WIP Apr.25 09 - I haven't finished writing all of the sections yet.

Hydlide, NES


Hydlide NES screenshot slime desert worm

Hydlide is an early graphical action RPG. It was released on various platforms back in 1984 - 1986. There were a few sequels, but I won't be bringing those up here. It's quite possible that Hydlide was innovative when it came out, but it was quickly surpassed by other games. It has also aged rather badly.

Zelda 1 came out in 1986. After a long Hydlide session, jumping into Zelda 1 almost give you a 'next-gen' vibe. Still, Hydlide has a few interesting features. Most people never give the game a chance though, because it's rather easy to die, even on the very first screen. Anyways, I wanted to draw stuff!

Character design

The color placements and general masses are based on the sprites, but I'm toying around with some extrapolations too. The knights are just the same sprite with palette swaps, so I tried to come up with some different designs there. The Kobolds are inspired by these Japanese... meme cats, I'm not sure what they're called.

The Slime and Kobold turns into a different creature later in the game, but I was thinking that creature is just like a Pokémon 'evolution'.

I've worked with the NES version as reference. The MSX version look slightly different, and has scorpions instead of worms in the desert, etc.

Hydlide art Ladyam Hyper Slime Kobold Roper

(+) Good things about Hydlide

This game could very well had been one of my favourite ones.

(-) Bad things about Hydlide

Some people say that Hydlide is one of the worst NES games. Perhaps they're right. The reasons are few, but great in magnitude.

Precursor and Successor

It's interesting to look at Xanadu, Tower of Druaga, Hydlide and Zelda 1 side by side. The similarities are not just graphical. The battle mechanics of the games are similar with the sword and shield, and tile locked movement. Many enemies also behave similarly. I suppose Valkyrie No Bouken and Zelda might be related as well. Here's a comparison using a few of the sprites from the NES versions of Xanadu, Tower of Druaga, Hydlide and Zelda. To be fair I should really use the NEX MSX Hydlide sprites here, since NES Hydlide came out about the same time as Zelda 1. The Arcade version of Druaga is the oldest, but I don't have any sprites from that either. Xanadu has a lot of enemy sprites and probably inspired some designs in Kid Icarus and other games as well.

Druaga Hydlide Zelda sprite comparison




Hydlide doesn't feel like an epic game. It's rather compact, and if it wasn't for the terrible grind and obscure secrets Hydlide would almost be like a little casual RPG. I think it could be interesting to simply tweak the original a bit. If I were to make the game world huge, that would violate the original concept. So would changing the step based movement and combat (and thus also the tile based world design). There's not a lot of things for me to play with here, other than increasing replay value by adding depth to the items, character evolution and world interaction. It's not enough to make the game feel like it could be a big title. What I have in mind is probably more suited as a budget game or downloadable.

Components of the original game

There are some differences between the computer and console ('special') version of this game. I've only played the NES version. Apparently the magic is not in the older versions. This section is just for my reference.

Plot: Reasons and methods

What's the motive of evil forces? What do they have to gain? Why does the good guys want to get rid of the evil forces? What kind of logistics are needed to produce and spread troops out over an entire fantasy land? What kind of resistance would they meet?

One thing I can use here is the healing and damaging terrain types. Perhaps the evil forces came from another realm to feed on the life force of the land. Their roaming produces the type of terrain which damages the good guys, so naturally the good guys wants to get rid of the evil forces. This takes care of the reasons, and ties it in nicely with the gameplay.

But how do the enemy forces appear and maintain their numbers? In the original game they just respawn at the edges of the screen, and at level 6 or something a few of the enemies change into tougher versions. One idea that I have is to use some kind of towers scattered about. On top of each of these a pair of twin witches stands and teleports creatures onto the surrounding terrain.

But can they be permanently defeated? One problem with having enemies which can be permanently defeated is that the player might actually want to have evil enemies to level up on. Also, in a game where you can roam freely around, well, it's gonna get desolate real soon.

Just like the wizards in the original, the witches could be impossible to kill unless you take them out both at once. This could be made possible late game when the player don't need the low level overground enemies anymore.

