A Miserable Little Pile of Gems
by Daniel Gutierrez
Designer and Lead Programmer
June 8, 2010
Did you guys like the trailer? Is the game what you expected? I've actually been keeping close watch on what everyone has been saying about the game across the web. I've found some...interesting blogs and comments, to say the least :). All of your opinions do make a difference. In the end, the fans decide which way we go with the franchise.
Well I wanted to put this blog together today to give everyone a bit more detail about the features and systems in the game. I've heard a lot of "It looks like..." and I wanted to clear things up a bit. First, the puzzle system. I've heard comparisons to Puzzle Fighter, Tetris, Columns, Puyo Puyo, Dr. Mario, and basically every other match 3 or match 3 derivation in existence. While Puzzle Fighter was a great game I had a lot of fun with, and at first glance a screenshot of Castlevania Puzzle looks like Puzzle Fighter, Puzzle Fighter is not the only head to head block matching game in existence. The system Castlevania Puzzle uses is actually derived from another Konami game, which is popular in Japan. This game is Taisen Puzzle Dama. Puzzle Dama has been around for quite a while although most of you probably haven't heard of it. I believe the original came out even before the first Puzzle Fighter.
To tell you the truth, I hadn't even heard of Puzzle Dama before my Executive Producer introduced it to me. I'd say the game it is most similar to is Puyo Puyo. It is match 3 at its core, but it is highly focused on chaining together combos. Momentum is a big factor in winning. The tide of the battle can change quickly if you let your guard down. It is a system that is easy to pick up and play but difficult to master.
Now you may be wondering how we fit an RPG system on top of this. As I mentioned in the previous blog, we wanted a puzzle RPG that was less like a turn-based RPG and more like an action RPG. The Puzzle Dama system lends itself to that idea. As with other similar head to head puzzle games, the basic form of attack is dropping blocks on your opponent's board. You do this by matching blocks on your own board. At the most basic level, winning is achieved by keeping blocks off of your board and dropping as many blocks as possible on the opponent's board. You may have noticed the hourglass at the bottom of the screen. Each hourglass cycle represents one "round" of combat. At the flip of the hourglass, a snapshot is taken of your board and the resultant damage is calculated. The calculation is based on a number of things, including stats and equipment, but one of the most important factors is the percent of your board that is filled. More blocks on your board means you are going to take more damage. The other important damage event occurs when your board is filled all the way to the top. Instead of instantly losing, as would happen with other puzzle games, a few rows at the bottom of your board are destroyed to give you some breathing room. However, you take damage based on how many rows had to be destroyed. This system results in a few distinct play styles, which brings me to the next section.
One feature I wanted to focus on in this game is customization. I wanted the player to really be able to control their character and how they play through the game. Alucard begins Story Mode as a blank canvas really. There are multiple ways to shape and form him statistically into an avatar that fits your play style. You can focus on raising your physical attributes and relying on consistently high round to round damage, focus on offensive spells to quickly burn your opponent into submission, or focus on becoming an expert with the puzzle logic and gaining abilities that will help you destroy blocks more quickly. There are a wide array of stats, spells, and equipment that provide you with countless customization possibilities.
There are two primary modes in the game, Story Mode and Arcade Mode. Story Mode takes you through Dracula's Castle, retelling the story of Symphony of the Night. It's one some of you may already be familiar with, but it is a classic that warrants retelling. The layout of the castle may throw a few surprises your way though. The ever-changing castle has shifted itself around a bit for its appearance on the iPhone, although many areas will be familiar. Arcade Mode is more of a pick-up and play quick battle mode. In Arcade Mode, you can play as 7 other characters besides Alucard, including Richter, Maria, Shaft, Death, Dracula, and the Succubus, as well as 1 hidden character. The different characters in Arcade Mode are more than just a different sprite; they each have unique abilities which give them a unique personality.
So what do you guys think of the iPhone 4? Well if you do pick it up, I think you know which game you should be downloading first :). But for those of you who hate Steve Jobs and would never touch an Apple device, I just want to say: It's not completely out of the realm of possibility that this game will be ported to another platform. ;)
Unfortunately, we've been having some issues getting approvals from Japan, so the game won't be hitting its original release date. Sorry, but these things are out of my control. I'm estimating it will be a few more weeks before you see it on the App Store. There will be a playable at E3 though! I'm sure the media will give you a few hands-on reviews to give you some more insight into the game. This is going to be a big E3 for Castlevania! See you there.
Artists Hate Words
Artist / May 18th, 2010
So a bit about me, I have been working at Konami Mobile for nearly 4 years, as it happens; I started as a Quality Assurance tester and moved around a few times since then. I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to be bored in a classroom, and playing games nearly as long. But, Castlevania Puzzle is has been such a unique project and I couldn’t have hoped to work with a cooler title or a better team to make it with.
My involvement began sometime in December 2009 when I was rather innocently asked if I would like to contribute a few assets (puzzle gems and the like) for our new title: “Castlevania Puzzle”. After a few rounds of:
I was truly eager to get involved.
I had no idea the real scope of the project, or my involvement! Dan isn’t kidding when he says this game is extremely deep (although deceptively casual).When I first saw the game design document I thought my leg was being pulled (it’s over 100 pages long). Oh past-self, if only I could tell you the mistakes you will make. There is actually a streamlined way of enlarging and re-drawing dozens of sprite animations, or trying to fit a face into 8 pixels, but those skills would only come with lots of trial and error. And despite my occasional …well,sobbing (“We don’t need Richter to move around that much do we??”) I loved working on it. It’s really of amazing to create assets, and see them come to life in a game by a process (I’m told programming, but suspect voodoo) and realize even you can’t put the game down till you finish just_one_more_fight.
