Legacy of Kain: Defiance Designer Diary
We talk to senior game designer Richard Lemarchand about the upcoming Legacy of Kain game.
by Gamespot Staff on October 23, 2003
By Richard Lemarchand Senior Game Designer
On Halloween of 1996, Crystal Dynamics released Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain upon an unsuspecting world, and the face of gothic gaming was changed forever.
One of the first action RPGs to be created for the PlayStation, the original Blood Omen combined isometric combat and exploration with cool, prerendered full-motion video cutscenes. It was very well received by a gaming public thirsty for adventures with mature themes and depth of play.
Kain has come a long way since his debut.
The game was rich in drama and mythology, and it cast the player in the role of Kain, an intelligent and cynical medieval nobleman, who is turned to the accursed life of a vampire. His destiny becomes inextricably entangled in a plot to control the fate of a world, named Nosgoth, that, over the coming years, gamers all around the world would find themselves increasingly drawn to.
In 1997, a newly formed development team at Crystal Dynamics was keen on making an action adventure game. Some core members of the team had worked on Blood Omen and were eager to combine the very best action mechanics, in the areas of combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving, with storytelling that was deeply integrated into the gameplay.
Using William Blake's epic poem Paradise Lost as a jumping-off point, the idea of a fallen vampire who becomes an eater of souls took shape. The world of Nosgoth provided an excellent backdrop and cast of characters for such a game, and, with the birth of a new hero in the form of Raziel, the team proceeded to craft their dreams. In 1999, Soul Reaver hit the streets to widespread critical acclaim, and a new franchise-within-a-franchise was born.
It's always nice to see vampire games that don't suck.
While Soul Reaver was still in development, and seeing as-yet untapped potential in the character of Kain, another Crystal Dynamics team began work on Blood Omen 2. They sought to create a game that focused less on puzzle-solving and more on action, and, by taking a step back in time from Soul Reaver, Kain was again shown as a "younger" vampire--a vampire who was lithe, devious, and thirsty for blood.
Blood Omen 2 was a great hit, and it introduced a new oppositional force to the world of Nosgoth in the form of Hylden. It also introduced us to the city of Meridian and gave us some insight into a more technologically advanced era of the world's history.
In late 1999, work began on Soul Reaver 2. This game gave us a chance to build on our success and expand the Nosgoth mythology, while at the same time it allowed us to showcase our commitment to action-oriented gameplay, interesting puzzle-solving, and great game storytelling. Kain's role was brought to the forefront, and fan favorites Vorador and Janos Audron made appearances. The game was a success, but it fell short of what the team had wanted to accomplish. In particular, some puzzles were too opaque, the combat was rather one-dimensional, and the story had to be restructured a couple of times before the game was completed. And it ended without a decent resolution.
Legacy of Kain: Defiance started life as Soul Reaver 3, and the existing Soul Reaver team was joined by many new and supremely gifted people, some of whom had also worked on Blood Omen 2. Very early on in preproduction, we made the decision to include Kain as a player character. We were all very excited to finally play as the craggy, regal, and, frankly, ass-kicking Soul Reaver incarnation of Kain.
The latest evolution in the series takes two great tastes that taste great together--Kain and Raziel--and has some wicked fun.
However, we didn't want to abandon our existing fans and had an earnest desire to draw together all the strands of story that had been left hanging by the previous games. We clearly had our work cut out for us, reconciling these seemingly conflicting goals!
Now that we had two player characters, we were excited by how this could create interesting gameplay. By switching off between Raziel and Kain, we could bring greater variety to the gameplay without forcing the player to learn a new control scheme. (Kain and Raziel use the same basic control scheme but have different special abilities.)
Games usually just follow one character, and follow them all of the time, which makes having anything other than a first-person narrator difficult. We realized that by switching between characters for different sections of the game, we'd be able to start experimenting with some of the cool storytelling tricks that novelists, comic book creators, and moviemakers have been using for years. We hope you'll agree that the technique works nicely when you get to play Defiance!
The ability to switch between the characters lends itself to some cool developments in storytelling and gameplay.
At no time did we just want to make another sequel. We wanted to do something that felt very fresh and that achieved a lot of what we'd been reaching for with the last few games: a really cool, intriguing, and, above all, exciting action adventure title with a lot of gameplay. Also, we were concerned that our potential audience might think that if they hadn't played the previous games, they wouldn't be able to get into our game.
So, our goal became to find a new game title that summarized the strands of the universe drawing together into one cool, new game. We gathered input from the team and from all around Eidos, and, after much deliberation, we decided on Legacy of Kain: Defiance.
