Original french article available on Massivv.com
Hi Dave and for taking the time to see us. We know you have a busy schedule. So first of all, what’s gonna happen after Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 ? What are you looking forward to ?
D : I’m really looking forward to have a break because working 7 years made me insane. We worked straight almost from game n°1 to game n°2. Now I just feel like a relief, and I kinda wanna stop. And just have a break and recharge my batteries and then thinking about what I’m gonna do next. That’s kinda where I’m at. I think a few of the team kinda feel the same: we kinda ruled Castlevania out, we’ll need a bit of a rest. And then you know, recharge our batteries and then we’ll be like “Okay, what are we gonna do next ?”, it’s more like that, I guess.
How long did it take you to do all the games cause it’s true this can be a bit testing…
D : Well we started talking about it in 2005, started developing it in 2007, so you can imagine since 2007 we’ve been working non-stop on the Castlevania Lords of Shadow games, and there was no break in between 1 & 2 you know. We pretty much finished 1, and then it did really well, and then we started n°2, so yeah it’s been a long time since 2007 without holiday.
Wow, seven years. Talking about exhaustion hey? Yeah 7 years it’s a lot. What was I gonna say, just let grab that one… Did you also had to do a lot of crunching cause we used to work for Ubisoft. Back then, we would sometimes get so exhausted we would have to take a week off every now and then, you know, just to…
D : Yeah, we didn’t really crunch too much until the last 4 to 5 weeks where everybody, you know, would work almost all the time. As you know game development, we really planned it very well, our team is also very good at moving very fast, at devising their own technology without having to use somebody else’s technology. You know sometimes you’ve got to have a tool made, you’d have to get it created. Whereas them they would identify the problem and create the solution very quickly.
D : That was good yeah.
“We treat the two environments separately : you’ve got the city, and the castle. When you go back to the Castle, it’s almost a dream-like environment, and we play around with an element : that it might be Dracula’s mind”
That was pretty good. Talking about that technology and 3D engines, some studios would just make adjustments or plugins, some would start from scratch, etc. What was your approach ?
D : Mercury Steam had their own game engine, which is one the reasons why we chose them in the beginning. And it’s a really good technology as well, so the engine is very flexible. But the engine we used for the first game had some limitations, and when we came to design the 2nd game, we knew that those limitations would stop us from achieving what we want to achieve so we wrote the game engine from scratch. We spent like 9 months on the beginning building the engine so we had nothing to show for it : just some pretty artworks, rubicon screens & numbers, and the producers were “When can we see something ?!” That was a bit challenging but it paid off in the end cause you know, I think that 2 is a lot more ambitious than one. In terms of things that it does, more and more environments, more camera systems. We also fixed the framerate, the streaming technology, where there’s no lag, you know, all these things we could not have done with the previous engine. That was something, that was a big risk, for the beginning of a project, but it paid off in the end.
D : Well the guys in Japan where like : Well, we just need a sequel. We need it quick. We just didn’t want to do that, we were like we wanna fix some of the problems we had with the first game, we wanna take it to the next level, prove that we’ve got talent as a studio, and in order to prove that we have to take more time. There was a little bit of a battle at the beginning, but we won that battle and that’s why there’s a “second” or “third” one, cause I think the second one improves a lot on the first game.
Plus, I mean, design-wise and sales-wise, if you want to sell as a company, if you want great feedback you’ve gotta make sure it’s a finished product and not something rushed cause unfortunately people will remember that. Not the reasons why it happened but the fact that it happened and that it was bad.
D : As a former game designer, you know the kind of discussions that go on and on, you get a lot of pressure to make something that gets out of the door quickly cause, you know, obviously the company wants to make money. There was the notion of integrity, we wanted to improve the things we did. There was a certain fear at the beginning, well we did number 1, we took this big Japanese franchise, and we had fear because we didn’t want to take it too far, we had discussions like “oh you know, this might be pushing things too differently, this is not what people expect”. But with the success of the first game, it kinda made us go “Ah okay”, so we felt vindicated.
D : I think the fear went away, so we tried to push the boundaries further away, more than in the first one.
