Talking Castlevania with Producer Dave Cox
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was one of the surprises of the year when it was released back in 2010. Taking a beloved 2D side-scrolling franchise and turning it into a 3D action adventure, all while rebooting the series as a whole was a bold move, but one that paid off, with Lords of Shadow gaining strong critical response across the board and becoming one of the best selling Castlevania games. With a sequel, Mirror of Fate, releasing for the Nintendo 3DS at the start of March, I sat down with Dave Cox, one of the producers of the series, to ask about the upcoming game and the future of the Lords of Shadow series.
Jack Moulder: So I guess we’ll start with: what was the main appeal of bringing Mirror of Fate to the 3DS and to handheld consoles in general when Lords of Shadow and Lords of Shadow 2 are based on home consoles?
David Cox: Yeah, the reason this came about was when we finished Lords of Shadow we just didn’t know how popular, or how successful [it would be], or whether it was going to be accepted or anything. There was a lot of uncertainty about the title throughout the development whether this was the right direction to go in. The game came out in October, and I think it was probably mid-September and we’d pretty much finished and the studio didn’t have another project. We just didn’t have any idea about what was going to happen. Henrik, who’s the studio head, said to me, ‘I’ve got sixty mouths to feed here, we need another project,’ and I said, ‘Well, we could probably get a handheld title off the ground pretty quickly, so let’s come up with that, with a proposal.’ And we had this idea, that Gabriel and Marie had had a child, and we were going to include it in a Lords of Shadow epilogue, but we already had this big twist about Gabriel being Dracula and we thought it was just like Return of the King – we were going to end up with all these twists and it was going to be too much, so we left it out and then when we were talking about the handheld game, that was the premise that we were going to introduce the son and it was going to be Trevor Belmont and we were going to follow it through and everything. And we all sat ‘round the table and one of the guys, while we were all brainstorming, said, ‘Well it’d be cool if we did a sequel to Dracula’s Curse,’ and we all fell about laughing and I thought about it, and he said, ‘Yeah, what if Dracula’s Curse had come out 20 years ago and they hadn’t made another Castlevania since and this was the sequel 20 years later?’ And we got quite excited because we started thinking: ‘Yeah, multiple characters, branching pathways and stuff, we could have Simon Belmont in it, we could have Trevor, we could have Alucard, all sorts of iconic characters’ and that’s kind of where the idea came from, and it really came about because we just wanted to keep the studio going. I mean, we didn’t know, and then all of a sudden, we got this greenlit, we pitched the idea and headquarters liked it and they said, ‘Yeah, go ahead,’ and Lords of Shadow came out and got really good reviews, went on to be the most popular, most successful Castlevania ever released, so it sold the most copies ever, and so Japan were like, ‘We need a sequel’, and we said, ‘We’ve only just started this handheld game and we’ve got 60 people.’ I mean, it’s a nice position to be in, don’t get me wrong, but that’s essentially what happened. It wasn’t like a plan; we didn’t sit there planning anything like, ‘Oh, next we’re going do a handheld, and then we’re going to do Lords of Shadow 2.’ It was literally hand to mouth, so to speak.
Jack Moulder: Ok, you mentioned that you get to play as Gabriel Belmont, and Trevor and Simon, what does having three generations of the same family bring to the game?
David Cox: Yeah, I mean, the sort of premise, the whole idea is that in this game, we explore the relationship between the Belmonts and Dracula. So although it’s sort of focused on Dracula as a character, it’s also about why is it that the Belmonts have to defeat Dracula every time, you know, what’s that about, it’s never really been explained; it’s always been the premise that the Belmont goes to the castle, kills Dracula, that’s the end. So we felt it was really important to explain that relationship, why that’s happened, and having the different characters in each era, playing on the word of fate, the actions of Gabriel, the path that he’s taken has an effect on his son, and his son’s actions have an effect on his son. We kind of explore that and kind of the tragic tale of almost like dropping a stone in a pond, there’s ripples, and it’s those ripples that affect the other characters and that’s kind of how we explain the feud, the blood feud that’s there, how it’s come about. And I think at the end of it, you look at Dracula – well, this is our hope and intention – that you look at Dracula and go, ‘Ok, you’re an evil bastard, but I kind of understand how you got here. I kind of understand how this has happened to you.’ I mean, that’s what we’re trying to do, give a background to this issue that they have.
