Where do you go with a Konami franchise that's been a hardcore favourite since 1986? You call it Lords of Shadow and give it to Spanish developer Mercury Steam, evidently. We caught up with the game's producer on where Castlevania went next.
Lords of Shadow is already a long-running story. Konami essentially bottled a full Castlevania reveal for the game at Games Convention in 2008, "nervous" at its potential reception following the car crash that was Wii fighting title, Castlevania Judgment.
But the worry was unfounded. A few spectacular trailers later and we're all sitting pretty for the next in the Belmont saga, with Kojima Productions input confirmed and and producer Dave Cox on the Twitter offensive for the IP's first HD outing.
Konami's even drafted in some serious VO talent: protagonist Gabriel Belmont is voiced by Robert Carlyle, with his murdered wife, Marie, acted by Natascha McElhone.
One thing's obvious, then: while the whip - or "Combat Cross" - is still in place, this is a new Castlevania. Or is it? We asked the man with Gabriel's plan for some answers, yo.
VG247: You've already said the game's about 15 hours long for the "average" player. Can you quantify what you mean by average?
Dave Cox: I mean players who regularly play this type of game and have completed games of this ilk before. Players who usually purchase maybe an average of one game per month and have a good understanding of this genre. I don’t mean people who play Ninja Gaiden 15 times and have completed every single mode to expert level. Those types of players will finish Castlevania LOS somewhat quicker, I would imagine. I also don’t mean Mums who play Wii Fit; they will probably take a lot longer to complete Castlevania LOS.
Are there any side missions to add extra play, as such, or are we talking a linear adventure along the same lines as God of War, Dante, etc?
Dave Cox: The game does follow a linear path, however many levels have multiple routes where we encourage players to explore a bit. We have rewards for players that do explore more, including items that can increase their health or boost abilities. We also have scrolls that will fill the player in on background story details and world lore, which they can collect along the way. Overall we’re hoping that these items will enrich their perception of the world.
Can you take us through some of your abilities in the game? We're assuming the whip is the main weapon.
Dave Cox: The Combat Cross is the main weapon, and this can be upgraded a few times during the adventure to give you additional functionality such as gripping enemies or staking them. It’s both a cool weapon that allows the player to attack single or multiple enemies with different patterns, and you can use it in classic Castlevania style to swing across gaps or climb scenery.
You also have four secondary weapons that complement your main weapon. The two I can talk about now are Daggers and Holy Water. The Daggers can be thrown individually or in a fan, allowing multiple hits. Holy Water is, of course, an area of effect weapon that is particularly effective against vampires and other undead.
During the game you kill enemies and earn experience. These experience points allow you to purchase combo’s to augment your abilities even further. As you defeat some of the bigger and tougher enemies you will acquire relics. These are powerful items that will give Gabriel new ways to deal with the game’s challenges.
How is the team translating the series’ RPG/Super Metroid game play to 3D?
Dave Cox: Well, that concept is one that was developed mostly from Symphony of the Night onwards. The earlier Castlevania games did not focus on it at all.
So, quite simply, we are not incorporating those elements as deeply into the game’s structure. We are taking inspiration from the original premise of a lone warrior battling hordes of supernatural creatures with a whip. We are re-booting the series with homage’s to the original games and the original concept.
You have to understand that we are attempting to bring the series back to the mainstream, and in order to do that we can’t simply do the same thing over and over again. The fan base for Castlevania is loyal but not limited, and we can’t make games for such a narrow audience and keep the series relevant. We have to target new players and bring new people to Castlevania. We are doing that by going back to the series’ roots as an action hack-and-slash game with platforming, some puzzle elements and a brand new story.
Castlevania games appeal to people that like to collect every tiny upgrade in the game-world: how is that being handled?
Dave Cox: I don’t agree. Perhaps that can be said of the more recent games but in general, and as a fan myself, I never played a Castlevania game to collect every tiny upgrade. I played Castlevania games mostly for the atmosphere, the challenging platforming, the enemies and the setting.
Certainly the original classic Castlevania games were all about overcoming the environments and defeating the monsters and enemies along the way, and this game has that very much in mind.
Don’t get me wrong; players can and will have to find things along the way. For example, secondary weapons have to be restocked when they run out. Players have to break the objects in the world and defeat enemies to keep themselves replenished. I mentioned there are items that boost the player’s abilities as well as scrolls to find too, but this isn’t about players having lists of items.
This is about lone warrior battling supernatural creatures with a whip. This is about overcoming environments and defeating monsters and enemies along the way.
Are you worried that you're entering an overcrowded space? How much of a pull do you think Castlevania has compared to, say, God of War?
Dave Cox: I wouldn’t compare this game to God of War at all. If you want to make a comparison then it would be with Prince of Persia, or similar games. This isn’t about action set-piece after action set-piece; much as I love GOW we never set out to make a game like that.
This game is less bombastic. We have explosive combat for sure, and we have titanic enemies, but we also have a lot of platforming and exploration elements, and some puzzles too. This gives the player some respite, and lets them soak up the world and the atmosphere along the way.
I think when people finally get to play the game they will understand that our goal was to make an “old school” Castlevania game in 3D. This is a modern take on the classic, so expect things to be different.
And when you talk about crowded spaces or genres, well that’s true of pretty much all areas of gaming today isn’t it? As a developer you aim to give your audience something fun and satisfying. A game with a story that they want to play all the way through to see how it ends and a series of challenges or obstacles that stretch their gaming skills but don’t break them. I think that we’ve done that here.
Is this the end for "traditional" Castlevania?
Dave Cox: No, it’s the rebirth of “traditional” Castlevania.
Do any characters from the previous games reappear? Usually it's a new lead in each game.
Dave Cox: We deliberately took the decision that this game would be a standalone game and not tied into any of the previous games in the series. We did this because after 25 years of Castlevania games, the plot and characters were vast and huge.
New players wouldn’t have a clue what was going on. So we decided that this would be a reboot in every sense of the word, so that anyone could pick the game up and enjoy the story without needing to have played any other game in the series. This was very important.
However, having said that, we wanted the fan base to feel at home too. So yes, some characters from previous games will be appearing in the game, though not necessarily as they have appeared in old storylines but in an all-new, unconnected way.
Castlevania is famous for bosses: are any coming back from previous games?
Dave Cox: Yes. See my previous answer. Most enemies in the game are from previous Castlevania games but they are designed to fit into this world, so players may not immediately recognise them. Some are new, too.
You've said PS3 is the game's lead dev platform. Can you explain the reasoning behind this?
Dave Cox: Making a multi-format game means already you have to make compromises in certain areas right from the get-go. I think if you look at games that are format-specific you can see a clear difference in quality, especially in terms of visuals.
Both platforms have flagship games that are designed from the ground up to take advantage of all the things a certain platform can bring, but it can be a risk because your market is limited.
We knew this game was going to be multi-format and we looked at the strength and weaknesses of both machines, and deduced that leading on PS3 would help us make a game that would look identical on both platforms.
It is very important to me that no version is inferior. If you develop for Xbox 360 and port to PS3, or indeed vice versa, you can end up with a game that is great on one but lousy on another.
It’s certainly not about one console being superior to the other. This argument is bollocks, frankly [Story - Ed]; it’s about making the best of what both machines are good at and focussing on that because, believe me, both machines are a challenge to develop on no matter what you are doing.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow releases this year for PS3 and 360.