Legacy of Kain: Defiance Designer Diary #1

We talk to senior game designer Richard Lemarchand about the upcoming Legacy of Kain game.

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By Richard Lemarchand
Senior Game Designer

On Halloween of 1996, Crystal Dynamics released Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain upon an unsuspecting world, and the face of gothic gaming was changed forever.

One of the first action RPGs to be created for the PlayStation, the original Blood Omen combined isometric combat and exploration with cool, prerendered full-motion video cutscenes. It was very well received by a gaming public thirsty for adventures with mature themes and depth of play.

Kain has come a long way since his debut.

The game was rich in drama and mythology, and it cast the player in the role of Kain, an intelligent and cynical medieval nobleman, who is turned to the accursed life of a vampire. His destiny becomes inextricably entangled in a plot to control the fate of a world, named Nosgoth, that, over the coming years, gamers all around the world would find themselves increasingly drawn to.

In 1997, a newly formed development team at Crystal Dynamics was keen on making an action adventure game. Some core members of the team had worked on Blood Omen and were eager to combine the very best action mechanics, in the areas of combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving, with storytelling that was deeply integrated into the gameplay.

Using William Blake's epic poem Paradise Lost as a jumping-off point, the idea of a fallen vampire who becomes an eater of souls took shape. The world of Nosgoth provided an excellent backdrop and cast of characters for such a game, and, with the birth of a new hero in the form of Raziel, the team proceeded to craft their dreams. In 1999, Soul Reaver hit the streets to widespread critical acclaim, and a new franchise-within-a-franchise was born.

It's always nice to see vampire games that don't suck.

While Soul Reaver was still in development, and seeing as-yet untapped potential in the character of Kain, another Crystal Dynamics team began work on Blood Omen 2. They sought to create a game that focused less on puzzle-solving and more on action, and, by taking a step back in time from Soul Reaver, Kain was again shown as a "younger" vampire--a vampire who was lithe, devious, and thirsty for blood.

Blood Omen 2 was a great hit, and it introduced a new oppositional force to the world of Nosgoth in the form of Hylden. It also introduced us to the city of Meridian and gave us some insight into a more technologically advanced era of the world's history.

In late 1999, work began on Soul Reaver 2. This game gave us a chance to build on our success and expand the Nosgoth mythology, while at the same time it allowed us to showcase our commitment to action-oriented gameplay, interesting puzzle-solving, and great game storytelling. Kain's role was brought to the forefront, and fan favorites Vorador and Janos Audron made appearances. The game was a success, but it fell short of what the team had wanted to accomplish. In particular, some puzzles were too opaque, the combat was rather one-dimensional, and the story had to be restructured a couple of times before the game was completed. And it ended without a decent resolution.

Legacy of Kain: Defiance started life as Soul Reaver 3, and the existing Soul Reaver team was joined by many new and supremely gifted people, some of whom had also worked on Blood Omen 2. Very early on in preproduction, we made the decision to include Kain as a player character. We were all very excited to finally play as the craggy, regal, and, frankly, ass-kicking Soul Reaver incarnation of Kain.

The latest evolution in the series takes two great tastes that taste great together--Kain and Raziel--and has some wicked fun.

However, we didn't want to abandon our existing fans and had an earnest desire to draw together all the strands of story that had been left hanging by the previous games. We clearly had our work cut out for us, reconciling these seemingly conflicting goals!

Now that we had two player characters, we were excited by how this could create interesting gameplay. By switching off between Raziel and Kain, we could bring greater variety to the gameplay without forcing the player to learn a new control scheme. (Kain and Raziel use the same basic control scheme but have different special abilities.)

Games usually just follow one character, and follow them all of the time, which makes having anything other than a first-person narrator difficult. We realized that by switching between characters for different sections of the game, we'd be able to start experimenting with some of the cool storytelling tricks that novelists, comic book creators, and moviemakers have been using for years. We hope you'll agree that the technique works nicely when you get to play Defiance!

The ability to switch between the characters lends itself to some cool developments in storytelling and gameplay.

At no time did we just want to make another sequel. We wanted to do something that felt very fresh and that achieved a lot of what we'd been reaching for with the last few games: a really cool, intriguing, and, above all, exciting action adventure title with a lot of gameplay. Also, we were concerned that our potential audience might think that if they hadn't played the previous games, they wouldn't be able to get into our game.

So, our goal became to find a new game title that summarized the strands of the universe drawing together into one cool, new game. We gathered input from the team and from all around Eidos, and, after much deliberation, we decided on Legacy of Kain: Defiance.

We think this name sums up the collision of foes, old and new, as well as the resolution of destinies that have long been in the balance. We're very pleased with the way that the game has turned out, and now we're looking forward to seeing the responses from you, the gamers!

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