P-A : True. That’s always the first step that’s the hardest to take. Hmm… Regarding the art now, in fact, like a lot of players were wondering — not thinking that it was necessarily gonna be bad — but were thinking “Oh, it’s a new version of that”, so of course it’s gonna be new, let’s not expect anything cause that’s the best way to not get disappointed.
D : Right.
“We had a look around in Madrid, and there were these amazing statues, that crazy architecture next to those modern builidings, so that’s the original inspiration comes from”
But, at the same time, the first time we saw the architecture it was a good surprise. We were thinking “Wow this might actually work in reality, this is really complex, there are intricate & varied textures and buildings, gargoyles, you got ledges to grab that are pretty complex. People were pleased, cause actually a lot of them pay attention to the soundtrack, but I think the architecture is even more stunning. It forms a coherent world. Who did that and how did you achieve that result ?
D : I think for the art direction and the design, the studio went with something very unique and interesting : being a Spanish studio they kinda bring a different flavor as compared to American developers, or the ones from the UK, for example. So we get comparisons to different Spanish artists a lot. You know, from their movies, from their work, so I think what they did is they took some elements from the Japanese, notes from the characters and used them as an inspiration to create something new. I think it’s one of the strength of the studio, I thought that Mercury Steam was the right studio to reinvent Castlevania. For example, the main art director, I think he felt like that the freedom to push it forward. He took bold, strong steps to renew it, like when you think about the modern city : we’ve never seen a modern city in traditional Castlevania game. For example, having Dracula running around in Times Square didn’t feel right. You know, it’s not gonna fit. He wanted to design a city that felt like it belonged in a castle, so it’s an imagined city, a designed city, a cinematic city…
Would you say that, for example when we used to be teenagers not such a long time ago, we used to play Vampire The Masquerade games and stuff like that, and everybody nowadays has seen or heard about some kind of vampire in the media, did they take inspiration or did they tell you where they took it from ? Since when you create a new world it’s always hard, you have to base your inspiration on something. Did they talk about it with you ?
D : Yes of course. The main inspirations were the European cities : Madrid, Budapest, Eastern Europe, everywhere where you have very modern architecture standing right next to very old gothic buildings, and it feels like they belong together. And I guess that the inspiration for the original ideal. On our first design meetings we were like “Oh my God, how are we gonna make that game feel like a Castlevania game ?” cause what we ‘re gonna do here can influence the future. So we had a look around in Madrid, and there were these amazing statues, that crazy architecture next to those modern builidings, so that’s the original inspiration comes from.
What about other sources of inspiration ?
D : A lot of it came from the movies, from vampire literature, some architecture from Transylvania & western Europe. All of these things kinda made a melting pot, that created the world. But I think it still got that Spanish flavor. If you watch the trailer, you’ll see that the design of statues takes some inspiration from religion.
Some of the designs of the statues are great, but you have also get some messages everyone now and then, like there’s a really faithful atmosphere : the weapons, the characters… We’ve noticed that some came back like from the old episodes of the series. Of course there’s the story of Dracula. For example, the boss of the second DLC makes its comeback from an old episode, but I don’t wanna do any spoiler here, people have to discover the game on their own. And so on… Is it gonna happen againg in LoS2 ?
D : Well, yes. Deliberately. We treat the two environments separately : you’ve got the city, and the castle. When you go back to the Castle, it’s almost a dream-like environment, and we play around with an element : that it might be Dracula’s mind. There are forces of good and evil at play within his his mind. And we see characters we thought were dead, alive ! It’s a key element in the story, you know, things kinda make sense. Same with the environments, cause you can go there at will. In the Castle, you’ll wonder : is what am I seeing real ? Is it a dream ?
You never know exactly….
D : Exactly ! So we play a lot on that also, it’s very important. In many ways, we all think it’s important. What is really evil ? Does evil exists ? What are the people acting evil do ? Do you know they’re being evil ? People are often doing evil things because they think they’re doing the right thing? You see, Dracula is not Bela Lugosi, we wanna play one that has character. We also saw Breaking Bad and Tiny Sopranos : you have characters that do evil things, they sell drugs and stuff but after a while, you’ll find yourself rooting for them. You want them to win, and then you star to tell yourself “Oh God, morally, I’m supporting these guys, what’s going on?!” We want them to win, you start questioning yourself. And we wanted people to be thinking about Dracula “I’ve gotta all these powers and I’m enjoying it, I’m a badass, but oh my God I’m doing all these horrible things, I’m killing all these people”, so you’ve got that in the game quite a lot. Those questions.
