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Archive Q&A in PSM issue 14

"Crystal Dynamics' Amy Hennig is the director/producer of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. She has also worked on several games in the past, including the original Legacy of Kain. We took some time this month to speak with Amy about what we can expect from Soul Reaver, how the game's development is proceeding, and the new and improved Raziel."[1]

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PSM: How is Kain 2 like Kain 1, or how is it different?
AH: Well, let's see. Obviously, I think by looking at it you can see how different it is. Graphically and technically, it's a whole step above where we were before. There isn't a scrap of code or art or anything left over from the first one.
We wanted to take what was cool about Kain 1, which was the immersiveness of the story and the dark, anti-heroic main character, as opposed to being a chubby-cheeked little elf-boy. And also, some of the design philosophies that we had in the first one we wanted to carry over, which was a kind of nonlinear gameplay where possible. I think we're doing a better job with this one than previously. The sense of having abilities—as you go through you learn a new ability and the world opens up to you—we've taken that idea and totally blown it out in this game.

PSM: So the game structure is fairly similar then?
AH: Well, I wouldn't want to mislead anybody by saying that, because I think Kain 1 ended up being more linear than we wanted at the end of the day. We had the same philosophy in Kain 1 that we did in Kain 2, but I think we were way more successful in Kain 2.

PSM: What is the philosophy behind Kain 2?
AH: There are a couple of them. We call one a "hub-and-spoke" layout, which is the idea that, and I think you saw this so well in games like Zelda and Metroid, you have a lot of options open to you at the beginning of the game. Well, a lot of options are apparently open, but you can't get to a lot of places yet because you don't have the right ability. But you look at it and it's really enticing and you remember the area. That's something that we wanted to do a lot in the first game but we didn't have as much time to do it. In this game we're doing a lot of it in the sense having the world blossom out every single time you get a new skill, then thinking of all the new places you could go.

PSM: Did your team draw inspiration from Zelda and Metroid?
AH: Oh yeah, absolutely. We were all big fans from a long time ago. Another philosophy, too, is the idea of having room-based puzzles, which I think is something that Zelda did so well and certainly, I think Tomb Raider does well, too. You want to walk in, see what the situation is, assess it, use your brain and solve it, and keep moving forward, so you have that constant sense of tangible success. Some games you play and you play and you play and you're not quite sure you're doing the right thing or you don't really feel like you're being successful. It just goes on and on. We didn't want that.

PSM: Would you categorize Kain 2 as an RPG then?
AH: I think I would, but I think that term is getting looser and looser as the technologies of these things develop, because for some people, RPG means hard-core, turn-based role playing game. Some people take that step and also start thinking about it as 2-D, just because we're used to thinking about it that way. The game has a free-roaming camera, it's not turn-based, and it's on a real-time combat. Some peope would say "well, that's just an adventure game," but it's got story development, it's got character growth, you gain new abilities over the course of the game, you gain all sorts of area effects. You can cast spells. You gain weapon power-ups, but we're doing it all so that it becomes sort of innate in the character as opposed to having to be accessed through an inventory. So if somebody defines RPG as being interface heavy, well then, we're not RPG. I mean, it's right there at your fingertips.

PSM: You mentioned character development. Has that been hurt by this shift from Kain 1 to Kain 2?
AH: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, that's what I'm trying to say. If you remember in Kain 1, over the course of the game you would get the ability to change forms so you could suddenly leap obstacles that you couldn't leap before or pass through in mist form, things like that. We have all that kind of stuff in this game as well. When you start the game, things like gates, sheer walls, and water are impassible barriers to you. Over the course of the game, when you confront various clan leaders or vampires and you defeat them, you devour their souls. When you devour their souls, you get sort of imbued with their most defining characteristic. One vampire clan leader can kind of dematerialize and pass through things like gates. Well now you can do it. Another one can swim. He is impervious to water and extra sensitive to sunlight and fire. Now you can swim.

