Double Sided Games are pleased to announce that they have successfully released their debut title, l’Abbaye des Morts 64.
Previously released for a multitude of platforms, l’Abbaye des Morts is a Commodore 64 port of a flick screen platform game, with some puzzle elements, set out in the medieval period. You play the role of Jean Raymond, a Cathar monk who has been expelled from Southern France, and finds himself being chased through a forest by a hoard of Crusaders. As you flee from your blood thirsty pursuers you come across an abandoned church and hastily fun inside and board up the entrance, providing a temporary respite. However, as you explore the church, you notice that the church is not what appears and that stark evil lies within.
Your objective is to explore the various chambers within the Church, avoiding numerous enemies, and collecting 12 crosses that will prepare you to do battle with the end game boss. But before you can collect all the crosses, you will have to use your wits to decipher cryptic scrolls to work out how to access unreachable triggers and uncover hidden passages.
l’Abbaye des Morts 64 plays very well. Controls are fluid and very responsive, which is critical in this type of game. Developer Antonio Savona has done an exceptional job to ensure that the player has a full sense of control.
In anticipation of its upcoming release of the game, VITNO had the pleasure to have a quick chat to Savona about l’Abbaye des Morts 64.
VITNO: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few of our questions on l’Abbaye des Morts 64. It certainly is a very well produced title. If memory serves me correctly, you were not the original coder for L’Abbaye 64, how did you come to work with Double Sided Games on this project?
That’s correct. Originally, the game was to be developed by my friend Andrea Schincaglia, who had worked with Saul Cross on Sidney Hunter for Collector Vision. Saul Cross had also prepared the graphics and music for L’Abbaye Des Morts, and he was waiting for Andrea to be available to develop it. Saul was also working on another project with me, Guy in a Vest, a fairly large project, so he asked me if I wanted to take a break from it and code L’Abbaye des morts first. I had a quick chat with Andrea and everything was quickly set.
VITNO: Quite interesting, was Andrea able to make any start at all or did you have to start from scratch?
There was no code done for L’Abbaye des morts when the project was assigned to me, so I started from scratch. Graphics and Sound, instead, were already 99% done. Which is the reason why I accepted in first place.
VITNO: What was the most challenging part of working on this project?
Flip screen platformers are generally easy to code. For L’Abbaye des morts there were a couple of minor challenges, though. The first one was supporting both PAL and NTSC, including the music playing at the same speed. Normally that’s a straightforward task, bot not if there’s a sprite multiplexer in the way, which is the case for L’Abbaye des morts. I think I found an interesting solution for that. The other challenge was squeezing everything in a single load, because I personally wanted to have a tape version. The game might be simple but it’s by no means “small”. There are 5 charsets, roughly 400 sprite-frames, a hi-res bitmap splash screen, many different enemies requiring bespoke AI-code and much much more. To cope with that, the game uses a lot of dynamic compression so that only the stuff that is needed at a certain moment in time is unpacked and available in RAM. This approach extends to the graphics, which means that to unpack assets for the next room while there’s stuff on screen, without causing any glitches or delays, is not always trivial.
VITNO: The main character does move around the screen very well. Did you use any of the other versions of L’Abbaye or perhaps another C64 game as a reference as to how you wanted the character to move?
I didn’t use any of them. I played the original version a lot to get an idea of the gameplay, but then I implemented everything from scratch. To me, getting the controls right is the most important thing in a game, and I was not pleased with any of the implementations I played: The main character moves at constant speed and jumps and falls following trajectories that are somehow hardcoded. In L’Abbaye Des morts 64 minimalist physics has been implemented, and this means that, for instance, when the character leaves a platform, he really falls accelerating up to a certain maximum speed before he hits the ground. Same for the sudden movements: there’s no such thing as going from still to top speed in a single frame, like too many games do nowadays. There’s a minimum, imperceptible acceleration, which doesn’t detract from the reactiveness of the game, but that still allows for things such as fine positioning on a platform. I didn’t invent anything, it’s stuff that has been going on since the times of Donkey Kong, and it’s a lesson that demigods of game development, like Jeff Minter, have been truing to teach us for a long time, but, alas, a lesson that is too often ignored nonetheless.
VITNO: Does the C64 version contain any features or screens not found on other versions of L’Abbaye?
We wanted to stay loyal to the original concept as much as possible, and preserve its play-ability. I think that Locomalito’s game is a little gem from this point of view, with a perfectly balanced difficulty curve. The game looks and sounds very different, but it should play very similarly. This didn’t prevent us from adding some little details here and there, so I guess the answer is: yes, there’s something more, after all, but I can’t give too much away!
Putting our focus back on reviewing the game, we had the pleasure to take a near final version of the game through its paces and here are our thoughts.
What We Liked
- Graphics – fantastic reinterpretation using high resolution with multi-colour overlays. Foreground graphics and enemies are varied on every screen. The screens with the fire breathing dragon and the lookout scene are stand outs.
- Sound – 8 different music tracks available which provides great sombre ambience.
- Controls – tight controls allowing for highly responsive movement
- Difficulty curve – this is spot on. Patience and persistence is rewarded with progress every time you play. In no way does the action ever get to frantic, its more about precision over speed.
What Could Be Improved
l’Abbaye des Morts only contains about 24 playable screens and doing a complete run through from start to finish (where you know all the secrets and puzzles) may only take 10 to 15 minutes. But getting to this stage is quite enjoyable and will take a few hours.
Putting aside the limited number of screens on offer, what is available within l’Abbaye des Morts 64 is of very good quality. Graphics, sound, great controls, and interest back story all come together well to provide an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
Check out the video version of this review using the link below: