An Interview with Ben Lincoln
For a little introduction, my name is 'Alastorpower' form the Eidos forums and I'm a long time fan of the series. I'm train my self in a course to be a voice talent like Michael Bell. But enough about me, as you can read the interview right here. Many times I thought about making an interview with Blinc, for his tremendous soul about the series as well for his research. I hope that all of you will enjoy reading or re-reading this document as much as I did writing it:)
Do you remember when was it when your fanaticism started with the Legacy of Kain series?
I actually read about the deleted material in Soul Reaver before playing any of the games. I liked the way they sounded, and made kind of a mental note to check out Soul Reaver some time. In 2000, after I moved back home to the US (I was going to Simon Fraser University in Canada), I was going game shopping with a friend, and he insisted that I buy the copy of Soul Reaver in the used bin. It was a little more than I wanted to spend, but the screenshots looked good and my friend would not shut up about it being "made for me," so I took a chance. Obviously I was hooked, and ordered a copy of Blood Omen online before I even finished SR (this was back when you could still find the PC version new).
I think the biggest reason for my immediate fandom is that it was the first videogame I'd seen that had a very dark premise without melodrama, and powerful dialogue instead of piles of elaborate pulp. Videogame storylines still tend to be a lot lower quality than film or novels. Usually the story is written by a hack, the voice actors are from amateur hour at the local finger puppet show, and you end up with Vampire: the Masquerade: Redemption or BloodRayne. I had fun playing those games, but half of the fun was from the unbelievable cheese factor. Vampires with miniguns who say "noooooo" and busty redheads slaughtering waves of Nazis are great, but it's not the kind of experience that makes me want to get a tattoo or create a giant website.
Even now, the only other game I can think of offhand with the same general feel is Eternal Darkness (which isn't surprising, given that it was created by some of the people behind Blood Omen). Requiem tried, but not hard enough. There are some visually excellent horror games coming out of Japan like Silent Hill, but Japan seems to have laws requiring that any entertainment product be made using 90% or greater recycled story content and the worst English voice actors possible.
I guess I think of what Amy Hennig and Denis Dyack did as being kind of like Kubrick with 2001. It was over a decade between that and the release of other quality sci-fi films like Alien, so I guess I should just be patient.
But long rants aside, Soul Reaver not only had that, but it had so many concepts that were just awesome: a millenia-old empire of vampires now in decline, a world that's been completely devastated, A fallen angel with a fiery sword, ruined cathedrals the size of cities, and an enormous fortress containing the last remnants of the defeated human race. My friend was right. It was made for me.
When did your game buying and merchandise collecting campaign start?
When I moved my site to its own host (about a year after it was originally created). I was running out of things that could be learned just from looking at the games, so I tried to collect as much other information about them as possible.
What do you think, was it worth the money to collect what you now own?(I think I know the answer though:)
I'm not very attached to money. For me it's a means, not an end. So yes, spending a bit of it in order to dig up the information I did was definitely worth it. It's certainly a lot cheaper than some other hobbies, and if I hadn't done it, some of that information might have been lost forever.
"...or slowly fade into obscurity and misunderstanding." [ This was part of the text on the original version of The Lost Worlds main page. ]
When did you start collecting magazines and such... before or after knowing about the deleted materials?
Well, since I knew about the deleted material before I'd played the games, definitely after =). Up until Blood Omen 2 came out, I was not a console gamer, and most of the interesting information is in console magazines.
One can see a huge categorization of gaming magazines at your website, that means that you already spent money to pre-order them, but how do you know for a specific issue that that's the one you are looking for?
Most of those I bought on eBay long after they were published. I actually have a bit of a dilemma now, because I had to buy hundreds and hundreds of them to get the issues I was after. I'd feel badly about recycling 10-15 years of gaming history, but I'll never read the ones that don't have Kain-related material, and they're taking up a ton of space. If anyone in the Seattle area wants them, I'd drive them over for free =).
Defiance was the first game where I actually had a subscription to a number of gaming magazines in order to get information about it. I also had a bunch of people from the forums email me when they spotted something, and there's a bookstore here where I could buy single issues of European magazines if I heard about one I wanted.
Which is the most important thing in a magazine for you about any LoK related material: pictures or text?
It depends on the subject. Usually I wish for whichever one I don't have =). Text is better for specifics, like the list of Reavers that were deleted from SR. But only pictures can clearly show what the developers wanted to do. For example, I knew that Turel's area was supposed to be underground and that the Priestess was beneath the Human Citadel, but when I finally found pictures of their sections of the game I was surprised to see that they looked very unlike what I had imagined.
