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Making-Of: The revival of Beat'em up with Nightmare Creatures and bloody Dreamcast prototypes of Nightmare Creatures 2

In the suburbs of old London, an unhealthy cult is rediscovering the mysteries of ancient witchcraft: the stuff of the most horrific human fears. At the head of this infamous sect, the Brotherhood of Hecate, is a mad sorcerer bent on world domination. The foundations of the Nightmare Creatures scenario are laid out with this ultra-gory theme

Nightmare Creatures is a Beat'em up and survival horror video game series imagined by Cyrille Fontaine ( quoted in italics in this article) and Pascal Barret. Originally developed by Kalisto Entertainment, the series revolves around the evil bio-sorcerer Adam Crowley and the protagonists who try to stop him.

The games in the Nightmare Creatures franchise stand out from the rest thanks to a gothic atmosphere worthy of the best Horror or Dark Fantasy books. They are not for everyone, especially the faint of heart

At a time when Beat'em-ups were going out of fashion, dethroned by fighting games, the first episode of Nightmare Creatures (NC1) was released on Playstation 1 in 1997, as a reminder that the genre was not dead. Beat'em-ups just needed a second wind - to be dusted off and adapted to the latest consoles on the market.


This article, which echoes the one devoted to Kalisto and its two aborted Dreamcast projects Totem and Alpha, was originally intended to focus solely on Nightmare Creatures 2 (NC2) about the White Queen and its prototypes. It's unthinkable to talk only about NC2 without taking into account how NC1 came about, since the two are so closely linked. Above all it's a human adventure, lived through by the franchise's creators and the members of the development team who designed them.

Cyrille Fontaine's first experience in the industry began in 1993 with the game Fury of the Furries, released in 1994 on the Amiga and developed by Atreid Concept (formerly Kalisto Entertainment). He participated in its game design. Namco subsequently asked the young French development studio to create a variant incorporating the Japanese publisher's iconic Pac-Man character. For the release of Fury on Super Nintendo and Gameboy, the game (now published by Namco) changed its name to Pac-in-Time. Mega Drive and Game Gear versions were also planned, but were eventually cancelled. Building on the success of the first project, on which Cyrille had worked as a director, he went on to take part in several other titles, including Al Unser Jr Arcade Racing, the first Windows 95 game.

La terreur à portée de manette


«I myself am looking for a Rom of Pac-in-Time (Namco) on Mega Drive. I participated in this game which was released on SNES, but never on MD even though we had a complete version, a few bugs maybe... I have a Game Gear version dev rom, which I don't think was ever finished, but the MD version was almost gold.»

The idea for Nightmare Creatures was born when Cyrille Fontaine and Pascal Barret met. Both great fans of fantasy and horror films, it was after devouring the book "The Ways of Anubis" by Tim Powers that they began to imagine the outlines of their new project. At the same time, the Playstation had just been released, finally enabling real 3D. They wanted to launch a production that wasn't too ambitious, to learn how to make 3D games and familiarize themselves with this new technology. As no 3D Beat'em-up had yet been released, this type of game was chosen for what would become Nightmare Creatures.

«Back then, and still today, our references were classics like The Exorcist or Jaws. But for NC1, I think the Carpenter films like Fog, The Thing, Assault influenced us a lot. But THE film we refer to the most is probably Coppola's Dracula

The way Kalisto operated left plenty of freedom for employee initiative and creativity. Games based on orders or opportunities (Lucky Luke, The 5th Element...) rubbed shoulders with creations proposed by the employees themselves (NC1).

For some 18 months, a small team of 15 people worked in the shadows to conceive an atypical game that would thrill gamers on every continent. Crafting the gameplay was an arduous task, as it involved much more than simply choosing what movements the player would make. The budget allocated to the entire Nightmare Creatures 1 game would, today, buy you one half of a God of War cinematic. The evolution of production costs, and their costs in job terms, laid bare!.

«I would have liked to improve the combat, the gameplay is too repetitive and lacks depth, to base combat on parries and dodges, and not on combos. But then I followed the codes of the time.»

