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Castlevania's Koji Igarashi offers advice to today's Metroidvania devs

Koji "IGA" Igarashi, whose Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a touchstone game for the Metroidvania genre, discusses what it takes to make a good one in this new interview.

Christian Nutt

March 12, 2015

5 Min Read

As part of my Metroidvania feature from last month, I conducted a number of fresh interviews with developers who work in the genre. While there are a raft of talented indies creating new games, I thought it made a lot of sense to track down Koji "IGA" Igarashi, whose Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a touchstone game.

His body of work doesn't just encompass that 1997 title, of course. He helmed the creation of five more titles in the genre (and many more Castlevania games, besides) and has a wealth of experience to draw from.

While the Castlevania maestro has currently put his "dream game" on hold while he works on mobile titles, he still has a wealth of insight into how these games get made. To that end, I present here the unabridged interview which supplied the quotes for the Metroidvania feature.

What was your original inspiration for changing the Castlevania formula to an explorable castle?

Koji Igarashi: First off, I didn't like the state of action games at the time. Titles divided into discrete stages were tending to get more and more difficult, leading to the situation where good players quickly finished them and beginners were no longer getting their money's worth. There was also the fact that the people on our team, including myself, really liked The Legend of Zelda, so we wanted to create a game in that style.

Take me back to when you were making Symphony of the Night. Were you aware of the power of the potential of this genre?

KI: Well, if we're talking about genres, we already knew there was potential in the genre from titles like Zelda and Metroid. These were games in genres that nearly everyone on the team enjoyed, so we knew there was a lot of power at hand.

When you heard that "Metroidvania" had become both a genre and a term that people use, what did you think?

KI: I figured that I didn't have much to say against it, given that the games do resemble those titles. At the same time, though, I consider it kind of an honor that the games are treated on the same level as Metroid, which is a really legendary game.

You explored the design space through several game titles -- how much room does it have to grow, do you think?

KI: In terms of potential marketplace presence, I don't think games of this type are going to get that big. However, I do think there's always going to be a core contingent of fans, as well as other gamers influenced by them to check out the genre. I think that, while it's not that big, it's a market where it's relatively easier to make a profit.

In terms of the games themselves, of course, the ways you can think about it are limitless. If developers can find more ways to present it, then they'll be able to do more things. I think there's a lot of space to keep going.

Do you have any advice for the dozens of indie devs working on these types of games?

KI: This is a bit hard for me, since I'm not really qualified to give that kind of advice. However, one thing I'll say is that if you don't think that your game is fun, I doubt anyone else playing it will find it fun either.

Feedback from other people is vital! Take in this feedback, and, if you can make it work with your own vision, implement it. If you can't, make sure you have a clear reason why. Finally, make sure you take a step back now and then, taking an impartial look at the game to make sure it's fun. Man, I'm probably coming off all high and mighty now...

What is it that makes this kind of game so engrossing and appealing?

KI: I figure it's the excitement of enjoying the adventure, mixed with gameplay that's easy to get comfortable with. I think the exploration element makes you feel like you're moving the story along yourself a lot better than with titles divided into stages. That, and I think having character-growth elements allows gamers to enjoy the story right up to the end.

Also, 2D games allow things like hit detection to be very clear, making it possible to offer accurate, meticulous gameplay. All together, it provides an easy-to-understand action gameplay concept that resonates with gamers. Excitement and convincingness of gameplay -- I think it comes down to that, right?

And what's essential to developing a good game in this genre?

KI: I'm sure that the things considered essential today are different from the past, so I don't think I have much room to comment on that sort of thing. But what it comes down to, I think, is this question: As the people making the game, how are you going to take what you think is interesting about the game and communicate that to other people?

With games, even if you create an interesting and fun concept, that's not going to come across if the controls make it impossible for others to realize it. Thus, I think it's important to remember that the core of any game lies on top of how it's controlled by gamers. Though I guess this doesn't apply strictly to this genre of game, either, huh?

For more from Igarashi on the creation of Symphony of the Night, this free GDC Vault video is a must-watch. If you want to know more about the genre, there is, of course, the full feature-length Metroidvania article. You can also read my interviews with Tom Happ (Axiom Verge) and Jools Watsham (Xeodrifter).

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