That’s interesting because what happened is stuff like that makes you wonder what you would do as a person if you were forced to do something, if you had to do something based on that situation. In this case, doing nothing is still doing something.
D : Yeah, cause if you remember one of thing about this character, it’s that it was forced on him. Forces of God and others led him down this path, and he’s angry. At the same time, we showed Dracula showing love towards his son, his wife, showing forgiveness, showing pity, showing mercy. And on the other hand we show him being merciless, killing people, etc. I think that what makes him an interesting character.
That was pretty good. Concerning the bestiary, we’re wondering if there’s gonna be more monsters ? The first one was really good but what happens is at the end, you just want more, because it’s so good. It’s like a good movie : you arrive at the end and you’re like “Maaan, I need some more!”. So did it got expanded a little.
D : Absolutely. Also what we feel what was not so great about the first game was the pacing. We felt that some parts, some areas would work better with a different pacing. In LoS2, we tried to address that. Every 5 to 10 minutes, things are happening : new place, new monsters, cutscene, whatever. Something will be happening. Of course we need to have plenty of boss characters, new abilities, new skills. So apart from the new enemies, you’ll also see some the characters from the old games, but reimagined, redesigned for this world. Some characters you’ve seen in the previous LoS game. And of course the titans, like in the old game. You’ll also have more freedom this time : you’ll pretty much go wherever you want, whichever path you wanna take. So far it feels like the game is more ambitious, more epic than the first one. If it can be more epic than the first one. Yeah, I think it can.
“What was not so great about the first game was the pacing.In LoS2, every 5 to 10 minutes, things are happening : new place, new monsters, cutscene, whatever. Something will be happening”
Last question, as a game designer myself, what are the main games you play or you like outside of Castlevania when you actually have some time to relax ?
D : Hmm… I like action-adventure games, the kind of game we made Castlevania into. I’m not so much a multiplayer big shooter fan. So not really FPS, I like TPS more. But I’m also onto RPGs and tactical RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, that kind of game. So I’m a bit nerdy, I’m afraid.
D : I like playing tabletop games also.
Which last Japanese or western RPG and tabletop game did you like ?
D : I really liked Far Emblem to death, and one of favorite games is Final Fantasy Tactics, and I just backed the Unsung Story game on KickStarter, so I’m really excited about that. That’s the kind of nerdy games I’m playing. I recently played some type of dungeons & dragons board game, which is awesome, cause it’s a fast one, not more than one or two arounds, with lots & lots of interesting features,
How many players ?
D : Well, me and my daughter. Sometimes even solo. So, what can I say, I’m a total nerd!
Yes you are, but that’s perfect. FF Tactics also happens to be one my favorite t-rpg. By the way, we always talk about how it’s difficult for western people to work with Japanese teams…Now, as en Englishman, how difficult it is to work with a Spanish team ?
D : It’s challenging. I think one thing that comes across while working with Spanish, it’s their passion. They put a lot of it on the screen and I think people can sense it. You know, these guys sacrificed everything to make the game. It’s not a big team, you know, just a hundred people, which by nowadays standard is okay. I think with the Japanese, it’s all about their attention to details, something that we really admire. That’s something we’ve tried to incorporate into the development process to make sure we would pay attention to the little things too.
“I really liked Far Emblem to death, and one of favorite games is Final Fantasy Tactics, and I just backed the Unsung Story game on KickStarter, so I’m really excited about that. That’s the kind of nerdy games I’m playing”
Also, regarding the soundtrack, in LoS1, there were some nods to the music from other episodes. Very subtle references. How did you manage to do that ?
D : Well we made a conscious decision. The temptation was to do full blown versions of Vampire Killer and this sort of things but we deliberately said we were gonna take the music in a new direction. The quality is still pretty high. It will be available soon. There are other things in LoS2 you’ll pick up little by little when playing the game.
MASSIVV: Thanks a lot for you time!
D : You’re welcome !