Indie games and homebrews have been around for as long as computers could be tinkered with by consumers. In the iconic “Heart of a Gamer” keynote presentation by the late, great Satoru Iwata, he told the story of how his first game was a baseball game made on a modded calculator. Iwata, like many developers of early video games, started out making games on devices not meant for them.
When video game consoles entered the market in the 1970s, homebrewers finally had game-specific computers they could modify to create their own games. You could say that it was this time period that led to the eventual birth of the “indie game.” Official support for indie game production, however, still had a long way to go.
It was in 1996 when Sony launched the Net Yaroze (ネットやろうぜ！[lit. “Let’s Net!”]) project in Japan, followed shortly by its launch in Europe in 1997. The Net Yaroze project made PlayStation development kits available at an affordable price to homebrewers, and it acknowledged the talent and potential of indie game developers.
Countless games were born through Net Yaroze dev kits, though not all of them quite made it to release. In 1998, a game called Magic Castle was being developed by a Japanese team headed by K. Matsunami (now a game designer at SEGA) and PIROWO. It was a fantasy action RPG that featured a rotatable, isometric camera and “rogue-like” gameplay. Due to financial constraints and a lack of manpower, the game never got out of its early development stage, despite Matsunami and PIROWO having spent eight months working on its concept and first playable iteration.
For the next 20 years, Magic Castle remained an unfulfilled dream and a painful memory for its developers, but the gaming community at large never even knew that such a game existed. In February 2020, PIROWO uploaded the original VHS tape of the game’s demo to his personal YouTube channel (embedded above), and the game’s existence was made known. But at this point, it was just a video: there was no playable copy of the demo to be found anywhere.
As it turns out, the upload of the game’s original demo was a teaser for the eventual announcement of the game’s release. In December 2020, PIROWO announced on Twitter that they had finally finished a full, playable version of Magic Castle.
In Magic Castle, you can play as one of four different classes to explore 20 floors of a castle, slaying enemies and collecting loot and upgrades along the way. Each class has different abilities and proficiencies that allow you to take a different approach each run, effectively making Magic Castle one of those rogue-lites that are so popular these days. It even completes the rogue-lite look with an isometric camera angle.
You can play Magic Castle through an emulator, or even through a PS1 if you can figure out how to burn its ISO onto a CD. It’s a cool piece of PlayStation history that the public hadn’t known about until just last year, and it’s a great example of the creativity fostered by Net Yaroze and other official projects in support of indie game development.
You can read more about K. Matsunami’s and PIROWO’s thoughts on the game, as well as download the game on the Magic Castle page in the unofficial Net Yaroze Europe Archive.
For more news and stories on the past and future of gaming, make sure to stay tuned to our website and Facebook page.
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