Splatterhouse has been in development at Namco Bandai since 2009, and is slated for a 2010 release. It's an action game based on Namco's horror-based beat-em-up series, and the newest installment aims to capture the gritty spirit of the original -- despite apparent gameplay differences.
Gamasutra talked to Dan Tovar, the game's producer, to discuss Splatterhouse's rocky development, the revival of the fading franchise, and how the game updates old characters and themes to suit the contemporary market.
This game has been through a lot of trials and tribulations before reaching this point in development. What was it like to handle those challenges?
Dan Tovar: The game has been through a lot, and it's been challenging, but Namco has supported it all the way through, and they've always emphasized creating a quality game, which has been amazing. They could have killed it a long time ago when things weren't working out. They really see the value of the franchise, so they're giving us the resources we need to put together a great game. That dedication shows if you compare where the game was a couple years ago to where it is now. Everything has been improved to the point where it's much closer to what fans are looking for.
There are a lot of elements of the game taken from previous Splatterhouse titles. How did you decide what elements to take from each game?
We used the original games as a roadmap to the design, which kept us from wavering too much one way or another. We could always turn back to those games and ask, "Does this fit in with the original games?" We didn't want to hold too much back, which is why there are elements from the first game, the second game, and the third game in our reboot. It came down to what is fun and what is going to kick ass.
How much do you think you have to cater to the legacy of the previous games? While Splatterhouse was a good franchise years ago, many contemporary gamers may not be aware of the original games.
Yeah, that's an important thing for us to factor in. We want to pay homage to the original games, and we want to pay fan service to the people that have been keeping the franchise alive on the internet for the last 15 years. That being said, there are millions of people that we want to expose to this modern era of the franchise, so we have to look at other action brawlers like Dead Rising, God of War, or Dante's Inferno, and see what the market is doing and we have to respond to that.
We're not trying to be a copycat game by any sense. It's a fine line; we have to make sure that fans of the originals get what they want out of it, but we also need to make sure somebody who is coming in fresh can enjoy it for what it's worth.
How do you differentiate from those existing 3D brawlers? It's quite a crowded genre nowadays.
It is. We are doing different stuff with the camera, the splatter kills, the weapons, the character's move set, the character itself, the storyline, et cetera. It's how we are building our pillars of the game; it's an action brawler, but it has horror themes with heavy metal influences as well. We try to take all of those and create a cohesive, unique experience.
Can you elaborate on what you are doing with the camera?
We use different angles when a player performs the splatter kills; we don't use a locked camera throughout the entire game. There are multiple different systems that we have in play in during combat; there is a player-controlled camera, and there are cameras that focus on boss characters, and the angles at which you're focusing on them really make them unique.
Does that mean you are trying to direct the player's attention rather than having a free-roaming camera?
It depends on the situation, but yeah, certainly in certain circumstances. We've been toying with it back and forth, and have been doing consumer playtests to see how people respond to certain things and where they are having problems, so we can adjust and work on the fly to make sure everybody gets a tight experience.
When did you start playtesting?
We've been doing playtests for years. Early on, they were a little less official; we would do them through the QA department, or we would use our friends and family who play games to get feedback. Now that the game is being developed within Namco Bandai internally, we are using two sided mirrors with microphones; we have the designers and the artists and marketing in the room, all trying to glean how people are responding to the game.
The game uses an interesting visual damage system on the main character's body. Was that in the early design docs? How did that come about?
Yeah, we've always wanted to do that. When you isolate Splatterhouse, you think of blood and gore, dismemberment, and regeneration, which is the power the character gets from the mask. The regeneration was something that we've been working on for a very long time in different phases and iterations; but it's always been out intention to have a visual damage state health bar. Right now, we're still looking at the regeneration of the arm.
Some enemies will come after you and chop your arm right off, and you can then pick it up and use your own arm as a weapon. When you have two arms, and only one of them is attached to your body, it makes one hell of a screenshot. We're currently working on the arm growing back; the bone is going to grow out, then the muscle, the blood, the sinew, and the skin.
Presumably you can't attack as quickly once you lose a limb, so how do you keep that exciting?
Yeah, you have a limited move set. Once you lose one arm, you have to back away from the fight and let your health regenerate, and your arm will grow back at that point. It becomes strategic; you'll try to avoid losing your arm, but it's not completely crippling. We want players to think, "Oh damn, that's crazy!" But it still has to be fun.
The game is mostly melee driven, but the character gets access to a shotgun at times. Was implementing the gun a challenge, considering it is a minor part of the game?
Yeah, it was critical that we kept the shotgun as a minor weapon; it was not a major focus for us. It only appears in certain situations. It was a little bit of a challenge because you have to make sure you're not unbalancing the game with it, but it still has to be fun and interesting to watch. Considering it is a minor part of the game, we had to decide how much time we wanted to spend making it awesome. The answer is: enough to make it awesome. (laughs)
Is the music going in a different direction than the original?
At times. We definitely loved the music in the original games; it was one of the things that set it apart. We certainly have songs that pay homage to that. Howard Drossin, who is an industry vet and long time heavy metal guy, is in charge of the game's music. He's an amazing guy who can emulate anything. We said we wanted a Carpenter-esque soundtrack from 80's era horror movies, and bam, he pounded it out, no problem.
Then he wrote some heavy metal music, and we use that during combat, and he did more ethereal, ambient stuff for when we try to push the atmosphere. The heavy metal fits right in with the horror themes, and for the people that grew up playing games like this, the music feels very natural. On the other side, we want to make sure we maintain the original feeling of the original games.