How did you personally become involved with the Castlevania series?
I originally joined Konami in 1997 and I was product manager for Symphony Of The Night, and that was my first job. The funny thing was, that was considered to be a spin-off series at the time because the main team was working on the Nintendo 64 game, and it's funny how things work out because ultimately the Nintendo 64 game didn't do very well and Symphony Of The Night got really good critical success. It didn't sell well, but it was critically very well recieved. That was my first brush with Castlevania professionally.
With this particular project, what happened was I was running the UK development studio and was in the States having a big worldwide meeting, when one of the top guys said "Igarashi-san is not doing a 3D Castlevania but we need one, who wants to do it?". I mean, it was literally that. I put my hand up and an American guy put his hand up, and he said: "Okay, well, come back in a few weeks with a pitch."
So we came back with our pitch and we made a demo, which I think was released on the internet somewhere, with Simon Belmont and the castle, the whole thing using MercurySteam's engine:
After showing this, we were told: "Okay, go ahead, go to prototype". But when we went to prototype he said: "No, no, it's all changed now, you can't do it, you've got to do something else." So we asked if we could just do it as an original title, as a new IP or something, and he said: "Okay, come back with a revised pitch" and we did.
It was the same thing, essentially - it had a guy with a whip who became this vampire and that kind of stuff so we didn't really change much. Then we had a big line-up meeting in Japan where everybody showed their products and we showed what we were doing, and Mr Kojima just asked: "Why isn't this Castlevania? Because it looks like Castlevania to me."
Everybody just sort of looked at each other sheepishly, and after the meeting he came up to me and said: "I want to help you guys, leave it with me and we'll come back to you." And that was it, it was Castlevania and we were back on track.
Were you ever concerned that you were essentially taking over this massive Japanese franchise?
No, that thought never crossed my mind until after we'd released the game! At the time it's because I was a big fan I was very much wanting to do something about the classic game. I wanted to take it in a new direction, but at the same time hark back to the classic games. We'd always used the classic games as our inspiration because both myself and Enric grew up with the 8-bit Castlevania games and we wanted to do something more akin to those titles, but modern and fresh at the same time.
I hadn't really considered how the series was perceived, we just knew that it wasn't selling well and had boxed itself into a corner and just wasn't popular any more. Konami was very specific - 'we want this to be popular again', 'we want this to bring us back to mainstream', 'that's the most important thing' - so we took a lot of risks, and went our own way.
And having Kojima-san's endorsement within a Japanese company meant that we were left alone to do what we wanted - we could report back every now and then with what we were doing but generally we had a pretty free hand to do it.
It wasn't until the game got released and we saw some of the criticism and we thought "oh, maybe this criticism is valid," especially with the exploration side of things. We felt personally, when we did the post-mortem, that that was the weakness of the game and we decided with Lords Of Shadow 2 (and Mirror Of Fate, of course) that we were going to fix that.
So not counting the ones you've been involved with, presumably your favourite Castlevania ever is...
Super Castlevania IV, because for me it's the perfect version of Castlevania, plus it came out at a time when... I think games move you in certain ways depending on where you are in life, and it just came at the right time in my life. It had a fantastic score, the game was amazing, I remember I got it and played it and completed it on the first night, playing through to the morning. I just had to get everything to do with it, I had to get the soundtrack, I absolutely loved it.
I liked the original game too because that was one of the first games I bought for the NES. I only bought it because I really liked the cover, it was this amazing cover with Dracula on it and I was like "wow, this looks cool", and I bought it just for that.
Plus it had a silver cover as well, whereas most of the other NES boxes at the time were black.
That's right, yeah! And so it really stood out. And when I played it, the music and everything, it just really captured my imagination. I was lucky to meet Mr. Ueno, the designer of Super Castlevania IV, when I joined Konami. He was such a humble guy, and he was very supportive when we were making Lords Of Shadow as well.
He works for EA now but he's a friend of mine so he was really supportive about what we were doing, he said: "Just bring your own ideas to it, don't be afraid about what people have done in the past, this is your chance and you've earned it, so just go for it."
Mirror Of Fate feels a little like Super Castlevania IV at times... the 3D depth effect looks similar to the Mode 7 and rotating room tricks in that game.
Someone actually asked me about that the other day, because you know that rotating room thing? We've got that in Lords Of Shadow 2! I remembered that barrel effect and thought: "We've got to have that."
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow - Mirror Of Fate is released in the US on March 5 and Europe on March 8.