Brave Earth: Prologue is unique among Indie-vania games in its deep love of its inspiration’s roots, hewing closer to the early Castlevania titles than Metroid. With three playable characters, tightly-designed levels and combat, a grand story with glorious 8-bit cutscenes, and visuals and sounds straight out of the best that the Famicom (Japanese NES) had to offer, the developer Kayinworks wants the game to stand up there with the greats of NES history. It’s no wonder that such an ambitious game is still under development.
Siliconera got in contact with Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly of Kayinworks, the mind behind I Wanna Be The Guy and now Brave Earth: Prologue, at BitSummit to talk about his new game’s long development time, its strengths in the face of other Indie-vania games, and its devotion to NES authenticity.
Could you please give a short introduction?
Michael O’Reilly: I am Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly, creator of I Wanna Be The Guy and I am now trying to make a more legitimate game that isn’t riddled with copyright theft. Instead, I’m only stealing the spirit of another game, I’m stealing the spirit of Castlevania! My current game is Brave Earth: Prologue, which is nearing into completion. I don’t feel comfortable saying when it’s going to come out, but this year, hopefully sooner than later.
What made you want to tackle Brave Earth: Prologue as your first game after I Wanna Be The Guy and I Wanna Be The Guy: Gaiden?
I always wanted to make a Metroidvania, but I was just like “Oh this is gonna take me 5 years of my life and I want to try to do it in an engine that’s really port-able, put it on consoles and stuff like that so let me make the smaller game, wait for a better engine to get finished or other people to figure stuff out in 2D or Unity, stuff like that,” and then I started working on Brave Earth: Prologue. But THAT game took 7 years and is stuck on a crappy engine.
But it was a game that I wanted to make because I also like normal Castlevania. There’s not a lot of games like that out there, I wanted to do Castlevania 1, be nice and short, not a lot of graphics, not a lot of anything. And then seven years later.
So the game’s publically announced in Sept. 2011, in 2016 you get the Steam Greenlight page, and this year Dangen is stepping in to support. How has this ongoing, seven year journey been for you?
It’s been interesting, and I’m constantly dealing with people thinking that the game is dead. It’s really sad, even on my Greenlight page I’ll go and there are “Is this game ever coming out?” posts, and I waited as long as possible for Greenlight because of this. The game took longer than I thought, I thought I would be finished last year, but there’s certain asset constraints that I’m relying on other people. I have somebody helping on big cutscene shots, stuff like that, but she’s a busy person with other jobs, so I’m kinda slowed down. But that’s also kinda good because it gives me time to polish other things, but it does push back the release date.
With this long development cycle, surely you’ve played other games while developing Brave Earth: Prologue. Has anything you’ve seen from other games seeped its way in?
I stole an enemy from one of my friend’s games, Aces Wild. There’s this cool enemy that has all these cool attacks, can roll behind you, back and forth, but with how the game turned out in the end you don’t get to experience his A.I. that much. So without telling him, I took that whole enemy, put it in BE:P, had him play a build, and he was like “I hate you. He’s better than in my game!”
I take small influences all the time. It’s a corny thing to say, “Every developer who has played Dark Souls has changed their game because of Dark Souls,” and I hate it, but it’s true. I’m just as bad as anyone else! It’s just one of those games that slapped everyone in the face. How lore was written, boss title cards, how item descriptions are written, it feels shameful to say it!
The IGAvania or Metroidvania style of game is well-represented in the indie space. What is the original unique driving element of Brave Earth: Prologue and has that changed in these years of development?
If I feel like I have a strength as a creator, I feel it’s stage design. If I was to farm myself out- I’m a Jack-of-all-Trades guy, there’s not a lot of talents I have where I’m good enough at one thing to be worth something, but I think I could be worth it as a level designer somewhere. That’s the thing that I feel the most passionate about, and that’s the thing where I think Brave Earth feels the best, both in feel and gameplay.
What kind of difficulties did you have in deciding on three playable protagonists?
Having three playable protagonists wasn’t that much more work. The actual mistake was deciding each of those three characters would have their own routes, their own stages, so it’s like I’m making three games, with three different characters, that intersect together, ‘cause I hate myself! And at least I feel like, if I put that out there, I’m really proud of that. Nobody is gonna play this game and be like, “I don’t think there’s enough game there.”
Speaking of the three protagonists, what went into their designs?
Naomi vos Cruz, the main character, is a design that I’ve had around for a long time, longer than the development of the game. She was originally gonna be for the Metroidvania-whatever, and I wanted a girl in armor. Her designs changed over time, she got real dark. She used to be really white and over time it got darker and darker. When I designed the character 15-ish years ago, it’s like “Okay gonna have the boob chest plate, the big high-heeled boots,” and it was just, chopping off those things and refining this character.
Sinlen was one of the characters that my artists designed because I didn’t quite know what I wanted. I just noted I wanted a girl with curly hair, that would be like a rival, kinda haughty- thought she ended up really being more a jerk-y best friend. I wanted her to be another knight from the same order of Naomi, but I didn’t communicate that to the artist so she gave me this mage, and I just loved the design! Trevor’s like, I wanted him to look like Naomi’s brother.
For the music composition, are you doing that yourself or have you been getting outside help?
I have two people helping with music. I have one musician, goes online as Necrophageon III, I reached out to him after doing an open call and having nothing but failure, because nobody out there fit the style. I wanted somebody who could do Akumajou Densetsu (a.k.a. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse outside Japan), VRC6 classic sound. I want it authentic, I want it to sound like the Famicom release, so I hit onto the guy on YouTube and he is the slowest communicator on Earth, I talk to him maybe once a year, but when I talk to him, he’d just send me a ton of tracks, and 9 out of 10 of them would be great! They’d be wonderful stuff, some of them would make me think “OK I know what stage I need here but I wasn’t sure what the motif was gonna be” and the music would be like “OK I’m doing this.”
And the other guy I have, whose only contributed 3 or 4 tracks out of what’s probably 20-something, is very important because he’s communicative and he’s really fast. So I could go “Yo I need title music” and he’d like go “this this this and this” and he’s the type of guy who an hour later can send me 4 different things and we can do an iterative thing.
You mentioned the VRC6, a Famicom MMC chip, which is an inspired choice for Brave Earth: Prologue’s sound.
I am a big fan of it. I have an NES modded for VRC6 audio, and I have a cartridge that is- I imported an Akumajou Densetsu cart and I did a full conversion so I have an NES and a cart that I put it in and it’s the full soundtrack. There’s even a little dial on the front where you adjust the extra sound channels, volumes, trying to get it just right. Castlevania III is one of my favorite games.
So how is it working with the VRC6 audio palette? Do you find yourself wanting to use 100% of its capabilities, or are you exercising restraint?
There is a style that goes with that. If you use every channel, it doesn’t sound right. Both my musicians are very aware of that, and their tracks aren’t as dense as they could be, to fit with the fact that like, you just can’t hammer all the channels at the same time and still have things sound right.
People are like, “I wanna do remixes of the music in your game, on the VRC6 soundchip” basically doing the thing like “Let me do the soundtracks where I use everything,” and people do that all the time, a fuller version of it, and it’s cool!
Do you have any parting thoughts for people who are looking forward to Brave Earth: Prologue or might be into it?
If you like old NES action platformers, you could play this game and think “This could be a super-good, end of life Sunsoft NES game.” If that’s something you feel like you’re missing, and you miss these kinds of shorter action-y, punchy-games that are brutal but you can endure your way through? Brave Earth! It’s great! I think. Maybe.