Metal Gear Solid legend Hideo Kojima might be in charge of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and he might have announced the game's development during Konami's E3 2009 press conference, but it's producer and overall big Konami cheese David Cox, along with Spanish developer MercurySteam, who are charged with the nitty gritty of making the rebirth work. At gamescom last month we sat down with the man himself to get more on the game, the truth about Kojima's role on the project, and discovered there's another classic Konami game he'd love to give the modern treatment too.
VideoGamer.com: Mr Kojima is executive producing the game. What does that mean in terms of his role on the project?
David Cox: He's basically overall in charge of the project. I report to him. He's not involved in the day to day development of the game. That's my role. I'm working with MercurySteam very closely. I'm in Spain pretty much all of the time these days. But he's lending support, advice, not just technical advice, but advice on story elements - maybe you want to try doing this, maybe you want to move it in this direction. At the same time he's being quite hands off. He's allowing us the creativity and freedom to do what we want, but he feels that the game needs to be at a certain level, a certain quality. Putting the Kojima Productions name to it means we have to achieve that. So he's helping us, and his team are helping us. Some of his team guys are at MercurySteam working on the project as well. So it's more like Del Toro comes along every now and then, works with a young Spanish director, he wants to give him a leg up, wants to help him. He might help him with advice, might help him with some of the story direction, but essentially he's the top guy. I have to send him builds, I have to keep him up to date on what's going on. He comes to visit the developer every now and then and sees what we're doing, but generally he's pretty hands off.
VideoGamer.com: When he comes to town to see what you're doing, is it scary?
DC: Yeah we're shitting ourselves! You got to make sure that the quality of what you deliver is very very high. You're constantly saying to yourself, is that really good enough? Is that really going to be good enough? It's funny, because sometimes you think, no, he's not going to like that and he loves it, and then other times you think, check this out, it's amazing, and he'll go, hmm don't know. It's shit. So it's swings and roundabouts. I think there's a cultural thing there as well, with the Japanese company, western development, there are cultural things. He had a thing about Gabriel's face. You know I don't like Gabriel's face. What's wrong with his face? You know I can't really put my finger on it. And we're like... But it made us redesign him as a character. One of the things we wanted with Gabriel, we wanted a real person, not some one dimensional action hero. The story we're going to tell is quite sophisticated, quite emotional. We needed to have that kind of character, who was believable, nuanced, not just a good person, not just a bad person, but a real person with good and bad in him. And I think we pulled that off.
We sent the script to Robert Carlyle thinking there's no way this guy's going to get involved and he loved it. He absolutely loved the script and wanted to do it. And he did an amazing performance. I think when the game comes out people are going to be very surprised. The voice acting is amazing, really really good. We haven't really showed anything yet in terms of the story. I think hopefully it will surprise a few people.
VideoGamer.com: Has Kojima put his foot down regarding the length of the cutscenes?
DC: [Laughs] He hasn't been involved in story at all, or the cutscenes at all. He might have said, you know that camera angle would work better like this.
VideoGamer.com: Not, it should be longer?
DC: No. I think the cutscenes in the game are going to be about an hour, an hour and a half, maximum.
VideoGamer.com: In total, not each one?
DC: No no no! Jesus no! I think the longest one is 14 minutes and that's right at the end. The game's not going to be on 15 discs or anything like that. It's a Castlevania game. It's about action. It's about progressing the story. Story is important but it's not the most important element in the game. The most important element in the game is the combat, the exploration, the platforming, the puzzle solving, all those kinds of things, the atmosphere, that kind of stuff. That's more important.
VideoGamer.com: Is Lords of Shadow a rebirth, or does it follow on from a previous Castlevania game?
DC: It's not part of the so-called timeline. This is an original, standalone product. We didn't want to follow the timeline because we felt it would put us in a bit of a box in terms of what we could do creatively. We didn't want to be in that box. A lot of people don't understand the timeline. Even the fans - a lot of them don't really understand it. And we want to bring in new people to the game, to the series, to make it more mainstream. People perhaps who have never picked up a Castlevania before might actually seriously take a look at this game. We thought if we've got this storyline which has been evolving, evolving and evolving over all this time with all these characters etc, they're not really going to get into it. They might not be able to step into it.
At the same time, we didn't want to alienate everyone who's played Castlevania before. So we have to have the feelings and fit some tie-ins to the series, so the fans are going to go, oh my God I remember that. Oh my God they're doing this. But at the same time the new people aren't going go, eh? That's the approach we took. It's a bit like Casino Royale. It's very similar. There's lots of James Bond-ey things in there, little nods and winks. You think, ah that's cool the way they've done that. But at the same time it's its own film. It's its own standalone film. So this is a rebirth, definitely. It doesn't follow a timeline. It's not, people use the word canon, it's not canon. It's an original game. Very much a love letter to the original classic 'Vanias. That's the kind of games I grew up with and I loved. We use that as our inspiration for this title. So you're going to see a lot of things you see in the classic 'Vanias in this game.
VideoGamer.com: Is the idea for this to spark a new franchise?
DC: No. We felt the series had gone as far as it was going to go in its current style and current iteration. But for some things to continue to evolve, you've got to change it. You've got to make change. Change is sometimes hard. Especially the initial shock of change can be really really oh my God I don't like that. But I think as long as you've got familiar things that people can pick up on, and you can attract people with what you're doing because it's interesting stories, interesting characters, it's got cool gameplay, it's got really nice visuals - I think the change won't seem so bad once the game comes out. I think people will feel familiar with it, but at the same time it will be new. I want to show you more. I want to tell you more. But until you see the whole thing you won't get it. For the time being you're going to have to trust me, I suppose [laughs].
