This week at Rings & Coins, we’re celebrating Halloween. So, what better way to celebrate, than by looking back on the foundations of gaming’s archetypal Horror franchise. None other than Castlevania.
Now, when people think of the those behind Castlevania, one man’s name will come to mind more than any. That man is obviously Koji Igarashi, and he will be returning to the genre that he helped popularise soon, through his recently Kickstarted spiritual successor to the Castlevania series, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. However, despite being synonymous with the series, Igarashi’s primary contributions came with the switch of genre to what is now known as “Metroidvania“, beginning with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, a game considered by many to be one of the greatest of all time.
Despite Igarashi deservedly gaining massive amounts of credit for the success of the Castlevania series, he’s not the man who led its birth and creation. Well I suppose he technically could of been. You see thing is, most of Castlevania’s developmental origins, are shrouded in as much mystery as Dracula’s hidden castle, and to be quite honest, we’re still not really sure who was behind the legendary Vampire hunting franchise.
This situation has arisen primarily due to the fact that the credits at the end of a video game, once weren’t considered as essential to a game’s development, as they are today. Back when video gaming was still considered to be both an emerging market and an emerging medium for entertainment, developers were not always credited with their individual contributions to projects. Instead credit for the production was primarily ascribed to the team, or publisher as a whole.
This wasn’t just true of Japan’s industry, but was also seen on a global level too, with Atari famously actively refusing to allow developers to be credited for their work. One famous example of this comes within the classic Atari title Adventure, wherein developer Warren Robinett actually went to great efforts to insert his name into the game, hiding it as an Easter Egg. An Easter Egg that has gone on to become one of gaming’s most famous secrets, even being featured in the excellent novel Ready Player One.
Thankfully, this practice became more and more archaic following Atari’s demise and the rise of the NES. Nevertheless, this didn’t instantly lead to the full developer credit we see today. Instead, once the idea of crediting developers with their individual contribution became widespread, many companies, especially those based in Japan, such as Capcom and Konami, became terrified by the idea of other companies stealing their employees, and with them their development skills.
As such, many companies in the early part of the 8-bit era, instead credited developers through the use of pen names. Even famous developers that are now household names in the industry were not exempt from this, with developers such as Hitoshi Akamatsu and Keiji Inafune being credited by the nicknames “Invincibility” and “INAFKING” respectively. This is something that Keiji Inafune recalled in a 2013 interview with Destructoid:
Back then, of course, all the more talented programmers, artists, etc. could have been headhunted, so the one internal rule was you have to come up with a name that is different enough that people won’t know what your real name is. So long as you fulfill that criteria, you can be as crazy as anything, so everyone just went crazy and made whatever name they wanted to.
This is something that is evident in most of the earlier Castlevania titles, and you’ll notice I mentioned video game designer Hitoshi Akamatsu, a man credited as “Invincibility”. Interestingly though, the game in which Akamatsu is credited as “Invincibility” is none other than 1997’s Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, a game he not only directed, but also designed. This isn’t his only contribution to the series either, with Akamatsu also being credited as the director of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Combine this with the fact that it has been discovered that Akamatsu wrote the screenplay for the original entry in the series, and it’s not too much of a jump to assume that Akamatsu not only directed the original entry in the Vampire slaying franchise, but that he more than likely had a considerable role in its creation.
However, we can’t be sure, not only because Hitoshi Akamatsu seemingly dropped off the video game radar as the industry transitioned to 16-bit, but also because Castlevania’s credits neither utilised pen names, nor seemingly denied developer credit. Instead, proving how little focus was given to the credits roll at the end of a game in the early to mid 80s, Konami and the development team instead decided to treat Castlevania’s credits as a parody of the classic horror movies, filling it with references to these. Thus obscuring all knowledge of the original game’s development. Shall we take a look?
As you can see from the credits, all of these are in some way connected to the classics of Horror. With Bram Stoker and Christopher Lee specifically, being synonymous with the game’s primary antagonist Count Dracula, acting as creator and portrayer respectively. Nevertheless, whilst the comical value was appreciated, as was the nods to these horror masters, it has meant that we potentially lost an important part of gaming history, in respect to one of the industry’s longest running franchises. However, like Dracula’s Castle, maybe the myth is more fun than the truth.