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The Legacy of Kain game that was cancelled three years in


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In 2009 the developers who made the well received Wii game Silent Hill: Shattered Memories moved onto what promised to be a much larger, much more ambitious game for multiple platforms. That game was a brand new, single-player, story-driven Legacy of Kain, the kind of project fans of the vampire action series have clamoured for ever since its glory days on the PSone.

In 2012, publisher Square Enix cancelled the unannounced project, leaving a three-year black hole on the CVs of hundreds of developers who worked on it. These people are not – officially at least – allowed to say they worked on Legacy of Kain because of strict non-disclosure agreements. But, as is always the way, you can’t keep a good vampire story down.

Climax Studios is a work-for hire developer based in the UK city of Portsmouth. Its reputation is based on its ability to create games, many of which are ports, for publishers on time and on budget, with minimal fuss. It’s good at this, and is successful because of it.

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Climax’s games, according to the developer’s website. Legacy of Kain is absent from the list.

The Legacy of Kain project with Square Enix was different. Here, the studio had been handed the keys to a beloved franchise created by current Tomb Raider custodian Crystal Dynamics. Now, that’s a similar deal to the one that spawned Climax’s Silent Hill games for Konami, but the expectation with Legacy of Kain was greater. This would be a multiplatform game that would launch on the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 – and maybe, if the stars aligned – on what were at the time mysterious next-generation consoles as well. The stakes were higher; the pressure well and truly on.

Climax’s plan was to create the new Legacy of Kain using Unreal Engine 3, which would free up the studio to focus on design and other non game engine bits and bobs. The team began life at around 30 people, but slowly grew over time to a peak of around 100 in-house.

People who worked on the game remember a banner that was hung over the development team. On it was the codename Black Cloth, and a strapline used as a guiding light: “If HBO made Zelda”. That was the big idea that had Square Enix executives so excited.

HBO, at the time, was famous for its groundbreaking TV shows such as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire and True Blood. HBO was a touchstone for a grittiness Square Enix was keen on. Zelda would be used as an influence for Legacy of Kain’s structure – a sort of open-world game that involved a hub-and-spoke design for dungeons.

“From the very beginning Square said it had to be super gritty modern, while still staying within the remit of this world,” says a source.

Climax’s Legacy of Kain might not have pleased the series’ most hardcore fans. “It wasn’t for them,” says a source. “They’re a very niche audience, really. [It was more] can we persuade people who play Call of Duty now to play a Legacy of Kain game? Which is harder. We want to see him more violent. We want to see him covered in blood. That was the feedback we got. Ergo, that’s what happened.”

That “gritty fantasy” pillar was reinforced amid the frenzy for HBO’s Game of Thrones series, which debuted in 2011. One person who worked on Legacy of Kain remembers the development team watching the first series agog.



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Climax’s Legacy of Kain would be a reboot of sorts, although set within the timeline established by the previous games. This reboot, or reset, as it was called, was driven by the need to move away from the convoluted storyline of the original games. And so, Black Cloth was set hundreds of years after Soul Reaver.

At the start of the game, Asher, the main character, watches a play about the history of Nosgoth, performed in iambic pentameter to mimic the Shakespearean style of dialogue in the older games. In it, actors dressed as famous Legacy of Kain characters Raziel and Kain would tell their story in summary. This medieval-style murder play would act as a cool nod to the original series, and as a refresh for lapsed fans.

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Gein, the star of Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun.

The main character was brand new to the series – a directive from Square Enix. At the beginning of the game, his pregnant wife is murdered. It sounds like an obvious set-up for a revenge story, but developers say that wasn’t to be the case for Black Cloth. Rather, the story had to do with The Elder God from previous Legacy of Kain games, who would pull the strings from behind the scenes, and a creepy vampire child called Saul. Saul, who was conceived by a vampire and a human woman, would be a presence throughout the game, and have a strange, almost psychic vampire nature to him. Saul would indicate a possible evolution for the vampires in the Legacy of Kain universe.

Climax hoped Black Cloth’s story would strike a similar chord the HBO shows of the time had: that it would feel big, involved, and packed with its own sense of history. Emperors and concubines and lies and deceit, a serious story worthy of a long-running, complex, multi-threaded TV show.

Climax perhaps went overboard here. Rather than go down the route of audio tapes that the player could listen to, it commissioned fancy motion capture and hand animated scenes in which the player would walk around echoes of the past. These echoes would play out like little vignettes. A huge amount of dialogue was written for Black Cloth – more than any previous game Climax had worked on. For a story-driven game such as Legacy of Kain, there had to be: Climax was shooting for a campaign that would keep players going for up to 20 hours.

Black Cloth begins with the player in control of a character called Asher – a human priest of a village. Gein, a Saradin vampire, kills him, doing the Raziel thing of eating his soul. But in doing so something unexpected happens: Asher wakes up after being killed and finds himself in control of Gein’s body. So, you’d play as a human character who, in true video game fashion, has no idea of the power at his disposal.

From there, Black Cloth’s Zelda influence would be clear: a huge, Hyrule Field-esque overworld would present itself. The main character would be able to run twice as fast as a cheetah sprints, once all the sprint boosts had been unlocked, in order to traverse its vastness. The Zelda-inspired design meant the player would go into a dungeon, kill a boss, get a new power, then move on into another dungeon, all of which would be linked to the overworld.

You would see Gein as a constant presence, a bit like – SPOILERS! – Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden to Edward Norton’s unnamed protagonist in Fight Club. Gein was this other character who would talk to you, but no-one else could see him. You would play a human in Gein’s body right up to the end of the game, when things changed.

The comparison here is with Elizabeth, Booker DeWitt’s computer-controlled companion in BioShock Infinite. Climax developers remember watching BioShock Infinite’s impressive 2011 gameplay reveal – the one that turned out to not be quite like the game that ended up coming out – and being blown away by its ambition. This was the video in which Elizabeth created a tear in spacetime to show a Revenge of the Jedi movie in Paris. “We were like, well, that’s what we’re trying to do,” one person who worked on the game says. “And we were all like, Jesus, wow.”