.

Though the Dungeon stands on its own now, for a while, it was affiliated with (or at least hosted by) classicgaming.com. How did that relationship come to pass, and how did it end?

dungeon98logo
The logo employed by the Castlevania Dungeon during its tenure with classicgaming.com

At the time, the Dungeon was spread across a few Geocities and Tripod accounts, which were obtained with the help of a friend. Including music files, it was probably about 8 MB or so. It was a pain to manage. Around that time, Gamespy had just started a spinoff site, Classicgaming, that was also offering free hosting to fan sites. It was actually started by a guy named Kevin Bowen, who also starred in the legendary Something Awful film Doom House. Through the site, I had been chatting with Jeff “Deuce” Nussbaum, who had created a similarly themed site for Ninja Gaiden. He had applied for hosting on Classicgaming and suggested I do the same, and we were both accepted, along with a bunch of other great sites.

The relationship ended because IGN bought up Gamespy at some point (I think it was around 2009 or so), and they decided that it wasn’t worth keeping Classicgaming around. So, basically, we were around from about the beginning until the very end. Thankfully, the cool folks at Kontek offered to continue hosting all of the Classicgaming sites, so most of us made the jump and have been there since.

dungeonmap
This edited screenshot from Dracula XX was permanently affixed to the bottom of the Castlevania Dungeon during the majority of its run with the now defunct Classicgaming. The Dungeon was – and still is – the place to go if you wanted to view high quality screens of lost, rare, or forgotten Castlevania games.

Has your work on the Dungeon led to any interesting interactions with Konami, or any of the individuals involved with the development of Castlevania?

simon-whipFor a long time, it was incredibly difficult to interact with game companies, outside of customer service reps. Around the time that Koji Igarashi took over the series in 2002, I tracked down their PR contact info and requested an interview. They acknowledged the request, but they said that he wouldn’t talk to “fan sites.” A few years later, I was doing freelance work for a larger site and attended E3, where Konami was showing off Castlevania: Curse of Darkness. I tried again to arrange something through their PR agency, but they still didn’t take me seriously and never responded to any emails. Eventually, I did get to interview Igarashi through e-mail, when writing a 20th anniversary article for 1up.com.

Outside of that, the only contact I had was a few months after I’d published the Castlevania book, which was a terse message from their licensing manager, who said “this book is not licensed, remove it from sale immediately.” So I took it off sale, sent him copies and made it clear that everything it in fell under Fair Use, since it’s a book of reviews and criticism, rather than anything that might be considered infringement. I never heard back from them, but I reissued the book with an “UNOFFICIAL!” sticker and rewrote the Amazon description to make it clear that it wasn’t affiliated with Konami. I haven’t had an issue since, though I’m a little bummed that one of the only major interactions with a company that I’d unofficially supported as a fan for over 15 years amounted to a takedown notice.

Dungeon2015
The “Games” page of the Castlevania Dungeon as it appears today.

Over the years, the look of the Dungeon has changed, and you’ve had various folks assisting you with the development side of things. Is there any particular incarnation of the site that you’re particularly fond of? At the time, I remember thinking that the old “frames/no-frames” selection page with a choice between 8-bit Trevor and 16-bit Richter was the coolest thing since sliced bread.

I like the current design actually! That was done around 2006, I think. It was right before the E3 I mentioned above, and I wanted it to look more professional, so that Konami would take it seriously. But of course, it still didn’t work!

The old design had red colored fonts. At the time, I thought it was cool, since it had a horror theme. In retrospect, it was barely legible. We did change the background, originally it was the bricks from the title screen of Super Castlevania IV, but then we used something else from a totally different source that was darker to make the text more readable.

CVDBigLogo
The current logo of the Castlevania Dungeon

In the introduction to Hardcore Gaming 101 Presents: Castlevania, you perceptively note that due to the series’ longevity, Castlevania fans come from many different age groups and enjoy the series for many different reasons. Have you perceived any notable differences in how both younger and older fans engage with the series – and you, for that matter?

It’s hard to tell because it’s not clear how old anyone on the Internet is. I feel like it’s easier to start with classic Castlevania games, then move on to Metroidvanias, rather than the other way around. The Metroidvanias have much more fluid controls, so I hear people complain that they aren’t used to the “bad” controls of the older games. And they aren’t really “bad,” so much as deliberate, but it does take some adjusting.

The only thing that Classicvania and Metroidvania fans have in common is that most of them have an extreme dislike towards the modern Mercury Steam developed titles. I hated Lords of Shadow at first, too. Honestly, if I didn’t have to review them for the book, I probably never would’ve bothered to play them. Over time I came to accept them, though I still wouldn’t say I actually “like” them.

dungeonwhipheader

Just looking at archived versions of the Dungeon makes me wistful about the simpler, early days of the Internet, when animated gifs were “amazing” instead of “corny,” and things like a menu styled after a life bar were true innovations. Is there anything you miss about those early times? Is there anything you don’t miss?

DungeonMenuBar
The Dungeon’s navigation frame during the late ’90s.

