The term “Metroidvania” basically describes nothing -- it suggests a comparison to two specific games, both of which have evolved over time. But “Igavania” actually means something. It’s a game in the Castlevania series which follows the design style of Koji Igarashi, designer of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, through the game’s final 2D entries on the DS and Xbox Live/PSN.
But the term "Igavania" has evolved as well – it now describes any game in a castle that follows Igarashi’s game design tenets. But what exactly are those? And where do they come from? And what inspires Igarashi to move in this direction?
We spoke with the man himself to chip away at a bit of the design and thinking that goes into making an Igavania, like the upcoming Bloodstained, down to the creation of jumps, the difficulty with 3D platforms, and why the game has a female lead.
So you’re making another Igavania, as the fans like to call them. Is this because it’s something you truly wanted to do, or is it more for the fans?
There's no doubt that I love this genre myself. But in a related topic, I think the answer to this question is what makes us different from “indies.” When I think of indie, I believe an indie game is based on a developer's personal preference.
For Bloodstained, this is a title that started out on Kickstarter to answer the fans' wish for another Igavania game, moreso than what I want to create. I feel that it is my duty to answer the fans' wishes first, and so I’ve been shaping the game's vision in that direction.
Are you hoping to make the perfect vision for this kind game and move on to something else, or do you want to keep working on Igavanias as long as people want them?
We're hoping to create new kinds of games eventually, but right now we want to focus on franchising Bloodstained and have it really stick with the gamers. We’ll be creating at least one more game in this genre.
This time around we wanted to emphasize that nostalgia, and focus on recreating the same gameplay experience players got in the past. In the future, we will continue adding new ideas and features regardless of whether we’re staying with this kind of game or genre.
What for you are the main differences between 2D and 3D assets in a game with 2D gameplay? What are the challenges of creating a 3D game in a 2D genre?
"The most challenging part for us was figuring out where the hitboxes were when using 3D models in a 2D side-scrolling environment."
Right, so our game uses 3D assets with 2D side-scrolling gameplay. The biggest differences between [side-scrolling] games and 3D games that are meant to be played on 3D environments are the responses, and placements of objects in 2D gameplay.
These responses and placements of objects are very specific and limited with 2D gameplay, while 3D gameplay puts more emphasis on the timing of each action.
In Bloodstained, differentiating the platforms [that players can jump on] from the environment was very challenging, and there were people who were confused by earlier implementations. We’re trying very hard to improve it by changing around the lighting without hindering the gameplay and visual appearance.
Another factor is the screen’s field of view. When the field of view becomes wider, it becomes difficult to know where players can jump, as well as the corners of the screen warps.
The most challenging part for us was figuring out where the hitboxes were when using 3D models in a 2D side-scrolling environment. It’s completely different from developing a 3D game that could be viewed from all different angles. We make sure the collisions are adjusted to have that 2D action feel.
How would you compare the action of Bloodstained to Symphony of the Night? You told me once that you adhered pretty closely to that model.
It’s quite difficult to put it into words, but there were many things we realized after working on titles like Symphony of the Night, and titles that came afterward.
For example, we kept the jump the same but changed the speed of the sword swing to our liking. Overall we try to keep that nostalgic gameplay while improving the parts we can fix in Bloodstained.
When I go back and play Symphony of the Night, the main character Alucard sort of looks like he’s running underwater. It works there because it’s in 2D, and I don’t expect reality from 2D, but when I see similar movement in 3D, it feels much stranger. How do you feel about that as regards Bloodstained?
"I feel that it is my duty to answer the fans' wishes first, and so I’ve been shaping the game's vision in that direction."
There are parts that are done purposefully to recreate that feeling, since that’s what Bloodstained is all about.
We also feel that some parts feel a bit different and off, but it really depends whether you consider those parts unique, or if you consider them flawed.
Right now we need to determine what to do essentially, and since we have the Kickstarter backers and 505 Games who can see the work in progress, we can make adjustments through listening to their thoughts as well. This is a topic we should discuss as we progress through development, while we are able to make a case-by-case adjustments.
Talking about those jumps and knowing whether you can reach a platform properly, what are the most important elements of a good jump, for you?
First and foremost, a good jump requires a fast response. The behavior afterward is quite debatable but as long as the jump decelerates and lands on the spot that players expect, I consider that a good jump.
For our game Gunsport, we began with a straight parabola jump implementation – you could alter your course somewhat, but the ascent and descent was a parabolic curve. It just didn’t feel right until we implemented independent adjustments for ascent, hang time, and descent. How do you tackle this?
We make it that way as well. By using that method, we’re able to adjust specific sections, adjusting the landing position by creating a breakdown, for example. If we were aiming for realism, we would have to think about the accurate acceleration and deceleration, as well as gravity, but sometimes we cheat and disregard reality in favor of players feeling comfortable using it.
What kind of jumps do you prefer, snappy complete arcs, or floatier ones with more control?
In our Bloodstained demo, you could probably see that it hangs a little, so we prefer the latter.
How do you feel about combos in 2D action games? You don’t seem to use them very much. For 2D games, single swing attacks feel natural with pixel art, but once you move to 3D it almost feels like combos are expected.
Since we want the gameplay experience to be similar to the older games, we’re not going to include combos. When we include combos, naturally the enemies will need to have higher health, and it would take the game in a different direction from what we’re making now.
Depending on how it’s played, we did implement an attack that uses consecutive hits, but if we are talking about consecutive button mashing combos, unless we implement something like a special command, the normal attacks will not have any.
"It’s not that I don’t like combos, but they do make games take longer to clear. Maybe the true nature of an Igavania game is that the gameplay time is guaranteed by the amount of areas the players could explore."
Do you specifically dislike combos?
It’s not that I don’t like combos, but they do make games take longer to clear. The enemy will need to take more hits, and that’s not exactly our goal for game length.
Maybe the true nature of an Igavania game is that the gameplay time is guaranteed by the amount of areas the players could explore. This time we wanted to give that classic gameplay experience so we purposely didn’t include it.
It would be interesting to make combo-heavy game without the enemies being too tough. Though I wonder if that’s really even feasible.
Personally, if the combo doesn’t make it through the end without the enemy dying mid-way, I feel it’s not that different from an enemy dying in one hit. I also think it would be more difficult the less control we have over it.
"If we have to support 4K resolution, we need to work much harder on the graphics, which will cost us more money, and how can we do that when the games are priced lower?"
Bloodstained has a female lead, which is great. Japan’s bosses use to say having female leads would mean a game wouldn’t sell. How do you feel about that?
A large reason for choosing a female lead was the Kickstarter. When we thought about collecting funds from Kickstarter, and thought about the modern social movement in America, having a female lead felt right, but also calculated.
But in the end I could care less whether the lead is male or female as long as the game is fun to play. I did have a challenging time coming up with the story, but that could be said for a lead character of any gender.
How do you feel about game prices? It seems they’re just getting lower and lower, especially for indie games.
Honestly, I don’t think it’s a healthy movement. In the near future, Xbox One X is coming out right? If we have to support 4k resolution, we need to work much harder on the graphics, which will cost us more money, and how can we do that when the games are priced lower?
It also depends on what the consumers want or expect from a game, but a game should be set at a price that matches the amount of effort put in by the developers.