Thursday, June 17, 2010

Castlevania: Triptych of Disillusionment (Castlevania 3D)

My knowledge of the Castlevania franchise began with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, considered by most to be the apex of the series and still one of the finest examples of 2D gaming in existence.  Konami agreed, apparently, because they've re-used the formula for all subsequent handheld titles in the franchise, and are mimicking the general style to somewhat different effect in the upcoming Harmony of Despair.  Opinions on these handheld games vary a bit, but the general consensus is that they a) still have not quite recaptured what made Symphony so special and b) are all pretty darned fun regardless.

But on the big-screen consoles, Konami has been trying for well over a decade to successfully bring the franchise into 3D.  The results have ranged from "pretty fun" to "downright horrifying".  Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed Curse of Darkness.  The level design was largely quite bland and unmemorable, but the combat and collection/crafting systems were fun and addictive all the way through.  Clearly, though, it was still a far cry from the definitive 3D Castlevania we've all been hoping for.

So now E3 has brought us some sneak peeks of the next chapter: Lords of Shadow.  And at first glance, it... well... I certainly can't say it looks bad.  But what does it look like, exactly?  Well, what it looks like is Konami being so determined not to screw up another 3D Castlevania game that they're just clinging to something that works without really caring about how much it fits into the franchise.  Which could still be good, I guess.  I mean, Curse of Darkness barely involved a castle either.

But correct me if I'm wrong here; aren't most of us dying to play a 3D Castlevania game in which you run around  exploring a huge and freaking awesome castle?  Wasn't that the whole point of bringing the franchise into 3D in the first place?  To make Dracula's Castle more real and interactive than ever?  So far, what we've gotten are beat-em-ups that occasionally involve rooms that resemble castle corridors.  Not a bad start, but it's time to evolve.  Because we have reached the point where a 3D game that captures the same sense of adventure and exploration that made Symphony of the Night so great is entirely possible.

You want proof?  Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Without even realizing it, the designers of Arkham have laid the foundation for the definitive 3D Castlevania game.  Replace asylum with castle, replace Joker with Dracula, replace thugs with skeletons -- you're halfway there.  Now, I don't want to discredit the game here, because as it stands, it's definitely the definitive Batman game and should be viewed as such.  It has certain things that are unique to the Batman intellectual property, and the characters and settings therein are still essential to the experience.  But from an overall design standpoint, it demonstrates exactly how a 3D Castlevania should be done.

I don't claim to know how this would work from a business perspective, but if Konami really wants to keep the Castlevania franchise alive, they need to find a way to give the Arkham team the task of creating the definitive 3D Castlevania game from the ground up.  If nothing else, they need to study Arkham's design very carefully and consider how to apply the same principles to a Castlevania game.  Because it works.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Future Endeavors of Michael Tarver

Sometimes in life, we do things we can't completely explain.  This is one of those times/things.  I present to you my comic miniseries, The Future Endeavors of Michael Tarver.  It's one in-joke from WWE/NXT (you know, Professional Wrestling) that somehow inspired me to draw again after barely drawing anything for well over a year.  I think it's of interest.  To whom, well, that's a question, isn't it?

Click the images for larger Tarver. (also available on DeviantArt -- see sidebar link)