Of course, any magazine article can only say so much. I'm really glad that some of the deleted material has been left in the games for me to find, and that I was able to get my hands on a number of early demo versions of Soul Reaver and SR2. Warpsavant and I tossed around the idea of using a helicopter to break into Crystal Dynamics, James Bond-style to get the various development builds of all the series (since even one of those is worth a thousand magazines), but neither of us know how to fly one.
When you find something interesting about deleted material, do you look for some other resources to prove your guess right?
Yes. Sometimes it's fairly obvious. When piecing together dialogue, usually there's only one way that sounds right. But there's a lot of clues that are very ambiguous, and some that are downright misleading. The worst example of this was the pre-release information about SR2. Apparently a number of mazgaine writers went in with too many preconceptions, which lead to them including the idea of Raziel having to deal with both the Kain he knew and his younger self from Blood Omen.
Other times, there just isn't enough information to decide either way. Defiance was announced so close to its release that there isn't any significant material to use as a guide to what might have been removed from it. That's not to say that I don't have some investigative work going, but it's a big job and will take a lot longer than being able to dig up a magazine article that literally includes everything that was cut from SR.
On your site there is a story about your trip to Crystal Dynamics, I'm wondering what they have said about your researches at that time...
They seemed to think it was cool. The impression I have is that they're a lot less attached to them than people like me - probably because they actually played through them and know firsthand the problems that caused them to be cut. But they did have some excellent stories, and I had a lot of fun. Especially considering I was pretty much a deer in the headlights, meeting a bunch of people I didn't know who made my favourite story ever in an unfamiliar city =).
Speaking of this, I *really* wish the Defiance bonus material had included the Christmas skit one of the animators did using SR2 dialogue clips and the Kain character model. It was priceless.
And here are the suspected favourite questions:
Can you tell your personal comments about the five games and finally deciding which one would you like to re-play at that moment?
Blood Omen's world is much larger than in most games these days, and the story is excellent. The graphics are obviously a bit primitive, but every time I've played it I've stopped noticing them after about five minutes because it's such a fun game. I like the free-roaming aspects, the huge number of secrets, and that it came with a physical map. My one complaint is that I wish the moon doors would open more often. Also, if someone were to re-make it, a proper in-game map (a la Metroid) would make it less frustrating in places like the Oracle's Cave where it's easy to get turned around.
Soul Reaver will always be my favourite in some ways because it introduced me to the series. I love that it takes place in a world that's been ruined for over a thousand years, and that you can go back to Blood Omen and see how much was lost under Kain's empire. It's also got my favourite atmosphere of the series, playing as an outcast who is totally alone, exploring that ruined world and all the relics of what it once was. It's always reminded me of Metroid in terms of gameplay (free roaming with areas that are inaccessible until you gain certain abilities), and I actually think it does that style in 3D much better than the Metroid Prime games. If I were to change anything about it, it would be replacing most of the block puzzles and adding some depth (as opposed to breadth) to the combat system.
Something I like about both of those games is the lack of any stereotypically good or evil characters. Everyone has complex motivations, and most of the main characters could be either heroes or villains depending on your point of view. I'm glad that when it was made clear that Raziel and Kain were as good as you can get in Nosgoth, they would still do things that most people would consider evil, because it made the story deeper and less predictable.
Soul Reaver 2 was a huge shock to me. I always make sure not to be spoiled about unreleased games, and so up until the end credits I was expecting to see the conclusion depicted in the Chronoplast of SR. I think it has some of the strongest writing, plot development, and visual design of the series, but it's always seemed to me like the gameplay should have been deeper. The aspect of it that stays with me the most is Raziel's discovery of how wrong he was about the Sarafan, particularly the image of him fighting his former self in the chamber with the Ouroborous.
Blood Omen 2 has a bad reputation for playing so much havoc with the storyline, but I think it's really fun in terms of playing it. I think the designers did a great job of creating the impression of a living city. It's got a lot of actual gameplay time, and the boss battles are excellent - partly because they use the same puzzle concept as in Soul Reaver, which I vastly prefer to straight combat.
Defiance was far better than I'd hoped it could be, while simultaneously not containing anything I thought it would, and a lot of things I was sure it wouldn't. I thought it was a perfect conclusion to the SR story arc, especially the way the deleted bits of SR were worked into it (particularly the Spirit Reaver, which Warpsavant and I had harped on the forums about endlessly while it was in development). It's also got my absolute favourite combat system of the series - both characters move fluidly and quickly, and have a huge number of animations that make it the only game in the series where I'll actually fight enemies I don't have to just because it's so fun. I think the cinematic cam was an excellent idea - minor bugs aside - and it helps show off how absolutely beautiful the design of everything in the game is. When the first screenshots were leaked, I didn't believe they could be real. I miss the free-roaming of SR, but the story of Defiance lends itself better to a linear design. It's my other favorite of the series, and the only thing I wish it had included was the future Nosgoth of Soul Reaver.