Ignatus en conquérant


The Team had to create its own tools (animation editor, level editors, engine, etc.). Nowadays, to simplify life and save time on video game development, many developers turn to off-the-shelf engines such as the Unreal Engine. In the nineties, generic engines were almost non-existent, and everything had to be built from scratch.

«I still find the graphics and atmosphere very successful for the PS1, and I don't think we could have done much better. More staging too, like the wolf that comes through the door at the start of the first level, or the gargoyle statue that comes to life a little further on. There's some of that in the game, but too little.»



Interestingly, Kalisto subcontracted the technology created for NC1 to external companies. For example, the game Tigrou et la chasse au miel, from French development studio DokiDenki, uses the same engine as Nightmare Creatures.

At the time, Kalisto was a very small developer based in Bordeaux (France), better known for its Mac games. Nightmare Creatures was promising and interested Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, who couldn't understand why the game's designers wanted to put metal music in a game set in the 19th century. Sony US, for their part, dragged their feet a little, and it was finally Activision who published the game in the US/CA zone. Japan was covered by Sony EI.

«The publishers have done a fantastic job: a big distribution push for SCEE (350,000 copies in day1) and ads in magazines, presence on demo CDs, and so on. Activision will be running a nationally broadcast TV ad. All this to say that the commercial success of the game is above all down to the publishers who believed in it.»

A mad scientist by the name of Adam Crowley inadvertently liberates a virus that has the power to transform the local population into demonic creatures and the walking dead. The only people capable of rescuing the situation were a priest, Father Ignatus Blackward, and Nadia F., a young woman specializing in immunology. By choosing one of the two characters at the start of the game, and taking into account their aptitudes and shortcomings, the player has to wander the dark, eerie alleys of 19th-century London. And so, a terrifying adventure begins!

«In all games there are a lot of differences between ambitions and the final game. Developing a game also means knowing how to cut. NC1 had planned for 5 playable characters, but only 2 will remain.»

Some levels were removed during the development of Nightmare Creatures. One of them took place at the Manche Tube construction site, on the way to Paris. According to rumors, it was really superb.



«I remember doing some research, I see the beginning of a map, but I don't think the level was as complete as that. In any case, it was the tunnel construction site, not the complete tunnel, which would be finished 150 years later. But there were several attempts before that.»

Crowley dans sa forme maléfique


In a deluge of blood, players had to face the worst monstrosities in a variety of locations (cemeteries, catacombs, crypts, old churches, dead cities, etc.), each more impressive than the last. As they progressed, the heroes learned to master devastating spells. Well-equipped with a wide range of combat skills (staff, halberd, etc.), the key was to slaughter the army of monsters that had taken over the area.

«I would also have worked more on the evolution of weapons/powers, which is something we added at the very last moment.»

While Nightmare Creatures had a few problems with censorship, there was still nothing else on the market that compared to the game's gloomy and violent content. In the land of the rising sun, at the request of Sony EI, the development team had to modify NC1's code so that decapitated heads could no longer be impaled on garden railings, as was the case elsewhere in the world. The reason was that a real serial killer had been on the rampage in Japan and, like NC1, this psychopath decapitated his victims and impaled them on spikes.

N'est'il pas mignon ?


«In the German *SKU, the blood is black (red elsewhere), and the 18+ game only sold in sex shops. I never got the statistics on sales in Germany, but it can't have been wonderful.»

*A stock-keeping unit (SKU) is a code made up of letters, numbers, symbols or any combination of these that uniquely identifies a product or service.

Nightmare Creatures would even go on to be involved in the fallout of the Columbine High School Massacre. The Columbine Victims' Parents' Group filed a complaint in the US against the publishers and distributors of Nightmare Creatures, Activision and Nintendo, because a cartridge of the game had been found in the bedroom of one of the killers. The main thrust of the complaint was based on the idea that the publishers had sold to the two murderers a game that glamorised violence and subliminally disconnected the criminal act from any real world consequences.

«I believe Doom was the subject of the same complaint. The judge finally rejected the lawsuit, so that was the end of it.»

Nightmare Creature surprised the video game world on its release. This invitation to a nightmare did not go unnoticed. The public was in attendance for a frenetic, primal experience. They were looking for just one thing: to let off steam.

