Bloodstained – Developer Interview
with Koji Igarashi, originally featured in game*spark
—First, let me say congratulations for achieving funding on Kickstarter.
Igarashi: The truth is, when we decided to do a Kickstarter, we made some estimates of how much funding we might be able to raise, and I thought at most we would raise 800,000 dollars. But we passed that in a single day, and I had never imagined it would reach what it is now. There were some hurdles to overcome given that this is a Japanese project, so I’m very grateful for the outpouring of support we’ve received. Before we opened the Kickstarter, we had some teaser trailers at the site swordorwhip.com, and I received several e-mails from people saying things like, “Was this really made by you? If not you should sue whoever is doing it!” (laughs)
—You’ve got a lot of ardent fans, as we might expect! Why did you decide to use the term “Igavania” for Bloodstained?
Igarashi: Overseas they call this type of game “Metroidvania,” and once Bloodstained started taking shape as a project, people were calling it “Igavania.” It wasn’t my intention at all, it just sort of happened gradually. I was surprised.
In the past I made the game Tokimeki Memorial, and this was an era in which everyone was exploring and creating new genres. We were the first to coin “ren’ai simulator” (love simulator) for Tokimeki Memorial, and that term ended up becoming a thing too. There had been PC games before where you raise a girl, but at their core, those games were mainly about raising her stats. I thought, what would it be like if you couldn’t see their actual stats in the first place? I thought that if you were going to see something like that, it should be your own parameters.
—Well, then, let’s get into Bloodstained. First off, please tell us about the conception behind the game.
Igarashi: I used to work at a console game company, but as the game market turned more and more towards mobile games and the console division shrunk, and I moved over to the mobile division. Personally, I think what makes a game interesting to players is the same, be it console or mobile, but somehow I just couldn’t get everything to come together in a commercial release. There was also a period of about 2-3 years when I didn’t create anything.
Then I heard that Keiji Inafune had raised 4 million on Kickstarter for Mighty No. 9. Right around the time Mighty No. 9 reached it’s funding goal, I happened to get a call from an agent, and he said he could seek out traditional sources of investment for a new game I could work on, so I decided to quit Konami. The image I got from Inafune with Kickstarter and Mighty No. 9 is that you could take these old games and make them new again. Basically it was taking the solid gameplay of those older games, but giving them a new aesthetic facelift that would appeal to players today. I thought that formula could work.
—How did you end up partnering with Inti Creates?
Igarashi: They were recommended to me by the agent. I had known about Inti Creates before then, and they had a reputation for making good 2D games, so I told the agent I would be very happy if we could work together, and he asked them. Inti Creates has a lot of vigor and passion for what they do. I know that passion will be reflected in the game, and I’m really honored to be working with them.
—Next, I have some questions about the content of Bloodstained. Can you tell us a little about the gameplay?
Igarashi: To a certain extent, the gameplay system came from what players had been requesting. They don’t want something completely new; I think they want something that goes back to the roots, but with a new spin on it. As such, my basic approach was to pin down what was good in my older games, while also thinking about new elements to add in. We’re still in the drafting stage, so as we add new ideas, things may change a little. We’ll be keeping the core of the gameplay as we’ve planned it, though. It will probably turn out to be just the kind of game players are imagining. (laughs)
—How about the difficulty level?
Igarashi: There’s been some very difficult stages in the past Castlevania games, but ever since Symphony of the Night the difficulty has been lowered a ton. As for just how far it’s been lowered—well, at the time I received a postcard from a 30-year old woman saying, “I bought this game because the cover looked so beautiful. I’ve never been able to clear any action games before, but I was able to clear Symphony of the Night after I put the time into it.” It was a game that even those who are bad at action games could clear. I’m thinking Bloodstained will have a similar level of difficulty.
—There’s a dark atmosphere to Bloodstained; can you tell us a bit about the story and world?
Igarashi: One of the things people look to me for, I think, is the stories and worlds I create. For example, if we had decided on a sci-fi theme, that would have been fine with me, but I think players would have felt something was off about it, so I thought it was best to settle on gothic horror. The motif of “stained glass” fits that style perfectly, so that element got added. And “alchemy” is another keyword I’ve got on my mind.
One thing that’s a little different from the previous titles I’ve worked on is that they were all based on the Dracula lore, so the story largely had to revolve around the characters and powers that were wrapped up in those events. In this game there’s the concept of “stained glass”, which in and of itself is very beautiful, yet it’s actually tragic when you consider how it’s also the very thing that is destroying Miriam’s body. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that she is a human sacrifice, meant to have her body completely entombed in stained glass… it’s a very dark story, I think.