VideoGamer.com: Obviously there is whipping in the game. And obviously there is motion sensing technology coming out for the Xbox 360 and PS3. You've said 2010 for release of Castlevania. I'm thinking later 2010, which might be after both Sony and Microsoft have released their motion sensing products. Is there an opportunity to incorporate motion sensing into the game?
DC: Yeah, possibly. I don't know. I'm still on the fence about Natal and Sony's motion capture technology. I love my Wii. I love playing Wii games, but I don't want to be jumping around my living room playing a shooting or a platforming game. Funnily enough I had a meeting this morning about Natal. I think it offers some interesting aspects to gameplay, but I'm not sure it's something I'd want to bolt on to a game we're halfway through developing already. I think what we've got is really special. It's got some amazing gameplay elements we haven't shown yet, which I'm really excited about. If we just said, oh let's try and get Project Natal, try and get some kind of thing where the guy can run about... I don't think it would do the game justice or the series justice. I might consider developing a Natal game at a later stage. I'm yet to be convinced about Natal.
VideoGamer.com: So it's fair to say this game won't support Natal or Sony's wand?
DC: Not this game. Absolutely not.
VideoGamer.com: Can you tell me about the graphics engine that's being used?
DC: MercurySteam developed their engine themselves when they were working on the Scrapland, then they upgraded it to next generation. They came to me with a project prior to working on Jericho with Codemasters. The technology then was absolutely amazing. I knew they had something special. And I also knew we would have to be quick if we wanted to work with these guys. It's a very powerful engine. It can do anything a lot of the other engines can do out there and some more. The game itself at the moment is probably about 60 per cent complete, so I think you'll see quite a high level of polish on the title once we get nearer to E3 next year.
VideoGamer.com: What's the engine called?
DC: Mercury Engine. A lot of the guys in the development studio have a a lot of game experience. They've been developing games for 20, 30 years, so they're very experienced. When Kojima-san came to visit a few weeks ago, we went out to dinner afterwards and he said to me some of these guys are geniuses. Real geniuses. He said they're the kind of people you need to keep on the development team. This is a wonderful opportunity for them to show the world they can be considered a premium developer. I think you're only as good as the last game you did. For them it sticks in their throat when they get bad press about Jericho. When a bad game comes out sometimes it's not the developer's fault. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. You know working with a publisher and the publisher might have certain demands, etc etc. I think they're going to surprise a few people with this game. I think people will be impressed.
Somebody was asking me have we got quick time stuff in the game? Yeah. We do have some quick time events but not in terms of fighting boss characters. The Ice Titan you saw, we have big titans like that in the game, like Shadow of the Colossus. It's all real time. All the fights are real time. I hate QTEs. We do have these little mini-games but they're not involved in the main fights. They're, without revealing too much, we have a system that's very different to what's out there right now. We want to keep that under wraps for now but it doesn't involve you having to take your eyes off the screen. Some of these games you have to go square, triangle, circle, x, and you lose the impact of the amazing things that are happening on screen. We didn't want to have that in the game, so all the big titan fights and the boss fights in the game are real time.
VideoGamer.com: What kind of framerate are you guys looking for?
DC: Well, is framerate that important? I know that Dante's been saying about 60 frames per second. Do people really care? We will certainly have the game running at a very high framerate, so well above 30 frames per second, probably 40 or 50 frames. But it's not one of our design objectives to have the game running in 60 frames per second. Not at all.
VideoGamer.com: But 30 frames at least?
DC: At least.
VideoGamer.com: I understand you're a big old school gamer, and Rocket Night Adventures is one of your favourite games.
VideoGamer.com: Any other classic old school games you'd like to give a similar treatment to the one you're giving Castlevania?
DC: Yeah. I'd love to do something with Contra. But at the moment I'm completely focused on this. I want to carry on focusing on this until the game comes out, because we want to deliver something that's worthy of the Castlevania name. But yeah, who knows? It doesn't work like that at Konami. Basically you're competing against everyone else in all the other studios. So when you go to these big meetings and you say I've got this game idea, you're doing it in front of everyone. Everyone's got to be really impressed. So if I was going to do a Contra game, it would have to be something absolutely exceptional, in terms of not only visuals, but I'd like to do a really cool story associated with it as well.
VideoGamer.com: I bet you've half sorted the proposal out in your head?
DC: [Laughs] Maybe. Maybe. I used to know a guy called Mitch Ueno - you probably don't know but Mitch Ueno was the producer on Super Castlevania 4, and also the producer on Contra Alien Wars. This is a guy nobody knows about. The thing about Castlevania is it's always had people who have taken care of it. It's like a child. For the last 12 years we've had IGA-san [Koji Igarashi] looking after the series, but other creators added to the flavour of Castlevania and what Castlevania was all about. And now the baton has been passed to me I feel a huge responsibility. I think the fans will like what we're doing. I think they're probably a bit sceptical, some of them now at this point. But this game's definitely got all of the elements that have been in the previous 'Vanias. They're in there. We may not have shown it yet but they're definitely there. At the same time people are going to see this as a very new proposition in terms of what people expect from a Castlevania game. I'm not just talking about gameplay. I'm talking about story elements, where we take the game, where we take the main character, all of these things add up to something that's got a real emotional impact. So hopefully people are going to like it.
VideoGamer.com: Perhaps when you're wrapped up with Castlevania you can get that Contra proposal sorted?
DC: We'll see. Konami has got some great franchises. I think we need to work harder to get our games to a better level. We're working hard on this particular title and we have some plans internally to do some other stuff. My studio, for example, we have some new projects that we're working on that we haven't announced yet, which I hope will put Konami back in the mainstream with some cool games. Good quality, high calibre, high production standard games.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is due out on PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2010.