The West Mansion Interview with
Dave Wilkins and Dan Tovar of Namco Bandai Games America

The new Splatterhouse game has been the subject of much controversy over the past few months. With the departure of BottleRocket Entertainment from the project, the news of the game being pushed back to 2010 and the lack of presence at both E3 and the San Diego Comic-Con (aside from an exclusive new poster at the latter), a lot of people have been wondering if the game has entered development hell or worse, been canned altogether.

I'm happy to report that Splatterhouse is indeed on track for a 2010 release. Recently, I had an opportunity to interview Splatterhouse's lead artist, Dave Wilkins (if you're unfamiliar with Dave's Splatterhouse work, go here, here, here and here - and yes, the San Diego Comic-Con poster was also by Dave), and the co-producer of the game, Dan Tovar. In this interview, they discuss working on the project, what's going on with it now and what's been changed from the initial information released to the press (screenshots, the trailers, etc.) - along with a great many other things.

This is the complete interview. Editing was for grammatical purposes only.

Dave Wilkins, lead artist of Splatterhouse

Rob: What's your artistic background?
[NBGA – DW]: I went to a tech school after high school and learned Quark (laughs), that’s about it. Everything else has been surrounding myself with guys way more talented than myself and learning from them.

Rob: Who's influenced your style over the years?
[NBGA – DW]: Comics artists from the 90’s mostly. (Simon) Bisley has been the biggest influence, Doug Mahnke, Art Adams, and Richard Corben. I’m also a big fan of a lot of Japanese artists as well. Otomo Katsuhiro and Terada Katsuya, stand out the most.

Rob: How did you get into the comics industry in the first place?
[NBGA – DW]: A buddy of mine, John Barber, was part of a group of wannabees (myself included) who got an intern job with Marvel and moved out to New York. We kept in touch over the years and I kept slinging stuff his way. When he made editor he put me on. In fact he’s still my main editor at Marvel.

Rob: When did that branch into gaming?
[NBGA – DW]: Actually it’s the other way around. I got into games first. I sent my stuff into Midway trying to get a job in creative services doing logos, box cover art and packaging. They saw my stuff, liked my work and put me into production instead. Over the years I’ve worked with different companies in games and film such as High Moon Studios, Imagi Entertainment, etc where the talent pool has been DEEP; and just being fortunate enough to have great people who where willing to share knowledge with me as well as driving me to keep improving.

Rob: Did you intend to get into this business when you were younger or were you planning on a more 'traditional' line of work?
[NBGA – DW]: Oh yeah, My grandma was a school teacher, so I never really got toys from her (except He-Man) I got comics, tons of them. She wanted me reading so she got stuff she knew I would read, which got my Mom and Dad buying me comics as well. Power Man and Iron Fist – Deathlok-as homework? You can’t beat it. Frank Miller’s Batman in The Dark Knight Returns was the turning point, I wanted THAT job. Everything else has been part of the road to get here.

Rob: Did you see yourself ever becoming so successful in what must be a very competitive industry?
[NBGA – DW]: No, never; and as fortunate as I am I still see myself as a grunt. I still texture levels and characters, still take art classes, still geek out when I get a nod from the OG guys. I still head out to the comic shop every Wednesday to see the latest and greatest.

Rob: Was there any pressure when facing the task of bringing back a respected and well-loved franchise such as Splatterhouse?
[NBGA – DW]: It’s familiar and what I know, the challenge is bringing it to new players, bringing it to the new consoles- yet keeping it rooted in the origin. Games like Splatterhouse are the reason I’m still in games. I’ve worked on the boring real world spy shooter stuff. This is a gift.

Rob: What were your first thoughts when you were approached with the task?
[NBGA – DW]: HA! Actually I was like "what do you need me for?" Roger Robinson, a really talented artist and comic vet, had done so much really sick concept art. I was seriously wondering why I was hired; but totally glad I was. ;)

Rob: What do you think is most important when designing for any project, passion or professionalism?
[NBGA – DW]: For me it’s passion, sometimes to a fault. I’m professional when it comes to deadlines, but I cuss like a sailor. I’m surrounded by professionals, so I get to be the rowdy one.

Rob: How did you become part of the team working on the game?
[NBGA – DW]: Roger Robinson again, he kept showing my work around the studio and I was in!!