Overall, I'd be most likely to replay SR or Defiance. I played through the latter on the Xbox about a month ago since it had been over a year without going through a complete Kain game, despite any rumours that I play all of them constantly.
Who is your personal favourite character?
I like Raziel best. Partly because we [ used to ] look similar, partly because he had wings, but mostly because he's such an excellent, deep character. I think it's incredible that Amy and her writing team were able to make me think a blue guy with half his body missing and a lightsaber strapped to his arm was believable. I'm sure having someone as talented as Michael Bell (who I remember from The Transformers and GI Joe as a kid) perform his dialogue.
Kain is a close second. He reminds me in some ways of Michael Moorcock's Elric, which is a good thing. I think that Simon Templeman's performance was the key to making him a real character - a lot of his dialogue in Blood Omen would have been pretty cheesy if voiced by the average gaming industry amateur voice actor - and Amy and her team were able to build on that to the point that a lot of his actions in SR2 and Defiance genuinely surprised me.
In terms of the supporting cast, I like the Lieutenants of the Soul Reaver era. They've got that doomed-but-going-on-anyway aspect that I find most interesting. Mortanius takes on that kind of role in Defiance, which made me like him much more than in the first game.
Do you have any favourite voice actor? And why?
Michael Bell and Simon Templeman are my favourites, and not just because they play the characters I like best. They both have an incredible amount of soul that they put into whoever they're voicing.
I think all of the supporting cast are amazing as well. Most of them seem to have one type of voice that they do extremely well, as opposed to being a jack of all trades like Bell (who is I think the only person that could convincingly play everything from Raziel to a giant robot to Opus the penguin to a Smurf). I was especially impressed with Alastair Duncan as Mortanius in Defiance. If someone ever wins the lottery and funds a remake of Blood Omen, I hope they get him to play that part. Tony Jay is perfect as the evil mastermind, but Duncan was great and it would make it clear that Mortanius is a separate character entirely.
Do you have any favourite LoK music? And any favourite deleted music?
My favourite (like most people's) is Ozar Midrashim. I like all of the game music, but I think that Blood Omen has an amazing traditional soundtrack, and on the opposite end of the scale Blood Omen 2 makes excellent use of 20th century techniques from atonality (which, like mustard, I enjoy in small amounts) to industrial and ambient.
I actually like the deleted music from SR better than what made it into the game. The themes for Turel's area and the Reaver forges are awesome.
When I was in my very first battle in Defiance in Chapter 4 (The Cemetery), I felt quite nostalgic about the Necropolis combat music for it was used very well for those levels... Of course I didn't stopped playing to enjoy the music, for the Tentacles had to get their present... Oh the advantages for being a LoK fan :)
Do have any favourite deleted material for all games?
The Silenced Cathedral is my favourite that hasn't been included in any of the newer games. I would LOVE to see a rendered cinematic of Raziel being chased up the cathedral by an army of vampires, triggering the pipes, and then seeing them all vapourized in a massive shockwave of sound (I guess I envision it being like the Protoss device that is used to wipe out the invading Zerg in SC). All of the SR stuff is my favourite overall, though. I really like the idea of Turel's subterranean caverns, the vast Undercity complex, and the Possession ability.
In terms of what's been included, I mentioned the Spirit Reaver from Defiance. It's such a small thing in the scheme of the series as a whole, but it made me really happy to finally be able to use it, and that it was just as powerful as it was supposed to be.
I always see in the different sections of materials the text on the left and the main picture on the right. Under the picture's you always write different lines from previous LoK games or that specific line with the Soul Reaver2 Debug Menu "Tremble mortals, and despair..." from WarcraftIII's Archimonde. Do you have a favourite line? (I bet it's "Time fades..")
That's just me being a huge dork =) [ ...and that's one of the reasons I eliminated it with the redesign, which took place long after this interview. ] . Also, I am a (very out of practice) musician, and the music I write is very sample-based (I wrote the TLW video introduction in a similar style), so I tend to think in those terms. I used most of my favourites for that intro, but honestly there is little if any dialogue from the series I don't love. Awhile ago I was showing someone the first part of SR, and even something as simple as Tony Jay's "take hold of them as you leap, and they will carry you across this chasm" struck me as something better than the vast majority of other games.
Where you a good player in Defiance? :)
I'm not a hardcore gamer, but I thought it was pretty straightforward. I didn't cheat or anything, like I've had to with games like Devil May Cry.
I also played DMC but that was before I know the series, you should try Devil May Cry2 for it is much more easier and alot more dissapointing than the DMC1 was:)
I heard about a project you are working on using C++ is it a secret project, or can you tell us what it will be or perhaps for which game it will be for?