Another idea is to have resources which both the good guys and evil forces can use to produce troops. Then it would be desirable to get rid of the evil forces because the player gains something tangible from doing so. Perhaps the towers gather the force of the surrounding land, a bit like resource nodes in dumbed down RTS games.

To counter the effect of their diminishing resources the evil forces could become more aggressive when they have lost enough towers. Perhaps they decide to wake up some scary demon as a last resort. Even the evil forces fear this demon, giving the evil forces some political dimension. This demon is powerful enough to make strong enemies appear everywhere (this reflects the enemy power-up found in the original game). The land turns into a battlefield. It's all about creating a feeling of conflict. It doesn't have to be more complex than some NPCs running around bumping into each other. Very few RPGs create a feeling that other good guys are actually interested in defending their land.

AI movements

Enemies can move around using different deterministic patterns, such as homing in on the player, following walls and taking left or right turns. Some might only turn when bumping into things, including other enemies. Really smart enemies might use manhattan pathfinding or something.

Player Healing / Resting / Camping

Using Resting as a healing mechanic could be an interesting alternative to potions. In Hydlide you just have to be on a certain terrain type to heal, such as friendly grass. I think this could be made more interesting if coupled with the game's speed-up function. To regain Health, you need to take a chance and sleep in a defenceless state for a while. The player could either set a timer, or the screen goes black while the clock is ticking (and the world is simulating in the background). Naturally, it would be ideal to rest behind city walls and in a nice bed.

Monsters could heal slowly over time, if they heal at all.


I guess it's kind of hard to make grind fun. Variation is more fun, so how can that be encouraged?

Usually when we learn stuff, we don't understand much at first, then after a few studies we get a little "Eureka" and eventually we feel that we've mastered the subject. However, just like cooks benefit from knowing chemistry, a warrior would benefit from fighting different enemies. That subject which we felt we had mastered earlier can be tackled with new insights gained from a different subject.

Maybe each enemy type could use a lookup table for a percentage of experience points gained after each new encounter. Each time a monster of a certain type is defeated, a pointer moves in the lookup table.

However, as time passes, the pointer also moves back in the Grind table, up to 100%. This would reflect the character having taken a break to come back with new insights. It'll force the player to move to new areas in order to optimize the XP intake (discouraging monotonous grind at the same location at least).

Another, simpler solution is found in Zelda 1, where the enemies on a screen could be temporarily depleted. They didn't return until the player had walked around a few screens.

Grind rewards

The player could learn more (get more XP) from more difficult enemies. With an open game world it would be possible for someone to defeat a difficult enemy and get tons of XP, but this would be difficult. Also, a fluke victory against a new difficult enemy won't give much XP due to the first encounters table.

Raising stats manually by spending points (like in Diablo) always made me feel creative and participative. In Hydlide we got Att, Def, HP and Mag to play with. I'd like to see apples and oranges choices for the character development. You can go for magic, or high attack, or high defense and hit points, or maybe a balance. You can't max out everything, so you're either an apple or an orange, or a bit of both.

Collecting money for Armour, Sword, Shield and magic books (or scrolls) could be fun too. It would make grinding a bit more rewarding if random loot turned up from time to time.


I generally dislike classes in RPGs and much prefer a system with limited resources which forces the player to specialize. However, I sometimes play games with self imposed restrictions to make the game more difficult, or just different. It greatly adds to the replay value. It could be interesting to design a system where the player can set up a number of restrictions and difficulty settings, then have those compiled into a short code (like a password) or a file. This file can then be shared and posted on the net as a challenge for other players.

One game which handed classes a bit differently was Valkyrie no Bouken. Basically you had two difficulty dimensions: Zodiac sign and Blood type. Zodiac sign dictates which stats are prioritized when leveling up. Blood type is more interesting because it dictates how the character levels up. Some level up fast early, and slow later on, or vice versa.

I think a similar system could work for this project. Perhaps if I label the classes 'character personalities' the player will have an easier time accepting the class restrictions. I think this appreach is a bit fun and different from the normal "Barbarian, Mage, Paladin" stuff.


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8-bit. The locations with the most grind and traffic deserves a longer tune. If I had the resources, I'd go for a set like this:

- by Niklas Jansson, Sept. 2009.