Wednesday, May 18, 2011

BLOOD OMEN: LEGACY OF KAIN


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Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
Developer – Silicon Knights
Publisher – Crystal Dynamics
Release date - November 1996



Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
is an action-adventure game developed by Silicon Knights and published by Crystal Dynamics, with distribution involvement from Activision. The game is the first title in the Legacy of Kain series.




In Blood Omen, the player follows Kain, a newly resurrected vampire. Seeking revenge against his murderers and a cure to his vampiric curse, Kain is tasked with traversing the fictional land of Nosgoth and slaughtering the Circle of Nine, a corrupt oligarchy of godlike sorcerers, but slowly begins to forsake humanity and view his transformation as a blessing.

Silicon Knights designed Blood Omen as "a game which adults would want to play", intending to evolve the action role-playing genre and bring artistic cinema to video game consoles.

Plot

Blood Omen introduces the land of Nosgoth, a fantasy setting dominated by humans and vampires. The health of the world is inextricably connected to the Pillars of Nosgoth—nine supernatural edifices, each one protected and represented by a human guardian. These sorcerers collectively comprise the Circle of Nine, and if a member dies, a new guardian is culled to take their place by the Pillars. Hundreds of years prior to the events of the story, the Circle formed and sponsored the Sarafan, an order of monastic warriors devoted to eradicating the vampire race, and in the game's prologue, the vampire Vorador reacts vengefully by killing six of the guardians and defeating Malek, the Sarafan leader. Though the Sarafan disband, vampires continue to be persecuted.

In the intervening years, new guardians have been summoned, Nosgoth's surviving vampires have retreated into hiding, and humanity has separated into two opposing factions: the kingdom of Willendorf, inspired by Arthurian legend, and the Legions of the Nemesis, an all-conquering army determined to bring an end to civilization. When the guardian of balance, Ariel, dies at the hands of a mysterious, malevolent entity, her lover Nupraptor the Mentalist turns his powers against his fellow Circle members, tainting the incumbent guardians with irrevocable madness and leaving the Pillars corrupt. To restore balance to Nosgoth, Kain must overcome the Legions and kill the insane sorcerers; as each Circle member is purged and their token returned, their respective Pillar is cleansed, and when he heals all nine Pillars, replacement guardians can be born.

Characters

Kain (voiced by Simon Templeman), an ambitious, cynical young nobleman murdered and reluctantly raised as a vampire, is the protagonist of Blood Omen. Conceived as an antihero whose nature reflects the story's moral ambiguity, Kain was partially modeled on the character of William Munny from the 1992 Clint Eastwood film, Unforgiven. Mortanius the Necromancer (Tony Jay), an ancient wizard, resurrects Kain in a Faustian bargain, and serves as his enigmatic benefactor throughout the game. The reclusive and decadent vampire Vorador (Paul Lukather) acts as a mentor and father figure to Kain, encouraging him to accept vampirism, whereas the specter of the deceased balance guardian, Ariel (Anna Gunn), directs Kain in his quest to restore the land. The corrupt guardians—such as Moebius the Time Streamer (Richard Doyle), a devious manipulator of history, and Malek the Paladin (Neil Ross), now an animated suit of armor eternally condemned to protect the Circle following his defeat against Vorador—feature as the story's antagonists. Other major characters include King Ottmar (Ross), the ruler of Willendorf; The Nemesis (Jay), a once-benign monarch known as William the Just, turned despot and tyrant; and The Dark Entity (Jay), an otherworldly being capable of demonic possession who seeks to topple the Circle and the Pillars.


Development

Blood Omen originated as The Pillars of Nosgoth, a game proposal drafted circa 1993 by Silicon Knights president Denis Dyack and art director and writer Ken McCulloch. In 1993, while Silicon Knights completed work on Dark Legions, Dyack met Crystal Dynamics producer Lyle Hall at a conference, and they shared their mutual ambition to build "epic" games with bigger budgets and higher expectations than the then-current industry standard. Several publishers were sent The Pillars of Nosgoth, the science fiction concept Too Human, and a third competing Silicon Knights pitch. Too Human was almost pursued, but Crystal Dynamics—who felt that the high fantasy genre was a preferable choice—made a deal with Silicon Knights to produce The Pillars of Nosgoth.

Design work continued for approximately six to eight months before both parties reached agreement on the most suitable video game console to publish for. Hall, who had been "instantly taken" by the project, thought that "it was obvious this game deserved a [Legend of] Zelda-style take on a vampire action RPG", and assisted Dyack in convincing Crystal Dynamics to choose the newly announced PlayStation over the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer and Sega Saturn. Dyack and Hall believed that Blood Omen could help to evolve the action role-playing genre through strong writing and artistic, cinematic flair—Dyack summarized it as a game which adults would want to play.

