Whip Smart: Konami's Koji Igarashi On Mastering Castlevania
August 15, 2005
Artwork from Castlevania: Curse of Darkness.
Koji Igarashi is best known as the man behind the contemporary Castlevania series, taking control of the franchise as a whole with the advent of the Game Boy Advance. Although he has worked on other titles, from shooters, to dating sims, to his action/adventure experiment Nano Breaker, Igarashi's name is now almost synonymous with Castlevania. Here, he talks about what it's like to govern a well-loved series, as well as the future of the action genre, and the fate of the second dimension.
Gamasutra: How did you enter the game industry?
Koji Igarashi: I joined Konami right after I graduated from college. I was originally going to enter a different company, but at the last minute, I had a quarrel with the Human Resources department, and I was fired before I even began. But I had a mentor at Konami, who really thought I should come work there. I passed their application exam, but I didn't have enough university credits to work there full-time, so I had to stay on for another year of school, working at Konami in a part-time capacity. After that, I became a full-time Konami employee. This was in the year Heisei 2, or 1990.
I entered Konami as a programmer, and worked on a simulation game under the education software department, that was ultimately never released. My first real product that came to market was Detana!! Twinbee for the PC Engine [Turbo Grafx in the US ].
Gamasutra: When did you take the helm of Castlevania?
KI: Well, Castlevania was a series I enjoyed way before I started at Konami, so I'm really gratified that this series has been entrusted to me.
So as for how I took over the project, I was working on Tokimeki Memorial (a popular dating sim title), and I told my boss that I won't work on a sequel. It seemed to me that everything that could be done with the series was done in the first. My boss told me to come up with some storyboards, and I couldn't think of any new ideas. Because the game was selling well at the time, my boss accepted my request for transfer. I asked to move to the Castlevania team.
At the time the series was developed in a very scattered way, by various different groups, and nobody had overarching control of it from a top level. Because of this, there were many different storylines and conflicting timelines. I tried my best to integrate them, so as not to confuse the consumer. The first Castlevania I worked on was Symphony of the Night, and there I tried to clean up the timeline.
I left Castlevania after Symphony of the Night, and that's when the N64 game was made. After that, the series came back to me, and I was able to take on a manager/producer role, overseeing all of the Castlevania projects.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was Koji Igarashi's first Castlevania project.
Gamasutra: How do you feel about working largely on only one series for such a long time?
KI: Well, I do love Castlevania, but of course there are some other designs I'd like to bring to life. There are still things I want to do with Castlevania, so I'll stick with it for now. It's true that it's tough to work on only one project for such a long time, and eventually I'd like to do something else.but maybe not a simulation (laughs).
Gamasutra: Where do you get your ideas for story and design?
KI: First I come up with a concept of the game system. Then we figure out what we want to do, and what we are able to do, within that game system. Then I figure out where it fits in the Castlevania timeline. I hate history by the way, but I have to write backgrounds for all of the characters next. Then it flows naturally from the timeline and game system, with the characters I've chosen.
Gamasutra: What is the hardest part of game design for you?
KI: Well usually the hardest part is knowing in advance if something I'm doing will be fun, or interesting. Once I can surmount that fear, it's all just doing my job.
Gamasutra: What other game designers do you admire?
KI: As far as creators, of course I admire Miyamoto, and Kojima. Miyamoto is one designer that can surprise me all the time with what he does. He comes out with products that move me, and connect with me emotionally. As for Kojima, he works in the same company as me, and sends a really impressive message to people in the industry, as well as consumers. He's very good at detail especially, and watching him from within the same company, it's very awe inspiring. He's very talented, and I admire the way he does things, and says things.
Gamasutra: As a series moves from 2D to 3D, the gameplay often has to change drastically. Do you feel that you can get the same action/platforming experience in 3D that you can get in 2D?
KI: No, it's basically impossible to communicate the same experience. 2D gameplay is precise - it can come down to one pixel of accuracy for attacking, defending, jumping, any sort of platforming element. In the 3D gaming environment, appreciation of distance is much more subtle, and control has to be looser. In 2D, the distance between the player and the enemy is very important, and can be planned carefully. In 3D, distance isn't the important thing, but rather timing. That 2D to 3D transition doesn't really work, and a good example of that is the N64 version. They tried to fully incorporate 2D gameplay in a 3d environment, and it didn't do well.
Gamasutra: Do you prefer the 2D style?
KI: I absolutely love it.
Gamasutra: What prompted the shift to the more simplistic anime style illustrations for the DS version of Castlevania?
KI: With Aria of Sorrow on GBA, we got good ratings, but it wasn't a really huge hit from a business perspective. I analyzed that conflicting data, and noticed that the audience is somewhat older than the classic GBA demographic. Just like with the PS2 Castlevania, the Castlevania demographic is getting older and older. So the Castlevania fanbase is only decreasing, not increasing. So the DS has a lot of potentially fun hardware-based gameplay elements, like the touch panel, which said to me that it would probably appeal to a younger audience. I felt that it was the right platform for the series, and wanted to change the style of the illustration to better fit grab that younger audience.
Dawn of Sorrow features more simplistic anime illustrations in an attempt to appeal to a younger demographic.
Gamasutra: Do you think the market for 2D action games in general is getting smaller? Will we ever see that kind of gameplay on consoles again, or only handhelds?
KI: To tell the truth, I don't think it's even that 2D is only possible on handhelds, but more that it's only possible on DS. Personally speaking, I'd jump at any chance to develop a 2D game for any console, or even the PSP, but those chances are getting fewer and fewer. I feel like the DS is the last fortress of 2D gaming. So if we can get a younger audience with this DS 2D game, and prove to them that 2D gaming is worthwhile and fun, maybe then we can increase the market for that type of game.
So I'd like to ask any gamer that cares about this to educate their children about 2D games, and maybe together we can build a bright future for this type of gameplay.