We think this name sums up the collision of foes, old and new, as well as the resolution of destinies that have long been in the balance. We're very pleased with the way that the game has turned out, and now we're looking forward to seeing the responses from you, the gamers!
Senior game designer Richard Lemarchand talks about the creation of Raziel in our latest designer diary.
by Gamespot Staff on October 31, 2003
By Richard Lemarchand Senior Game Designer When project director Amy Hennig and the team at Crystal Dynamics set out to create Soul Reaver in 1997, one of the first seeds of inspiration came from a little-known character in a weird silent movie from 1920 called The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.
The film is one of the most famous examples of German Expressionism--a filmmaking movement that wanted to break away from the sober and theatrical conventions of the day to make surreal, dreamlike entertainment. This is not unlike the goals of the Soul Reaver team! The haunted, sunken look of the central character Cesare--a cadaverous, sleepwalking mystery man--provided some early visual inspiration for Raziel.
The haunted, sunken look of a central character from a weird silent movie called The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari provided some early visual inspiration for Raziel.
Additionally, it's no coincidence that there's a similarity between the warped and slanted sets in Caligari and the dizzily twisted aspects of Soul Reaver's Spectral Plane. Vampire fans will be interested to know that Caligari was a big influence on the infamous bloodsucker movie Nosferatu and continues to inspire Hollywood filmmakers to this day.
Over the course of many dozens of concept sketches, Raziel's form began to take shape. His blue color was inspired by Hindu tradition. His broken wings were meant to emphasize his tragic character and his nature as a "fallen angel." His name comes from rabbinical lore, with Raziel meaning "Secret of God." This is quite appropriate, since Raziel's destiny is hijacked by an ancient deity looking for an agent to do his dirty work.
Having gotten an idea of what the character was and what he looked like, we needed some history for him. Amy and some of the other team members had recently completed work on Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. That game concluded with Kain, the antihero, being faced with the choice either to sacrifice himself and save the world of Nosgoth or damn Nosgoth and become its king. The latter seemed like a cooler premise for a new game, and so, assuming that Kain had chosen the throne of a ruined world, the idea of a group of vampiric henchmen came up.
To quote Amy Hennig: "Raziel was once first among Kain's vampire lieutenants but was condemned to the Abyss for an apparent transgression against his master. He evolved beyond Kain, developing a pair of leathery wings. Kain tore the wings from Raziel's back, and ordered his fellow lieutenants to throw his broken body into the vortex at the center of the Lake of the Dead.
The descent into the watery maelstrom should have destroyed him, but instead Raziel was transformed. Resurrected by a mysterious ancient god in the depths of the Abyss, Raziel emerged to wreak his vengeance upon Kain and his former brethren--no longer as a vampire but now as a reaper of souls."
Raziel's name comes from rabbinical lore and means "Secret of God."
Now that we had the seed of a story, we needed some motivation for Raziel. This would start to give us a framework for the level progression and would occasionally inspire game mechanics. It would also move Raziel forward through the plot. Amy again:
"In the beginning, Raziel was driven only by rage and a lust for vengeance. As his quest deepened, he realized that Kain had not destroyed him out of jealousy but as part of some greater plan. Kain's goals are still a mystery, and Raziel resents playing his pawn.
Ultimately, Raziel realizes that he has been used time and again, manipulated by all the players around him, like Kain, his creator; the Elder God, who resurrected him; Moebius, the devious Time Streamer; and even the ancient vampire Janos Audron, his hoped-for mentor.
While his hatred for Kain still remains, Raziel is now driven by only one motivation--to throw off the shackles of Fate and the machinations of his enemies; to exert his own free will; and to determine his own destiny."
Heady stuff! And it's only part of the equation. Even while we're making a story-based game, we've always tried to stay very focused on gameplay here at Crystal Dynamics. Our ultimate goal has always been to make gripping, fast-paced games with responsive, action-oriented play mechanics, and a story that is knitted into the gameplay in a convincing way. Legacy of Kain: Defiance is no exception. In fact, we think we might've pulled it off better than ever before.
Fans of the series will be pleased to know that most of Raziel's abilities have been carried over from the previous games.
Fans of the series will be pleased to know that most of Raziel's abilities have been carried over from the previous games, while the ones that weren't working well have been removed or fixed. And there are more than a few new surprises in store.
Legacy of Kain: Defiance is a game that you can pick up and play immediately. Like all good action adventures, we're lucky that we can leverage the elegant simplicity of a well-established control scheme and can then start building interesting new things on top. Raziel can still creep, run, jump, glide, and "phase" through certain barriers.
