When video games began to gain steam in the 1980s, the most popular style came in the form of platform games like Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and Castlevania.
Over time the first-person perspective—from shooters to MineCraft—developed as the dominant style.
But some still longed for the day of moving a character across the screen while avoiding obstacles.
It was into this void that Matt Lucas and his indie game development company Esperware created Anathema.
Anathema can be called an action platform game, but with modern graphics, it doesn’t have the retro feel of other throw-back games available for download on your smartphone.
Lucas and company have developed a game that is presented in HD using modern technology with gameplay in the classicvania style like as seen in games like Killer Instinct and Donkey Kong Country but with gameplay inspired by Castlevania, Mega Man X, Ninja Gaiden and Ghosts ‘n Goblins.
“When we first started creating the concept for Anathema in 2014, it was born solely out of the void of ‘classicvania’ styled games in the modern indie scene,” said Matt Lucas, the creative director of Esperware. “A cursory glance at the indie dev scene will show that a huge focus is on the metroidvania style.”
Metroidvania games like classics The Legend of Zelda and Metroid generally feature a large interconnected world map that the player can explore with access blocked by obstacles.
In fact, the storyline is inspired by platformer classic Castlevania. The game is a series of gothic fantasy video games that follow the Belmont family, a clan of vampire hunters, and their fight with Dracula.
“I was obsessed with the series as a kid and would wake up sometimes at 5 a.m. just to get to the NES before my brother and sister, just to play Castlevania,” Lucas said. The company is developing Anathema, “a love letter to classic action platformers series” using assets from Renderosity and renders from DAZ Studio.
In Anathema, players fight through 12 stages of a highly detailed world filled with enemies determined to destroy them.
The biggest obstacle Lucas and company had in developing the game was finding art assets to design the levels, bosses, enemies and characters.
They ended up using programs most 3D modelers associate with hobbyists.
“Once I came across DAZ Studio and Poser, while also realizing their accessibility, I knew we had a way to overcome that obstacle and could begin really putting the big picture together,” Lucas said.
Utilizing Victoria 4 and Michael 4, the team at Esperware designed their characters from these base figures in 2014.
“We began pre-rendering our sprites and environments similar to games such as Resident Evil and Donkey Kong Country, and used them as we built the game engine,” he explained.
As programs have developed, so has the game.
They started rendering with the 3Delight render engine but upgraded to Iray when that was released.
The first versions of the game were “very colorful, but slightly gothic at the same time.”
Iray allowed them to redesign the “game engine, characters and environments to create a more appealing, atmospheric world by utilizing Iray’s photometric and emissive lighting, HDRI maps and shaders,” Lucas said.
“The results were huge,” he continued, “and proved to make everything blend together better and now it feels like the characters and environments really co-exist in the same space.”
The game evolved further with custom materials created in Substance Painter for its sprites and environments.
“Physically Based Rendering has opened so many doors to creating a 2D game with pre-rendered sprites. We love pixel art, but it’s nice to go against the grain these days and show something a little different than what people usually get nostalgic for,” Lucas said.
He added the game’s overall departure from the metriodvania, pixel art trend sets it apart from most indie games being developed today.
“I like that if you juxtapose Anathema against those games, it will instantly stand out because of the pre-rendered art assets,” he said.
Check out the game design and art assets by trying the demo on Steam.
Michelle Willard, Editor of Renderosity Magazine | Former newspaper reporter. Recovering archaeologist. Political nerd. True crime junkie. Read her articles here.