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That’s Kirby, Nintendo’s cute pink puffball! Sorta.
There you have it, folks. The most complex piece of ASCII-based art that I’m capable of. But if you’re unfamiliar with ASCII art, don’t let that fool you: it’s capable of a lot more. Including being the entire basis for a video game! Which is exactly what the guys at Black Shell Games set out to do with their roguelike-inspired role-playing game SanctuaryRPG. A true throwback to one of the most classic styles of computer game.
I was able to get in touch with Black Shell and ask them all about what goes into designing a game with such old-school appeal. Development lead for the game Daniel “SharpEyez” Doan and Black Shell’s community manager Alex “Neonpuzzler” Heldsted (they provided those nicknames, I did not) were nice enough to answer some questions about the game’s development and the reception of what can only be described as a warm hug for people that grew up on text RPGs.
Was your goal from the start to make a game that was a throwback to the classic days of PC RPGs or did this come up later on in concept development?
Black Shell: From the start, we set out to make a retro text-based RPG. This was primarily because we had been raised with these types of games and had very fond memories of playing games like this growing up. The indie market is saturated with many 8-bit clones, and as a team, we felt that it was about time that a fully-featured RPG would get made in the vein of the pre 8-bit era of games. The game was inspired by roguelikes, MUDs, JRPGs, and most notably, the Diablo series.
Let’s talk about the art, because it’s surprisingly diverse and quite impressive. How do you go about the conceptual stages for ASCII art design?
BS: All of our art pieces start with a basic template, in ASCII there are different levels in the same line of text and our artists are able to use that to their advantage to create the incredibly detailed and diverse ASCII art that we have.
With the recent resurgence of classic PC gameplay, such as the point & click adventure game, do you see a new market for these PC nostalgia-based games?
BS: We do not think that there will be a large market coming back for these nostalgic games. However, we see people coming from their childhoods and seeing this game then wanting to play it to re-live their childhood. People who love roguelikes are part of our demographic as well; this is our main market right now and we’re not expecting it to grow immensely, as the fanbase for retro style games continues to be quite niche.
We have targeted the game towards people who have grown up with RPGs and like roguelikes, however the soundtrack draws people in and the beginning of the game is easy to get into allowing people new to the genre to get into the game and join our little community! That being said, many people get immediately turned off by the lack of modern visuals, and we do not blame them for that at all. It’s difficult to choose SanctuaryRPG over the latest AAA offering, but then again, we’re not competing with them.
How much feedback have you received from people that did grow up with these kinds of games?
BS: We have received a lot of positive feedback from people who grew up with games like these because it brings them back to their childhood when they play it. We have gotten some great stories from different people talking about how well this comes back to those retro games from back then. It makes us feel great as a lot of our community are these people who grew up with games like this.
These classic text-based RPGs tend to have a pretty steep difficulty. What kind of focus was put into making the game’s challenge? How do you make this game appealing or functional to people who didn’t grow up with text-based PC RPGs?
BS: There was a large focus put into the difficulty. Once you get past the beginning you get thrown back into the retro concept of: “If the game is too hard for you, then you’ll need to improve yourself as a player.” We have many ways to challenge the player, like a myriad of monster affixes that give special abilities to monsters or our in-game difficulty scaler that makes monsters harder, along with increased rewards. The game’s Classic mode is the preferred method of play, although there is a Softcore mode for those who would prefer more forgiving gameplay.
If you’re looking to scratch that text RPG itch that’s been bugging you for many years, you have a game geared towards you directly. SanctuaryRPG promises a lot, and it comes together with a package that not only calls back the good old days, but promises to give you a new experience worthy of the modern ages love of roguelikes and difficulty-infused RPGs.