Profile and Interview: Locomalito
Recently I had gone back on the hunt for retro-themed modern games, diving back into an ocean I usually stick to dipping my feet into. There's a lot of good stuff out there, to be sure, but I tend to skip over writing about it; some of it's great but has been out for years, and a lot of the good and bad is already public knowledge. I wouldn't be sharing anything too novel. So I play my Starbound and my Pixel Dungeon, content to simply experience what's at least new to me... and once in a while I fall down a rabbit hole.
One indie developer kept coming up when I'd look into the broader subject matter of retro-themed contemporary titles... Locomalito. Once I touched down on the surface of his work, I was off and running, and I found nothing to disappoint me.
Based out of Spain, Locomalito is one of a handful of independent game-crafters working out of Europe. A couple of things set him apart, however. The first thing is that with the exception of one title (which is simply a super-juiced up “EX” version and is worth the dough), Locomalito's entire game library is available as freeware. Yes, that means he offers it to you, the gamer, free of charge on his website. The second (and equally obvious) thing separating Loco from the pack: EVERY SINGLE GAME is a handcrafted, authentic, exquisite blend of the old and the new.
My initial headfirst dive into Locomalito's work, Curse of Issyos, is a perfect example of this. While the astute observer will notice a play style similar to a certain vampire-whipping console classic, Curse of Issyos is absolutely its own game. We're still looking at the pixels and experiencing the 8-bit atmosphere that we want and crave, but the game is giving us all sorts of little details we wish we'd gotten during the console era. Things move with a dynamic that was impossible back then, sometimes even at a scale (as with the ship's prow monster early on) that was difficult to present artfully. It is, sometimes, as if Locomalito knows just where to place his signature along the classic lines he reads to us.
Curse of Issyos has a very cool story that develops through not only text narration and dialogue but also by simply absorbing the game's rich theme. All of this is heightened to extremes by an amazing and authentic soundtrack by Gryzor87. Even just the level 1 and boss themes have those little nuances that make the listener think, “Konami, 1987, no doubt about it.” And yet, like the game itself, the soundtrack is anything but a copy. So, while you could claim (rightly so) that he is borrowing a thing or two, Locomalito presents a game that is 100% unique despite its established origins. You'll swear you dusted off your old gray NES and popped in a lost cartridge!
Another wonderful game Loco has produced, one that speaks directly to his own roots in gaming (see below), is l'Abbaye des Morts. As much as Curse of Issyos thrilled me, I really must say that this is perhaps my favorite piece of Loco's work overall. The audio and visual style is meant to emulate the ZX Spectrum, a system I expressed mixed feelings about but which had a formative role in many European gamers' lives. The representation is very genuine, one I can tell was done with a certain love.
The story and theme for l'Abbaye des Morts is based loosely off of the stories of the Cathars in 13th Century Europe, and you assume the role of one as you plumb the depths of an old castle while in hiding from Crusaders. The game is more of a puzzle game, with the puzzle-type elements based around a platformer play style. You have no “weapons” or “attacks,” and instead must be very careful and intuitive when moving through the catacombs. You'll get plenty of “lives,” and you'll need them all. I've been burning hours and hours on this one ever since grabbing it, and I'm still not very far... but I will keep at it. Nothing entertains like a well-made game of this style, and Locomalito has certainly provided exactly that.
The one for sale on Steam, Maldita Castilla EX, is an incredible action-packed game that summons to mind one of Capcom's most well-known spooky quests; you play as a knight who has been sent along with his fellows to find out what has been corrupting the lands of Castille. The game itself begins by offering standard run-and-jump fare, but levels like the wagon-road and the deep caves soon have you facing unexpected challenges... and not just because of the horrible monsters, either!
Locomalito gets playful with things like lighting and unorthodox movement direction, all while remaining old-school and having you blast away at swarms of enemies. Just like in Curse of Issyos, no expense is spared when it comes to the bosses... they are unmistakable as the head honchos of the evil army.
The set of freeware has more (and varied) challenges for all tastes. Hydorah is an extremely entertaining and engaging entry into the shooter genre, and the giant monster game Gaurodan is a lot of fun in a small package. All of these games look amazing; the presentation goes along with the in-game graphics in terms of authenticity and effect. Locomalito is a master of his art, an art he has inherited and kept lovingly secure by means of this body of work.
I managed to get the man himself to take an interview with me, presented now, for your reading pleasure...
BE: Thank you for agreeing to talk with me! Let's jump right in. To start us off, why don't you tell me about your earliest inspirations? In other words, what was the first classic title you played that led you to say, “I want to make games like this?”
LM: It's hard for me to tell. I was a little kid during mid 80s, so I discovered a lot of things at once: arcade games, adventure movies, pulp-scifi. Some of them came from older times, but as a kid I don't care. I was fascinated with fantasy and space adventures, and then I learned that you can actually create those in a playable format.
Arcade games like Chelnov, Rygar, Ghost n' Goblins, Gradius, R-Type, Tiger Road, Black Tiger, Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Shinobi, and many many more filled my imagination with ideas, so I've been drawing level designs in notebook since I was a kid.
What I never imagined is that drawing levels in a notebook became the basis for making my own games 20 years later.
BE: Now, I've noticed that you work often with Gryzor87 as your music and sound guy, but all the programming/design/graphics work is done by you, right? That's an incredible commitment. If you would, give me a brief rundown of how you organize and complete this work to create these fantastic games.
