An Interview with Zachariah Lazarus, Creator of Creepy Castle

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

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While at PAX West, I got the wonderful opportunity to stop by Nicalis and check out a bunch of games. One that really interested me, far more than I expected, was Creepy Castle. So, when I was given the opportunity to interview the man behind the game, Zachariah Lazarus, I jumped at the chance. Below is a transcript of my questions and Zach’s answers.

Creepy Castle | Logo

Q: What games inspired Creepy Castle the most?

A: I’d say if you took cues from Zelda and the RPG Castlevania titles for the structure of the game, and combined it with turn-based combat that incorporates Mario RPG or Mario Party style minigames, you’d have the general idea of what Creepy Castle is.

Aesthetically, I’d say it could be described as being between those two points as well — you have the generally medieval fantasy themes of Castlevania matched with visual designs that might resemble the cute creatures you would see in a Mario game.

Q: If not for the advent of crowdfunding, do you think Creepy Castle would have been developed? Would it have turned out the same?

A: It’s hard to say, really. I was always fond of Creepy Castle and felt that, of the projects I laid out designs for, it was the most distinct. I started it back in 2009 and cobbled together what would be a very unrefined foundation for the first bit of the game as it is today. Over the years, I’d find myself going back to it, adding bits and bobs and improving aspects here and there. It wasn’t until 2014 when I buckled down and said to myself, “I really want to be a game developer,” and picked Creepy Castle to be the game I’d take a shot at it with.

Where that was when I decided Creepy Castle was going to be the game I’d make, then going to Kickstarter was really the point where I committed to making the game a reality within the foreseeable future. I was like, “Well, let’s just see if people think this is cool,” and they did, which is great. If the campaign didn’t pan out, I would have gotten a more conventional job, and I’m sure Creepy Castle would be nowhere near complete right now. Nicalis wouldn’t have found it, either. I have been very privileged to be able to work full-time on Creepy Castle. There are a lot of independent developers who make amazing projects on the side of normal work, but I don’t think I would quite have the capacity, myself.

Creepy Castle | Battle

Q: How has working with Nicalis as a publisher helped the game?

A: Nicalis has been fantastic. As the project went on, I realized there were more chunks of the game that I really wanted to significantly overhaul or give facelifts to, and working with Nicalis afforded me that extra time. If it weren’t for them, I’d have a less polished and much less expansive release. Not to mention, they arranged for Rushjet1 to bring the soundtrack up to speed and cover everything NES style, which really bumped the presentation up a notch.

There are a lot of other ways they helped out, too. Once the game is out and people have seen the surprises, I will be able to talk about them a bit more, but, in general, Nicalis has helped to make a lot of my dreams come true!

Q: As an indie developer, what things most excite you about the current video game market?

A: I really like that it is more open than ever before. I don’t think video games have ever been as far away from being a “closed garden” than they are now. Certainly, people could always make their own games, but now accessible tools have advanced so far that you don’t really need to learn the more involved languages to make a successful game. Not to mention, with Steam Greenlight, you are basically ensured a spot in gaming’s premiere store as long as you have a decent product.

I remember about ten years back people laughed at me for using Game Maker because it was limited to making Windows games, and most of its users were budding hobbyists who didn’t make very impressive things with it. Now we live in a world where best selling games are made with Game Maker and it can port to all kinds of platforms, and I am really thankful for that. Unity is amazing, too, and I really want to get into that in the near future.

Q: I can’t help but wonder, how important is the Creepy part of Creepy Castle? Does it inform the gameplay in a significant way?

A: Basically, I have this thing where I like the titles of my projects to be alliterative. There are other games planned in the same continuity of Creepy Castle, and they all follow a similar kind of rule.

But to really dig into the question of whether or not there will be anything creepy to be found: I feel like a lot of the most interesting, unsettling things are found in games that aren’t specifically horror genre — just, like, unexpected eerie things waiting in obscure corners of otherwise normal games. Maybe there will be some things like that in Creepy Castle

Creepy Castle | Screenshot 01

Q: Which do you think is more important – audio or visual design?

A: It’s tough to say. Excellency in either field can be enough for me to check something out, but many of my favorites tend to have both great visuals and great music. Silent Hill, for example, is breathtakingly beautiful and unique in both departments.

I guess a game will have an easier time grabbing me with an interesting visual aesthetic than it could with audio design, though, because that’s really the first thing you see. You see characters and the art style in screenshots, video thumbnails or on boxes, and that’s what catches your interest. When I see characters that interest me, I’ll be more interested in the game in turn and want to learn more about those characters. I hope people will like the characters in Creepy Castle because I tried to make the kind of cast that would catch my own interest, both visually and in terms of personality.

It is important for games to have good audio design, too. I often find myself thinking that video game audio has taken steps back and become very bland. Lots of people think that music is something that has to hang in the background, but I don’t feel that way at all. My favorite games have loud, characterized music full of catchy tunes that dance in the spotlight along with bright colors and fun gameplay. I love the days of old action games with pulse-pounding melodies that just try to hype you up from start to finish, and I really kind of resent when a game overdoes it on subdued cinematic ambiance.

I feel like music also plays a large part in selling scenes and providing verisimilitude. Good writing and well-composed music build upon each other, and music serving as a weak link can ruin everything. Great music can make average moments great, and already-great moments unforgettable.

Q: Why go with a moth for the hero?

A: I love moths! I have had an interest in insects ever since I was little, and moths have always been my favorite. I thought it would be fairly distinct to have a cast of bugs that were anthropomorphic in the same way many mascot platformers were in the 90s. So, when I pursued my idea of having a cast of bugs, I would naturally pick my favorite kind of bug as the protagonist!

Creepy castle | Exploration

Q: Any suggestions for other developers looking to crowdfund their dream projects?

A: Do it, but try and network first ahead of time. You want to make as much of a splash as possible. Do lots of footwork, figure out the journalists, YouTubers and so on who would like your game, and give them a chance to look at it.

Be liberal with how much of the money you allocate for taxes and campaign expenses — any overestimation when all is said and done is a bonus to bolster the other reserves for the project.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t hit your goal. There are great projects that didn’t make it the first time around, then regrouped and pulled it off. Dropsy, for one.

Q: How excited are you that Creepy Castle will finally launch on Halloween?

A: It’s all right, I GUESS (I am very excited!)

Q: Any closing comments for our readers?

A: Thank you for reading! I’m humbled that you stuck around through my ranting. Hopefully, it has enriched your life in some way or resonated with you. Give Creepy Castle a look if you think it sounds interesting!

I would once again like to thank Zach for his time, Nicalis for setting this up and Brodie for the awesome featured image! Make sure to check Creepy Castle out when it launches on Steam this Halloween!

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.