Dracula is one of the most iconic villains in history, so you might think there isn’t a lot of space left to explore the character’s nature. However, with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, developer MercurySteam is hoping to give players a more emotional version of the fanged rogue that fans are familiar with. We talked with Lords of Shadow 2 producer Dave Cox and voice actor Robert Carlyle about bringing Dracula to life in the game.
Going back to the first game, how did the collaboration between you two begin?
Cox: We originally approached Robert about the role and we didn’t have anything for him to work with – just the script. So we went to the darkroom in Glasgow, and Robert delivered his lines, and then we built the cutscenes and everything around that. But this time we did it slightly differently. This time we did motion capture; we did facial capture with a stand-in actor. And the stand-in actor did a performance, and then when Robert came in. He came in for three days in London and then did a performance over the other performance.
Robert, what did you think when you first got offered this role?
Carlyle: Well it was kind of a new thing for me for sure. I’d never done this before. I’d done some voice work, of course, and read plays and stuff like that. But I was very pleased, because I knew my own kids were getting toward the time when they were starting to play these things, and I thought they’d think, ‘How cool would that be if dad was going to be one of these?’
Did they think it was cool?
Carlyle: Oh yeah, they really love it. It doesn’t matter all of the other stuff I’ve done – all the movies I’ve done. Now that I’m in a game, now I’m cool.
I know with film or TV work there’s a little bit more play in how you arrange a scene, but with video games, the developers have laid out the levels and all that already. Did you find that more rigid or was there a certain amount of freedom you could experiment in?
Carlyle: There’s more freedom than you would imagine. There was no one saying to me, ‘You must do this and you must do that, you must stick to that.’ It was very open to interpretation.
Cox: For us that’s one of the reasons why we used somebody like Robert. Because they could bring something that isn’t there on paper. They are able to raise the level of emotion in the role that was envisioned in the beginning. We’re game developers and we are working with animation, we are working with facial capture, we’re working with programmers and that kind of thing. It’s not until the human level comes in – until the emotion level that you can finish your work. Sometimes Robert will do a line different than how we originally envisioned it, and it’s so good that we’re thinking, ‘S***, we’re gonna have to change all the animations.’ But, you know, that’s the price you pay. In Lords of Shadow 2 we wanted more emotion, because with the original game, Robert was in a dark room, reading from a script without any idea about what was going to be on the screen in the end. But with Lords of Shadow 2 we tried to help a little bit more. We gave him very basic cut scenes. But I think the next step is to do full motion capture, full facial capture, like the movie industry. I think that is the way that video games are going.
Carlyle: That’s really exciting for an actor, actually.
Cox: For the first game, all the animation was done by hand and that was really tough. For the sequel we did motion capture and facial capture but with a stand-in actor. Then we could carry on working and we were able to bring something for Robert to see that was visual, that he could go, ‘Ah, ok now I understand the scene. I know this character. I understand what’s going on.’ There’s much more emotion in this game than there was in the previous one for sure.
What’s the setup for the sequel here? What’s the basic story about?
Cox: Dracula wakes up 1,000 years in the future and is looking for release from his immortal life. If you remember the end of the last game there was an epilogue where we showed Dracula in the city, and Zobek offered him a deal. Dracula’s going to take that deal, essentially, and that’s where we pick up with the game. So although what we’ve shown so far has all been based in a castle and very traditional Castlevania, the rest of the game takes place in a modern environment. That’s really exciting. We play around with dreams and what’s real and what isn’t real.
Robert, was there anything in the script that got you excited to see it visualized?
Carlyle: The prospect of playing Dracula was enough to kind of light my candle for sure because that’s something I’ve always fancied doing, but I’m maybe not quite Dracula material in terms of film or TV. To be able to do it vocally was fantastic. That was really an easy yes. Within minutes I was like ‘Yeah, of course I’m going to do that again.’
Is there anything different you feel like you’re bringing to the role?
Carlyle: Hopefully, yeah. I’ve played characters pretty nasty or messed up in some way, but there’s something about them which you understand. And I was trying to give that kind of performance. This is not a bad person. This is someone who through circumstances ended up in this world. So though he may kill people, it’s not done ruthlessly. How does it work when you want to go back into the recording booth and edit/add voice audio?
Cox: I’m just thinking of and example right now, on the 3DS game, when Gabriel kills his own son. That scene, I remember, Robert was actually in the studio crying. And we all sat there like, ‘F***.’ It was so emotional. Even now, I’m getting goose bumps. When we deliver our game, we want to give that emotion to the players. When players play the game [we hope] they’re like, ‘I wasn’t expecting that,’ and, ‘I’m really feeling that.’ That’s the thing about Gabriel. The things that he’s been through, you can understand his rage against God. You can understand the characters and his reservations.
Dracula is classically a villain, but here he’s the protagonist. How do you balance that to make a character that people want to play as?
Carlyle: I suppose a lot of that was my job, to try to show that this is not someone that you need to necessarily fear. Hopefully the game player can understand this character. As I said earlier on, he is not 100 percent anything. He’s certainly not 100 percent bad. Hopefully we achieved that.
Cox: I think the best evil characters are the ones that are shades of gray, rather than just black or white. I think in past Castlevania games, Dracula’s always been the bad guy that showed up at the end, and we didn’t really know anything about him. What we’ve tried to do with the Lords of Shadow series is tell the story of his character and how he became Dracula. And, as Robert said, you might not necessarily agree with his actions, but you can kind of understand how he got there. By the end of the game, I think players will be really impressed with the story. Certainly we’re going to surprise players. That’s for sure.