Combat, balance, characters, and lessons learned
We learned a lot about Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 from our time at San Diego Comic-Con last week. We saw a demo showcasing the game's emphasis on exploration and combat, experienced it on PC, and have also delved into the music.
Now we have further details about the combat system, sense of balance, characters (including the roles that Alucard and Simon Belmont play), and the lessons learned from previous games. Oh, and we find out what happened to Igarashi.
All of this and more, below with producer Dave Cox.
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On refining the game’s combat system
What we did in the demo is give you the basic elements of the combat system, we give you the void sword and chaos sword, but you have unlimited power. In the actual game you don’t have that. You have to build up power. If you remember in the original Lords of Shadow, you had the focus bar. The way that worked was you hit enemies, and as you hit enemies you filled up the focus bar, if you got hit you lost focus. The goal is to build up focus so enemies drop blood. As they drop blood, you can decide if the blood goes into void power or chaos power, and that’s essentially how it works.
The key difference is that the void sword and chaos claws have their own set of combos and abilities. And we have the mastery system which is a combat tree for each weapon. So you have one for the shadow whip, one for the void sword, and one for the chaos claws. So when you buy combos by killing enemies and earning experience to buy combos, you can decide if you’re going to buy combos for the shadow whip, the void sword, or the chaos claws, and they’re all different so you have a lot more abilities this time than you did in the previous game.
As you use that particular combo you fill up a little gauge for that combo. When it’s filled as you’ve used it a lot in combat, that turns into a mastery, and that mastery can be siphoned into that weapon to upgrade it and make it more powerful, more special, and make it do things it couldn’t do before or make it more efficient than it was before, that kind of stuff.
I think we’ve tried to refine the combat and make it more powerful. What you haven’t seen in the demo are Dracula’s vampiric abilities. You can turn into mist, for example.
On the difficulties balancing a character as powerful as Dracula
What we do with the demo is give you the basics, then you wake up a thousand years in the future and you have nothing. You’re literally an old man who can barely walk, so you have to get back to where you were. Introducing enemies at the right time to fit what you might have at that particular moment is a challenge, obviously, but with this particular game you have more tools at your disposal, and I think that’s what makes combat interesting from a hack ‘n’ slash perspective.
We want to introduce the core tenants of the game, the focus system and weapons systems, then give it to you in chunks so as you progress you feel like you’re evolving and getting back to yourself. And by the end of the game, you obviously are a bad mother f***er. And you need to be because Satan’s back, and he’s one bad mother f***er too, and he wants payback for what you did to him in the last game.
On the lessons learned with Lords of Shadow and Mirror of Fate
We got a lot of fan feedback from the first game. A lot of people loved the combat system, but they wanted to explore. We created these amazing vistas, but they couldn’t look at them. Those are things we took onboard. A fixed camera is not friendly for exploration. So that’s the first thing we thought, we needed a free camera system. In order to do that it became evident straight away that if we wanted to maintain the art direction and very intricate details and flavor of what we did before, we needed a brand new engine. And that meant starting from the beginning, and that’s hard to do, and hard to sell to senior management. They ask, “When’s the sequel coming out? One year?,” and we’re like, “No, actually three years,” and they’re like, “What?!”
Exploration is something people really wanted to do. Backtrack, discover new secrets, find new abilities. That’s something we knew we would need to create a new engine for because it meant we couldn’t be a linear game anymore. It had to be a game where players could explore a real world. So that again was one of the reasons we’re using a lot of streaming technology. We’re doing a lot of things that you don’t see in the hack ‘n’ slash genre. You can go back, which you can’t do in a lot of games. In this game, you can. You can go back, you can go left, you can go right. And we have to be sure the game’s contents are loading in the background. We had to design the engine to be able to load and offload really quickly. And it’s a good thing because it’s thinking about the future, and thinking about next-gen. So we decided to take the plunge, create the game we really want to make, fix the problems from the first game, improve upon what we have, and get our tech ready for the next generation.
On the roles of Simon Belmont and Alucard
If you think of this as a separate universe, we’ve tried to take a different approach. Reintroduce these characters but in a different way. Alucard is Trevor Belmont, and Dracula killed his son and realized he killed his son at the last minute. It’s very tragic. When Robert Carlyle did that scene, he was really crying, and it was quite powerful. And when I play the game now, I say, “Wow,” and it really brings a tear to my eye. And we’ve never seen that from Alucard before. He was different in past games. We’ve never felt that emotional attachment to him and the tragedy of that character. We play on that in this game, as he’s very important to the story in Dracula’s motivation.
For Simon Belmont, I thought to myself playing the old games, why is it the Belmonts are always fighting Dracula? It’s never been explained. There was an opportunity to explain that within our universe because we weren’t beholden to the original timeline. The reason why is because there’s a blood feud and a misunderstanding. Real things that can happen with families, and we wanted to portray that, and I think that’s what‘s given the Lords of Shadow series an interesting take. It’s an interesting idea. And we suddenly understand why it’s the Belmonts. And we understand Dracula as a character.
That’s what interested me in doing this game from the beginning. It was being able to tell Dracula’s story and doing something unique with the characters that hadn’t been done before. That’s what the team got excited about.
On what ever happened to Igarashi
He’s still at Konami. I saw him a few weeks ago. He’s still there, creating games.
One thing I will say about Mr. Igarashi is that there were certain things we didn’t want to do in our game because we felt it was stepping on his toes. Out of respect. I can’t tell you now, but there was a certain thing that we were going to have in this game that I felt was going too far, it was encroaching on his universe. I didn’t want to do it purely because if he had the opportunity to do another title, it’s his baby and it’d be wrong for us to do that. We set out our story, we’re separate, this is our take. Whatever happens next, it’s not up to me.
He’s been very supportive of the title and has wished us luck. He’s not been involved at all or had a bad word to say.