There was certainly more variety in the design. Nowadays, most sites are developed using a CMS, which are rigidly defined, so you lose some of that uniqueness. Everything begins to feel the same. The Web 1.0 “standards” were indeed pretty ugly! But no one knew any better.

Actually, the same could be said about video game magazines then versus now. They used to be more colorful and enthusiastic. Nowadays, the writing quality is more mature, professional, and definitely better, but there was a charm in that old amateurishness.

You started the Dungeon as a teenager, and recently, in preparing your book, you had the occasion to revisit nearly 20 years of your own work. I imagine that was both a rewarding and challenging process. In delving back through time, did you rediscover anything that made you that made you particularly proud? Conversely, was there anything that made you cringe?

It was mostly “I can’t believe these typos have been around for like a decade.” Most of the reviews had been rewritten when I was in college, so it wasn’t SUPER painful; but a lot of it was still quite bad. I hadn’t really developed a style or cohesive tone, so it was GameFAQs review quality level of writing – Dumb jokes that were probably funny at the time, but were actually cringeworthy.

Also, a lot of it wasn’t necessarily terrible, but outdated. We were all super excited for Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance when they came out, but with time and a greater sense of perspective, their problems became a lot more apparent. There are other things, flaws and strengths, that became apparent when viewed through the greater context of the series, too.

Giving the reviews an overhaul took a lot more time than I anticipated, though. The book ended up coming out over a year past when I’d originally planned.

09
The Dungeon was the place to go for all types of Castlevania media. Above, you’ll see a scan from the Japanese instruction manual for Castlevania. Below, you’ll find midi arrangements of popular themes from the series – which are still hosted on the site to this day!

What’s your favorite memory associated with the Castlevania Dungeon?

Beyond making discoveries about “lost” Castlevania games, I remember leaving on my computer all night to download a ROM for Castlevania Bloodlines, which I’d been searching for forever. It was on a server in Asia, and it was transferring extremely slowly, even for a 14.4k modem. I had to make sure my parents didn’t find out the next morning because they’d get mad at me! On top of that, the emulator I was using still wasn’t great at the time: it ran extremely slowly, the status bar didn’t show up, there was no sound, tons of glitches, etc… Lots of memories about early emulation, I guess. I was ecstatic when NESticle was released, because the only other NES emulators out before then were fairly poor. I also remember that when Magic Engine was released, the guy who had done the site redesign burned me a copy of Dracula X and mailed it to me, so I could finally play it, since there was no way in hell a 16-year-old could’ve afforded a Turbo Duo and a copy of the game. Even though I was stuck playing it with a keyboard and a high frame skip, being able to play that fabled game was magical.

Do you have any plans for the Dungeon’s future? The book does a great job of capturing the spirit of the site, but the Dungeon itself hasn’t been updated since 2012. Unfortunately, there really hasn’t been much to say about Castlevania since then – is HG101 the place to go for any Castlevania updates in the future?

The guy who still runs the Castlevania Dungeon forums said that he was going to get together with the web developer of the current incarnation to do a complete overhaul, and I was going to provide the updated reviews I did for the Castlevania book to post on the redone site. I’m not sure what the status of this project is though. Unfortunately, I don’t really have the time to upkeep it myself anymore, even juggling real world tasks and HG101 often proves overwhelming.

draculaxmanga
The Castlevania Dungeon was one of the first places American audiences were able to view the manga included with the Japanese version of Symphony of the Night. I fondly remember saving the whole thing to 3.5″ floppies.

What exactly did you do to this poor, plagiarizing bastard? That’s one hell of an apology.

I can’t remember honestly! From the sounds of it I probably posted something in an update with a link to that site, telling people to demand that he take it down. From the sounds of it, everyone else was probably pretty mean! Nowadays, that would be called dogpiling, and it’s not really the best thing to do, but back then, how did you deal with plagiarizers?

There were a few times where that happened – where I found some other websites copy/pasting stuff from the Dungeon. One time I saw that it had been translated into Spanish, though, which I was okay with, even though it had been done without my permission.

What other fansites from the ’90s do you remember fondly?

The Ninja Gaiden Home Page and Metroid Database were great. The latter is still around on Kontek. The Gradius Home World is still around and hasn’t changed much. Soundtrack Central still exists, and a lot of my old reviews are still there, I think. Zophar’s Domain isn’t really a “fansite” since it’s all about emulation, but it’s still heartwarming that it still exists.

dungeonbloodbarAgain, I’d like to thank Kurt for taking the time to speak with me, and for the countless hours he’s dedicated to covering Castlevania on our behalf. Though the Castlevania Dungeon is approaching the ripe old age of 20, it’s still an amazing resource for Castlevania fans of all ages, and I would recommend it to anybody interested in learning more about the series. Kurt’s latest work can be found over at Hardcore Gaming 101, which is a fantastic site in its own right. You can find him on Twitter at @HG_101.

As for me? I’m still here, and you can reach me on Twitter @subspacebc.