Question of the Month

Almost twenty years ago, a small group of people had a vision. Borrowing from the worlds of horror and mythology, they conjured up a tale of good versus evil on a grand scale, and, while their tale was anything but groundbreaking, they struck a chord whose reverberations are today still felt. It's true that years later their vision and its ongoing legacy continue to interest us in one way or another. Staff members have come and gone, directors have changed, control has switched, genres have been jumped--and here we still stand, and no shortage of issues has surfaced as a result: What's the true order of the series? Why are there so many lost titles? Was shifting to 3D the right move? Should we ignore certain games in the lineage, as Koji Igarashi suggests? Why are these games losing popularity in Japan? Is Mathias "Dracula"? I've had my say site-wide, and now, here, I turn it to you, the loyal Castlevania fan, for your input.

The Question | The Answers | Past Questions and Answers

 

The Question for April 9th-

The Background: In 1999, the Konami division KCEK did the inevitable and brought the long-running Castlevania series into the world of three dimensions. This effort manifested itself as Castlevania 64, which was exclusive to the Nintendo 64. While many would argue as to the game's quality, Castlevania 64 was both a critical and a commercial disappointment. The number-one complaint by critic and consumer alike: "It just doesn't feel like 'Castlevania.' "

KCEK followed up this effort with the much-improved Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, but consumers continued to turn a blind eye. It was by now obvious that something important was lost in the translation from 2D to 3D, but it was and still is difficult to pinpoint what, exactly, is missing.

After returning to its side-scrolling roots with a three-game stop on the Game Boy Advance, Castlevania was ripe for another shot at tackling 3D. With Koji Igarashi and the division of KCET (which created the latter two GBA titles and generally receives credit for Symphony of the Night) behind it, there was hope that their newest title, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, would buck the trend and deliver to the masses a worthy adventure. In the past, even Koji, himself, had criticized the N64 titles and especially its developers for "not understanding Castlevania," so it was at least clear that their "mistakes" would not be repeated.

Though idealistically different, Lament met pretty much met the same fate--consumer indifference. There are plenty of reasons as to why people are skeptical and sometimes rejecting of the 3D offerings, but I naively trust that it has more to do with the games' overall quality than the dimensions of their worlds. But questions still remain: How do you make this series work in 3D? How do you make it feel like the celebrated classics? How do you satisfy the dual need to get the core consumer's attention and pull in the larger on-the-fence crowd?

I ask you:

How would you bring the series into the world of 3D? What changes should be made in the transition, if any; what should be left alone; and what should be added to fit that vision?

Send your answer to MrPerfectn@aol.com and they will be printed in this section on separate pages. Make your answer as long as you'd like, but also try to make it more than one or two sentences.

 

The Answers

What you would do (four answers per page):

   Answer(s) by vagrantcharly, Tyler Rietze, R1kxtra and MrChup0n          Answer(s) by Sam Mills and Nemesis Zero

 

What Mr. P, the staff member, would do:

Well, before we can come up with an idea, we have to get really specific and agree that two things are desperately needed if our game is to have any chance of being a commercial success:

Neither works without the other, and if bereft of this understanding, our product is doomed to fighting for scraps. We lobby to the suits at Konami for the appropriate funding and delicately explain to them (so that they don't view it as questioning authority and in time subject us to corporate sadism) that "Castlevania" could be a very viable brand, yet another strong pillar on which our company's consumer image will find support. But we need the money if we hope to exploit the available technologies to their fullest.

If our wish comes true, we now start making a game. We decide that our game is going to consist of two separate parts coming together to create a delicacy--that rare title that manages to be all new yet surprisingly familiar to those of nostalgic sensibility. Here are our ingredients:

Obviously, I'm not a game-maker, so, for our first part, I can't be sure what type of engine we could envision. There are several ideas, though, that I like: The system of a three-member team working together (as I suggest in my answer for the previous DS question); a first-person adventure, a la Metroid Prime; a game that shifts from 2D (or 2D, as it may be) to 3D, wherein you must solve puzzles Ocarina of Time-style by manipulating conditions in both perspectives; a mission-based adventure situated within the huge confines of Transylvania; a strategy-adventure where your character uses magic to possess and control enemy characters to make friends among the monsters and thus access new areas; or maybe, even, a combination thereof. If it's a good idea and we're committed to it, we'll overcome that sense of stagnation and successfully take Castlevania in a new direction.

Once we establish a strong idea, we start our research in regard to the second part. We separate into two groups what we feel did work compared to what didn't.

What worked:

  1. (1) A reactionary hero. If the action is streamlined (that is, not complex to where the hero has more powers than he needs), even a more casual gamer will feel compelled to play. If you mix in RPG elements and hundreds of weapons, you're overwhelming the player with an exhaustive number of options where only a few will suffice. Aria's soul-stealing system is an example of what works; there are a lot of options therein, yes, but manufactured is a pure Castlevania flavor--it's fun, it fits in with the series' many themes, and the player will appreciate the relativity.
  2. (2) A depth of challenge. We certainly don't want to supply a Ninja Gaiden-level of madness, but we want the player to put time into the experience, to justify his or her $50 purchase. There's no impetus to play through a title like Harmony of Dissonance a second time because you know where everything is, you lose that sense of exploration, and you know that victory is a slugfest away. How about we try something new: Maybe we can exploit a feature where generated are random bosses, items and areas that change the scope each time, so that any replay is at least partially unique? This is "depth," and it certainly hearkens back to when games like Dracula's Curse and Rondo allowed us to decide between alternate routes or at least conjured a sense of replayability.
  3. (3) Special effects. Though they shouldn't dominate the action, nothing wows the player like twisting and turning rooms, upside-down castles, and wild whip-swinging action (as seen in Ratchet and Clank and Metroid Prime). Anything beats zigzagging around and around generic-looking hallways that lead to other like-patterned halls. This is where "knowing the hardware" comes into effect.
  4. (4) A dose of nostalgia. Everyone remembers instances of in Simon's Quest entering into the castle while haunting music underlined the final stretch, or finding the ruins of Mother Brain's hideout, Tourain, in Super Metroid. Supplying such instances early and often will go a long way in capturing into the action the hardcore fan while educating newer players as to the rules of this universe; this may even encourage them to go back and discover the series' past. Some familiar tunes wouldn't hurt the effort, either--especially if we skip around any redundancy by instead remixing tunes from Belmont's Revenge (like Praying Clouds, the Cloud Castle theme) and other obscure titles.
  5. (5) A lot of unique monsters. While it was always a series' trademark, Symphony of the Night took it to a new level. It would be wise for us to continue this trend, for the sake of our new-and-improved soul-stealing system.

What didn't:

And this is our two-part plan: New ideas at the forefront supported by those that are tried and true. If our philosophy is convincing, then our finished product should work to impress both loyal and new (or returning) customer alike.

We know that our artists and musicians are topnotch, so we don't as much worry as much about artwork, graphics and music; the high standards, we know, will be met.

Now we have to pick a good time to release our game. The holidays are always a good choice, but we want to pick a date before December--before people start feeling the pressure to save up for the dreaded holiday rush. Halloween is the perfect date because it sets up numerous marketing possibilities. Really, we couldn't ask for a better-themed holiday. For Japan, we coordinate a release at around the same time, which is still good positioning even without a concurrent holiday.

 

Past Questions & Answers

July 8th 2004 - April 9th 2005: How should Konami utilize the Nintendo DS in the creation of a new game? Using its unique configuration, what ideas could be used to reinvent Castlevania-style play?
The Answers (including mine): Page 1 | Page 2

Back