Dave Cox, a producer at Konami, must have what many would consider to be a dream job. He's currently working with development studio Mercury Steam on a brand-new 3D Castlevania game. What's more, he's reporting directly to game design legend Hideo Kojima. We caught up with him to discuss how Castlevania: Lords of Shadow came to be and just how much involvement the Metal Gear mastermind has on the project.
Q: Why is it a reboot?
Dave Cox: The reason for us doing this was that Castlevania hadn't enjoyed the popularity it had in the past, it used to be one of Konami's big pillar titles, and over the years it's kind of knocked itself into a bit of a corner by just appealing to a real hardcore group of fans. And I think there was a desire in Konami to make the Castlevania franchise popular again and make it more mainstream. So that was our brief and in order to do that we felt that, with 25 years of history and storyline it would be very difficult for new players to jump in and understand what was going on. So that's the reason why we decided to reboot the story and reboot the franchise and make it more modern in its appearance so it would appeal to a wider area. One of the things, when we first proposed this idea to Japan, was that it was going to be a remake of the original 8-bit game, but we realised it had been done before with the story and everything and we thought it would be better to do something new. There are characters and story elements from previous Castlevania games that tie in, little nod and winks and homages and things like that so the fans will see these things, but we didn't want to alienate people who were perhaps playing it for the first time, so in that respect we've created something original.
Q: How did Mercury Steam get the job?
DC: Well I work for Konami's European product development division and we had a brief from senior management to pitch for Castlevania, not just us but America and Japan as well, so we all did pitches and ours was a remake of the original but with a more gritty and adult style and it was approved, essentially, to go ahead. But at that time there was still the caveat that we might make this an original IP. After the Games Convention we presented the prototype to senior management in Japan, and Kojima-san is one of the senior managers in Japan and he saw the project and it was at that point that everyone went "wow this looks cool, this looks great, let's move forward with it". So there was a worry about it, as to whether people would accept it, but eventually we kind of convinced them. It wasn't easy I can tell you.
Q: So how much input does Kojima have?
DC: His role is more of an advisory role, kind of overseeing the project, kind of helping us, mentoring us. The team have sent members to Spain to help us work on certain aspects of it that we've had problems with such as facial animations and some of the motion capture stuff that we did wasn't quite working well. Kojima-san had a direct input into how Gabriel turned out really, making him more human and more of an 'everyman' so he's not just an overblown hero. We started off with a throwback to the 8-bit games with this kind of barbarian type character and as the game progressed Kojima-san said because of the love interest and the way the story pans out we should have somebody that people can identify with. We've tweaked Gabriel and continue to tweak him everyday. I mean every week we're changing him and fussing over him, we changed his eye colour recently to blue just because it fitted the aesthetic of the red and the gold and it gives him a bit more character.
So he's overseeing it from afar, we send him builds every month and he sends his feedback but essentially he says: "Dave you're the producer, it's your call, if you don't agree with something I'm saying that's fine." But if you're getting feedback from Kojima-san then you'd be crazy not to take it seriously. But he's not involved in the day to day running of the project.
Q: The actors doing the voice acting are of a high calibre. Why did you aim so high?
DC: It's been amazing actually. We wanted to have a story that had an emotional impact on players and have something that was going to be memorable and we thought that the only way to do that was to have real high calibre talent. We sent the scripts to Robert Carlyle and Patrick Stewart and all the other actors and they brought a lot to the role that we hadn't foreseen. When we actually did the voiceovers they were changing things on the fly, saying things like "You know I would never say that, it would sound better if I said it like this," and we'd be going, "oh wow, that sounds awesome". We've kind of modified a few things but generally their input has been really cool. We wanted to have it believable so that when things happen in the game people feel the depth of the emotion and feel something, I'm hoping that people will get that side of the game.
Q: Let's talk about the obvious comparisons...
DC: Och, but hopefully you can see that it is different.
Q: Yep it is, but God of War...
DC: We're ripping off Castlevania. We're not ripping off God of War or Uncharted 2. Obviously those games are great games and I think any development studio would be crazy not to look at those kind of games because they are competitive products obviously. We have looked at those games but all along right from the get go it was about recreating Castlevania in 3D. And Castlevania pre-dates God of War by a good 20 years easily. Everything that's in the game is from Castlevania; the whip wielding has been in there since the year dot. Obviously in the 2D games you'd walk along and whip an enemy, walk along and whip an enemy, because it was in the 2D plane. So you've got to think about what it's going to be like having enemies coming from all over and what it's going to be like using your whip in all directions, how can we make the combat interesting? You have to give it depth, you have to give it something that is going to make players enjoy what they're doing. So in terms of combat we've looked at more games like Street Fighter to be honest because it's more about one on one fighting in the game with mid level bosses and special characters. We have the kind of enemies where you have to deal with a lot of enemies at once but I wanted to focus on tactics and really enjoyable combat one on one, so there's a lot of that in the game.