LM: In the end, this is a hobby project, so basically I don't do things in a regular order, but in an order I can have fun working with. I keep a notebook near my bed, so every night, before turning down the lights, I spend a while drawing random game ideas and planning stuff for the next day. Plans are usually little tasks to do, like one sprite, one animation, one element behaviour, part of a level design and things like that. The next day, if I'm not too tired after my daily work, I spend some time implementing those things in the computer. Implementation is pretty fast when you already have a previous idea, but I need to play my own games a lot to check if those ideas actually work. Normally I tweak a lot of things after each play, often I entirely discard ideas or things already implemented, but I find this way of working interesting because it's somehow like a hand-craft, I start with something raw and then I polish it until I feel it's ok. It's easier for me to keep the flame alive this way, it feels like growing up a plant, and less like working.
Of course, everything but sound are a lot of things to do, but in the other hand, it's natural for the coder to understand the graphic designer when they are the same person [laughing], and of course, I try not to push myself too hard with things like desired deadlines. Basically, working a bit every day turns finishing a project into a question of time.
BE: A bit of online research showed me that you and Gryzor87 aren't the only folks in Spain doing this kind of thing. What is the overall retro gaming scene in Spain like? Do you have the same trend going on there as here in parts of America, with the resurgence of arcades and the rising popularity of the classics?
LM: The scene in spain is not as big as in America, where you can find profitable rooms, but it's pretty active. Here is more like an underground scene, runned by groups of enthusiast and little teams, who have a few annual parties to share ideas and present new projects. The homebrew scene is pretty active, with many new retro games coming out every year, many of them actually prepared for actual retro systems. We also have emerging arcade rooms done by groups of people, like the Arcade Vintage project, where you can find some of my games between great arcade classics.
"Freeware is natural, and everyone who work in a creative industry feel the necessity of doing things outside of the market frame. Eventually, some of those side projects become more relevant than your actual commissioned work, and this happens basically because you have more room to give your work a soul."
BE: We can look at these games you've created, and it's easy to tell that you've been exposed to a lot of different systems and consoles. L'Abbaye des Morts is styled after games for the ZX Spectrum, and the Castlevania-inspired Curse of Issyos shows that you definitely had some exposure to the NES. It begs the question: What systems/consoles did you grow up with, and which ones did you discover later on?
LM: My first contact with video games were arcades and the Spectrum ZX of my neighbours. I didn't own a system until the Sega Master System II. I bought it on purpose instead of the Spectrum, so my neighbours and I could play a wider range of games. Then, during the 16 bit era, 8 bit consoles drop down their prices, so I put my hands on a Nes (well, it was a chinesse Family Computer). I learned to love the specific differences of each system, so I never entered the Sega-Nintendo wars myself.
I had the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) only for a few months, because I temporally interchanged it for the Master System II with a friend, so we can try more games. Then my bigger brother had his first computer, an Amiga 500, where I discovered a program to draw some pixels (Deluxe Paint IV) and a bunch of technically impressive games.
Later I owned the Super Nintendo, with a few games because they were pretty expensive here, and then the PSX, PC, Xbox 360 and One.
I use to try old system when they're deprecated for a new ones and I can afford their games. It's good that I don't care that much about things being new [laughing].
PC has been a constant since I got mine for work, and I also had some access to the Game Boy family, but I never do big use of hand-held consoles, so I'm still exploring games.
I discovered the MSX computer later, with the use of emulators, and I also love their huge limitations, like I do with the ones of the Spectrum ZX now. Those specs make their games unique somehow.
BE: One more question. Maldita Castilla EX is unusual in your library for the fact that it is not freeware. You have given the world twelve other incredible games, all of them worthy of a price tag. All the work you have done to make each one is undoubtedly a considerable commitment. Tell me about why you have decided to do things this way. What inspires such a gift to us, the RetroFans?
LM: I think freeware is the most natural way of doing things, like when a kid do a sketch for his parents or a grandma make a cake for his grandson, so it's not something you decide, but something you keep doing.
Working this way I can made things out of love, not caring about business things like customers, release dates, after sales services or invoices. Curiously, not wasting time in these things make work easier, so I can actually trow more energy into actual game development and craft better games.
But there are more reasons. By the year I started making games, the style and values of earlier 2D games where almost buried by the market, so I also did things this way to preach about the values I care about: direct gameplay, fair but high difficulty, pixel art and chip tunes. You know, you can't put a paywall between you and your sermon [laughing].
With the use of Donate buttons, even if they're not that popular I've been able to keep the expenses of small things like website, copyrights and stuff like that. And then, I've been releasing very very limited editions of physical games for the people who want to support my project, so I can take my wife to a decent dinner and bring back some stolen moments in the name of players [laughing].
Nah, I think freeware is natural, and everyone who work in a creative industry feel the necessity of doing things outside of the market frame. Eventually, some of those side projects become more relevant than your actual commissioned work, and this happens basically because you have more room to give your work a soul.
BE: I would like to thank you again for taking the time to talk with me. I think I speak for all of us when I say this: I look forward eagerly to your future work and wish you all the best.
LM: Thanks so much!
Retro Fans: keep your eyes on this guy. If there's more coming, we can only assume it will meet or exceed the benchmark already present. If you're just now hearing of Locomalito, or only now knew he had so much in store for you, please dive in and download a few games. If you like Maldita Castilla, order the EX version on Steam... it is worth it. Locomalito is, after all, both preserving and breathing new life into a sacred art form.