At the recent E For All Expo, Gamasutra talked with Konami's Castlevania series producer Koji "IGA" Igarashi, who has been working with the franchise since Symphony of the Night, working on the many titles since for PlayStation 2, DS and PSP, and here IGA discusses the seminal franchise's design process, its enduring settings, the 2D style and other key factors that make Castlevania what it is.
So how many people are on the Castlevania teams now? Is there one team or two?
Koji Igarashi: We have two teams right now -- [The PSP Dracula X Chronicles team], the DS team, and there's also a brainstorming team. The PSP team... a lot of our design and graphics design are outsourced, so we control everything, but right now there's one person on the PSP team. I think the DS team is about 13 people, and the brainstorming is a secret!
I had heard that you might like to release your next console Castlevania title for XBLA. Is that true, or did I just hear a rumor?
KI: Yeah, we haven't announced anything like that, so it's just a rumor.
I liked both DS games -- Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin a lot, but I liked the first one a bit better because the first stage really brings you into the game. You've got the cars and the vans you can jump on top of, and the snow falls off of them -- it's much more interactive. Do you think you'll be able to do more of that in the future?
KI: The designers come up with those kinds of ideas to make it more interactive, and I leave that a lot up to them to add those little things. But basically, the team will be the same as the DS team, so I think you'll be getting more of that.
Obviously it takes a lot more time and money to put those tiny little things in there, and it's possible some people won't even notice. But I think it's really important for those people who do care about the full experience.
KI: Myself as a producer, I know what it was like to be the programmer, and I think that's something as a producer and director at that level, you think of the overall picture of the game -- the world map of the game. But when you have to program, I like to give them freedom to create those little things. I think it's okay, and it's great.
It seems like it could be a way for them to put their own mark on the game.
KI: Yeah. Also it motivates the programmers to do better, and those little things are definitely what the users look at. They definitely see those things.
I also appreciate, especially in Portrait of Ruin, the extras at the end that let you play through as a different character -- it changes the way you think about the whole level. I know that you're on the production side, but how difficult is it to design levels so that unique characters, like the floating Lecarde sisters, can still enjoy the levels?
KI: We didn't think about that from the beginning. It was added on later on. That sort of feature is something that -- at the very end when you're done -- the programmers say, "Oh, I should've added this, or I wish I could've added that." They can add it at the very end. Our chief programmer also does all the player programming, so he is able to incorporate that kind of thing.
Konami is outsourcing Silent Hill development to the U.S., partially because of technology, but also because Silent Hill does really well here. Castlevania also does much better in the U.S. -- might it ever be outsourced, or will it always be kept within Konami?
KI: Right now within Konami, there's a lot of people who want to be a part of the development of the Castlevania franchise. As long as that enthusiasm is still there, we'll keep it internal.
Although you outsourced parts of the PSP version.
KI: The PSP version, yeah, we outsourced a lot of it, but that was because it's not a new game. It's kind of a redoing of old, existing games, and obviously with the resources we had to consider outsourcing. We thought this would be a good match with outsourcing, because it's already in development.
Speaking of the Dracula X Chronicles remakes, when I spoke to you about three years ago, you said that 2D is about pixel precision and proximity of attacks and things like that, and 3D is more about timing. How did you reconcile the problems of bringing 2D into 3D? Even though the Rondo of Blood remake is still side-scrolling, it seems very hard. Other companies have struggled with it, too, like companies that tried to make 2D fighting games with 3D graphics. How did you deal with these problems with the PSP version?
KI: With Dracula X, yes, it's with 3D graphics, but when I said that, I was talking about more... with 3D, timing is more important with the camera angles and camera movement. Even with 3D graphics, the gameplay is all 2D, and I didn't have to worry about timing issues.
But with 3D, is it much harder to create super-precise hitboxes? It seems difficult to get that level of precision in 2D when you're using 3D graphics, but maybe that's not true.
KI: It's strictly 2D gameplay, so I didn't have to worry about that at all. The way I did it with the hitboxes and all that in 2D, I did it the same as 3D.
Do you think you'll do another fully 3D Castlevania? God of War seems like the closest to a 3D Castlevania to me.
KI: Yeah, I hate to lose, and it's very frustrating. One thing I definitely want to do is to see the franchise realized in 3D.
To take revenge?
KI: Yeah! (laughs)
How tied are you to the 100 years between episodes? Do you think you could do a Castlevania without Dracula?
KI: The 100-year rule is... I started as a producer on Symphony of the Night, so it's not a rule I created. It was something that was already there. I know there's a rule there, and I can't really break it, but I kind of deviated a little bit.
If you look at this new Castlevania, Dracula X, it's two games within seven years of each other. I do it that way. There are rules, even though he revives every 100 years. There's some half-revival things that happen. It's a very difficult question you posed. In America, it's Castlevania, so I suppose you can do that, but in Japan, it's called Akumajou Dracula, so it would be kind of weird to not have Dracula in there.
It's difficult. I still want to see a Wild West Castlevania. But you already did one in the 1800s.
KI: In Bram Stoker's Dracula, the movie, Quincy Morris...wasn't he from Texas?
I don't remember.
KI: He was. In the Genesis version...
KI: Quincy Morris is the one that defeats Dracula, and he's from America.
I just think that particular environment... like mine shafts, and carriage rides, and old steam-powered technology would be really cool in the Castlevania games.
KI: That definitely sounds interesting, but with Castlevania, the main theme -- being gothic -- has to always remain there, otherwise the franchise integrity might be sacrified.
The original was gothic, but also very Indiana Jones-like. So if you put those two together, that's what I'm...
KI: We want to keep it. There was a desert scene in Portrait of Ruin, too, so we want to keep that thing going.
What more do you think you can achieve with the series at this point?
KI: Again, I'm very frustrated, and I don't like to lose in 3D! (laughs) I know it wasn't very successful, so I definitely want to do something in the 3D space. And I want to sell more 2D games.
Is it more expensive to do hi-res 2D than to do a 3D game on this scale?
KI: There's a certain way animation works in 2D, but if you do it in hi-res, it doesn't work. When you set a more high resolution, you've got to do a lot more dots and things like that. A camera you can rotate, but with 2D, you have to do little dots, so it's more expensive. You've got to think about it at the same time.