Koji Igarashi has been a notable name to fans of the Castlevania franchise for almost twenty years. From Symphony of the Night to Harmony of Dissonance, Igarashi served as one of the main creative minds behind the vampire-laden series until his departure from Konami in March of 2014. Of course, Igarashi couldn’t sit on the sidelines too long and in May of 2015 launched a Kickstarter to raise money for his new project — a Castlevania spiritual successor called Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
Currently slated for an early 2018 release window, Bloodstained is finally nearing completion. While at E3 2017 last week, we were able to sit down with Koji Igarashi for a few minutes to talk about modern game development, what it’s like to have a genre of games named after you, and how Iga feels about being the face of a project.
I guess the first thing I wanted to ask you is that because Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a spiritual successor to Castlevania, there’s a certain level of expectations that fans have for the game. That’s somewhat strange for a new project like this. How are you trying to manage those expectations and give fans what they want?
Koji Igarashi: We do have a lot of fan expectations for this game but there are certain limitations as to what we can do in the game. Using that limitation, we try to do our best to incorporate all the things that we’ve been building upon. I’ve been working with our Game Director on Bloodstained for our last couple titles and we’re working together to create this mixing pot of all the elements from the past. We know that fans will love the game as long as we work hard on it.
This is the first game that you have worked on in quite some time and I’m curious about how you feel about the way that development currently works. Over the past five or six years, it seems like developers have become much more transparent with their design process on social media and in your case, giving updates to your Kickstarter backers. How has this process of consistent updates and sharing with your fans been for you this time around?
Iga: Since starting this Kickstarter project, I feel like there’s both a good and a bad with being transparent about your game. The good part about it is that we get to show the materials for the game and we see the feedback in real time. This helps us so that we can make changes or at least know what fans think. The bad side is that we’re used to promoting our game about three months before release and trying to create hype around then. When we’re showing bits and pieces of the game with each update, we’re a little worried that we won’t have enough hype going into the last three months of development.
Touching on the positive side of that transparency again, can you think of any specific examples of feedback that you may have received from backers that directly changed something in Bloodstained?
Iga: A lot of the feedback we got was very helpful and we’ve implemented a lot of changes because of it. One of those examples would be the environments with Bloodstained. We received a lot of comments about that and some people told us how good they thought it looked while others said how good they thought it didn’t look. When we think about the overall gameplay experience and how the game is visually appealing, we have to try and weigh in which is more important. Last year we released a demo – which was a ship level — and when we saw a lot of players move around the area, we noticed that some people thought a platform was in a certain area when it really wasn’t. The overall depth was somewhat hard to differentiate and that was something that we had to fix. Seeing them actually play the game helped us implement those changes. Also, a couple more pieces of feedback we received were in regards to a new area we showed. This was a village area that we showed to our Kickstarter backers and they had a lot of good comments as well as some constructive criticism. We listened to that a lot and made many more changes to the lighting and other platforms.
You’ve made so many games within this “Igavania” genre at this point, how do you keep coming back to it and finding new ways to implement new ideas and new stylings within it?
Iga: If it was just myself alone, I would never be able to come up with new things. The Game Director for Bloodstained as well as a few others want to include new elements and new ideas within the game. They’re the reason why we have been able to add new elements to each game in this genre.
Speaking of which, I think a lot of people are expecting some previous elements of games you have worked on to return. However, what are some new elements that we will see within Bloodstained?
Iga: Of course the concept for Bloodstained is to be nostalgic so the core elements of the game haven’t changed and it isn’t very different from the previous games. We do have a couple new elements but they’re more off to the side I guess. One of those examples would be the directional attacks in the game where the players can control the direction that they want to attack in. In general though, the gameplay isn’t going to have any drastic new elements to it. They’ll be kept the same.
I was finally able to play Bloodstained yesterday and the one thing that stood out to me was how amazing the movement felt. Coming into the demo, I was really interested to see how the 2.5D character model would feel in comparison to some of the sprite based characters from the older games you worked on. How long did it take you to nail just the movement of this new character model and make it feel right?
