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Behind the Classics: Amy Hennig Talks Soul Reaver Secrets

Sid Shuman's Avatar + Posted by Sid Shuman on Oct 12, 2012 // Senior Manager, Social Media

Behind the Classics: Legacy of Kain - Soul Reaver

Raziel, the ‘hero’ of Soul Reaver

Ah, Soul Reaver. I remember it well! This gruesome little gem made quite the splash when it landed on PSone in 1999. As the wounded, ostracized vampire Raziel, your goal was to avenge yourself against the corrupt vampire lord Kain and restore balance to the decaying world of Nosgoth. I particularly remember the game’s inspired approach to combat; your vampiric foes couldn’t be killed by ordinary means, so after weakening them with hand-to-hand combat you had to hurl their broken bodies onto a sharp stake or into a patch of sunlight to finish them off. The level design was also a knockout, as Raziel was able to phase-shift into a spectral realm in order to bypass obstacles or solve puzzles.

But above all else, Soul Reaver is remembered for its story and characters. And we have the game’s director Amy Hennig to thank for that! As you’re probably well aware, Hennig later joined celebrated PlayStation developer Naughty Dog, serving as creative director and writer for Jak and Daxter and all three UNCHARTED titles.

Hennig graciously took the time to share her memories of Soul Reaver’s development, including some never-before-revealed insight into the game’s origins. Read on for the full story straight from Hennig, and be sure to leave your favorite Soul Reaver moments in the comments.

PlayStation Blog: What was the original concept for the game?

Amy Hennig, Director and Writer of Soul Reaver: I don’t know how many people know this, but initially, it wasn’t actually a sequel to Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain at all – our original proposal was a concept for a new IP we named “Shifter,” loosely inspired by Paradise Lost. The protagonist was essentially a fallen angel of death, a reaper of souls hunted by his former brethren, and now driven to expose and destroy the false god they all served.

The Shifter concept was the genesis of the game that would become Soul Reaver; the core ideas were all there. The hero was an undead creature, able to shift between the spectral and material realms, and glide on the tattered remains of his wing-like coattails. We conceived the spirit realm as a twisted, expressionistic version of the physical world. The hero was bent on revenge after being betrayed and cast down by his creator – like Raziel, he was a dark savior figure, chosen to restore balance to a blighted, dystopian world.

Behind the Classics: Legacy of Kain - Soul Reaver

When we were asked to adapt this concept into a sequel to Blood Omen, our challenge was to take all these ideas and merge them creatively into the Legacy of Kain mythos.

PSB: Did you know you were working on something special? What were your creative conditions as you worked on it – uncertainty, confidence, terror?

AH: You’re never really sure when you’re in the middle of a project. Because we were initially such a small team, we were able to work under the radar for a while, and this allowed us to tinker with some unusual ideas that might not have survived premature scrutiny or skepticism.

When we first shared the concept with our colleagues in the company, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea but also justifiable concern that we might be taking on an unrealistic number of technical risks. We pared back on some secondary features – we had originally planned to include shape-shifting (morphing) as well as plane-shifting, for instance – so we could focus on elements that were more critical to our core concept. By the time we unveiled the game to the press, we were starting to get the feeling that we might be onto something special.

As far as the creative conditions went – we were very invested in our original Shifter idea, so it naturally caused a bit of consternation when we were first asked to adapt the concept to be a Blood Omen sequel. But creative constraints can be inspiring and invigorating, and once we dug into the challenge, the concept evolved in all kinds of exciting ways.

We definitely had set ourselves a lot of ambitious technical goals, though – so, yes, there was a fair amount of uncertainty and terror about what we were undertaking!

PSB: Did you draw inspiration from anywhere in particular for the game’s thematic elements, characters, or dialog?

AH: There were so many different inspirations, it’s hard to just name a few…
As I mentioned earlier, the original idea was very loosely inspired by the rebellious angels of Milton’s Paradise Lost. The spiritual structure of the world was based on the philosophy of Gnosticism, the belief that the cosmos is ruled by a malevolent “pretender” god, that humans are prisoners in a spiritual lie, and that mankind’s struggle is a fight for free will in the face of seemingly insurmountable Fate.