It's C#, actually. I'd like to learn C++ too, but that's a bigger effort. There are a number of projects I have in various stages of completion. I don't want to give anything away, but one of the things I'm hoping they'll be useful for is seeing if anything is left of whatever got cut from Defiance. It may be awhile before they're released, because my life has become much more busy than it was when I started my site (and the last 4-5 months have been incredibly stressful for a number of reasons I won't go into here), but it will be worth the wait. I'm also going to make sure that at least the main ones are easy enough for anyone to use, because I know how frustrating it is for casual gamers to work with something like ProjectX.
What would you like to see in the very next game?
Unfortunately, I have my doubts that there will be one. Even if it gets made, I suspect it won't feel the same given that so many of the team are gone.
None of my ideas for future games have ever been as good as what eventually came out, but if I were to make a wishlist it would include:
Let's hope the best, for I'm sure CD reads this interview as we speak! HI there Crystal Dynamics!:)
Did you like any other game than LoK, like Starcraft and Warcraft III?
It's probably obvious by now that I'm a big Metroid fan (2D much more than the Primes, although they have their moments). I also loved Starcraft, and even dressed as a Ghost for Halloween last year (there are a few pictures here). Generally I tend to like sci-fi more than fantasy, which I think says a lot about how great LoK is. Some games I've really gotten into are Wasteland (back in the ancient times), Homeworld (but NOT Homeworld 2! =P), Mechwarrior (or anything with giant robots, really, like Steel Battalion), Ico, GTA3/VC/SA, Rez, BloodRayne, Diablo I/II, Battlezone, Sacrifice, F-Zero GX, P.N.03, Eternal Darkness, Morrowind, KOTOR, Freespace, and Beyond Good and Evil. I thought Devil May Cry was slick style-wise, but I cannot stand high difficulty action games and ended up using an Action Replay invincibility code so I could treat it like a movie.
Every once in awhile I'll play an FPS or a fighting game - I liked both Halos and both Soul Caliburs - but I'm not patient enough to learn them really well. I also like a lot of old-school arcade games (which I grew up with). I'm particularly fond of vector titles like Star Wars, Tempest, and Tac-Scan.
I thought Warcraft III had a lot of potential, but in the end wasn't my kind of game. The cinematics and audiovisual work were awesome, but the story borrowed too much from Tolkien and Moorcock, and more importantly I didn't have fun beyond the first few levels for each race. I really wish they'd gone with the Battlezone/Sacrifice-style original concept, or kept it as a more traditional RTS with huge battles.
I don't play anything online. I like games with stories, I don't like level-grinding or playing the same arena over and over, and there's too much cheating. I also like to be able to re-play old games years later, and I suspect a lot of today's online content will be completely inaccessible in 2010 or beyond. I'm kind of ambivalent about the next-gen systems because there is such an emphasis being made on the online gaming, which I won't use at all. Furthermore, the idea of buying a game like Oblivion (which I'm really looking forward to) and then having to *pay more* to Microsoft to unlock the best items bothers me to the point where I'll either get the PC version, or not bother at all. On the other hand, I'm getting old, and all the kids on hoverboards with surgically-implanted iPods and strange pants will probably love it.
I think all of us should try out "Shadow of Destiny" or here in Europe "Shadow of Memories", for it features time travelling and paradoxes like in the movie "12 Monkeys"! It was released at 2001, and it was that kind of game that was published with many other good titles like Soul Reaver 2:) It's available both for the PS2 and for the PC for the curious.
Do you know in person the other hackers of the LoK community?
No. Warpsavant lives on the other side of the country from me, and Andrew Fradley lives in Europe. I think it would be interesting to meet them some day, though.
In the cool screenshots on your site I always see your site's logo. The logo is based on one of the symbols in the Chronoplast puzzles in Soul Reaver 1, but is there a special reason for picking that one?
[ This is another reference to the original design of The Lost Worlds. ]
I'm glad I managed to convey that impression, although I wasn't specifically thinking of any one image from the Chronoplast. Basically I tried to cram as many deleted material references in as I could without it looking crappier than my design skills limited it to =). I used the things that seemed to fit together the best graphically, which ended up being:
Are you in e-mail contact with Amy Hennig?
It's been awhile since we've had a long discussion, but we chatted a bit when she accidentally emailed me the main design document for the game Naughty Dog is working on right now. Only joking, of course =). She is incredibly good natured and has always found time to answer me, but I know how busy she is. Especially now that she's put the series behind her, I try not to pester her with marriage proposals from fans and minor plot clarifications.
I think it's really cool that you did this. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to yammer on at length about myself and my favourite game series.
The pleasure is all mine Blinc, thanks for taking the precious time for this one-lengthy interview, and good luck with all your projects and work. I look forward of seeing your 'secret' tool for Defiance:)