He still bears a legendary sword--the Soul Reaver--in its "wraith blade" form and can imbue it with different elements in order to solve problems and defeat different types of enemies. We worked hard to balance the puzzle-solving and combat elements of the different Reavers, trying to make each one feel distinct. I don't want to give the game away just yet, though, so I'm afraid you'll have to wait and see what each element can do. Zombie barbeque, anyone?
Most of this type of design work--deciding on the abilities that the player characters have--has to be done in preproduction so that when you begin to create the levels for the game, you know what abilities you're designing for. It takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline to keep focused on what's fun about the abstract elements of a particular mechanic, but if you have a working game engine--and we were very lucky in that regard--you can discover a lot by trying things out and then feeding your discoveries back into the "paper" design process.
Raziel can still visit the Spectral Realm--a parallel world of the dead that mirrors the "real" world but has different physical properties and which is populated with souls and the unspeakable creatures that consume them. For Defiance we've given Spectral a graphical revamp and, more importantly, a gameplay makeover.
Raziel still bears a legendary sword-- the Soul Reaver--in its "wraith blade" form and can imbue it with different elements in order to solve problems and defeat different types of enemies.
We've found that we have to design the role of the Spectral Realm very early on in the level layout process for it to work properly. We've always faced a big challenge with Spectral. In order to foreshadow the puzzles you want the player to solve, you really have to make the role of Spectral, in puzzle-solving, somewhat predictable. It has to be done without being mindlessly obvious, which is a bigger challenge than it sounds. We learned that if we used the Spectral Plane often enough, it remained in the forefront of player's minds. We then had much better success with each new Spectral puzzle we presented.
Of course, there's also a big production challenge in implementing the Spectral Realm, as it essentially doubles the amount of level content you have to create for Raziel. Our exceptional programmers invented some cool new ways of automating the Spectral creation process, and it helps that we're a big gang of workaholics.
That about wraps up our overview of Raziel's character. Stayed tuned for more Defiance "downlow" in the next designer diary. Next time we'll be talking about Kain and the advancements we've made in our combat system.
Game designer Kyle Mannerberg talks about the evolution of Kain in our latest diary.
by Gamespot Staff on November 5, 2003
By Kyle Mannerberg Game Designer Back in 1996, Crystal Dynamics produced the progenitor of the Legacy of Kain series. Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain was originally developed for the PlayStation game console and centered on the exploits of the fledgling antihero Kain in his quest for revenge against the forces that stole his mortal life.
Among the large cast of characters who populate the world of Nosgoth, Kain has remained constant as the most important character in the series. He made many appearances in the Soul Reaver series as one of Raziel's main antagonists and continued to further explore his own unique destiny in Blood Omen 2. What it is that has kept Kain so vitally important to the series, and where did his journey start?
Kain has undergone some pretty dramatic changes since he started life as a simple, yet surly, sketch.
To quote Amy Hennig:
"In the centuries before Kain's birth, the land was protected by an oligarchy of sorcerers known as the Circle of Nine. These guardians were sworn to serve and protect the Pillars of Nosgoth, the ancient edifice towering over the earth as a manifestation of the mysterious power which preserved and gave life to the land.
The Circle was infiltrated by an enemy and Ariel, the Balance Guardian, was cruelly murdered. Her assassination sent psychic shock waves throughout the Circle, and in their derangement, the remaining sorcerers turned their powers to dark purposes, abandoning the Pillars to stand like silent, decaying sentries.
Into this dying world, Kain was born. The son of an aristocratic Nosgoth family, he lived the privileged life of a nobleman, never realizing his undiscovered destiny--that he was marked from birth as Ariel's successor and was fated to take her place as the Guardian of Balance. Ignorant of his destiny, the ambitious but directionless young nobleman was ambushed by brigands and murdered, cruelly impaled on his assassin's sword.
Plucked from the brink of oblivion by the necromancer Mortanius (the Guardian of Death), Kain awakened in the underworld, still transfixed by his enemy's blade. Tormented by his hunger for vengeance, and heedless of the spiritual cost, Kain recklessly accepted the necromancer's Faustian offer for revenge, and rose from his tomb to discover that he had been resurrected as a vampire.
Kain is, not surprisingly, a pretty big fan of revenge.
Kain quickly tracked down his assassins and exacted his bloody revenge. With his vengeance and hunger sated, he sought only a cure for the vampiric curse that afflicted him. Guided by Mortanius and the specter of Ariel, Kain hunted down each of the corrupt sorcerers now poisoning Nosgoth. Only with their deaths could the Pillars be healed. Kain believed that restoring this balance would release him from his curse.