—The enemy design seems to be based on the gothic horror genre, and the demonology grimoire The Lesser Key of Solomon. How did you arrive at those?
Igarashi: For the overall atmosphere, I wanted to use the 72 demons from the Lesser Key of Solomon as a base, but it would probably be a little boring if I did that only, so I also plan to introduce characters from gothic horror too.
The reason I chose the Lesser Key of Solomon was because, in the very beginning we wanted to make this a game where you visit different countries around the world, but to depict the native monsters from each country’s myths would have been too much variety, and it also wouldn’t have given us the right diversity of enemies needed to make the stage design interesting. So I figured we’d draw some enemies from those 72 demons, and if the stage were based in Japan, for example, we’d add in Tengu or Nue enemies to give it the proper atmosphere. Anyway, the use of that demonology grimoire is a remnant from that point in the design process.
An artist’s interpretation of two of the demons from the Lesser Key of Solomon.
—Please tell us any interesting episodes related to Miriam’s conception, and the choice to use a female protagonist.
Igarashi: In our early planning documents, the protagonist was male, but since the titles I’ve made have sold well in America, before we started the Kickstarter, we had many discussions about what would fit the needs of the American market, and what the prevailing social climate was like there now. Americans really love tough female characters. It’s also a country where a lot of questions and problems about gender are currently being advanced, and there’s many people who believe “there’s been nothing but male heroes in video games; please make games with both genders.”
I think having a female hero is more motivating to male gamers, and I think women would like to control a female avatar, too. Including both genders as protagonists would have been way too much work for us to handle, so we decided on making the hero a woman. But our staff is a little worried now about whether they should really include all the gross, heinous ideas they came up with when the hero was still supposed to be male. (laughs)
Also, in those early drafts when the hero was male, we were thinking to add a rival character who would butt heads and get into heated clashes with the hero, due to differences in the way they saw things. Now that we’ve changed to a female protagonist, and that enemy rival is male, the mood of those scenes will have to change too.
—So far you’ve announced three characters; what is the relationship between them?
Igarashi: Originally, all three of them were the same age. Miriam and Gebel were to be used as hosts for the Alchemists’ sacrifical ritual, and Johannes was the person entrusted with their care. He got along with them very well. However, Johannes soon began to feel empathy for them, and he demanded that his Alchemy master stop the ritual. But in the end, it was held despite his protests.
Miriam fell into a comatose state, so she couldn’t be the sacrifice, but using Gebel, the Alchemists were successful in summoning the demons. Miraculously, though, Gebel survived the ritual. By the way, it was the Enochian Tablet and Liber Loagaeth that were used for the summoning. They’re written in the Enochian language, the language that was used by Adam in the Garden of Eden when he first gave names to everything.
After that, time passed, and as one would naturally expect, Gebel decided take revenge. He used his powers to summon demons and destroy the Alchemist’s Guild. He spared the life of his old friend Johannes, and he also felt he needed to protect Miriam. With their bodies infected by the magi-crystal curse, the two of them cannot return to being human, nor can they join the denizens of Hell—Gebel’s thinking, therefore, is that he should create a Hell on earth where the two of them can live: “they changed our bodies, so I should be able to change their world.” That is what motivates his actions.
—Would you say that Gebel has a strong connection towards Miriam, like a brother toward a sister?
Igarashi: That’s right. It’s not a romantic connection. Johannes, too, sees Miriam more as someone he needs to protect, rather than a love interest. With his superior skills, he has found a way to halt the crystallization, and he treats Miriam and stops it from progressing. He wants to help Gebel in the same way, but for the reasons I described above, Gebel is bent on acquiring power. Miriam is worried that her former companion will be overwhelmed and destroyed by that power, and she wants to help him.
—Please tell us about the character designs, and some of the things you focused on there.
Igarashi: We had the idea for crystals embedded in the body of that early male protagonist, and then one of our designers suggested that the crystals could look like stained glass. The crystals slowly engulf the body, but we had the idea that if one is able to suddenly halt them, then a rose-pattern would appear on the body in that location, and that idea helped us solidify the design. Miriam is able to disrupt the magi-crystal curse on her back, and the excess energy is emitted outside her body as a kind of “aura” that emanates from her back.
I also personally love stained glass, and red happens to be the color that is most expensive to produce in stained glass. It’s so expensive because it takes actual gold to make it appear red, so I made sure Gebel’s design used a lot of red colors. (laughs)
As for some of the particulars we focused on, one detail is that Miriam’s heart is partially crystallized, whereas Gebel is crystallized everywhere except his heart. Is all the red magi-crystal in Gebel because he was too late to stop its spread? Is it ok to have a heart that’s partially magi-crystal? I hope questions like that fire up players’ imaginations.
