Castlevania (2017-)

I must admit I’m guilty of noticing Castlevania a couple of times while listlessly swiping around Netflix’s carousels and thinking – I bet that will be shit. Which is a shame, because if it was great, well, that’d be really great. And then I found something else to watch. Turns out, it is really great, and I’m so glad I eventually took a punt. I didn’t even Google it beforehand, which was quite refreshing. I know you should give everything a chance, but if it’s been particularly derisive and only in the end picked up a score of nineteen percent from an aggregate of everyone ever, I guess it’s wholly possible it could actually be pants and not worth one’s time.

The fab season one trailer.

See I grew up watching my brother play Super Castlevania IV on the SNES and then playing the incredible Symphony of the Night on the first Playstation (this entry along with 1994’s still-fantastic “Super Metroid” spawned the “MetroidVania” sub-genre of games). I subsequently played some of the other Castlevania entries. Apparently the Netflix story loosely follows Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989). I’ve never bothered to learn the Castlevania chronology as (and I fully expect to be lynched by villagers with pitchforks/angry fans for saying so) the story has never been the high point of the series. The voice acting in Symphony, for example, is quite simply tripe. It’s funny in the way that the original Resident Evil 1 and 2 dialogue is funny. OK, OK, so the newer entries may be bloody fantastic for all I know, but –

“YOUR WORDS ARE AS EMPTY AS YOUR SOUL!”

Thankfully the Netflix show does not follow this trend. For me, the humour works really well, to accompany the already stellar voice performances – particularly from the three leads: Trevor Belmont (voiced brilliantly by Richard Armitage of Spooks and The Hobbit fame), Dracula (Graham McTavish), Sypha Belnades (Alejandra Reynoso) and later on Alucard (James Callis) joins the fun.

For instance, we meet an exceedingly grumbly and drunk Trevor Belmont, “I’m Trevor fucking Belmont and I’ve never lost a fight to man nor fucking beast!”, he brags, before being hit over the head by a drunk in a bar and effictively taken out. We then have a hungover, beaten and in-need-of-breakfast version of Trevor Belmont attempting to infiltrate Gresit – a shithole not improved by Dracula’s dark forces, who appear when a certain priest goes a step to far against the man himself. Ourkid Vlad is a superb ball of burning anger and fragility, and despite the simplicity of him going all evil evil bad bad and wanting everyone dead, he has a definate likability and vulnerability, particulaly exercised in the scenes with his wife Lisa Tepes, voiced by Emily Swallow. She is an excellent addition to the cast as a calming voice of reason, along with Sypha, who kicks more booty than the rest of them put together and in season two we are introduced to the fantastically cruel and manipulative vampiress Carmilla. Another major noteworthy character is the castle itself, which looks and feels staggeringly beautiful, and as if it holds many secrets yet to be revealed.

Both the visuals and animation are excellent, and one of the really cool things is that the writer Warren Ellis doesn’t constantly shoehorn boss fights or nods to the video games. They do crop up, but when they do they fit, and they feel rewarding rather than forced.

While the first season has only four swift episodes, the second coming from 2018 is twice as long. A third season, apparently greenlit before the second appeared on Netflix, will be ten episodes in length.

The second series builds on the first, with my only criticism being that some of the characters spend rather a lot of time in a (albiet pretty cool) library. Otherwise, compulsive viewing.

Keep an eye on the cast, air date, etc of season 3 (spoilerlicious).

The Shelter: part 1

I figured it was high time I posted something story-related, but given that I’m just trying to output this year rather than worry too much about what “it” is, I’m not going to beat myself up too much. I’ve told myself I’ll have a big old break until after I’ve moved (hopefully within the next two months).

Colour palette
Shelter assets
Digital assets from my project – “The Shelter”, which is in its early stages.

I’ve been concentrating in a big way on integrating the things I love into the job I love; that being motion graphics, animation and storytelling. One of my big passion projects (and I’m allowed to work on for training purposes at work which is amazing) is “The Shelter” – something I started a couple of years back. It’s basically a highly-detailed visual created in Adobe Illustrator that takes you through an artist’s impression of one of my story’s key environments (the artist being “Jack Knife”, the titular character from the first book). Things need tweaking and some textures adding, but the groundwork is done. The plan is to develop this into a full-blown animation, in a classic 2D video game sort of way, which fits the vibe of the story and it’s electronic elements, including the popular music genre of the setting: ‘Victronica’.

The Shelter 2
More assets from “The Shelter”. These items make up the characters rooms and areas of the wider world.

I’ll update here as the project progresses.

Medievil (2019 remake)

Sometimes I feel like I’m doomed to retred the corridors of youth and a litany of remakes in every conceivable format isn’t helping. Like Gary King in The World’s End, every so often I crave debauchery – in my case sitting on my tod playing computer games. I was so cool. Still am.

Medievil (1998 original) opening.

This latest in a long line of rehashing the past sees one (literally) bone-headed knight ‘Sir Daniel Fortesque’ resurrected once more in a remake of the 1998 PSX smash Medievil which criminally only spawned one equally awesome sequel in the form of Medievil 2, two years later. I stand by that one of the best things mum ever did was to encourage me to buy Medievil over Tomb Raider 3 with my birthday cash, which though good couldn’t touch Medievil’s imagination and humour.