Central influences included vampire mythology, William Shakespeare's plays, themes of ethical dilemma in the film Unforgiven, the visceral qualities of the Necroscope novels, and the intricate plot of The Wheel of Time book series. Although antiheroes were previously uncommon in action-adventure games, Silicon Knights rejected concerns that the character of Kain was too unconventional and the story too ambitious. The developers endorsed the narrative motif, "what is evil? Perhaps it is merely a perspective", and hoped to determine how players would react in "a world where [they] had to kill innocents to survive". McCulloch, who wrote the majority of in-game texts, was urged by marketer colleagues to give characters more accessible names—he described some, such as Mortanius, as "Names from Hell", which were difficult to get past the "marketing censor". Cover art for the historical novel The Pillars of the Earth served as the inspiration behind the Pillars of Nosgoth. The Soul Reaver sword, which was originally conceived as a weapon for Too Human, was transferred to Blood Omen's fictional universe, and would become a mainstay weapon in subsequent games in the Legacy of Kain series.

Before the game's voice-over was recorded, Dyack expressed concern that the actors cast would be unable to convey McCulloch's complex dialogue. He later said, however, that their performances "blew him away", commenting that "after five minutes with Simon Templeman we knew that there was no problem". Blood Omen's extended 3.5-year development period obliged Silicon Knights to double staff levels, and Crystal Dynamics flew employees to Canada to assist in their design work for over six months—this delegation was left to procure their own off-site accommodation, resulting in "great personal sacrifice". Prior to shipping, Activision and BMG Interactive reached arrangements with Crystal Dynamics to manufacture and distribute the product in various territories. In what they described as "a first in the industry", Silicon Knights added an opening credit to fully clarify that they were responsible for developing the game's concept, story, and content. "After Herculean efforts", having received promotion at the 1995 and 1996 E3 trade fairs, Blood Omen was released for the PlayStation in November 1996. Activision and Crystal Dynamics published a Microsoft Windows port, developed by Semi Logic Entertainments, in 1997. Work on a Saturn version was also commenced by Silicon Knights after the initial release, but was eventually terminated.

Gameplay

Blood Omen is a two-dimensional action-adventure game. The player controls the protagonist, Kain, from a top-down perspective. Gameplay is divided between outdoor traversal and dungeon crawls, entailing hack and slash combat, puzzle-solving, and navigating hazards. To advance the story, Kain must locate and defeat the members of the Circle of Nine—who act as boss enemies—and return their tokens to the Pillars of Nosgoth. Humans, animals, and a variety of fantasy creatures inhabit the game world, whom the player can typically elect to kill outright, or alternatively wound in order to feed on their blood. As a vampire, Kain is required to consume the red blood of living creatures to replenish his health meter, which gradually drains over time, and diminishes more quickly if he sustains damage. When he casts spells or shapeshifts, he expends magic energy—this recovers in time, and can be replenished by drinking the blue blood of ghostly enemies. Conversely, undead opponents relinquish harmful black blood, and demons and mutants yield green blood which poisons Kain, causing his health to deplete at a swifter rate.

Over the course of the main quest, Kain acquires many items and abilities, which facilitate increasingly nonlinear exploration. As he collects blood vials and rune pyramids, Kain's maximum blood and energy capacity rises. By drinking from blood fountains, he receives strength upgrades, faster magic regeneration, and immunity to weather effects. Weapons include iron and fire-elemental swords, a spiked mace, twin axes, and the Soul Reaver, a two-handed flamberge. Suits of iron, bone, chaos, flesh, and wraith armor feature, and each combination of equipment has advantages and drawbacks. Spells, in the form of magical tarot cards, are used in both strategic and practical contexts, their functions ranging from summoning artificial light to mind control and the evocation of lightning storms.

Shapeshifting enables Kain to assume the forms of a bat, allowing for immediate travel to checkpoints; a wolf, with enhanced speed and the capacity to jump; a cloud of mist, which enables him to pass through gates and cross water; or a human, with which he can covertly interact with, or bypass, certain non-player characters. There are 100 secrets present in the game, logged if the player uncovers hidden areas, switches, and dungeons; these encompass spirit forges, at which Kain may donate a significant portion of his blood in exchange for powerful battle artifacts. A day and night cycle passes progressively—at night, Kain's attacks become more potent, and during full moon phases, some sealed doors become accessible.

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