Rob: Have you been enjoying the project so far?
[NBGA – DW]: Definitely been some struggles but that’s game development. Man are we in a great spot now, every day you hear "Are you kidding me?!?!" yelled across the studio and we go running to look at someone’s monitor. Like a demented pep-rally in the middle of the day-good times!

Rob: Did you have existing knowledge of Splatterhouse before working on the remake? If so, when did you first learn of the series?
[NBGA – DW]: I loved Splatterhouse and hated it - the damn game is hard, I have never admitted this openly but to this day I still have yet to beat it and I die in the same place every time. It’s even worse now, I play it at work and when I die the whole place knows…I don’t take defeat well.

Rob: What is your favorite moment or element from the original series?
[NBGA – DW]: I love the universe as a whole; because it’s not our own. I love the randomness, there are elements that are familiar, the hero’s journey but then it’s so much more than that and it haunts you.

Rob: What is your favorite classic creature from the original series, and which would you kill to put in the game?
[NBGA – DW]: The Jennifer boss (stage 5 of the original Splatterhouse). Hands down. I remember the moment when I was all "Alright I saved Jen" and then the beer goggles fell off and "HOLY Whaa?!?!? NOOOOOOoo!" I seriously think that was my first "twist" ending for anything up until that moment.

Rob: It's no secret that Splatterhouse is one of the greatest games in regards to representing classic '80s splatter horror. What were your inspirations in tackling the property? Did you have any classic gore in mind?
[NBGA – DW]: Oh yeah. I mean all the 80’s and 90’s horror films. Everything from Reanimator, Evil Dead, From Beyond to more modern stuff: Tokyo Gore Police, etc. You name it.

Rob: It's been mentioned that a majority of the team are Splatterhouse fans themselves, but how many are horror fans in general?
[NBGA – DW]: Pretty much all of us, you have to be. We eat and drink it up after a couple rounds of Brian Yuzna flicks with a chaser of George Romero and you’re ready to start the day.

Rob: What is your defining horror moment?
[NBGA – DW]: John Carpenter's The Thing. I snuck into it as a kid thinking it was the Marvel Comics' Thing… yeah, I was that guy… that's a lesson you don’t have to learn twice. I still have to get up and “Get something from the kitchen” when Doc puts the jump paddles to Norris…

Rob: Has there been a lot of focus on the Lovecraftian aspect of the back story that was hinted at in the original games? And if so, how much of an impact has this had on creature and setting designs?
[NBGA – DW]: Definitely in a huge way, you guys will see very soon.

Rob: The re-vamped Biggy Man (the classic dual-chainsaw wielding boss from stage 3 of the original Splatterhouse) won the adoration of a great deal of fans (including myself). Beyond respecting the original design, how did you approach the character?
[NBGA – DW]: As tough as you were as Rick, when you first saw Biggy, you knew you were in trouble. His design was memorable, freakish, and iconic. WHY WOULD YOU CHANGE THAT?!?!? I can’t see the logic in changing the classic canon just for the sake of doing something different just to be different.

Rob: Could you describe the process of putting together character/background models/production art?
[NBGA – DW]: Working with design, we do a lot of sketches back and forth, and once we have a concept we paint it up then build out the models; that goes for characters as well and levels. The whole time we do tons of mood paintings of environments, combat to get the feel of our story we’re telling and grounding it in our own universe. We do it over and over again until they say time's up!!

Rob: Are you provided with set of guidelines to give you a general idea of what is required for the project?
[NBGA – DW]: Oh yeah, we have months of pre-production where we hammer out the game from beginning to end. Story, gameplay, the look is all planned out at the start. Things change throughout. Making a game is really organic, you have to be pretty agile and really open to adapt; but there is definitely a plan from the get go.

Rob: On an average project, how close do the programmers tend to stick to the production art?
[NBGA – DW]: Programmers actually lay in the code base and tools, so that designers and artists can do their jobs. They stay very far away from art as a general rule. When things are working right, Design comes to Art and says “We want it to look like this and behave like that…” Art cranks out something cool, and then Art and Design go to the programmers and say “Hey this is awesome, this is what we want!!!” and Programmers say “No!! Are you insane?!?!” But then we all meet somewhere in the middle, and get something really cool - the programmers are really great guys. I give them a whole lot of flack, mainly because it’s too much fun.