Medievil sees Sir Dan as the “hero of Gallowmere” having defeated Zarok the sorceror and his evil army of the dead. Dan’s praised in history books, while he did in fact die from an arrow-to-the-eye at the battle’s first charge. One hundred years later and Zarok has returned to raise the dead and possess the good people of Gallowmere (who you meet in the “Sleeping Village”, a level later in the game).

The game’s world map of “Gallowmere”

Back in those days (twenty or so years ago – eek!) I only had my pocket money and relied on birthdays and christmases or saving up in order to buy games. Demo discs with the Official Playstation Magazine got played to death while I prayed to possess the full length games one day. For a long time, I could only dream of what came beyond Medievil’s graveyard-based first few levels.

The levels, it turns out, are varied and iconic, making it hard to pick a favourite from the twenty or so stages across the world of Gallowmere. To begin with you’re treated to Dan’s Crypt and the graveyard levels and then you scale “Cemetary Hill” to “The Hilltop Mausoleum” and the first of the game’s notable boss battles. The enemies like the locations, are varied, interesting and a ton of fun. Evil scarecrows line the corn fields and pumpkin monsters shamble through the gorge. Rooks and demons prey on “The Enchanted Earth” and there’s even a galleon complete with skeleton crew, which sails across the clouds en route to “Zarok’s Lair”.

A great retrospective video on the first two games and the PSP remake of the original, which I never had the chance to play, but may watch through as a Youtube gameplay video (assuming there is one). The few lines of dialogue they included in this video made me laugh out loud on the bus to work!

There are puzzle elements, stand-outs being the game’s wacky floating brain monster, cog and giant eyeball infested penultimate level “The Time Machine” and Jack of the Green’s fiendish riddles in the “The Asylum Grounds”. This in turn takes you to the bonkers innards of the asylum, and like “The Gallow’s Gauntlet”, provides for one of the game’s fightier levels.

There’s a wonderfully kooky and creepy score to accompany the game’s vibe and inspirations – a heedy combination of Monthy Python, Tim Burton (particularly A Nightmare Before Christmas) and old video game Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts.

Why everyone’s so excited about Medievil and the return of Sir Dan!

Medievil’s voice acting is also superb and very funny, with regional and posh english accents galore: particular favourites being cockney fairies in “The Ant Caves” (a claustrophobic level where you’re shrunk to their size) and a Sean Connery-esque dragon in “The Crystal Caves”, a small but beautiful level filled with subteranian traps and a rainbow of colour. Should you be clever enough to grab a chalice during a level, you’ll be treated with a trip to “The Hall of Heroes”; in which you’ll get to talk to a statue who’ll first mock your past failings, and secondly gift you with something (weaponry, health, etc) to help you in your quest. Much of the voice acting talent happens in this hall, giving you good reason to discover secrets on levels and revisit to complete them at a later stage.

Great insight into the Devs/creators and what they’ve done with things, hinting also that the remake will expand upon the original. It sounds like they’ve taken a lot of care over it, and it’s certainly looking lush!

Another awesome thing is that original co-creators Jason Wilson and Chris Sorrell have made what looks to be a rather splendid graphic novel “Medievil”, AKA “MediEvil: Fate’s Arrow”, which as detailed in the above retrospective video, covers the period before and after the original title with Sir Dan and the Princess using the time machine at the end of Medievil 2 to go back and fix things. This was to become the third entry in the franchise, but sadly never came to be. Hopefully the remake will do well, which will hopefully mean they’re up for a MediEvil 2 remake (a fantastic Victorian London-based romp and both harder and longer than the original). It would also be fantastic if there was a sequel and the comic book was not a final farewell.

I’m praying the game is bloody brilliant, of course, and that they don’t change it from the original too much. It’d be great if they added in some extra content, and perhaps the fabled Jabberwocky chase from the original (see a list of cut levels from the original). If “The Lake” doesn’t have the dreamy underwater tunnel section complete with swimming elephants, I riot!

Medievil will be released on PS4 on October 25th 2019. Just in time for Halloween!

Planet Death Anxiety

IRIAD (I realise it’s a downer) but I hereby coin the phrase “Planet Death Anxiety”. It’s one up from death anxiety and a partial cure for it, but the downside is that the terror of plain and pedestrian me and you death is replaced with the terror of Earth and or the entire human race dying through it’s own stupidity. Planet Death Anxiety is essentially Double Death Anxiety!

In the last few years I haven’t had any decent tools to form a decent “death denial” (arguably religion is one of these as it can mean there’s some sort of continuation beyond death. Having kids can be too as you live vicariously through them and/or you’re probably too exhausted to get the existentials). I do now have a few more distractions, which I guess is all we can hope for. Planet Death Anxiety and one of its key instigators the dreaded double C-word: climate change are all wrapped up in evil consumerism too. If we and/or “The Man”/Mr Capitalism wasn’t so consumed with getting us to part with our hard-earned cash and churning out shit we’ll no-doubt buy that’s bad for everyone – Maccy D’s, vehicles, plastic and shit – we might be on a better path as a species and a planet. It’s hard not to contribute to it all in some form (I’m certainly guilty of it despite my fears).

Anyway – Planet Death Anxiety. Tis a thing. If you’re interested in climate change check out my latest over at Henpunk, concerning Greta Thunberg’s classy collection of speeches: “No One is too Small to Make a Difference”, published by Penguin.

Further reading:

“How the climate emergency could lead to a mental health crisis”

“The fight against climate change is a fight against capitalism”