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