We spoke this afternoon with Amy Hennig, producer/director of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver at Crystal Dynamics, to set the record straight about recent reports that the game was released unfinished or missing up to 1/3 of the levels originally planned. These reports are largely based on early interviews conducted almost a year ago that ran in magazines while the game was still in development.
Hennig told us, The decision to split it into two games was actually made several months ago, it's not something we decided at the very last minute, just to rush the product to the shelves. We realized a while back that we had essentially over-designed the game, and that the epic story we wanted to convey was too ambitious for a single product. Once we came to terms with this realization, we had a difficult decision to make should we further delay the game's release, or should we bite the bullet and leave Soul Reaver with a cliffhanger ending, to be resolved in the (already-planned) sequel?
"Realistically, the former really wasn't an option there were both internal and external pressures to get the game out, without any further delays. And so, somewhat reluctantly, we decided to make it a two-parter and despite our own disappointment, we realized that this decision was really a blessing in disguise. Because of schedule pressures, we felt we had already compromised the latter portion of the game, squeezing characters and story events into too small a space, and too short a time. We had abandoned cool ideas and mechanics, because there wasn't time to do everything we wanted to do. Saving these ideas for the sequel meant that we could give them the breadth and care that they deserved."
Contrary to speculations on the net, there will not be a director's cut or an expanded version with these missing elements from the first game. These ideas will instead be included and expanded on for the sequel, tentatively scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of 2000. She told us that Soul Reaver is only one episode in the continuing saga of Kain, and that there's much more to be told likening it to seeing The Empire Strikes Back knowing something about (yet not having seen) Return of the Jedi.
It's important to remember that the interview with EGM was done 10 months ago, and things have changed and evolved since then. All games go through this process, and there are always elements that end up altered or eliminated that the developers would've liked to have seen in the final product. The difference with Soul Reaver is that people were aware of the ideas and concepts we had planned, and therefore noticed their absence."
Most of the extra sound files on the disc are merely alternate takes or "protection" material, as well as some dialogue originally planned but later removed from the game. The reason they remain on the disk is because Crystal thought that removing them might actually do more harm than good, creating unforeseen bugs in the game. For example, if a player reached a position in the game where it would try to access a sound file that didn't exist anymore, or if they had removed a wrong sound file by mistake.
Hennig told us that areas excised from the final product amount to only a small fraction of what appears in the final game speculations that a half or a third of the game was deleted are simply inaccurate. (For those familiar with the game, the deleted terrain is the equivalent of the Silenced Cathedral level). And, most were areas that the team wasn't that happy with or felt that spending time on them rather than areas that were going in the right direction wouldn't be the most effective use of time.
"Those gamers who have avowedly completed and enjoyed Soul Reaver (even with the cliffhanger ending) should not feel differently about the game after hearing about the edits," she said. "For someone who took 40 hours to complete Soul Reaver, the deleted material would have only accounted for another 4-5 hours of gameplay.
"The main thing I want to convey to fans of the Kain series is that the team and I are 110% committed to this franchise, and care deeply about it," she said. "There's no corporate conspiracy to cheat the consumer, to get two games out of one game's worth of material. We simply just felt that we were compromising Kain's epic story by trying to cram too many major events into the last 10% of Soul Reaver. I agree that Soul Reaver's ending was abrupt, and I would have loved the time to make it more elegant. But I'm confident we made the right decision in saving these events for a full-fledged, follow-up title; for fans of the Kain story, this was the best possible decision we could have made."