The line of succession for Castlevania's development is nearly as complicated as the long-running series' fractured timeline.
Originally created by Konami in 1986, the developer has suddenly decided to reset the clock on the gothic adventure series. It has outsourced development to Spanish developer MercurySteam, which is working under the watchful eye of Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima.
More confusing is Lords of Shadow had already been showcased at last year's Game Developer's Conference without the Castlevania branding, which lead to speculation that Konami had appropriated an original title and simply rebranded it. Not so, according to producer Dave Cox.
"I think it is fair to say that there was some uncertainty in Konami about the title being called Castlevania and about what we were doing. The game was quite a departure and I think at that point it could have been either an original IP inspired by Castlevania or carried on as a Castlevania title proper, and there was some indecision around the time of GDC about that."
"After the showing at GDC, I was asked to present a work in progress at a high level meeting in Japan and that was really the turning point," Cox states. "There was a profound change after that meeting once everyone saw what we were doing, and it was after that meeting that Mr. Kojima approached me directly. The company got fully behind the title and any doubts as to whether this was going to be a new Castlevania or not were swept away."
Cox is very quick to point out that the game has not changed from the original concept that he and his team had pitched back in 2007, and while MercurySteam reports to Hideo Kojima for review builds, "[Hideo] believes in creative freedom and is very supportive of the direction we have chosen." That direction is really retaining the Castlevania roots, while pushing the series into 3D - something that has been met with mixed results in the past. However, the change, plus dropping the dense and complex 20-year history was necessary.
"It's fair to say that Castlevania wasn't garnering the attention, or indeed sales, that it had done in the past... we wanted to bring the franchise to a new audience and make it more fresh," he states. "Perhaps they simply felt that a 2D sprite-based game wasn't for them. In doing so, we knew we would have to drop the existing timeline and story. This would be a new story that would not tie-in directly to anything that has come before, so that new players could just jump straight in."
However, Cox is aware that there are some veterans of the series out there. "We didn't want to completely alienate the fan base that exists for these games and so we have kept many elements that will feel familiar to them - but we are not slaves to the past." It means new twists on old rope. Main character Gabriel inherits the iconic Belmont surname, pulling him in line with the previous protagonists whose family has battled Dracula over the millennia, and he'll be wielding the whip-type weapon, but with some new changes.
"As you progress you will learn new moves and combos," Cox explains. "[You'll] upgrade the weapon to allow additional attacks and features. For example, you get a grip ability that allows you to latch on to scenery in the game and indeed on to enemies too."
Despite talk of upgrades, this new, streamlined Castlevania is ejecting the heavier RPG elements the series has picked up in recent years, keeping the game more focused on the action side of tackling a horde of fantasy creatures such as werewolves and vampires. "The game is in linear stages and is level-based, much like the original Castlevania games," Cox explains. "Some levels are huge and offer multiple routes while others are more 'go from A to B.'"