Dark Souls and Chiptunes: Interview with Cly5m

I had the pleasure of chatting with cly5m, auteur of Seiklus fame. We chat about Dark Souls, chiptunes, and Space Funeral, you know, all the inevitable stuff.

Cly5m: 
I read a few of your posts earlier today. Nice work. I hadn’t really thought of comparing Dark Souls to my game, but maybe the similarities you mention are why it’s my favorite game of its generation. The varied but inter-connected world is definitely one of its strengths, and something I like to go for in my own games.

Seiklus (PC)

Seiklus (PC)

Nilson:
I love when games are meandering.

Cly5m: 
I was especially impressed with the hidden path behind another hidden path in Blighttown, which leads to a long segment and ends up at the lake. All that work for something some players might never see. I aspire to things like that as well.

Nilson: 
I think the “secret” ending in Seiklus is a lot like that.

I was reading some of your game suggestions on your website and you mention Startropics…that’s a name that isn’t brought up often enough.

Have you played the second one?

Cly5m:
I think I rented it, but didn’t finish it.

Nilson:
Those are some of my favorite NES games…not really a question, but I also started playing Destiny of an Emperor as per your website and am really impressed with it so far

Cly5m:
Yeah, that’s a good one. Other RPGs should have adopted that “all-out” mechanic to get easy battles over with quickly.

Nilson:
I believe Bravely Default, the new 3DS JRPG has that, which is nice.

Destiny of an Emperor (NES)

Destiny of an Emperor (NES)

Cly5m:
I was once talking to a friend who was studying Chinese history, and it was fun to drop some of the names from that game.

I have heard vaguely positive things about Bravely Default, but I never really follow the handheld consoles anymore. My newest one is the Turbo Express.

Nilson:
Oh wow the Turbo Express ; )

Cly5m:
I did get the GameCube add-on so that I could play the GBA Castlevanias, though.

Nilson:
Now those are some great games!

Cly5m:
After I overcame my disappointment that Circle of the Moon was not a console game.

Nilson:
I take it you’re a big fan of Symphony of the Night?

Cly5m:
I was hoping for the depth (and presentation) of SOTN. Yes.

Nilson:
Such a classic…what games are you playing now?

Cly5m:
Well, pretty mainstream and the moment. I finally decided to try Skyrim. Which may have been a mistake. It’s just good enough to keep my interest even though I tell myself it’s not worth the time I’m spending on it.

I’ll need to finish that before Dark Souls 2, however. Which will be the most expensive video game I’ve ever bought, since I pre-ordered it.

Other games I am playing or have played recently include Rayman Legends, Continue?9876543210, Crypt Worlds, and King’s Field 4.

Nilson:
Crypt Worlds is great!

Do have the Johnny games? I couldn’t find them anywhere online. All the links were long dead.

Cly5m:
Yes, I do have the Johnny games. Are you looking for all of them? There are a lot.

I have not played some of the later ones.

Nilson:
Which do you think is the most definitive?

Johnny's Odyssey (PC) - cly5m's fan game

Johnny’s Odyssey (PC) – cly5m’s fan game

Cly5m:
Johnny 2 was my introduction. I’m also kind of partial to 5. But you can get the idea from just about any of them.

Nilson:
Yeah, I played your fan game and I really liked the aesthetic.

Cly5m:
His site comes and goes. I’m sure it will be back eventually. I talk to him about once every year or two.

Nilson:
Is he still making games?

Cly5m:
Yes, he had one or two in 2013. This seems to be a pretty thorough list, though without working links: http://archive.is/R0jFB

Nilson:
Maybe this is naive, but I always considered Seiklus this minimalist, pure looking game, but it seems you have a strong affinity for the garish and glitchy. You mention Space Funeral briefly on your site.

Cly5m:
I have a hard time leaving things “sketchy,” though I like the idea of doing so. That is one reason I made those Johnny fan games. It was kind of a way to give myself permission to leave things a little more relaxed.

But even there, I could only take it so far. I was definitely impressed with Space Funeral.

Nilson:
Space Funeral is probably one of my favorite games, maybe one of the best. Great writing, great soundtrack.