We wanted to give Nosgoth’s dystopian future a decaying 19th-century industrial aesthetic, while the look of the spectral realm was inspired by the twisted architecture and disorienting angles of 1920s German Expressionist cinema.

Regarding the dialogue, we obviously took a cue from Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, with its florid language and ornate monologues. We wanted to carry a similar style into the sequels. I also drew inspiration from the dense, literate dialogue of historical dramas like A Man for All Seasons, Becket, and A Lion in Winter.

Behind the Classics: Legacy of Kain - Soul ReaverBehind the Classics: Legacy of Kain - Soul Reaver

PSB: It was an ambitious title for its time. What were the biggest challenges in realizing your original vision?

AH: Our biggest challenge, hands-down, was getting the data-streaming working, to allow us to have a seamless, interconnected world with no load events. I think we were one of the first developers to tackle this problem (along with Naughty Dog, on Crash Bandicoot). It proved to be way more difficult than we had initially anticipated – if I recall, we were still struggling to get the textures to dynamically pack correctly, just a couple months before release. We ultimately got it working by the skin of our teeth, but I wonder if we would’ve embarked on such an ambitious plan if we’d known how difficult it was going to be!

Our second challenge, of course, was figuring out how to store two sets of data for the spectral and material realms, and how to implement the real-time morph between the two environments. Our initial plan was over-ambitious, involving texture-morphing as well as geometry-morphing, but we realized pretty early on that our texture memory (and time) was too limited to achieve this. We came up with the idea of leveraging the 3DS Max animation timeline to attach spectral values to the vertices in the geometry – i.e., frame 0 was the material world, and frame 1 was the spectral realm (or vice versa; I can’t remember for sure). This way we could alter the x,y,z coordinates of each vertex, as well as its RGB lighting values, to create a twisted, more eerily lit version of the physical realm.

Our ultimate challenge, though, was schedule and scope. Conceived as an open-world, Zelda-esque 3D adventure game, Soul Reaver was incredibly ambitious. Crystal Dynamics’ Gex engine gave us a leg-up on the 3D technology, but in essence we were writing a game engine from scratch, while developing a new IP. These days, a developer wouldn’t think of attempting such a thing in less than three years (minimum), but Eidos wanted the game in less than two. In the end, we shipped Soul Reaver in under 2.5 years, but not without some unfortunate eleventh-hour cuts which still pain me today. The scope of the game was definitely too ambitious, but if we had shipped the game that Fall, instead of that Summer, I think we could have reduced the scope of the game more elegantly.

Behind the Classics: Legacy of Kain - Soul Reaver

PSB: How close to your original concept was the finished game?

AH: Pretty close, considering all the changes we went through over the course of development. We had to cut content, but the core concept of the game remained unchanged (even going back to the original Shifter proposal).

To hit the August ’99 release date, we had to cut the last few levels of the game, and end on a cliffhanger that set up Soul Reaver 2. Originally, Raziel was going to hunt down and destroy all of his former brothers as well as Kain – and then, using his newly-acquired abilities, he would’ve activated the long-dormant pipes of the Silenced Cathedral to wipe out the remaining vampires of Nosgoth with a sonic blast. Only then would he realize that he’d been the Elder God’s pawn all along, that the purging of the vampires had devastating consequences, and that the only way to set things right would be to use Moebius’ time-streaming device to go back in time and alter history (in the sequel).

So the story would have arrived at a similar place, just by a different route. In the end, as much as I hated its bluntness, Soul Reaver’s “To Be Continued” ending probably turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I think it opened up more interesting story options for the sequels.

PSB: Which element of the game are you most proud of?

AH: I’m extremely proud of how our relatively small team managed to pull off all those groundbreaking technical challenges. And as a designer, I still take pride in the originality of Soul Reaver’s vision, and the unified way we were able to mesh the game mechanics with the fiction – e.g., devouring souls for sustenance, and the way the spectral plane was integrated into the health system; how the combat mechanics were designed around defeating immortal vampires; the ability to glide on broken wings; and the balance between Raziel’s mechanics in the spirit and material realms, especially the ability to use the morphing terrain to your advantage. In many ways, I think it’s still the most well-designed game I’ve worked on.

PSB: How would you like Soul Reaver to be remembered? What did it bring to the video game medium?

