IGA-mania took Manila by storm during last weekend’s ESGS (Electronic Sports and Gaming Summit) as con-goers lined up at the ArtPlay booth to get a glimpse of the towering game developer. Wearing a cowboy hat and wielding a prop whip, Koji Igarashi (or IGA for short) happily took pictures with his fans and talked them through the demo of his latest venture, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. He shares that, since he was used to meeting buffed-up dudes in places like the U.S., he was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of female fans in the Philippines. (Not to mention, completely unprepared for our country’s extreme heat.) Amidst the chaos of the convention, we were able to sit down and talk with IGA about what goes on in his brilliant mind.
Concept art for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
IGA has always been interested in not just playing but making his own games at a very young age. “I remember frequently visiting the electronic store in Japan as an elementary student. One of the store employees would make simple games using a computer and put it up for display. Seeing him showcase his games had me thinking that I could probably make my own games on the computer as well. And that’s how I started developing [video games].” Influenced by childhood shows that he used to watch, like the tokusatsu (a live-action film/T.V. genre that involves special effects) show Kamen Rider, he was inspired to create his own hero in a story.
When talking about the longevity of the Castlevania franchise (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year), IGA explained how he owes it all to the loyalty of fans that have been buying the games since the very beginning and the dedication of developers who continuously improve and churn out content. “There were no breaks in between [video game releases]. That’s why it’s been so popular.”
In fact, Castlevania was so popular that it enticed IGA to specifically request to join the team as the Assistant Director/Programmer/Scenario Writer. “Even before I became involved in the franchise, I have always loved gothic themes, vampires, and novels like Vampire Hunter D. When the game I was working on at the time, [the dating simulator] Tokimeki Memorial, became successful in Japan, I was allowed to handpick whichever projects I wanted. And since I love gothic stuff, I decided to join Castlevania.”
'Even before I became involved in the franchise, I have always loved gothic themes, vampires, and novels like Vampire Hunter D.'
Once he joined the development team, IGA made plans to reinvent the mechanics, characters, enemies and more to his liking. He noticed that the current Castlevania games at the time followed the same pattern—a very linear sidescroller from start to finish. And so, Symphony of the Night was born, a game that elevated the franchise to new heights.
In his debut installment, he employed the exploration style of Metroid, letting the player start at any point in the map but requiring them to backtrack to previous areas in order to progress in the game. He also incorporated RPG elements influenced by The Legend of Zelda series, allowing the player to equip relics, interact with characters, and summon familiars. By combining these gameplay elements, Symphony of the Night invented the subgenre called “Metroidvania,” which is still popularly used to this day.
Like most old-school gamers, IGA has a soft spot for Symphony of the Night. “It was the first [Castlevania] game that I was involved in so it’s very memorable for me. Personally, I like this game the best out of all the ones that I’ve created for the series.”
IGA’s favorite Castlevania character also happens to be the fandom’s popular pick—half-vampire, half-human, and full-on bishounen hero, Alucard. “The previous Castlevania protagonists were all buff and so I made Alucard look pretty.”
'The previous Castlevania protagonists were all buff and so I made Alucard look pretty'
We definitely have Alucard to thank for pioneering the metrosexual movement in the series, as previous installments featured macho barbarian type fighters. In Symphony of the Night, he successfully defeats the legions of hell without adhering to the typical hypermasculine role while still looking pimpin’ in his silk suit.
Castlevania was a significant part of his career, which is why when he works on a game design that doesn’t push through, instead of throwing it out, he keeps it so that he can go back to it for later use. “This is more of what I’ve had as an experience. All the game [ideas] that I’ve set aside end up coming back eventually.” Basically, never write off a rejected idea because it might become a future source of inspiration.
Having left Konami a few years back, IGA is now working on a gothic-themed independent video game titled Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a Kickstarter project that was successfully funded in a day. “The 2D exploration platformer genre is dying in the gaming scene and so I want to bring it back with Bloodstained.”
The game follows the heroine Miriam, a girl cursed by Demon Shards who must fight her way through 18th Century London backed by a chaotic fusion of classical strings and rocking guitar chords.
She's one badass videogame heroine
“In the beginning, Miriam was supposed to be a male character, but when we started the Kickstarter campaign, gender representation became a hot topic in the gaming community. In light of this issue, we had to take into consideration what kind of main character people would want to see in order to encourage more support for the game. And so we decided to make the protagonist a strong female character instead.”
'In the beginning, Miriam was supposed to be a male character, but when we started the Kickstarter campaign, gender representation became a hot topic in the gaming community. In light of this issue, we had to take into consideration what kind of main character people would want to see in order to encourage more support for the game. And so we decided to make the protagonist a strong female character instead'
While there’s still no definite date for its release, the Bloodstained team are dedicated to ensuring the top-notch quality of its final product by working slowly but surely toward achieving the desired result. (The playable demo alone took a whole year to finish!) From the design to the mechanics itself, it has become more of a collaborative process between developer and player as IGA regularly asks feedback from his huge fanbase.
Designing the perfect protagonist
”I want to make Bloodstained the type of game that people can feel comfortable playing. I want to evoke that nostalgic feeling as you explore new content in the game. It’s kinda contradicting itself by being old and new at the same time. I’ll just be happy with the players spending like 10 hours because they enjoy the game.”
It's button-mashing time!
Even a master developer like IGA hits a programming roadblock every now and then. One of the challenges encountered while making Bloodstained is the current-gen program used in making it. “Unreal Engine 4 is used by all developers now. Before that, all the Castlevania games were made from scratch so I know very well how to make it down to the programming. However, I’m now using an existing engine so there’s a lot of things I’m still figuring out.”
When asked about the advise he would give to aspiring videogame developers, he offers up some realistic words of encouragement. “These days, developers have access to all sorts of tools, like the Unreal Engine, that they can use to create a videogame. So you should just start making one. Don’t expect to instantly make a AAA title or a high-quality game. Just apply everything you know into the process [of making the video game], push through with the finished product, and have it out in the public. That’s the most important part.”
While the Kickstarter funding has ended, you can still lend your support for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night by visiting its fangamer website here: https://www.fangamer.com/a/kindling/bloodstained
They still offer loot should you decide to back the game.