PSM: You've moved from being a traditional vampire game. Do you think that will affect the way it's received?
AH: Well, I hope not. It's just like [vampires are] everywhere, so we decided very consciously to take an evolutionary step and say we're in the same world, but now, but the tables are turned somewhat. You're still an outsider and a loner, and the reason is because in the same way that Kain was turned from a man into a vampire in the first game, you're turned from a vampire—one of Kain's firstborn lieutenants, one of his sons, basically—into this undead thing. You are basically the first angel of death in this world who is a soul reaper, and your initial task in being driven by a need for vengeance is to take down the vampire souls. That is your major form of sustenance, so you're still a vampire, but you're a vampire of spirit as opposed to one of blood.

PSM: So what influenced your decision to move Kain into 3-D?
AH: Well, obviously we've been working inside the company on 3-D engine development and we had something that we could leverage off of for the foundation of the Gex engine, which we've altered fairly radically. The beauty of that for us was the fact that we didn't have to write all that basic engine stuff that takes so long. Our first goal was to say we don't ever want players to be aware of a loading event. As they move through the game, we want it constantly streaming off the CD. It's a huge challenge, but we went ahead and just tackled it. Now, we wouldn't have had the luxury to do that had we not had the Gex engine to start from. We also added the plane shifting between material and spectral. That was a huge challenge to say that we're going to morph from the geometry, the light, and the textures and fade creatures in and out in real time, right in front of the player's eyes.

PSM: So loading should be totally transparent? Will we see any loads?
AH: The only time you will see it is when you start up the game and when we have to load up an FMA [Full Motion Animation], but there are only opening and closing FMAs. Everything else is done in real time, in game.

PSM: How long would it take you to walk across the environment from end to end since there is no loading?
AH: Well, there is no "end to end." That's the trick, you know. Actually if I could show you my world map, it looks like a spider web. It's got a central part with spokes coming off and then spokes coming off of those and spokes coming off of those, so it's all about things spiraling out from the center or blossoming out. At this point, I guess the best way I could answer it is our expectation is for about 40 hours of gameplay.

PSM: Are we still going to have the same over-dramatic, introspective dialogue from the first game?
AH: [laughter] Well, hopefully it won't be over-dramatic, but one of our goals has always been to make sure that the quality of the voice acting is there, because that's obviously where a lot of interactive products fall down. They hire really cheesy voice actors. I think you can tell from the quality in Kain 1 that was never our goal, and it is not in this one, either.

PSM: All right. Now, are there going to be non-player characters [NPCs]?
AH: Oh yeah. Definitely. I think it's kind of the same level of what you saw in Kain 1. I mean, a lot of the NPCs are just enemies, they don't have a lot of depth, except for their AI. In terms of people you meet in the game, the leaders of the various vampire clans, there is a lot of back story to them and their relationship to you and so, yes, there is interaction there. The vampires all know who you are and what your task is, so there is more than just sort of a fight-flight interaction there. Obviously with Kain himself, you encounter him multiple times over the course of the game and interact with him as well.

PSM: Why has the release of the product been pushed back?
AH: Well, for a couple of reasons. One of the main ones is that we were looking at where we were in our development, how much we wanted to do, how ambitious we were being, and how much there was yet to do, because we were pushing the technical envelope on a lot of these things. We collectively made a decision at that point with the company that it made more sense not to rush it but to release it after Christmas, and that the anticipation for the product was great enough that we could afford that. You know, I think you can look at Resident Evil 2. It didn't hurt that game any to come out in the time frame that it came out, because the anticipation was there and people appreciated the fact that they took the time to put the quality in in. I think our advance PR and the response we got from people like you was so strong that it let us know that it's worth it to do this right, so we gave ourselves the extra couple of months.