AH: Fondly, I hope! Even thirteen years later, I’m humbled and gratified to have fans and colleagues come up to me and say how memorable the game was for them, or how it influenced them as young game designers. The series still has an enthusiastic fan base, and is remembered affectionately in ways we couldn’t have foreseen all those years ago.

I hope it’s remembered as a well-constructed game with an original vision and an engaging story, and as groundbreaking in terms of what we were able to achieve on the PlayStation at the time. Our approach to voice acting and performance was also innovative for the time, the way we brought the actors in to record their dialogue together rather than in isolation. The performance capture process we use on Uncharted today – where we involve the actors as collaborators, and have them play the scenes together on the stage – owes its origins to the techniques we established for Soul Reaver fifteen years ago.

PSB: Which of the Soul Reaver characters is closest to your heart?

AH: It’s impossible for me to choose between Raziel and Kain – they’re two inseparable sides of the same coin (so to speak). As a character, I probably like Kain more. Although ostensibly a villain, he’s really a classic hero, fighting for free will in a world shackled by Fate. Raziel is a more tragic figure, a pawn, and that makes him sympathetic – but he’s also a deeply flawed character, blinded by self-righteousness and vengeance. I loved writing for both of them.

More Behind the Classics

  • Behind the Classics – Jak & Daxter
  • Behind The Classics – Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
  • Behind the Classics – MediEvil
  • Behind the Classics – Syphon Filter
  • //Add Your Own

    80 Comments

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    51

    + tplus210 on October 13th, 2012 at 9:30 am said:

    I like this game


    52

    + Elvick_ on October 13th, 2012 at 11:45 am said:

    I remember playing a demo for one of these games, not sure which one… I’ve always wanted to try them. Gonna have to get to it.


    53

    + GhostMachine1 on October 13th, 2012 at 2:57 pm said:

    This has LITERALLY been the top game that I have wanted to see upgraded from PS2 into PS3. Alas, it will not happen. :(


    54

    + D34DL1N3R on October 13th, 2012 at 6:02 pm said:

    No need for HD releases. You sheep keep dishing out your $$$ for something you can do yourself with the PCSX and PCSX2 emulators and the original PS1/PS2 discs. All the majority of these “HD Remasters” are, are simple upscales that the emulators do for free.


    55

    + D34DL1N3R on October 13th, 2012 at 6:09 pm said:

    Edit to the above: I meant to say the ePSXe and PCSX2 emulators.


    56

    + jose213jose on October 13th, 2012 at 6:30 pm said:

    Legacy of Kain series was so awesome and fun game; Kain was my most Favorite character of all from the series and Raziel was also cool when he finally saw the true of his destiny. He became part of the Soul Reaver and finally trust kain in the end. The games so great and hope to see the series get reboot onto the PS3 and PSVita as port game to play.


    57

    + x1Raziel on October 13th, 2012 at 10:06 pm said:

    one of my favorite game serries of all time. that’s why my psn name is Raziel. thank you for this great game and please please give us a HD Collection make it happen sony! and a next gen soul reaver game would be great.


    58

    + D34DL1N3R on October 14th, 2012 at 5:26 am said:

    @56, if you would bother reading any of the other posts you would see that you don’t need a stupid HD Collection. Just run your old PS1/PS2 games with emulators on your PC and you will have your own “HD Collection” already.

    Why can’t Sony add some decent upscaling features for their PS1/PS2 Classics from the PSN store? If an emulator available for free can make the old games look so great, why can’t my $300 PS3? I was ripped off buying Resident Evil 1, 2, 3, CVX HD, and RE4 HD from the PSN. They all look better when using my old ass discs on the emulator!

    People… unless they are adding new textures or actually re-making the games, stop wasting your money on these lame “Upscale Collections”. Download ePSXe and PCSX2, read a guide on configuring them, then forget about being ripped off by purchasing games you already own… that you can “HD-ify” free of cost by yourself.


    59

    + D34DL1N3R on October 14th, 2012 at 5:49 am said:

    If no one here believes me, take a look at these pictures.