Jack Moulder: The 3D component of the 3DS: how crucial is that to the experience of the game, as opposed to bringing the game out on the PlayStation Vita?
David Cox: I think what you can boil it down to is that we considered the Vita, we considered the 3DS; you know, the team made a prototype very, very quickly, showed us what the game looked like and their ideas for the game: ‘Here it is on the Vita,’ and ‘Yeah, fantastic, that’s really nice, amazing.’ And ‘Here it is on the 3DS, but you can do this, we can bring the camera in, we can bring it out. And the world, it’s a 3D world, it looks like a diorama and we can play with the perceptions of the user because they’re expecting it to be a 2D game but it’ll actually be 3D and the camera will go third-person.’ And, I said to Jose Luis, ‘We can only do one of these games. We haven’t got enough people; we haven’t got enough money to do both. What do you want to do?’ And he said, ‘Look, we’re really excited about the 3DS. We want to do it on the 3DS because we think there’s more possibilities.’ And I was thinking, ‘Ok, we’re all going to give up two years of our lives working on this title, and it’s the 3DS that they’re excited about.’ And that’s really the only reason why we went with 3DS. It’s not to say it won’t ever come out on the Vita or on any other system because the game itself could easily get released on another system, but that essentially is the reason why we chose it for the 3DS.
Jack Moulder: Awesome. With the original Lords of Shadow as more of a 3D action-adventure sort of game, Mirror of Fate brings it back to the original 2D. Would you feel that Mirror of Fate is closer to Lords of Shadow, or to the original Castlevania games?
David Cox: It’s close. What we’re trying to do is straddle the old with the new. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was very much a bold step, a bold reimagining of the universe. And Mirror of Fate is very much a follow-up to that game. It’s very important to us that people who bought Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and loved it are getting something; they’re getting the sequel, they’re getting something when they get it in their hand they’ll go, ‘This feels familiar.’ But at the same time we felt we could have gone a little bit further in bringing in the more classic elements. But we’re still messing around with the consumers in as such that they think they’re getting a classic side-scroller, but in many ways it isn’t. It’s still very much a combat-focused, combat-oriented action game. That’s basically what the Lords of Shadow series is and ok, it does look like a 2D side-scroller, but in many ways it isn’t. We’ve always got the camera moving around; we’re always showing things. Later on, when you fight some of the big boss characters, the camera goes third-person; it comes right into the world, and it feels like a 3D action game. It feels like a natural successor. I’m not sure how successful we’ve been, but it feels like Lords of Shadow kind of stepping back into a classic feeling but keeping its modern sensibilities. That’s what I hope, anyway.
Jack Moulder: So, for people that have played the first Lords of Shadow, and they’re looking forward to Lords of Shadow 2, how crucial would you say that Mirror of Fate is to following the story of the games?
David Cox: We’ve tried to make each game – so Lords of Shadow, Mirror of Fate and Lords of Shadow 2 – separate in that in Lords of Shadow you had a story where Gabriel is trying to bring back his dead wife with the God Mask, and that had a conclusion (although you had this over-arching arc where Gabriel is Dracula and we showed you a bit of that), and the same with Lords of Shadow 2 – it’s focused on Dracula as a character and there’ll be a satisfying conclusion. Mirror of Fate, on the other hand, will sort of fit in the middle, and although it’s focused on Dracula, it is also showing the other side – the Belmont side of the story – and I think that, I’m hoping that the whole thing will make sense. But we’re also very, very keen that players wouldn’t pick up Mirror of Fate and think, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ You need to be able to play it. It needs to have a self-contained story – which it does […]but that overarching story is still there. So if players just play Mirror of Fate, they’re going to enjoy it because it has a beginning in it, it’s got an end, it’s got a satisfying conclusion, but there are things in there that’ll hopefully make them go, ‘I want to play Lords of Shadow 2, because I want to know where this is going to end’, so that main storyline is still there. The same with Lords of Shadow 2, you don’t need to have necessarily played Mirror of Fate or Lords of Shadow to understand. […] There is a separate story in Lords of Shadow 2 about Dracula that you can enjoy, you can understand what’s going on, and everything is kind of explained, but again that overarching story is there.
Jack Moulder: Ok, awesome. Thank you!
David Cox: Thank you.
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