Seiklus (PC)

Seiklus (PC)

Cly5m:
Yes, and a lot of the featured musicians are worth looking up, if you liked the songs in the game.

Nilson:
Yeah! Lots of great early electric stuff, and Les Rallizes Denudes. Seiklus has really good music. Was there a lot of chiptunes circulating back in 2004?

Cly5m:
It’s hard to say. I wasn’t seeing a lot of mention of those artists. MOD files were more popular back in the BBS days. I mean, one reason I wanted to include songs like those with the game is that I didn’t think that sort of thing was as widely-known anymore.

But I’m sure the interest never died down at all in some places, especially where demoscene demos were still popular, maybe more in Europe?

Nilson:
Yeah, I know that bands like Anamanaguchi found out how to play chiptune guitars from European videos. Have you heard of them?

Cly5m:
Yes, there is definitely a resurgence in chiptune interest now. I follow a bunch of great chiptune artists on Bandcamp. Some of the best recent ones I’ve come across are by artists who were already great back in the old days, such as 4mat. Best recent albums, I mean.

Nilson:
What should I listen to? : )

Cly5m:
Well, here are a few of my favorites:

8bit peoples bonus disc III

4mat

Response of Darklite

TDK

Ninja 9000

Oven Rake (this one’s really great – ed.)

Nilson:
What game console do you think has the best sound?

Cly5m:
Commodore 64 is my all-time favorite, but that’s not a game console. Hard to say.

It’s more about what certain people did with each one than about its inherent sound, I think.

Nilson:
I’ve been watching Twitch Plays Pokemon, if you’ve heard about that, and I think the

Game Boy Color has my favorite sounds.

Cly5m:
Game Boy seems to be the platform of choice at the moment for a lot of musicians.

This is something I found interesting, whatever your opinion of the source material (Nine Inch Nails):  Pretty Eight Machine

He used different platforms for different songs.

Nilson:
I don’t think I’ve come across you making your own chip music. Have you?

Cly5m:
A little, long ago. I would like to get more into that eventually. There’s no excuse not to, really, with so many good programs that make it relatively easy. Those have been around since the DOS days, at least.

I’m trying to decide currently whether to try making some songs of my own for one of my long-running game projects, or whether to try to commission something. I’ve had several artists offer to make music for my games over the years, but I’m always hesitant to pursue that because I’d feel bad if I didn’t think it was a good fit in the end.

Nilson:
Yeah, music really ends up defining a game’s mood more than anything.

Cly5m:
I’ve also thought about coming up with a real soundtrack for Seiklus, one way or another.

But the longer I wait the more risky it is to return to that game. I know it’s easy to ruin an old project by trying to “improve” it later.

Nilson:
So you have been working on stuff lately?

Cly5m:
Not very actively, I’m afraid. But yes.

I have a couple games I started years ago, that I’ll get released eventually. And I have lots of other ideas that I (perhaps unwisely) didn’t let myself work on before finishing at least one of these big games.

Nilson:
Have you been following Steam Greenlight and other indie game platforms? It’s much different than it was a few years ago.

Cly5m:
I do watch Steam, and it’s nice to see some of the indie games making it to that platform.

Nilson:
Have you played Fez? It’s reminiscent of Seiklus a bit.

Cly5m:
Yes, I played it when it finally made its way to Steam. A friend bought it for me. I liked the style of it.

Nilson:
Some of the later puzzles were brutally obscure.

Cly5m:
Yes, I looked up the solution to a couple of them, and I didn’t bother with the clock thing.

But it was nice that you didn’t have to do any of those to play through the basic game. It would have been frustrating otherwise.

Fez (PC)

Fez (PC)

Nilson:
Yeah, Fez has that nice meandering quality we were talking about.

Cly5m:
I read that no one knows the legitimate way to figure out one of the puzzles.

Nilson:
Yeah! No one’s ever figured it out other than by just guessing the combinations. That’s insane.

Cly5m:
I suppose it’s difficult to hide something in a game these days, as in the days of Adventure for Atari 2600. Something that no one finds for years.

Shortly after the PC release of Dark Souls, someone had released a little mapper program that extracted and let you rotate and view 3D wireframes of the game’s areas.