As his quest brought him full circle, Kain confronted the destiny that Mortanius and Ariel had hidden from him--the fact that he was the next Balance Guardian and only by sacrificing himself could he restore the Pillars. Ariel presented Kain with a final climactic decision. Kain could either sacrifice himself to heal the land, and ensure the extinction of the vampires, or he could refuse the sacrifice, and seal the world's corruption.
Revolted by the machinations of the human sorcerers, and alienated from his former humanity, Kain chose the latter path--opting to rule the world in its damnation rather than commit himself to oblivion. This apocalyptic act completed the Pillar's destruction, and the mighty columns toppled as Kain sealed their ruinous fate.
The Pillars, Kain ultimately realized, were more than just a human edifice. The health of the Pillars was tied inextricably to the health of the land. With the Pillars left unrestored, corruption seeped slowly into the land like poison, turning his empire into an irredeemable wasteland."
Kain has always been such a powerfully compelling character, not only because of the depth of his story but also for his inherently archetypal nature. People familiar with classical mythology might recognize Kain as an Oedipus figure. Not in the motherly sense, but in that he struggles against the shackles of a dark fate that was predetermined long before his birth. Though the unseen hands of gods and demons manipulate his path along this destiny, he refuses to surrender to it.
While you wouldn't know it from Kain's design, he's a pretty typical Oedipus figure.
Kain also has strong symbolic ties to the "maimed king" of Arthurian legends (perhaps more well known as the legends surrounding Parsifal and the "Fisher King"). Like the king of legend, Kain is inextricably entwined with the state and condition of his empire. As long as he remains corrupted as a Guardian, the Pillars cannot be restored, and, therefore, Nosgoth will remain blighted and poisoned. Only by healing his own corruption will Nosgoth be saved from its similarly linked fate.
Lastly, Kain (like Neo of The Matrix or John Murdoch of Dark City) can also be considered a gnostic hero, as he struggles in a world veiled in lies and illusion that is dominated by a tyrannical deity (the "Demiurge," or Elder God). It is this deity who reigns secretly over Nosgoth's corrupt world, engineering it to imprison and manipulate the souls of humankind. Of course, what also makes Kain an imposing and memorable character is his weapon, the Reaver, and the power with which he wields it. This time around, Raziel continues to align his Soul Reaver with elemental affinities (water, fire, and other traditional elements) to gain new power. However, in Defiance, Kain gains different abilities for his Reaver in the form of spells earned by completing a vampire relic destined for the Balance Guardian. In homage to Blood Omen 1, some of these spell abilities have been salvaged and updated into 3D from the original game--a move that will hopefully appeal to the hardcore Legacy of Kain fans.
Heightening the difference between the two characters from the start, Raziel starts with a lower level of telekinetic skill than Kain. His skills at the beginning of Legacy of Kain: Defiance are limited to merely sending out bolts of kinetic force. Kain, on the other hand, has had hundreds of years to master his telekinetic abilities and starts the game off with a much higher level of mastery. Immediately, Kain is able to use his telekinetic abilities to drain the blood of his critically wounded victims remotely (as in Blood Omen 1 and 2). Kain is also able to use his TK abilities to grab nearby objects and break them or throw them against his foes. He is even able to snag opponents off the ground or from the air and throw them into their allies, into nearby fires, off cliffs, through spikes, and more. Kain can even pull enemies back into sword range, thereby extending the player's string of attacks.
Kain's powers are actually a bit more advanced than Raziel's due to his advanced age.
Additionally, both Kain and Raziel share the ability to gain experience from executing their starting combat techniques. As players reach new experience levels, they can unlock new combat moves, all of which can be seamlessly strung together to form the crux of Defiance's intuitive linking combo system. These linking attacks, used in conjunction with Kain's heightened telekinesis, should create a lot of very unique play strategies and attack combinations from player to player. For example, imagine pulling an enemy from across the room instantly into range of your attacks or finishing a deadly combo that sends your enemy flying backward or up into the air only to finish the combo by telekinetically blasting him onto a roaring fireplace.
We have put a lot of effort and time into refining all the things that make Kain the eye-catching and attention-captivating antihero he has evolved into over the years. Whether attracted by the sinuous story or the visceral combat, we think that both action gamers and the people who enjoy our deep story will enjoy Defiance, and we hope that you all are as happy playing Defiance as we have been developing it.