Sword Master for the NES

So Dark Souls II has been out for little over a month and I’ve managed to pour about two hundred and fifty hour into it. Needless to say, the game is a lot of fun. One thing I’ve consistently aimed for is to achieve a similar level of entertainment when it comes to my own personal indie development.

I decided to look back through some of the old age NES games for something that might act as a catalyst to spark some “Dark Souls” creativity of my own. Being one guy I can’t really develop a huge 3D project like Dark Souls. I’m more of a 2D guy. I’m terrible at making game sprites but I’m really good at programming. In past projects I’ve attempted to integrate elements of Dark Souls into Roguelike gameplay. All and all I spent close to four month developing a Roguelike called Lurid and even though I learned a lot I don’t feel there is anything left to develop. The gameplay was majorly lacking and game in general was poorly designed.

So I feel it’s time to move to a new project. More or less I’ll still maintain the same goals I had when developing Lurid but now I intend to spend more time ironing out gameplay.

The first “model” game I’ve picked is an old-school NES game called Sword Master. Sword Master is similar to Dark Souls in that what both games lack in story they make up for in game mechanics and gameplay. I intend to learn from Sword Master and the choices made by the developer Athena. Previous to Sword Master Athena worked on a game called Castle of Dragon which contains similar game mechanics. Many of the reviews I’ve read agree that Sword Master is a better game.

To better understand the design philosophy I will be making an effort to understand why certain choices were made when developing Sword Master and why the developer thought other aspects of Castle of Dragon were flawed.

Knowing a step forward


I already have a few ideas for changes I’d like to make to the series but before I start tearing the game apart and building my own version I need to understand what is critical to the game’s formula and what is less important to the game’s success. Both games (Sword Master and Castle of Dragon) may not have been as popular as say Zelda or Final Fantasy but they did sell plenty of copies and Castle of Dragon must of had some appeal for the Publisher to allow for the following title, “Sword Master”.

After playing a bit of Sword Master two thoughts popped in my mind:

  1. Would a roll mechanic work well here? Allowing the player an addition dodge mechanic as well as allowing the player to attack from both the left and right sides of the enemy.
  2. Does the game have to be side-scrolling? How would the experience change if the game had more platforming elements like in Wizards & Magic?

The difficulty here is that any verdict on the answer to these questions would have to be proven by prototyping. A lot of prototyping. As a developer, each individual game mechanic must be completely understood. If I was able to meet with the Athena team and ask them these questions what would they say?

Possibly something like “well, in testing we realized…” etc. I have to get on their level to know the difference between a step forward and a step backwards. This means I need to prototype with flexibility in mind because it is highly unlikely that my first impulse will be the right one.

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