Nilson:
There’s so much packed into that game.

Cly5m:
Yes, I like that everything about the game was a puzzle. Which some people criticize. Even the menus and basic mechanics, to some extent. It doesn’t explain what to do with bonfires, for example. I mean, how to enhance them.

Seiklus (PC)

Seiklus (PC)

Nilson:
Yeah, zero “hand-holding.”

Cly5m:
The game’s story, too, is something you just have to piece together, and might not be able to entirely even if you try.

Nilson:
One of my favorite things about the game is how you have to put the plot together by reading the descriptions of the items.

Cly5m:
Did you play Demon’s Souls first?

Nilson:
I played it but never beat it haha…

Cly5m:
It’s a tough game. I used pretty cheap methods to beat a few of the bosses. Flamelurker is probably the most intimidating boss I know of in any game. Just getting to him is tough enough.

Nilson:
Why aren’t there many words in Seiklus? It’s very minimal in the narrative department.

Cly5m:
I thought about including talking characters initially, but decided against it in the end. I figured it was not needed in a game like that. Plus, making them speak English would detract from its otherworldliness, and making up a fake language would be gimmicky.

Unless it went untranslated, I guess.

Nilson:
Has anyone ever complained to you that some of the secrets in the game are too obscure?

Cly5m:
Yes, and they were worse in the initial version. I think they still kind of waste the time of a completionist, though hopefully not too much.

Nilson:
It took me a long time to get the item in the cave that lets you see where the pincer guys are.

Cly5m:
Yes, that is one of the game’s flaws. Another is a long one-way segment that isn’t as free-roaming as other parts. In a game like that, there shouldn’t be forced retreads, just ones the player can go through by choice.

Nilson:
One of my favorite segments is when you take the elevator down into the snow area. It’s so surreal.

Cly5m:
One thing I found amusing is the names people came up with for things and areas in the game. That area was actually supposed to be ashes. But snow works, too.

Nilson:
Really? Haha, that makes more sense…

Do you think Seiklus was ultimately a success?

Cly5m:
Sure, it was more or less the game I wanted it to be. And I know some people liked it.

One of the best e-mail messages I got about it was from someone who worked in an after-school center for kids. Of the games they allowed the kids to play, mine was apparently a popular one.

Now that some time has passed, it’s fun to hear from people who have nostalgia about the game from when they were young. Which makes me feel bad that it’s been a while since I released anything. If that game can be considered an older one. Relatively, at any rate.

Nilson:
I know that some people who have made indie games don’t really consider themselves game developers.

Cly5m:
Well, I guess you are a “professional” if you’ve made some money from a game. I haven’t done that, at this point. But you can be a game developer with any toolkit. It’s just one more step removed from a more basic language. And those who use “real” languages are still removed from a more pure form of coding, I guess.

I’d probably be more inclined to say that I like to make games than to label myself a developer.

Nilson:
Are you interested in other mediums other than games?

Cly5m:
Sure, I’ve always liked to draw and to write. I think Web design is fun, too. But that’s another thing I have never done in any professional capacity.

Nilson:
I find that a lot of people my age go to school for writing or art but have the goal of working on games.

Cly5m:
That makes sense, as it’s a big market for that sort of thing. Though unfortunately a lot of games do not have good writers. Well, that may just be a matter of taste.

Nilson:
A lot of indie games coming out have really great writing, like the aforementioned Space Funeral.

Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden (PC)

Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden (PC)

Cly5m:
I agree, though I thought the ending was a little weak.

Maybe I just didn’t get it. 🙂

Another indie game with good writing is Immortal Defense.

And Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, for that matter.

Nilson:
Barkley, Shut Up and Jam is a trip. I’ve always been partial to the dialogue of the townspeople in games like Final Fantasy VII…

Cly5m:
Planescape: Torment is a good example of that sort of thing. Just random people in towns engage in pretty deep conversations.

Looks like I will have to step out soon.

Nilson:
Cool. You’ve been great, thanks!

Cly5m:
Sure, it was fun. Here’s one last game you might like, if you don’t know it already: http://www.revengeofthesunfish.com/rotsfone.html

Sequel is coming soon.

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