Iga: The movement and the response was our top priority so that was the first thing we got into. It didn’t really take us a long time because we already have this knowhow from the very beginning of how to make this response and the controls. Using that knowhow in Bloodstained, it really didn’t take that long to get right. We do however constantly check the controls, especially the jump movement. We have to keep adjusting that so that it feels right whenever we play it.
Going back to the beginning of the project, I’m wondering what your initial reaction was like when you saw how much money the game raised in Kickstarter. You guys originally only had a goal of $500,000 but ended up receiving somewhere past $5.5 million. What was your response to that?
Iga: Honest opinion? I never thought it would reach that much. We purposely set the original $500,000 goal lower than what we wanted because we wanted to ensure that this game would happen. We did think that it would reach that initial goal but at the most we only expected to maybe double that amount — maybe a million, not five million. That’s when we realized there was so much demand for this game. There was so much passion that I felt when we reached that five million mark.
You have become so highly regarded within the industry that you now have an entire genre of games named after you. What’s that like?
Iga: When we initially started this Kickstarter project, we knew a lot of these side-scrolling games were referred to as Metroidvanias. But when we began the project, we thought, “We shouldn’t use the name Metroid because that’s someone else’s IP.” So this “Igavania” name is not something I made up, this is something that others made up. We decided to call it Igavania and it was something that stuck with the fans and they started calling it that too. It’s embarrassing for me but I’m very honored and I didn’t expect that to stick with everyone.
You’re obviously an incredibly well-known developer, but it seems like with this project you have been much more face-forward than normal. A large part of that is probably due in part because of the Kickstarter video you released at the start of the project. Watching you in that video, it seemed to me like you were having a blast playing up that role and living that persona. Have you enjoyed it?
Iga: Even when I was at a bigger company – Konami – there was a time where I had to go out as a project leader to put on this persona and I’m very used to that. When we started this Kickstarter project though, I didn’t know how to act in the video. To be fairly honest, I am really embarrassed and I don’t personally like it, but I have to do it. I can’t re-watch my own videos but people love it and I get all these comments from them. They’re why I work hard and get to do what I’m doing.
In my demo yesterday, I got to the final boss at the end of the area and it was a great fight. I’m sure you can’t say much, but I was wondering how much can you potentially share with me about the other bosses in the game?
Iga: Yeah, I can’t really say much yet. There’s going to be a boss that will restrict the player’s movement and another one that will take up the entire stage. We also have one that is incredibly fast. There will be a wide variety of bosses throughout Bloodstained.
Is this demo that I played actually part of the main game or is it something that you specifically put together for those at E3?
Iga: This is definitely part of the actual game. If you see part of the sub-menu in the demo, it says level 15. When the player is around level 15, we expect them to be in this area and to fight that boss.
Last year you released the demo that you brought with you to E3 to your backers later on. Is that something that you will be doing again this year with the most recent demo?
Iga: We don’t plan to share this with our backers just yet because we have early access for the game coming up soon. Maybe this time we could let it go and have them be able to fully play it when the early access comes out.
Our readers at DualShockers really love the PS Vita and I know that Armature is the studio working on that version of Bloodstained. Is that version of the game still going to release on time alongside the others?
Iga: What we usually do when we port the game to the Vita is that we make the PC version first and then have that be imported onto the Vita. As far as the timing goes, we are pretty certain – but not positive – that we will be releasing the Vita version alongside the rest of the platforms. When we saw Armature’s process of the port we thought it was looking fantastic. We have high hopes for the Vita version.
Considering your history with the franchise, I was wondering whether or not you had seen the previews or trailers for the Castlevania Netflix series that will be releasing this summer. What are your thoughts on how that looks?
Iga: Yes, I have seen the trailer and I am very impressed by the quality of it. I’m looking forward to it.
Last question for you: what’s something about Bloodstained that you haven’t talked much about or haven’t been asked about that you would like to make sure is mentioned?
Iga: With all these interviews, I’ve said a lot about what I have already wanted to say about the game. If I were to add a final comment or something, I would want people to play this game and think, “Yeah, this kind of game is really fun. It was fun in the past and it’s still really fun now.” That’s what I really want people to think about when they play Bloodstained.