    Here’s Soul Reaver as it appears running from disc on a PS1, PS2, PS3, and also from the PSN download:
    http://imageshack.us/a/img87/3373/ps1psnb.png

    And here’s the exact same shot running from the original PS1 disc through the ePSXe emulator on a PC:
    http://imageshack.us/a/img38/5402/epsxeb.png

    They don’t need to make HD Collections. They need to build the proper upscaling abilities into their consoles, so people don’t have the buy the same damn games twice just to get a better looking version.


    60

    + Alexdark777 on October 14th, 2012 at 10:07 am said:

    espero con ancias el volver a jugar tan magnifico juego


    61

    + Raziel_1_Sarafan on October 14th, 2012 at 12:03 pm said:

    espero poder ver lo luego para descargarlo bueno tengo soul reaver 1 original y lo cuido como hueso santo :P
    espero ver soul reaver 2, defiance , blood omen 2 tambien para descargarlo y espero que sea realidad que esten trabajando nuevamente en esta saga sacando una nueva c:


    62

    + mayrocks27 on October 14th, 2012 at 2:13 pm said:

    Legacy of kane was a great great game…..awesome graphics and gameplay…….always wondered why there was never a ps3 soul reaver……too bad…


    63

    + StarFoxMania on October 14th, 2012 at 2:15 pm said:

    Dear Sid: Thank you so much for the most important interview ever on PS blog’s history, as far as I am concerned, this is the most important interview in the world of video games ever. I do not know if this is also a test to see how much sales a remake would grant, but everyone would appreciate that, ESPECIALLY people who were simply too young at the time to have had a say on what they would get for christmas :) so instead of getting a ps1 they got smth else from their parents and they are old enough to afford their own entertainment choices.

    It would warm my heart to have more people introduced to the greatest tale ever told.

    Dear Ms. Hennig:

    You are the greatest game writer ever in my books. Always have been. While most people know you from Uncharted, I have always kept your name the dearest in this gamer’s heart.

    I will NEVER EVER EVER forget this game. I will never forget the emotions it awakened on me. I will never forget how, when I 1st put it on my PC years and years ago, my opinion of games would change forever.

    continued on post below…


    64

    + StarFoxMania on October 14th, 2012 at 2:17 pm said:

    …continued from post above

    The DIALOGUE you write makes one think and relate it to their own lives. Anyone with access to independent documentaries knows how this world has gone mad in more than a hefty bunch of aspects of life and existence. It made me analyze, consume, day-dream, get lost. It even made me take random trips and question my future. This games was to its fans what “Nevermind” album from Nirvana was to the music world. Revolutionary, but most importantly not because of a boss health bar being ridiculous, or because there is a deep item inventory that slows down the pace. This game was STORY, STORY STORY, and then some atmosphere, and then some more story and then some incredibly philosophical dialogue. You are my generation’s Schopenhauer. I went from reading Immanuel Kant books to actually being awed by a video game???

    continued on post below…


    65

    + StarFoxMania on October 14th, 2012 at 2:17 pm said:

    …continued from post above

    Many try to constantly “invent” today, with names that 1st come to mind like David Cage, but unfortunately there is a difference between when you do things for the sake of being different and when it just comes out from the heart. And your work on SR1&2 were the most a heart can pour in any art form (project). That I felt, and that all games, great and not so great, ever since, have utterly failed to come close to.

    The world and atmosphere you created surpassed any expectation a gamer can have.

    Dear Square Enix: I know you bought Crsytal Dynamics from Eidos Interactive. Please make it happen. Please announce a HD collection with trophies for the 3 Soul Reaver games. And this time maybe include the levels that the mastermind behind this vast thinker’s vampire tale intended. I am so curious how Ms. Hennig wanted to end the 1st game, especially since she used the words ” still pain me today” :(


    66

    + Vcheese on October 14th, 2012 at 6:32 pm said:

    Excellent game, this had the quality of uncharted back then in terms of voice acting, story, and desing. I really miss the saga a lot and would love to see the conclusion of it. A new soul reaver with todays tecnology would be outstanding. ARE YOU LISTENING SONY??? WE WANT MORE SOUL REAVEEEER!!!! :)


    67

    + Hooligantuan on October 14th, 2012 at 8:35 pm said:

    This was a good read. The PSBlog could do well with more posts like this.

    If they ever did a Legacy of Kain reboot to fine tune the story, set piece events, cram some more game into the experience, polish it up in High Def, I’d be on board for more.