Hemoglobin on the walls, blood spurting, guts blowing and disgusting monsters, Kalisto, the small but now large French development studio, was back with Nightmare Creatures 2. The game was released on May 23, 2000 for the Playstation 1. An Nintendo 64 version had even been developed in parallel with the PS1 version, but was cancelled as the console was swept away by the PS2 a little later. The Dreamcast adaptation, created by two programmers under Windows CE in just 3 months, was launched on October 20, 2000.

«When we started developing NC2, the N64 was the most powerful machine. Well, we're still arguing about that, but... And since we had the experience of NC1 on the N64 (and the dev kits), it seemed natural. In my memory, the N64 version of NC2 at least allowed you to move a character around a set. Maybe even a fight. It didn't have to go beyond a playable level, but was quite complete.»

For the history of the company, Kalisto Entertainment had the good fortune to work alongside SEGA thanks to a fortuitous combination of circumstances. At a time when graphics card manufacturers were more varied than they are today, the Bordeaux-based firm had a partnership with the VideoLogic brand. Members of the Bordeaux-based studio had the opportunity to produce specific versions of their games for the PowerVR graphics card, such as Ultimate Race, a game that was to be released on arcade terminals built around a PowerVR card. The Dreamcast's video circuit is based around the PowerVR's *rasterizer, giving Kalisto's team a significant technical advantage.

«I think I even remember that our Kalisto engineer, Olivier Goguel, took part in the development of this GPU, perhaps at the level of the drivers, or the microcode, I don't remember.»

From left to right: Pascal Barret (Art Director on the NC series), Guillaume Le Pennec (scriptwriter at Kalisto and former editor-in-chief of TILT magazine), Hideki Sato (creator of the Dreamcast), Cyrille Fontaine (producer and Game Designer on the NC series), Nicolas Gaume (founder of Kalisto) and François Hermellin (Japan correspondent for most French magazines at the time).


*A rasterizer is the part that converts, for example, a 3D image into pixels (points) that are displayed on screen.

Nightmare Creatures 2 is the sequel to the first episode, Nightmare Creatures 1, which was a resounding commercial and critical success.  NC1 entered the exclusive circle of games selling over a million copies, with total sales approaching 1.5 million copies sold in all formats (PS1, N64 and even PC, including a Chinese version in a beautiful wooden box).

With no sales report yet available, Kalisto decided to develop a sequel to NC1. At the time, there was practically no Internet, no Discord, and no way of knowing whether NC1 had been well received. This information would reach Kalisto much later.

Assuming at first that Nightmare Creatures 1 was on course to be a failure, the sequel was conceived with a view to correcting perceived shortcomings. NC2's development was far more professional, with the team growing from 15 to over 40 people. The tools provided by Sony were more advanced and efficient. New technology was developed to overcome the memory limitations of the PS1, such as *streaming game data from the CD. Nightmare Creature 2 was more ambitious than its predecessor, and took the opposite tack to many of the things that had been so appealing about NC1.

«We should have released a direct sequel the following Christmas, with new locations and new enemies. Instead, we're releasing a brand-new game, on a new, rather imperfect engine, but above all on a PS1 that's already been overtaken by the PS2. The game still sold, but not as well as NC1. The game should have been a simple quick sequel, like Tomb Raider 2, and given us time to make a PS2 sequel.»

*Streaming game data from the CD simply means reading the data needed for a game from the CD as it is needed. This can be any kind of data, such as part of a level, textures, sounds, videos, etc. Since console memory is limited, developers can't store the whole game in memory and so they have to read it as they need the information, while the game is ongoing.

NC2 changed publishers along the way. The new producer at Activision didn't believe in the project, technically too risky for him. For months, he asked for prototype after prototype, which wore out the development team. They felt they were making no progress. Finally unconvinced, the contract was terminated. Universal jumped at the opportunity. But Universal, all-powerful in the US, was not too successful in Japan. So they set up a joint venture with Konami to publish the game. Meetings between the two publishers, whose cultures were too different, were very stormy.

«The slightest request for content from one is blocked by the other. In the end, this will give us a certain freedom of action.»

