Apr 11, 2010
One of the biggest titles at Konami’s Press Event in San Francisco last night was easily Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Though I only got to watch a brief trailer, I did get to sit down with Dave Cox, a producer from Konami who’s working directly with the development team at Mercury Steam to put the game together.
But why exactly did Konami choose Mercury Steam, the studio that put out the otherwise unremarkable Jericho and Scrapland? Cox explains, “We met Mercury Steam before they did Jericho for Codemasters. They showed us some stuff that they were working on that, from a visual perspective, was very impressive. But at that point, Konami wasn’t ready to greenlight that particular project, so [Mercury Steam] went off and did Jericho. We kept in touch in with the guys, and they had a few issues with Jericho and with Codemasters. They were unhappy, and at the end of the project, they called me and they asked, ‘Dave, is there something we can do together?’ And we’d just been asked by the headquarters in Japan to come up with a next-gen Castlevania concept.”
The original idea was, “Let’s remake the original 8-bit game, but do it in 3D.” But the game has grown to be more than just a simple remake — as Cox says, “It evolved from that. We knew it had already been done before [in Super Castlevania IV], and we didn’t want to get tied in with the 26-year history of Castlevania. Because the thing that Japan said to us is, ‘We want to make this more mainstream. We want to broaden the audience.’” So though Lords of Shadow draws from the Castlevania mythos, Mercury Steam is trying to make a game that anyone can jump into, play and enjoy — even if they have no familiarity with the franchise.
But just because Konami is looking to reboot the series, doesn’t mean it’s totally hands-off. “We send builds to [Kojima Productions] every month,” Cox explains. “They send feedback, and we implement the feedback if we can…They sent team members over to help us with animations, and facial animations in particular. They gave us a few tips on shading, and I’m talking real specifics, like inside the mouth and the teeth and stuff like that…Only recently we changed his eyes to blue; he used to have brown eyes. Little comments that come over email and say, ‘Why don’t you try this,’ or ‘Why don’t you try that?’ Kojima is overseeing the project, but he says to me, ‘Dave, you’re the producer, you get the final call.’”
Music will play a big part in the game as well; “Lords of Shadow is a melancholy tale of this guy trying to bring back his dead wife. So we wanted to have a somber and dark musical score to go with it. We still have Castlevania themes throughout that you’ll hear and you’ll find familiar, but they fit into the game and the world that we’ve created…I’d say a third of the score includes classic tunes that long-time fans will immediately recognize.”
That doesn’t mean it’s all completely doom-and-gloom though. While you probably won’t whip a wall and have a fully cooked turkey fall out, Cox says, “There are light moments, comedic moments in the game.” But the major influences come from the dark, earlier games. “Super Castlevania IV is my favorite game; and the ideas behind that game, the whip-swinging, the latching on to things — that never got done again. And I really wanted to have that in there.”
Those are ideas that tie into Lord of Shadow’s focus on action-platforming, but Cox assures us that’s it’s not just mindless hack-and-slash. “You do gain experience, and experience points are your currency for purchasing new combos and abilities…and there are linear stages, and some of those stages are, ‘go from Point A to Point B,’ yes. But many stages are quite open for you to explore with lots of hidden artifacts to collect…and you can go back to revisit any stage you’ve completed to collect every last item.”
The first thing I thought when I saw the game, however, was God of War 3. The trailer Konami showed off at the event included massive, Titan-like enemies and third-person, combo-based combat. But Cox defends the game, saying, “We wanted to have big enemies and things like that, the scale and the epicness of it all. The comparisons to God of War are, I think, unfounded. When people see the game, play the game, they’ll see that Lords of Shadow is actually a slower-paced affair. There’s more exploration, there’s more freedom for the player to look around levels and find things. Sure, we have cool combat and cool setpieces; you need to have something like that to appeal to gamers today. But we still have those elements that made Castlevania great. We’re not moving that far away. I think when people see the game they’ll go, ‘That’s Castlevania.‘”
Cox does admit to some outside influences, however. “I’m a big Street Fighter fan, so there’s definitely that element in there. When you fight enemies, especially intelligent enemies, you’ve go to think about what you’re doing. You’ve got to dodge; you’ve got to counter. It’s almost like a one-on-one fighting game, especially with some of the boss characters.”
With about 15 hours of gameplay and over 50 stages, and settings which go well beyond the castle, Lords of Shadow at least has the ideas in place to make something exciting. And though Mercury Steam probably won’t have anything playable available until E3, I did learn about one fun Easter Egg. Cox verifies, “We’ve got the Konami Code in the game. If you enter the Konami Code, you can have the experience points pop up above the heads of the enemies, if you’re an old-school, Symphony of the Night fan.” So, while Konami might be focusing on getting new players into the game, at the least, it’s not forgetting its long-time fans.
Trailer: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow