One of the joys of the PlayStation era was, at least for me, the Official PlayStation Magazine. At this time I’d hoover up anything I could to do with gaming, which basically comprised of me pestering for a magazine every time we went to the shops, I’d buy a few every month, the main three were Computer & Videogames Magazine (Or C&VG), PlayStation World (which offered a -*ahem* more “mature”, kind of “lads mag” kind of approach to gaming, though my Mum wasn’t aware of this) and Official PlayStation Magazine. I’ve talked about the latter before, and it plays a part here. OPM came with a cover-mounted demo disc, there’d be a demo of the big-name title that was released around that time (and usually had a review in that issue) for you to try out, plus a littering of other demos of games to play. Some of my favourite games from that era were discovered thanks to those discs.
Then things changed, it would have the same content as before but a new category started appearing on its menu’s: Net Yaroze. Now for those that don’t know, Net Yaroze was a black PlayStation that through a bunch of tools and equipment only compatible with that specific machine (so they wouldn’t work on your standard PlayStation) allowed the user to develop their own games. A community sprung up around it, though I had no access to it, I didn’t I have had the know-how to use the system anyway, but before long extra little games started appearing on the OPM cover disc. Often they were fan versions of games from older platforms, my Mum and Sister particularly loved an adaptation of Boulder Dash on one particular disc and sunk so many hours into it, passing the pad between them each time one of them died.
Then the PS2 came out, Sony built into every machine the ability for users to code in BASIC with it, but I don’t recall OPM continuing the trend of putting peoples bedroom coded video games onto their cover discs after the PlayStation had “died”. After that, I basically mostly forgot about Net Yaroze. That is until recently.
You see, it appears a game that people remember seeing screenshots of back then has resurfaced, a game called Magic Castle, NetYaroze-Europe.com interviewed its developers about the game story, and I’d encourage you to read it as its actually really interesting, but one important thing is, the game has been made available to play, and I’ve given it a go.
A brief description is required at this point, and for want of a better word, I’m going to go with “Rogue-Like”, yes that genre of games I really struggle with, though the developers state its a “Fantasy Action RPG”, which I can honestly see. It has a very rough dungeon crawler style to it and the gist of the gameplay amounts to you wandering around different floors of a dungeon, killing enemies until one of them spawns a key, attacking the key takes you to the next floor and the cycle repeats. There are items to pick up that do a few different things (heal, spells, restore MP) and better equipment. But the key thing is, this feels completely randomly generated.
That there is the surprising thing here, it feels like a modern game, or at least an early concept of one before it’s supposed to be released to the public. There’s not technical combat, nor are there things like skill tree’s but its repeated game pattern, randomly generated floor maps and randomised drops feel totally in-line with quite a few of your modern-day indie darlings. As I said, it’s rough around the edge, this is most notable when trying to hit stuff. Your character kind of rotates, but kind of doesn’t so it can feel like there’s an element of luck when launching attack, but thankfully the hitboxes are fairly forgiving which makes the cycle surprisingly enjoyable.
Now don’t get me wrong, its clear, even if you haven’t read the interview, that this was made with limited resources and it really does feel like a concept that could have been fleshed out into something more, its an interesting little curio and that’s pretty cool as an insight into an early indie scene during a period where it wasn’t as easy to get your game out to the masses like it was in the old Home Computer era of 80s Britain or later on with the advent of Xbox 360 and Steam playing host to high profile independently developed hits.