The atmosphere is Nightmare Creatures 2's strongest point, coming first and foremost with its batch of disgusting, aggressive creatures. The hero, who isn't good-looking, is armed with a large axe and mutilates his opponents by striking them with unrestrained blows. Although it's sometimes difficult to distinguish London from Paris, certain levels, such as the Eiffel Tower, are particularly successful in the gothic horror genre.

«The Eiffel Tower operating company explained to us that they have the image rights to the tower at night (only). They're asking us to either pay a usage fee or remove the Eiffel Tower from the game. We planned to put our final boss there. Not only did we leave it, but we blew it up, which they probably wouldn't have accepted. Of course there was no consequence. It was all a bluff.»

Nightmare Creatures 2 carried on from where its predecessor left off, a century or so down the line. This time, the player took on the role of Herbert Wallace, the unfortunate subject of Adam Crowley's experiments. His appearance hinted at his suffering. After enduring years of horrific laboratory experiments, Wallace was ready to take revenge and settle the score in a frightening, bloody chase through London and Paris to save his beloved. Little did he know that his revenge was also the last hope of the world to be saved from a nightmarish demise.

«NC2  provided two playable characters, but only one will remain. A lot of locations have been removed, especially in NC2, which planned to be bigger. But the pressure of PS1's "last Christmas" forced us to make sacrifices.»

An influential and rather important French association, Famille de France, fought against violence in video games and wanted to enforce morality. They summoned Kalisto to implore them to stop development of Nightmare Creatures 2 and threatened to boycott its distribution. No action was taken.


Un tête de tueur ce héros de NC2

Nightmare Creatures II Wallace Concept

Armé, Wallace est prêt à se venger

Nightmare Creatures II artwork

L'ambiance est posée



Nightmare Creatures 2 Dreamcast Concept

De plus en plus terrifiant


Super Boo

Sega Dreamcast Nigthmare Creatures 2 Artwork

Nightmare Creature 2 took the recipe for success of the first opus and added a few improvements. Dreamcast owners could finally enjoy the thrill of an episode in the NC series.

The build was created on july 21 2000 at 21:07:32. This European prototype of Nightmare Creatures 2 would have been burned few days before the final PAL version, on August 2, 2000. This beta hides some very nice development options, including a Free Camera, ideal for getting close-ups of Herbert Wallace. Here's how to activate them:

Free Camera


Sound check

Nigthmare Creature 2 Dreamcast Prototype.jpg

You need to disconnect the controller from port A of the Dreamcast, then plug in a keyboard at the same place. An error message will appear. Then press the key on the keyboard corresponding to the action to be performed (as detailed below) and then plug the controller back into the console's port A.

  • Free Camera : with keyboard connected to port "A", press F2

  • Sound Check : with a keyboard connected to port "A", press F6 (hold down the button for a moment or press repeatedly to keep the option on the screen)

  • Explosion Sound Check : with a keyboard connected to the "provisional" port, press F8 (hold down the button for a moment or press the button several times to keep the option on the screen)

There are certainly more secrets to be uncovered, and the development options are complicated to make work, so good luck!

When the GD-Rs were burned, part of the developers' working environment must have been accidentally imported into the contents of the prototypes and even the final version. Some of the files present, once the GD-Rom has been extracted, seem to correspond directly to elements of the Dreamcast Katana SDK.

Nightmare Creatures 2 (Jul. 21 2000 Dreamcast Prototype).jpg

You can download this Nightmare Creatures II build below

Nightmare Creatures 2 (Jul. 21, 2000 Dreamcast Prototype)

I'd like to thank Cyrille Fontaine: for her availability, her kindness, for taking the time to answer my questions and even more. Her testimony takes us back in time to the development of Nightmare Creatures 1 and 2!

We'd like to thank the team at Kalisto (Mobygames link to Nightmare Creature 2) involved in the Nightmare Creatures franchise.

Special thanks to:

  • Neil Riddaway proofreading the english article

  • à Hicks proofreading the french article

More than 200 prototypes, documents and presskits have been dumped or scanned, and are available for free download in the "Releases prototypes and documents" section.

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