PSM: We've noticed in the demo that the mood is outstanding, but it has very few characters. We know that's also due to early technology, but what do you feel is more important, mood or gameplay?
AH: Oh, gameplay comes first, absolutely. Anybody who puts graphics ahead of gameplay is crazy. On the other hand, I don't think they're mutually exclusive, and I think people who err on that side—when they go and say gameplay is the thing and they don't care if it looks chunky and abstract. It does matter, you know. I think our goal all along has been to have the immersion of the architectural environments at the same level as the gameplay.
Now in our early stuff, one of the things that we've been fighting is the fact that we're packing a lot in the memory of the PlayStation and a lot in that real-time loading. There have been a lot of times where we wanted to put more enemies in for a certain demo, but we just plucked them out because we felt like we had memory problems. Those have been resolved now so, generally, people can expect to see three-plus enemies on the screen at any one time with Raziel without a problem. We're not going to sacrifice framerate for the sake of packing the screen with guys and the way our combat system works.
But to your original question, I know that the demos that have come out are very, very pre-alpha. I think you can tell that by playing it, but it gives people an idea of where we are going.

PSM: Now, does the fact that Kain is labeled a "mature" title give you more leeway in terms of content?
AH: Well certainly. We're not doing anything just for the sake of being grotesque, but obviously, if you pick up a staff and impale a guy, he's going to bleed and he's going to shake and his legs are going to twitch and that's what's going to happen. So by definition we end up with a mature rating and I think there is gore where appropriate. There's blood and death and fire where they are appropriate, but it's not gratuitous, like walking into a slaughterhouse or anything like that.

PSM: Do the ratings work?
AH: You know, I don't know if they do or don't. I feel it's just like any other rating. I went to see Saving Private Ryan the other night and people had five-year-olds there. Well, if you're that stupid, you know, I guess you're that stupid... I think people just do what they're going to do and the system works as well as it can.

PSM: Would you describe Kain as more horror then or scary or...?
AH: I want people to go through the game, and even though they are playing this sort of very potent, dangerous character, they will also feel threatened...to have that kind of tense feeling like, I'm dangerous but I'm in danger at the same time and I wonder what's around the next corner. Again, I think Tomb Raider did a good job of that without being a horror game. We want that level of suspense on top of feeling like these environments are frightening and eerie. I think the spectral plane will have a lot to do with that, too.

PSM: The technology for Kain 2 looks pretty advanced. Is anything in there that we haven't seen before?
AH: I think the spectral to material plane morphing is going to be something that people have not seen before. As a concept, people have heard of it, but as for having seen that in a game where the world and the textures and the lights and the creatures all morph around you? That's pretty unusual.

PSM: Now how would you describe this spectral plane's relationship to the physical plane?
AH: In terms of gameplay, you can choose to shift. Early in the game you can shift to spectral at any time, and you have to find a portal to shift the material. Later in the game you have the ability to shift back and forth at will, so in terms of gameplay, there may be some plays you can't get to unless you shift to spectral—you know, a jump that you can't make. When you shift a spectral, it is timeless. So if you set something in motion, like if you shove a boulder off of a cliff and it's falling when you shift to spectral, it will be hovering in midair. You can then use it as a platform instead of having to figure out another way across. Now, why you would choose to be in material, that's where most of your goals are, but also, most of your mechanics. Things like being able to manipulate objects, pick things up, hit switches, or whatever you might have to do—those are all material, physical things.

PSM: Has the story line in Kain 2 been left open for a possible Kain 3?
AH: Yeah, definitely.

PSM: Have you guys had any preliminary thoughts on Kain 3 then?
AH: Well, we've got some thoughts. Yeah. We've got a few ways that we can go with it. I want to make sure that we leave ourselves open enough that we can respond to the way people feel about this game and not pin ourselves into a corner, you know?

PSM: Finally, how about a juicy Soul Reaver secret?
AH: I guess I would say you get to learn some interesting things about who Raziel was before he was made a vampire by Kain.

PSM: Does Raziel's back story have anything to do with the unfolding plot, then?
AH: Yeah. Definitely. The unfolding plot has a lot to do with Raziel's self-discovery.
PSM[1]

CaptionsEdit

  • Of course, Amy is a lot older now...
  • The graphics in Kain 2 are simply stunning, but the real focus has been put on gameplay.
  • From the first time we saw this game, we knew it was going to be cool. Just look at it!
  • Raziel may be the "good guy", but he ain't no boy scout. How many other heroes do you know of that go around sucking people's souls out? It's a good thing that he's only got a taste for vampires!
PSM[1]

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ReferencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Archive Q&A in PSM issue 14

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