INTERVIEW: Matt Kap, Creator of Castle in the Darkness

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

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As a result of my time at PAX Prime last year, I got the opportunity to interview Matt Kap about his upcoming game Castle in the Darkness. The following is a transcription of that interview, with my questions in bold.

1. What aspect of video games do you most enjoy?

I really like a tough challenge, tight controls, sense of discovery, lots of content, and, most of all, quickness. I don’t mean that in terms of casual phone games, I mean in terms of pacing/speed. The older I get, the quicker I want to be able to jump into a game and be immersed without having to sit through tutorials or an hour of unskippable text. Another thing I enjoy is when a horrible game has a real shining good quality! Sometimes I’ll try an obscure old game from a lesser-known console, and even though the controls are clunky and the game isn’t fun, I can appreciate the charm in the character design, or sprites, or backgrounds, or music. It gets me thinking about what I would have done differently if I was in charge, and it really inspires my thinking when it comes to my own projects.

Matt Kap Interview - Castle in the Darkness | oprainfall

2. You are an artist, game developer and musician. Do you find one of those skill sets to be more gratifying than the others? If so, why?

The gratification that I get from performing with a band is more instant than something like releasing a game because it happens in the moment instead of after a years-long development cycle! But maybe releasing a game or album is a more powerful feeling of gratification. I go through phases where I am more inspired to work on one thing than I am to work on another, but when something gets completed (a song, a piece of art, a task for the game, whatever), it’s all just as gratifying. I try to do one thing per day that I can be proud of, and that keeps me happy in doing what I do!

Matt Kap Interview - Castle in the Darkness | oprainfall

3. What is it about difficult games that most appeals to you?

It’s tough to say, but maybe I’m just one of those people that doesn’t give up easily! When a game is tough my frustration turns into determination, and I want to try again and again, and maybe find new ways to succeed. If a game is too easy, and I don’t get that thrill, I feel as if I might as well be watching someone else play it. There is such a thing as TOO hard though, so it’s a delicate balance. The least appealing thing about a purposefully challenging/hard game is a short limit of lives and no checkpoints. D’oh!

Matt Kap Interview - Castle in the Darkness | oprainfall

4. You say that if there is enough demand, you would consider bringing Castle in the Darkness to other devices besides just computers. How much demand would get your attention?

If I was able to port the game to every imaginable console/device on my own from the get-go, I would… but my porting experience is what you would call… limited (err… nonexistent). Hahaha. Porting it to consoles is ultimately up to Nicalis. But like with any project, it’s best to know that there’s a demand for something before using up resources making it happen, so if anyone wants to see Castle In The Darkness on a specific device, please make your voices heard!

5. Castle in the Darkness is a uniquely challenging game. Having played it during last year’s PAX, I was wondering if that difficulty will mellow out at certain points in the game, or whether it will be consistently challenging throughout?

It is designed to be quite challenging throughout, but also meant to reward curiosity and discovery! For instance, if a boss seems way too hard, there’s probably a nearby hidden item that will give you more of an edge in the fight. But even if you missed said item, the boss will still be possible to kill with a few more practice attempts. Don’t give up!

Matt Kap Interview - Castle in the Darkness | oprainfall

6. How excited were you when you saw Castle in the Darkness had been Greenlit on Steam? Does that recognition validate your decision to develop this game all by yourself?

I was ecstatic. I discovered it was greenlit just before my birthday, so I can honestly say that it was one hell of a gift! I couldn’t believe that so many people cared enough about my own game to get it to that point. It gave me a boost of enthusiasm, and helped me dedicate my efforts to not only finish a game that I would be super proud of, but also to make something great and enjoyable for all the people that helped me in my quest!

Matt Kap Interview - Castle in the Darkness | oprainfall

As far as validating my decision to work on it by myself… I wouldn’t say it was ever a decision. I was detached from video game development communities/people when I started Castle In The Darkness. A few months into development I got a twitter account and started to show a few screenshots here and there, then I made a trailer, signed up for Steam Greenlight, etc. By the time anyone noticed it, it was well past the halfway point of development! It wasn’t a completely lonesome effort though. I had tons of support from fans, and a couple of artist friends lent a hand when I needed it. And there’s Nicalis who is currently still helping with several aspects of the last stage of the project!

Matt Kap Interview - Castle in the Darkness | oprainfall

7. If Castle in the Darkness does well enough, might you have more games in the work? Possible sequels?

I have a few ideas for games I want to make in the future, and regardless of how well Castle In The Darkness does, there’s a good chance they will all see the light of day in one form or another. I have some ideas for touchscreen games that would give a console-like experience, more PC 2D platformers, and also a tactics-style game. I guess you could say that I think I found my calling in video game development, and if everything goes smoothly, I’d like to be doing this for the rest of my life. Seeing as how Castlevania/Metroid-style exploration action platformers with RPG elements are one of my favorite video game genres, Castle In The Darkness II is something I really want to make. I think it will be fun to break away from the loose 8-bit limitations and work under some loose 16-bit limitations, hahaha!

Matt Kap Interview - Castle in the Darkness | oprainfall

8. How difficult/time consuming is it to make a video game all on your own? Was that decision made easier knowing you had Nicalis ready to help you publish it?

Not very difficult, but SUPER time consuming. Like… unbelievable! After the 1 year mark of working on it, there was a noticeable decline in my social life, hahaha. I was working by day, and then after 8-10 hours of work, there would usually be a band practice. After that, I would try to put in as much time as I could to work on Castle In The Darkness. Even though I felt stressed/restless/burnt out at times, I had no regrets about putting in the time, because proving to myself that I could finish a project like this was one of the most important milestones of my life!

Nicalis’ involvement had come along late in the development cycle, but that’s not to say that their help wasn’t needed or appreciated! There’s a lot that I didn’t know (and still don’t know) about releasing a game, so I’m super thankful to be able to leave certain duties to the experts at Nicalis. They have released some great hits in the recent past, so I can sleep easy at night knowing that the publishing is in good hands.

Matt Kap Interview - Castle in the Darkness | oprainfall

9. You’ve worked with Nicalis on other projects such as Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and 1001 Spikes. What is it about that relationship that makes it rewarding to keep coming back?

Most of the games Nicalis develops and publishes are right up my alley. The original Binding of Isaac was easily one of my favorite games ever, and 1001 Spikes is near the top of the chart as well. Naturally, working on projects that I like so much is rewarding in that it doesn’t feel like work at all, so I’m very fortunate to be a part of it. Having spent a few years working with this team, I made some awesome friends and had some great times, so hopefully there will be many more years of this to come!

10. Would you ever consider the crowdfunding route to making more games?

Sure, I would consider it if the project required/demanded it. For instance, something like a near-impossible deadline, licensing costs that I couldn’t afford, or if I was in a situation that I’d have to hire someone to do something that I couldn’t do myself.

One thing I do like about crowdfunding is fan interaction, being able to vote on aspects of the game’s development, and long lists of stretch goals that expand a game for the players that want more. Luckily for me, Castle In The Darkness was something that didn’t require much money, so crowdfunding it (and receiving money) would only mean that I’d feel obligated to finish something that I was already rewarded for finishing. I would feel like I owed someone something, and I’d lose the most important thing about being an independent game developer in the first place, the freedom! Hahaha.

Thanks for the interview!

If like me you are interested in playing the full version of the game when it releases to Steam, keep your calendar clear next month! Castle in the Darkness releases February 5th at the low price of $5.99! I know I’ll be picking it up to see if I have what it takes to beat this hardcore retro gem.

Click here for more information on the release.

About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.