Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
8th Oct 2010 | 09:41
We've been showing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow more than a bit of the love recently, not only because it's a classic gaming series reborn for the modern era (and we always like those), but mainly because it's such a sheer blast to play. Check our Castlevania: Lords of Shadow review for the full details.
So naturally we wanted to grab a word with the man responsible for the innovative reboot, MercurySteam producer David Cox. In this intriguing Q&A he tells the story of how Lords of Shadow was born as one of three pitches to a Konami panel, how MercurySteam had to overcome strong fan scepticism to push the title forward, what it was like working with Hollywood legends like Patrick Stewart and the key influence of Hideo Kojima on the title.
What's been your main design approach or philosophy for Castlevania Lords of Shadow?
To be true to the basic ethos for the series, yet also bring it bang up to date in a way that will surprise people. Castlevania is a series I love - a reason why I joined Konami, in fact - and when the chance was offered to pitch for the first next-gen version, there was no way I could have turned it down.
CLOS has been billed as a complete series reboot, what are your aims and hopes for the 'new' Castelvania?
To produce a game worthy of the Castlevania name. Lords of Shadow is a massive game, with a wealth of new elements and advances, but it retains the 'man with whip fights the undead' basis of the original game, and has many nods to the series' past. First and foremost, though, it is a new jump-on point for people. You don't have to know Castlevania lore - but you can enjoy an epic quest that will last 20 hours.
With the series having such as long heritage has it been difficult to live with fans' expectations?
The fan base absolutely hated the idea that we were working on it, to be honest - but I think we may be starting to win them over. We have only ever entered this with the aim to do the series justice. We couldn't, however, get bogged down with the various intricacies of the canonical storyline, but we have made sure that fans of the original series will see and experience elements that they will recognise, while also appreciating the way we have extrapolated key ideas from the past and reinvented them for the more powerful consoles.
CLOS certainly seems to feature a much more mature, sophisticated storyline, how have you approached story telling in the game?
This one area where Mr Kojima's influence has been key. When we started work, Gabriel was a fairly standard barbarian, but Mr Kojima went to great lengths to explain how, as the hero, players will need to emphasise with Gabriel if they are to care for his quest. We then went back to the drawing board and fleshed out the character, and new gameplay elements naturally started flowing from this. Gameplay ideas came organically from the story, and the story also benefitted from ideas in the game.
How does Gabriel's character and skills evolve over the course of the game?
Well, to say he is put through the wringer is a massive understatement! In terms of skills, he earns points for each kill and these can be traded for a number of key new attacks that will prove essential as the game progresses. This is one of the things where we hark back to the original series, as certain parts of stages are only accessible using specific moves, so there is that option to go back and fully explore a level. The original game used to show you parts of levels you had missed to entice you back, and that's something we really wanted to have in the new game. Gabriel also has access to light and dark magics, secondary weapons, etc, and these ensure that CLOS never descends into a repetitive hack'n'slash affair, but invites the player to master new attacks and constantly build upon them.
Spectacular boss characters have been a series' trademark- what's your approach been to these encounters?
The Titan fights are key to CLOS. We were keen to have a structure that never fell into the clichéd 'level, level, boss, level, level, boss' pattern, but the tale of the Titans is integral to the scenario. Secondly, we always wanted these fights to be in real-time, so that players genuinely felt they were tackling these behemoths and got the satisfaction of actually felling one. As such, during the Titan stages, players are fully responsible for climbing, timing their leaps, and when they attack these creatures' weak points. We always wanted to avoid QT events, and the feeling of physically bringing the Titans down represents some of the most satisfactory elements in the game.
What's been the biggest challenge in developing Lords of Shadow?
Ensuring the same level of high detail throughout and keeping its elements fresh and involving. We wanted a balance between combat without repetition, and platform elements that draw the player in. We also wanted to give a level of individuality to the many adversaries in the game, fleshing them out and, via the story, highlighting potential Achilles' heels they may have. The grotesque butcher, for instance, needs to be starved if he is to be KO'd... There's a lot like that in there.
Comparisons have been made with the gameplay styles of the God of War series, Prince of Persia as well as with Shadow of the Colossus, are they fair comparisons?
No, but I understand that people often need to pigeon hole a game before they have seen it, to explain a point. Yes, there are similarities - 3D, Titan battles, etc - but there is a lot in Castlevania Lords of Shadow that none of the others do. It genuinely harks back to the original series - and, at 25-years-old - it is fairer to say that the games you mention owe as much to the Castlevania series, as CLOS does to them!
CLOS is a joint production between MercurySteam and Kojima Productions how has that relationship worked in producing this game? What's been the biggest advantages and challenges and has Kojima-san had a big influence?
Mr Kojima was on the panel that judged our pitch the best of the three Castlevania ideas, and he was so impressed with our plans that he very kindly offered to help out. He has been involved more in a mentor role than fully hands-on, but has seen the game at every stage of its progression. As I mentioned, he helped us with the story and with character likenesses, but he has left us to our own devices. He always trusts my judgement, and is a brilliant ally - and who wouldn't want someone like Mr Kojima helping out and lending his expertise!
What's it been like working with stars like Patrick Stewart, Robert Carlyle and Natasha McElone? What does working with such well established acting talent bring to the game?
It has made us raise our game. We knew the story was good, but to have such actors of range and talent bringing it to life has added a new depth to the story. All have been genuinely interested in making the game better, offering advice and alternative ways to read a line or imply something. It has been a true privilege working with those guys.
Many were predicting CLOS could be the sleeper hit of the year - where would you like to take the series from here if that prediction comes true?
We have a few ideas, but first of all I want a holiday when this one is done... We'll see, but Castlevania has run for 25 years, and could easily run for as long again!