Archive Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver in Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine issue 10 (by Joe Rybicki)

  • July 1998
  • By Joe Rybicki, Amy Hennig, and Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine


As you, faithful reader, no doubt know, two months ago we ran an extensive preview on Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, the sequel to one of the darkest—and most original—role-playing games to come along in quite some time. What we saw during the course of that preview so impressed us that we decided we absolutely had to get a closer look at this revolutionary game. So we headed out to the San Francisco area to visit the offices of Crystal Dynamics, the (slightly twisted) minds behind the amazing game. We came away with a newfound respect for game designers, and indeed for the power of the PlayStation itself, as showcased by this jaw-dropping game.

Soul Reaver is not a game that's being churned out for mass appeal. It's not an attempt to capitalize on a proven character. What it is is an effort by a group of very serious gamers to create one of the most impressive games ever seen on the PlayStation, an attempt to take the available hardware resources and wring from them the most involving, engrossing game experience possible. In short, it's an attempt to create the perfect game, not only technologically, but in terms of story and gameplay as well. And this requires planning. Lots of it.

Some designers start the game design process with a prefabricated story. Others try to build around a particular game mechanic. Not the Kain team. For Soul Reaver, they started with a simple question: Where do vampires come from? Amy Hennig, producer and director for Soul Reaver, explains. "There was no description of how vampires were created in the first game. The only vampire you see created is Kain, and he's brought back from the dead, from the underworld. So the mythology we introduced is the idea that Kain, in creating a vampire, is drawing a soul back from the other side, and re-anchoring it into a corpse."

Now, as reported in the previous preview, when Raziel, one of Kain's first creations, oversteps his bounds, Kain casts him into a watery vortex which deposits him in the lap of the Elder. The Elder is an ancient being who serves as a sort of processing plant for soul energy; when living things die, their souls are sent to the Elder, and their energy returned to the planet. "But," explains Hennig, "if Kain creates vampires from the souls of the dead, then the whole metaphysical system of this world is disrupted, because there's no circular flow of life anymore. There's life, and then there's un-life. The world is already out of balance at the end of the first game. But nature, or the cosmos, will find a way to balance itself. It's almost like the vampires are a disease that the world is going to have to reckon with; and it turns out that you, as Raziel are going to be the force of the reckoning."

It quickly becomes clear how the Soul Reaver team develops story elements: They simply take given events and extrapolate the logical repercussions. But this design practice isn't limited to story development; it extends to the fundamentals of gameplay as well. For example, knowing that the intention was to create a fully immersive experience, we asked how saving was being handled. The response was indicative of the team's entire design philosophy. "At first," responded Hennig, "we were going to have save points; but then we decided that that was just a little too much artifice. So we decided to implement a save feature similar to the 16-Bit Zelda, where you just save before quitting out of the game. As long as you're playing you don't need to worry about saving. Because you can't die; you're already dead. There's no making you more dead than you are."

This way of looking at problems permeates the whole design process. They don't ask, "What's the easiest way out of this?" or "What will sell the most copies?" Instead, they do what is logically required by the world and the mythology they've created, in order to maintain the finished product as a cohesive—and enjoyable—experience. The results, as you can see by these screens, are nothing short of breathtaking. You'll have to take our word for it (at least until we provide you with a demo) that the game in action is even more impressive. When it was shown at our offices a few weeks after our visit, more than one staff member was heard to ask, "How do they do that?" And the game wasn't even halfway done.

When faced with a game that can elicit that kind of response, you really have to wonder what other surprises the PlayStation might have up its proverbial sleeve. Without a doubt, as long as there are developers with the dedication and ability to wring new tricks out of the hardware, the system will continue to move ever closer to producing the perfect game.
―Joe Rybicki[1]

An Engine Dropped, an Engine GainedEdit

It's clear from looking at any given screen shot that the game engine of Soul Reaver shares little in common with that of Blood Omen. What isn't immediately obvious is that the designers have managed to dispense altogether with the Loading Screen that so plagued the first game. The new engine allows the game's areas to be loaded from the CD on-the-fly, which means that transitions between the huge levels should be virtually seamless.
―Joe Rybicki[1]

Demon? Or Avenging Angel?Edit

The character of Raziel has gone through several transformations during the course of the design process. At first, the artists wanted to underscore his role as a proponent of balance by creating an almost angelic character (above), one obviously scarred by battles but also beautiful. They decided, however, that in order for the character to be interesting, a purely angelic appearance wasn't enough. The second incarnation (below) emphasized the action-oriented side of the game, making Raziel appear almost like some sort of superhero. The final models, however (bottom), are even less beatific. The final Raziel has suffered greatly in his first confrontation with Kain, and in his material manifestation is missing some important body his jawbone and entire abdominal cavity.
―Joe Rybicki[1]

A Millennium in NosgothEdit

Fans of the first game will remember that once completing all his missions, Kain faced a choice: to effectively kill himself in order to restore balance to Nosgoth or to shun balance and set himself up as ruler of the world. Soul Reaver starts off by assuming that Kain chose the latter option at the end of Blood Omen, and turned the entire world into his personal playground. In the thousand years since then, things in Nosgoth have changed radically...but there are still a few recognizable landmarks to be found. Take, for example, this giant shattered skull. Apparently, Nupraptor's Retreat collapsed upon itself following the first game. Raziel will come upon this grisly momento, and soon after find himself in the ruins of the Retreat.
―Joe Rybicki[1]

A Thousand Years Can Change a GuyEdit

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain followed the story of the vampire Kain while he was still a fledgling (above). Soul Reaver is set a thousand years later, and time has certainly had its way with Kain. Says Hennig, "We'd seen a little bit about the way vampires evolve with Vorador [in Blood Omen]. We wanted to take Kain and extrapolate how he'd look after a thousand years." As you can see, these prototype Kains (below) have assumed some of the characteristics of his bat form, much like Vorador did with his wolf form in the first game. The character of Kain is extremely significant in Soul Reaver, since the game's events make Kain into Raziel's nemesis. The two will come into conflict a number of times over the course of the game as Raziel grows in power, climaxing in a final battle between them.
―Joe Rybicki[1]

The Art of BattleEdit

Conflict between Raziel and various vampires plays a major role in Soul Reaver. As such, the game's designers are going to great lengths to ensure that battle is a satisfying experience. Knowing that 3D space can make battles frustrating, they're including an auto-face feature (top left) which instantly turns Raziel toward the enemy. But the idea was not to make the battles easy. "The challenge," says Hennig, "was that we wanted to make combat as much a puzzle element in the game as anything else." To this end, the only way vampires in the game can be killed is by mythological means: that is, Raziel must impale them, immerse them in water, incinerate them with fire or expose them to sunlight. Assisting him in this task is the ability to pick up stunned enemies and throw them (bottom left)—into a pool or a wall of spikes, say—and the use of the Soul Reaver, a mystical sword Kain picked up in Blood Omen. Once the Soul Reaver comes into Raziel's possession, it becomes a powerful and versatile spirit weapon. Once properly "primed," it can be exposed to one of its elements (fire, water, sunlight, etc.), whereupon it temporarily assumes the characteristics of that element, eliminating the need to bodily transport the enemy to one of those fatal elements.
―Joe Rybicki[1]


The level design team of Soul Reaver includes students of architecture. One need only look at an area like this to see the amazing results.
―Joe Rybicki[1]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Archive Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver in Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine issue 10 (by Joe Rybicki)


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