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We have to do several double-takes when wandering around the cosy offices of Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 developer MercurySteam.
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We're convinced, on several occasions, that Simon Belmont - the protagonist of the team's stellar action adventure series - is walking the hallways himself. It is, alas, just members of the 100-strong team: lanky, wiry young Spaniards with flowing locks of dark hair and the brooding stares of vampire hunters, demon slayers... videogame programmers and creators.
Its not the only hint of art imitating life we discover while visiting the Madrid studio: the cab ride throws up a smattering of visuals that can't help but evoke the 2010 game that put this young developer on the map. The surrounding lands are hued mud-brown and desert-yellow, with patches of vegetation that wouldn't look out of place in one of Lords of Shadow's deep forests. Whether Madrid also hosts wandering demon beasts isn't something we're keen to find out.
It's astonishing to discover, after a stroll around the studio that takes all of ten minutes - taking in MercurySteam's art, programming and modelling teams - that there are two teams hard at work here. For a start, its deathly quiet. Making a triple-A blockbuster with a core 60-man team, as it did on the original Lords Of Shadow (its been bolstered to 80 for the sequel) is no mean feat, and there's clearly a focus and drive amongst the staff that suggests a well-oiled machine producing nothing but the sound of hard work. Tucked away in an adjacent room to the studio's main floor there are 20 more staff at work independently on the studio's first ever handheld title: 3DS Castlevania Lords of Shadow tie-in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate. The room is cramped, no bigger than a boardroom, and humid with machine heat. But, again, there's barely a peep out of the industrious staff, all quietly tinkering and tweaking with some gorgeous looking renders and models.
BIGGER IS BETTER
The success of Castlevania Lords of Shadow - Konami's most successful Castlevania to date and still shifting copies as word of mouth keeps its momentum up at retail - clearly hasn't affected the work ethic at MercurySteam, but it has increased the team's resources. Along with growing the studio from 60 to 100 for Lords Of Shadow 2 and Mirror Of Fate, there are signs of a bigger investment from publisher Konami: high-end graphics card boxes lie strewn at the end of the desks, most of which are adorned with the best tablets and screens on the market.
The sense is that MercurySteam is a studio on the up. One that cut its teeth on Castlevania Lords of Shadow, showing the world that it could do blockbuster on a budget. Having proved its credentials to the masses - and, crucially, to publisher Konami - there's every sign that MercurySteam is going to really make its mark with a bold sequel that takes Castlevania further than ever before into the dangerous, competitive realm of 3D action games.