It’s been twenty-one years since the original MediEvil spooked players. Developer Other Ocean Emeryville is hoping to once again ensnare players’ imaginations. But, has the game stood the test of time? We recently talked with Mike Mika, chief creative officer, and Jeff Nachbaur, producer, about their upcoming game. If their passion is any indication, gamers have a treat in store this Halloween. The MediEvil Remake is not content with igniting mere nostalgia. Instead, Developer Other Ocean Emeryville has set out to create the fiendish vision the original was always intended to be, but couldn’t because of hardware limitation. Here are the reasons they might just succeed:
The Realization of MediEvil’s Original Dark, and Humorous, Vision
From the beginning, Other Ocean was determined to make the game the original creators always wanted. So, they began by bringing back original creators Chris Sorrell (original creative director) and Jason Wilson (Original lead artist and programmer). They directed and provided feedback on multiple aspects of the game, including art and gameplay, while offering insight into a vision that was previously impossible. “Looking at original source material, like concept art, reveals a richer world than the original PlayStation could handle,” Nachbaur explains. The original, with its polygonal limitations, relied upon the audience’s “imagination to fill in the gap.”
MediEvil always had a dark tone but some of its edgier elements were blunted by weak hardware. With the power of the PS4, Other Ocean “brings dark elements to the forefront,” allowing the macabre humor to shine. This is evident just in the game’s opening. Depicting a town of innocents transforming into murderous husks, the cutscene is a traumatizing event. However, on the PSOne, the towns-folk look like voodoo dolls. There’s certainly a charm, and the art team did wonders for the time, but it does not capture the intensity of what occurs. Fast forward twenty years and the presence of knife-wielding children is not just implied; it’s boldly depicted – capturing shocking horror and ridiculous hilarity simultaneously.
The MediEvil remake also pays appropriate justice to the original’s classic score, with composers Paul Arnold and Andrew Barnabas returning to oversee the game’s sound design. They re-recorded the original music with a full orchestra and reviewed the entire game once finished to fine tune the sound effects.
Mature Inspirations and Sophisticated Storytelling
The biggest hurdle for Other Ocean came in modernizing MediEvil’s camera, and not for the reasons you’d expect. As Mika carefully explained, the fixed camera of the original, a bane of many early PlayStation games, had purpose: It was “used to deliver humor and pace the game.” If Other Ocean provided players with a modern, free-roaming camera the “auteur experience would go away.” When Sorrell and Wilson came on board, they emphasized the significance of the camera to the point that they gave the Other Ocean team books and films to study. “The original camera angles evoke German Expressionism,” Nachbaur declared.
Knowing the significance of the camera put Other Ocean in a bind: Despite the beautiful effects, it often causes player frustration during gameplay. Other Ocean sought a compromise. They decided to design a camera that automates to certain angles while allowing players to adjust as needed. In so doing, they capture the authored feel of the original, eliciting the surrealism of German Expressionism at one moment and the comic horror of Evil Dead the next, while still letting player’s feel in control. We will not know until the final product is released how the camera holds up, but for now we know, at the very least, the inspirations are sophisticated and mature.
Quality of Life Changes
Mika said, the project began by “bringing in as many of the original elements as possible then asking, how does this feel against a modern perspective?” They aimed only to remove frustrations. The result is … well … MediEvil with some modern enhancements.
Boss design is one of the main changes. The original “had unfinished elements, especially with the bosses.” Mika went into some detail about one particularly broken encounter. “The pumpkin king is an example of one we knew we had to work on because it was definitely unfinished. The player could just crouch down and spam the attack button to defeat him.” The remake retains the boss’s charm while providing the challenge the player, and character, deserve.
The other major update came in improving the weapons. The remake adds the sequel’s dual weapon system and gives each weapon a secondary attack function, including a surprise one for the chicken leg! The remake also improves some previously impotent weapons. The longbow is now “useful.”
On the smaller side of things, the team made a variety of tiny tweaks to make the game more balanced and appropriately challenging. From map accessibility to enemy placement, several changes make the game more fun and eliminate cheap deaths due to frustrating design. Mika asserted, “We took out all the little pain points!”
Expanded World and Lore
MediEvil’s kingdom of Gallowmere is haunting and mysterious; so, the team decided to build on it. They wrote a bestiary; one fully edited by Chris Sorrell.
The tome draws inspiration from legions of fans. According to Mika the team looked to fan fiction to see “what fans were fixated on.” For instance, the Jabberwocky, a strange creature found only in a single cutscene, has perplexed fans for over twenty years. The monster is from a cut level in the original, so the team considered omitting it entirely. However, they decided against that, instead giving fans what they wanted. The bestiary delves deep into lore – expanding the world’s scope and providing rich detail on all the game’s baddies, including the Jabberwocky. It’s legit cannon.
An Incomparable Sense of Character
During our interview, Mika and Nachbaur were emphatic about the game’s continued relevance, especially concerning protagonist Sir Daniel Fortesque. As player’s discover in the game’s opening, Daniel has an embarrassing past despite his heroic legacy. Hundreds of years prior to the game’s story there was a great battle against evil sorcerer Zarok. Daniel died during the assault but was lionized – believed to be the savior who killed Zarok. In truth, the legend is a misunderstanding. Daniel was the first to die in the battle. Mika and Nachbaur see this situation as wonderfully unique, as players get to guide “Dan during his second chance at being a hero.” It offers a redemption arc. Not a moral redemption, like we get from anti-heroes such as Arthur Morgan and Kratos, but redemption for an ignominious death. Daniel is a brave “buffoon.” He may have been the first to die but he led the charge.
Mike and Jeff also championed the game as a gestalt experience. In one of the interview’s more whimsical moments, they reminisced about playing through the entire game: “Once we assembled the game, playing through levels together, we realized it is more than the sum of its parts: Playing from the beginning is an ethereal, dream like experience.” They claim each level is a singular situation: Every area contains “distinct enemies” and “unique one-off moments.” The areas formulate a sense of purpose and consequence. There are no “prototype villains with repeating variations.” The characters, like the world, individually stand out.
Other Ocean Emeryville’s dedication to MediEvil’s original intent is commendable and their passion is infectious. I cannot say if their bold statements are true, but the game’s recent demo does bolster their claims. The colorful, yet disturbingly distorted, world evokes surreal art and the gameplay is charming. The combat feels simplistic, and a tad unwieldy, but I quickly found it enduring. The frantic sword swinging captures Dan’s buffoonery and carries tremendous weight. Taken all together, MediEvil seems poised to offer an indelible experience. MediEvil launches on October 25.