    68

    + KrisButtar on October 15th, 2012 at 6:07 am said:

    A Blood Omen Collection(with all 5 games) in HD would be a day 1 day for me


    69

    + KrisButtar on October 15th, 2012 at 6:08 am said:

    edit
    day 1 buy for me


    70

    + the_red_wraith on October 15th, 2012 at 6:56 pm said:

    Great Article! This Behind the Classics its priceless! It could entice new gamers to reach out for many games they dont have the opportunity to played.

    I also played the demo when i bought my PSX and really shook me! I join my voice with all the others to see the resurrection of this Series! i played and finished every bit of them! Heck! i would have played a puzzle of LOK if Ammy Henning was the writer!

    I remember that I treasured my Soul Reaver copy, but I lend it to many of my friends (the ones who had PSX of course) just so they could realize what masterpiece it was. I had the PSX and the DC version, sadly, both of them are gone; but I bought the PSN copy right away!

    We need another game in the saga -at least, and while we wait, please put the PS2 classics on PSN, I dont care if they are normal or HD, the game would still rock!

    Saludos desde México!


    71

    + TSTina on October 15th, 2012 at 8:15 pm said:

    Soul Reaver is probably my all-time favorite game. I still hang on to my Dreamcast just to play this game (and Shadowman). I also bought the PC versions of the series on GOG. But nevertheless, I would still love to see an HD remastered collection of the whole series, with some modern features like 3D support, updated camera controls for SR1, and restoring some of the parts that were cut from the originals. There was a rumor a few months back that a reboot or remake of Soul Reaver is already in the works. Let’s hope it’s true.

    @D34DL1N3R : Yes, emulators can upscale old games to higher resolutions, but they’re still using the same old models and textures. HD remasters usually replace the models and textures with new versions that look a lot better.


    72

    + TSTina on October 15th, 2012 at 8:21 pm said:

    While we’re waiting for a sequel, remaster, remake, or reboot of Soul Reaver, don’t forget that there’s a couple of newer games that appear to be heavily influenced by the Legacy of Kain series:

    DARKSIDERS I & II


    73

    + StrykerINF_1_23 on October 15th, 2012 at 8:21 pm said:

    Soul Reaver HD, Onimusha HD, Midnight Club HD, world peace, a nice six figure monthly salary, and a gallon of milk please, since I ran out.


    74

    + DragonAgeTemplar on October 16th, 2012 at 5:12 am said:

    We want THE KING KAIN
    btw. Raziel doesnt exist anymore, he is a sword of KAIN now since he become the soul reaver of kains sword in defiance…
    we want KAIN


    75

    + mdyer2 on October 16th, 2012 at 8:31 am said:

    Man this is great. Legacy of Kain is my all time FAVORITE game series.

    I REALLY wish they’d make a sequel to Defiance :(


    76

    + FROSTMORE93 on October 17th, 2012 at 8:11 am said:

    I love that game because of Raziel is my favorite character, but after when i played defiance on ps2. I was so mad and dissappoint i said myself “what the heck?” In the end Kain survived and Raziel died? are you serious? Well thank you for make this game bad. I dont feel like playing this games anymore. Maybe i will change my mind if its going be different defiance than old one and of course soul reaver too ^_^


    77

    + ToxicBerserker on October 18th, 2012 at 5:45 am said:

    This article was awesome, I hope this means that we’ll be seeing some sort of sequel to the series on the PS3 or at least some HD remasters. I own the first Soul Reaver game and I loved the game, but it would be awesome to see what can be done with it on current consoles; the PS3.


    78

    + KainDrake on October 19th, 2012 at 8:26 pm said:

    After reading the original idea for Soul Reaver’s ending, I wish they went with that. As much as Soul Reaver is my favorite in the series, that sounds more interesting and awesome than what we actually got.


    79

    + Arch_Lins on October 28th, 2012 at 2:24 pm said:

    Jogo nostálgico, embalava minhas madrugada a dentro, tentando ‘zerar’ descobrindo todos os seus segredos… Muito bom.


    80

    + EXQUISITEEMPRESS on November 10th, 2012 at 11:12 pm said:

    I await the re-release of this game with bated breath.


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