Episode 166 ventures into the depths of making a metroidvania

Chasm's creator talks classic inspirations and modernizing old-school game design.

Can you believe the last actual 2D exploratory Castlevania game is now a decade old? It's been a full 10 years since the last IGA-vania entry in that series, and the placeholders we've had foisted upon us since then — the tedious Mirror of Fate and the interesting but weird Harmony of Despair — failed to properly scratch the itch. With Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night delayed until 2019, what's a Castlevania-loving metroidvania fan to do?

The answer, it turns out, is play Chasm

A ridiculous of indie metroidvania games have launched in the past six week, from the offbeat (Yoku's Island Express, which is metroidvania meets pinball and works better than you'd think) to the expected (Guacamelee 2, which is... Guacamelee). For my money, though, nothing has worked quite so well as Chasm when it comes to capturing the elusive spirit and feel of Symphony of the Night. It controls a lot like Symphony, looks 32-bit, and has a thoughtful structure to its progression. Intriguingly, Chasm also includes a procedural element that makes every playthrough different: While you always need to travel from point A to B to C in terms of overall progression, each new "seed" of the world generator changes the details of the routes between those points. It makes for a game that feels at once familiar yet fresh.

Sure, Chasm's not the most cutting-edge creation in the world. Something like Dead Cells is a lot more contemporary and of-the-moment in terms of its design... but Chasm works wonderfully within the bounds it's staked out for itself, and it feels perfectly classic. Which makes it a perfect match for Retronauts, eh?

By a quirk of fate, I just happened to be visiting family near where Chasm creator James Petruzzi lives about a week or two after the game launched. And so, here it is: A developer interview episode about Chasm, right on the heels of the game's launch on Steam and PlayStation cross-play. 

James was kind enough not only to talk about the creative process behind the game and its inspirations, but also to delve into the realities of audience expectation and the things he's realized about Chasm's design (both good and bad) after getting it out into the hands of players. It sounds like the game is a "living" product with revisions in store for the future, so it'll be interesting to see if some of Chasm's minor quirks are addressed in ways that were impossible for Symphony of the Night. (I want to believe that they'd have patched in some alternate music for the inverted castle to spare us the pain of "Final Toccata.")

Retronauts Episode 166
Chasm - Making a modern metroidvania
MP3, 56.8 MB | 1:57:40

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Episode description: Jeremy talks to Chasm's James Petruzzi about creating Chasm, the best IGA-vania style exploratory platformer in a decade, along with the challenges of meeting modern player expectations with a game built so clearly in the classic spirit of Symphony of the Night.