“Castlevania Puzzle” is a new take on a beloved series, and it really is a completely innovative approach to a legendary title. We, as a team, really worked hard on keeping the user experience in mind at all stages and put a lot of blood (mostly ours), sweat and tears into the development process. I have every confidence that anyone who grabs this game will be converted.
Random Highlights in the Development Process
1) The Ring of Vlad being dubbed in-house as “The Ring pop” (Description: - Emily’s favorite Restores 99,999HP)
2) rawing underwear onto Succubus (Sorry fans =( )
3) Realizing that user’s can play their own MP3’s in-battle mode should they choose (Oh yeah! Final Countdown, baby!)
Castlevania: Why a Puzzle RPG?
by Daniel Gutierrez
Designer and Lead Programmer
May 18, 2010
A puzzle game? A Castlevania puzzle game? Seriously? WHY KONAMI?!?!?
Well yes, it is seriously a real game. As a matter of fact you can go pick it up in a few weeks on the App Store. I know it may look like a horribly twisted idea at first glance to some of the hardcore fans, but give it a chance. I am a long time Castlevania fan myself, and I wouldn't allow anything that reflects badly on the series to get out onto the market if I have any control over it. To understand the idea and purpose behind this game, you should first understand the history behind it and its creators.
As you may have noticed, I am not IGA. Why, I'm not even Japanese. The rest of the dev team and I work at the American studio. Uh oh, I can hear the groans across the fan forums building up again. I know, Westerners and Castlevania don't mix. Well, forget everything you think you know about the series, because America and Europe are out with a purpose this year. We are here to prove to the fans that all of those negative innuendos are ancient history. The new era in Castlevania's history begins now.
Let me give you a bit of history about the team. I am a programmer by education and a designer by osmosis. I have worked in the mobile games industry for the past six years, and in that time I've had the chance to work with dozens of platforms and too many games to count. Believe me, I know how many great console franchises get ported to mobile in a no so great way. As an avid console and PC gamer myself, I understand why people don't give much of a chance to the mobile platform. With Castlevania Puzzle, I set out to make a game that breaks all of these existing molds. This isn't an existing puzzle game with a Castlevania skin on it. It is infinitely better and more faithful to the series than that.
To show you an example of what I was trying to accomplish and something I wanted to stay away from, I should bring up a game that some of you may be familiar with. A mobile game that tried to emulate the gameplay of a great console game with a long history. Castlevania: Order of Shadows. I'm a bit embarrassed to say it, but yes, I was a developer on Order of Shadows. I have to admit, I had my share of facepalms during that project. Unfortunately, I was only a lowly programmer at that time, and didn't have the same amount of control that I do now. So I had to sit back and watch the project stumble over itself, lacking focus and purpose.
The American mobile team was relatively young at that point, and mistakes were made, but those experiences have helped make this new mobile iteration a better game. While the technology has gotten better since Order of Shadows was released three years ago, mobile phones are still phones first and gaming devices second (or even third). You won't get a gaming experience that works well on a console to work better on a phone. Such an attempt is likely to be a disappointment.
So what's the solution to this dilemma? How can anyone possibly make a fun iteration of an established console game on a phone? One solution, which I chose for this project, is to create an iteration of the franchise in a genre that does work on phones. One that works quite well. A puzzle game.
But this brings about other risks. Great care must be taken when taking a beloved franchise to a new genre. You can't just blindly paste Castlevania sprites in a puzzle game and call it a Castlevania game. The fans will burn you at the stake. So what do we do? Add elements that identify the new game with the existing games in the series. A straight puzzle game would be doable, but what's better than a simple puzzle game? A puzzle RPG.
In the same way recent Castlevanias mix 2D action platforming with RPG elements, we have mixed fast-paced puzzle action with RPG elements. I know the puzzle RPG has been done before, but most of those other games are more like turn-based RPGs turned puzzle games. They play out slowly, turn by turn, you can spend more time thinking and less time doing. This is not the case with Castlevania Puzzle. In a 2D Castlevania game, you can't sit around thinking while maniacal Fleamen are jumping at you like madmen. You have to be on your toes at all times. This fast paced action is one of the elements I was trying to bring over into the puzzle RPG realm.
Believe it or not the RPG system in this game is quite evolved, it isn't just a generic RPG system pasted on haphazardly (dare I mention Order of Shadows again?). It includes most of the elements you'll find in Symphony of the Night and its clones, as well as other RPG features that have not been seen in a Castlevania game before.
Beyond the action and RPG elements, an important feature of Castlevania is the exploration. Believe me, this feature is in this game in its full glory. A full iteration of Dracula's Castle is included in this game. While most iPhone games give you a total of 10 minutes worth of gameplay, exploring the entire castle in Castlevania Puzzle will take a good 20 hours. Not to mention the multiple endings and other features that will have you wanting to explore it over and over again.
Exploration, action, tons of items, multiple endings, dozens of different enemies, Rondo of Blood sprites...sounds like a Castlevania game to me. Oh and about the sprites, many of them have been updated by our in-house artist, Emily Steigerwald. With only one artist, we couldn't possibly update them all, but I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised with what we were able to accomplish.
I hope this clears up what this game is trying to accomplish and why it is what it is. It may sound like a bad idea to some, but I've heard nothing but good things from people who have played it. If you're a skeptic, just give it a chance, and I'm sure you'll see the brilliance behind it.
I'm going to put together a trailer and a narrated walkthrough when I get a chance, so look for those to show up soon.
The game is nearing completion and we are aiming for a release of June 10.