Meet The ‘Arzette’ Dev Salvaging The Zelda CD-i Games’ “Genuine Potential”

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The CD-i Games that Inspired an Old-Fashioned Platformer

Image: Limited Run Games

The year is 1991. ‘Video games’ — plastic, square-shaped cartridges that millions of people blow into every day — grip early-adopting proselytizers. Yet they don’t know their precious cartridge’s days are numbered. A mighty company from Kyoto rules the industry today, but a new laser-based challenger is lurking in the bushes. Is it the mighty Sony PlayStation? No, not for another three years. Is it the Sega CD? Well, actually, that’s coming in a couple of days. But today, on December 3rd, 1991, the Philips CD-i has arrived. Its name is short for ‘Compact Disc-Interactive,’ which suggests the device plays CDs, naturally, but it can also play video games… though not very well. Maybe you’ve heard of The Legend of Zelda? It will have three of those games! They will be absolutely terrible by every measure conceivable. Zelda’s creators will disavow them, in fact. And outside of the hatred for these Zelda games, soon, hardly anyone will remember the CD-i beyond the chasm of its nearly one billion dollar loss for its creators.

The year is now 2023. The landscape of technology is a tapestry of technical wizardry. Vast digital worlds fit in people’s pockets. Ray tracing, facial recognition, and crisp-resolution displays are common. Games are played by players separated by oceans. Meanwhile, virtual reality is coming into focus. All the while, a game developer named Seth Fulkerson (affectionately called “Dopply” by some) is set to release Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore, an old-fashioned platformer video game built from the ground up to faithfully emulate the peculiar, often laughable games once released on the Philips CD-i, and more specifically Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon. And he couldn’t be more serious about it.

Image: Limited Run Games

The game’s demo at PAX West 2023 is proof positive that no detail is too small to labor over, from the pitch-perfect reimaginings of those games’ visuals, to the main character’s floaty physics, to fully animated cutscenes — some of which are totally hidden unless you uncover them. (That’s a lot of work for an Easter Egg.) Fulkerson sat down with Nintendo Life to discuss Arzette, which is being published by retro game connoisseurs Limited Run, its release currently listed as “coming soon”. We discussed where his niche obsession originated, how he’s improved on the original recipe, as well as who he’s surprisingly recruited to bring his offbeat vision to life.

Interview with Seth “Dopply” Fulkerson

Alan Lopez for Nintendo Life: I’ve never asked this question before, though it’s truly not meant to be vindictive… I’ve never played a proper video game where its source material was widely perceived as purely bad. How do you make something ‘good,’ so to speak, out of something that people by and large don’t find that much value in?

Seth “Dopply” Fulkerson: I actually find a lot of genuine potential in those original games that some people think are bad. Yes, they have a ton of flaws. They’re definitely really flawed. But I do love the linear/non-linear mix of how levels are laid out. [CD-i games] typically have linear, stage-based levels, then you go back and you find power-ups, items, and stuff, then you go back through again. [Then] you find new paths and new items, which I like. And I really like the visual style. I love the hand-painted backgrounds, the super-detailed sprites…I find the cutscenes that some people find abhorrent to be, actually, super interesting and charming. I never set out to make a ‘bad’ game when I was working on Arzette. I knew I could get those genuine bits of potential from those original games and sort of make them into something that’s much better.

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Alan Lopez for Nintendo Life: The original games had a style that was born from constraints. What is it like to emulate such strong constraints?

Seth “Dopply” Fulkerson: We definitely went for that. For a lot of gameplay mechanics…like, infinitely respawning enemies, for instance…I knew I wouldn’t keep. But keeping it the same general art style and very similar sprite palette and outline…it was a really fun challenge. That’s interesting to me, especially because there’s blossomed an entire genre this past generation of people emulating retro games, yet I’m pretty sure this is the first ‘CD-i-like’ that I’ve ever seen. What would you say to someone who has no recollection or knowledge of those games and is playing Arzette for the first time?

Seth “Dopply” Fulkerson: A lot of people have no point of reference for what inspired Arzette, and they still really enjoy it. Because at the end of the day, it’s a hand-painted action platformer with charming and sometimes cheesy cutscenes. I think there’s still a lot to love about it. But if you are familiar with the source material, there’s Easter Eggs, there’s a few references here and there for you. I tried to not go so heavy with [references]. I presume legally, you cannot even reference [the original Zelda CD-i games]?

Alan Lopez for Nintendo Life: [laughter] No comment.

Seth “Dopply” Fulkerson: [laughter] No, no, no…I’m kidding. Obviously, they are the inspiration, and I’m billing it as the spiritual successor, but you know, I am trying to make it its own individual thing.

Image: Alan Lopez / Nintendo Life

Alan Lopez for Nintendo Life: Can you talk about the CD-i Zelda games, and your own experience with them?

Seth “Dopply” Fulkerson: Yeah! My first experience was like a lot of people: the memes, the video remixes and stuff. But you know, I have a soft spot for games that are perceived as ‘bad’ or underloved. So I really latched on to it. Especially because I really liked the art style, and the cutscenes, and also learning about why the games were the way they are, with all the development constraints. It’s really charming to me. I saw the potential in those games and I wanted to explore them, and hopefully show people that if you have enough time and resources and a good design, things will turn out good.

Alan Lopez for Nintendo Life: What is the potential of those games?

Seth “Dopply” Fulkerson: Well, that they would be fun. [laughter]

Image: Limited Run Games

Alan Lopez for Nintendo Life: Do you see potential for other people to make games like this?

Seth “Dopply” Fulkerson: I would certainly hope so. I would be very flattered if there was a new generation of ‘CD-i-likes,’ that would be fantastic. [laughter]

Alan Lopez for Nintendo Life: You’ve stated that you painted everything, is that correct?

Seth “Dopply” Fulkerson: Yes. Every single background in Arzette is hand-painted. So the design process was that I would do it all on graph paper, along with my design assistant and good friend, John Linneman of Digital Foundry. We sort of went back and forth on level designs. Then I would gray-box it, and then I would make a sketch based on those initial refined gray-boxes. Then I would hand it off to an artist to get it painted. And actually we have one of the painters from the original games that inspired Arzette, Rob Dunlavey. He did the world map and other level art for the game as well.

Image: Limited Run Games

Alan Lopez for Nintendo Life: How did you get ahold of him?

Seth “Dopply” Fulkerson: I actually got him, and a couple of the voice actors from the original games as well, Link and Zelda from the original games…

Alan Lopez for Nintendo Life: Oh! I didn’t know that.

Seth “Dopply” Fulkerson: Yes, I reached out and pitched the project; I made sure that they knew that it was not a joke, that I was being serious and I wasn’t just a crazy person. And they were super on board. I made it very clear that this was a passion project, like a love letter to…