Our character designs needed, to a certain extent, to feature the crystals, so we had to make the clothes this way. In the beginning the clothing style was a little more gothic lolita, but I wanted the clothes to look more like something you could fight in, so we added those armor parts. I also told the designers they didn’t need to make the designs symmetrical, and asked them to make Miriam’s right arm less encumbered. Her horns are just for decoration. (laughs)
I asked the designers to make the coloring for Gebel feature red, and explained that my vision of Gebel was that his body was almost completely overtaken by the magi-crystals. At first his design had more clothing, but I thought he would be open about showing people his crystal skin. For some reason he still worries about his face, though, so he wears that mask. I imagined that one’s face was the very last thing to be engulfed by the magi-crystals, so I added the mask to help evoke that sense that Gebel was too late to stop it.
For Johannes I asked for a more orthodox design. I don’t want him to come off as a bookish researcher type. He’s a character who values emotion over reason.
—Please tell us about the crafting system. I understand enemies will drop rare materials which you can use to gain different magic and skills?
Igarashi: This was one of my earliest ideas, so it will need some brushing-up as we move forward, but I wanted a system where you’d be able to learn to use enemy skills and attacks. To be specific, there are five different kinds of drops, corresponding to different parts of an enemy, like their heads, arms, etc. Of those drops, some of them have magical abilities, and they sparkle to show their rarity.
Normal crafting materials will be used on quests, or for weapons and armor, but the sparkling rares, if you level them, will become crystals. Those crystals will link with the magi-crystals on Miriam’s body and allow her to use special abilities/skills. I also want the drops to give different stat subeffects: for example, an enemy head drop will raise your magic power, or a drop from an enemy leg/foot will raise your movement speed. By using the different drop materials (even a single monster will have different drops) and the different stat subeffects, you’ll be able to customize Miriam to your liking.
—Will it be difficult to progress through the game if you don’t keep getting new drops and crafting new items?
Igarashi: Key magic items will be found just by exploring, or when you kill certain set bosses or enemies, so you won’t miss anything vital. You will need to acquire the materials to improve your character and give them an advantage, though. I want Bloodstained to have that collecting component to it, and the drop rate will be set high. An enemy might drop something, but it doesn’t have the subeffect you want.. I hope players enjoy that hunt.
—What were some of the difficulties you had when creating the concept for Bloodstained?
Igarashi: As for the game system, there’s a precedent for this kind of game already, and I’m just taking that and remixing it, so that was not the hard part. The most difficult thing for me was changing the main character to a woman. I had to rethink a lot about the world and setting.
I’ve created many game worlds in the past, but for this game, I wanted the setting to be an actual period in history, to increase the sense of realism. I wanted Bloodstained to be set in England. The story matches that locale, and it seemed like the kind of place where a demon summoning might have actually happened. I did some investigation into English history to see if there had ever been such an event.
—And did you find anything?
Igarashi: I did. In the 17th century the Laki volcano in Iceland erupted, killing 1/3 of the population in Iceland. Furthermore, the ash and sulphur dioxide from the eruption blanketed Europe, and a great many people were affected. There are a lot of legends and folklore surrounding this eruption, yet for some reason, despite the fact that 23000 people died in England, there are no such English stories about it.
A huge disaster, but no records remain… I imagined that it was actually a murderous rampage by something Inhuman, and there were people trying to cover it up. Also, there was this line I read, from a villager who lived through the eruption: “It was black as night even during the day, and the sun looked red like blood.” In Bloodstained there’s a castle summoned from Hell, and that line inspired me to make the castle appear blood red to onlookers. That’s an important theme for me in this game, a stronger connection between the world of fantasy and the world of reality.
—There’s been so much support for Bloodstained from fans overseas. How does it feel?
Igarashi: I’m extremely grateful to all the fans who have shown their support for this Kickstarter. There’s a lot of pressure, but with this much encouragement, I feel like all that remains is to get down to work!
—When do you think it will be released?
Igarashi: After the Kickstarter we’ll be able to confirm just how much volume of content we’re creating, so I will be making another announcement then I think.
—Please give a final message to all your fans throughout the world eagerly awaiting Bloodstained.
Igarashi: It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to announce a new game with pride, and right now I’m overjoyed at the thought that I get to create this. I want this feeling to be translated into the game, and to reach all of you, so please look forward to Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night!