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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Mercury Steam
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2010

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'Castlevania: Lords of Shadow' (PS3/X360) Developer Interview

by Adam Pavlacka on April 16, 2010 @ 4:00 a.m. PDT

Lords of Shadow is a new action-adventure game, a story of one man's journey to discover the true meaning of sacrifice amidst murder and betrayal.

WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!

I'm Dave Cox, and I'm producer of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.

WP: As a developer, what does it feel like to take on such a historic franchise and starting from scratch? In your presentation, you said that this game isn't tied to any other Castlevania titles. Obviously, this was inspired by classic enemies, but you've got a fresh slate. How did it feel when the job first landed in your lap?

DC: Well, the job didn't really land in my map, that's for sure! We were asked to pitch for a new Castlevania game, and not just us, but America and Japan as well. We took the original tenet, which is lone warrior battling supernatural creatures with a whip. We took that as our main design goal. Originally, we'd intended to remake the classic 8-bit game in 3-D, but very, very quickly, we realized that if we were going to appeal to new gamers, which is one of the briefs that Japan gave us, we would need to do something that wasn't connected to the previous games so that people could just jump straight in. Obviously, Castlevania has 25 years of history there, and it's very difficult for new people to just jump in and get it all.

There was a responsibility and excitement about the project. I think it's fair to say that people in Konami were not skeptical, but perhaps a bit unsure and worried about the direction we're taking because it's quite different and quite a radical change to the Castlevania that people know. At some point, when we presented a prototype to the senior management, and Mr. Hideo Kojima was in that meeting, that was when things changed. When they saw what we were doing and they could see it visually and understand it, that was when everybody got behind the title and pushed us to announce it to the world, so to speak.

WP: Kojima Productions is listed as co-producer of the game. What kind of impact have they had? Has it been more of an advisory role, where they step back and you do the day-to-day production, or has it been more 50-50 with Mercury Steam and Kojima Productions?

DC: Their involvement is really from a distance, so yeah, more of an advisory role. They're helping us with certain technical issues that we had. We had team members from Kojima Productions come to Spain to help us with facial animations and animations of the character. Kojima-san had a direct hand in redesigning Gabriel; originally, Gabriel was a much stockier, bulkier, heroic type of character. We made him more human, and we're continually tweaking Gabriel, actually. Even last week, we just changed his eye color from brown to blue. It's little things like that. He sends feedback, and he says, "Dave, you're the producer, and it's your call," but if he sends feedback, you take the feedback seriously. It pushes you to look at what you're doing and reevaluate sometimes when you think something looks really cool and he says, "Well, actually, maybe you should try it this way." That's gold, having somebody of his experience and caliber helping us on this project.

WP: Let's talk a bit about the visual aspect. The game looks brilliant, but you had mentioned that the design of Gabriel, the protagonist, looks very masculine. In many of the prior Castlevania games with the Japanese art direction, there's almost a feminine quality to the lead. When you talked about this internally, was this a major shift for you to say that you're going to make this a little harsher and more direct?

DC: Yeah, absolutely. The original premise was that this game would be very dark, very gritty, and much more adult than the previous games, and there was a certain fear about that. In many ways, we wanted to have the main character be more akin to the Belmonts and the characters from the classic Castlevania games from the 8- and 16-bit days. In that respect, I think we've achieved it. Gabriel himself wears the classic Simon Belmont armor from Castlevania II, for example. We've made him more masculine because we wanted to tell a story, an epic tale that people could believe in and a hero that people could identify with. I think if you want to appeal to mainstream gamers, you need to have an appealing main character.

WP: In terms of gameplay, we've had 3-D Castlevania games before. They've ranged from very rough to somewhat playable, but there's never been a good, solid 3-D control scheme. What approach have you taken to really make that feel good and make it work, rather than the clunky control schemes of the past?

DC: Well, we wanted combat to be snappy, strategic and fun to play, so in that respect, we've given Gabriel a lot of tools in his armory to make the combat feel very in-depth, but at the same time, this is an action-platformer. That's what the original Castlevania games were, action-platformers, so we wanted to have a very solid and very well-rounded platforming element to the game, and in order to do that, we felt that we needed to have a fixed camera system. When players are jumping around and swinging from chandeliers and things like that, they need to be able to not have to worry about the camera. We took the decision at the very beginning of the development phase to have a fixed camera system, and I think it works really well.

In one of the stages, an iconic clockwork tower stage, the camera is always showing the player where they need to go and giving them the best view of the platforming, and I think it's something that has not been done before, for whatever reason. I remember the N64 games, and it was because of the camera. I thought that we really need to make sure that this is fun and the camera's telling the player what to do, telling the player where to go next. In terms of combat as well, a fixed camera system works well to show the player the best view so they can perform their special moves and fight enemies strategically. They've got options and they don't have to sit there, trying to twiddle the camera and try to move it around during the middle of a heated battle. That was an important element.

WP: You've got some classic enemies coming back, but you also have some new enemies. Specifically, you were showing off the Titans, which are very reminiscent of the Colossi from Shadow of the Colossus. What can you tell us about the gameplay sequences with the Titans? How are they similar to those in Shadow of the Colossus, and what new items have you brought to the dynamic?

DC: Sure. The Titans were something that we wanted to introduce. The game is broken up into three stages — essentially combat, platforming and puzzles. We wanted to have stages where players could have all of these elements happening at once, so we decided to have enemies that players would use their combat skills; they would use all of their platforming skills so they'd have to climb over, swing, grab grip points and things like that; work out which runes they need to destroy in a puzzle element way; and all combined into an epic fight with a huge boss spilling over the screen. I didn't want to have Quick Time Events in this game. As much as I like Quick Time Events, I find them distracting; after all, I'm looking at the button and not at the enemy or the graphics or the visuals or the really cool things that are going on the screen. That's something that we've done with this game which hasn't really been done. Sure, Shadow of the Colossus did it, but we've done something which hasn't been done in a while, which is to have real-time fights, real-time climbing on enemies, and real-time puzzle-solving all combined into one.

WP: Robert Carlyle and Patrick Stewart are two very big names. In the past, Castlevania games have not featured big-name acting talent. Was there any fear that bringing in such big names would overshadow the game? What prompted this decision?

DC: Good question. Basically, we knew that we wanted to tell an important story — story is very important to this game — and we knew that in order to deliver the emotional wallop, the emotional punch, we would need acting of that caliber. When they came on board, when they originally read the scripts, they were very enthusiastic, and they brought something to the character, they brought something to the game that we didn't actually foresee in the beginning. They've brought an emotional, really strong feeling and depth to the characters to make the characters believable and make the world believable. Their input and the way that they tackled the roles — they would often say, "Why don't I try it this way?" — and it would open up new possibilities and actually affect the gameplay in many ways. I think it's important that players are attracted to the story and that the story is delivered in a way that they're used to, in film and TV. Robert and Patrick were fantastic to work with.

WP: Before we wrap it up, we have one last question. In your presentation, you talked about how the game was going to have a surprising ending. You showed a lot of enemies, but you didn't show Dracula. There was also a quote about, "You think you can bring someone back from the dead. You'll be one of us eventually." It seems a little bit of foreshadowing. Is there any implication that Gabriel may be the one who ends up being Dracula in the later games?

DC: Well, I'm not going to tell you the ending ... yet. There are twists and turns along the way, and I hope that players will be excited and surprised for sure.


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