Rob: Horror, perhaps more so than any other genre, depends a great deal on sound and soundtrack to establish a mood and give impact to a storyline. What type of music is playing in your mind (or for that matter, on your sound system) as you work on the concept art for Splatterhouse?
[NBGA – DW]: Actually I listen to a lot of soundtracks, anything that gets me into a headspace where I'm thinking about Splatterhouse in a much larger universe, anything epic.

Rob: As a fan of the game, and not someone involved with it- i.e. if you weren't Dave Wilkins, but some kind of telepathic SplatterFan possessing the body of Dave Wilkins, how do feel about how the game is shaping up, in relation to the originals?
[NBGA – DW]: At first shocked surprised because it’s Rick but not the Rick I know, but then it starts to feel familiar and I’m happy again.

Rob: If you could describe the feel of the new game in three words, what would they be?
[NBGA – DW]: Gross, wet, and very very sick.

Rob: What, in your opinion, should Splatterhouse NOT be?
[NBGA – DW]: I think as long as respect is paid to Splatterhouse, then it should definitely BE, but you have to care about it. It starts with people that love the original source material, and evolves from there.

Rob: For argument's sake, who would you like to see direct a Splatterhouse feature film?
[NBGA – DW]: For me, it’s between Guillermo del Toro, Jeremy Podeswa and Frank Darabont, they have a great marriage of visuals and storytelling. A great storyteller versus a hack and slash director. As much as I love the fountain of corn syrup and red dye, Splatterhouse deserves better. Something deeper especially where we’re going…

Dan Tovar, co-producer of Splatterhouse

Rob: The first question is the obvious one: why resurrect Splatterhouse, and why now? Not that we're complaining, of course, but we're all curious, and with good reason. For sixteen years the series has lain dormant, and several independent sources have claimed that in the past Namco has shown no interest in reviving the series (or even acknowledging its existence), one source even claiming that the reason was because audiences would not be familiar with it. So what's up?
[NBGA – DT]: As long as I have been working at Namco I and co-producer Mark Brown have always wanted to do a remake of Splatterhouse. To us, it was a classic game and one that has not been equaled in many years. At the time when we got the game green lit there was a company wide request for mature rated games and content. It was a no-brainer to us and we got to work on a concept right away. It didn’t take long for the concept to gain momentum within our company on a global scale and pretty soon we were in business. So, I guess in the end, it’s all about timing and putting together a solid pitch, rich with possibilities.

Rob: Did this resurrection have anything to do with the release of the Turbografx-16 port of the original game on Nintendo's Virtual Console service in 2007? Was that merely a test to see if Splatterhouse would appeal to a modern audience, or to see if the name itself would still be recognized?
[NBGA – DT]: We were actually green lit for production before the Virtual Console version was released.

Rob: Has the storyline itself changed dramatically since the departure of BottleRocket?
[NBGA – DT]: There has definitely been some shifts to refine the story and make it more in line with what fans of the original games, as well as new players, would be satisfied with. We are sticking to a lot of what is ‘core’ to the game and expanding on a lot of questions the fans had from the original games and then cutting the rest as biggy fat.

Rob: Have Rick, Jennifer or Dr. West been redesigned?
[NBGA – DT]: Each of the characters have been refined additionally from where we left off previously.

Rob: Have the normal grunt monsters been redesign from the previous "God Of War meets Castlevania" style, perhaps having more of an 80's horror feel now?
[NBGA – DT]: Pretty much every character has had a new coat of old 80’s horror paint applied. We are really pushing the SPLAT! further now, so as to emphasize the gory elements and gross wetness of the West Mansion. There are loads more skinless guys, hanging eyeballs, exposed intestines and such.

Rob: Are there still the little nods to Evil Dead and other 70's and 80's horror flicks?
[NBGA – DT]: The majority of the team loves those older horror movies, like Evil Dead, Dead Alive and The Thing, so you will notice lots of little nods in all aspects of the game, from the environments to the story to character actions and movements.

Rob: Are there any monsters from the classic series that we don't know about on the comeback trail? Or locations, that matter?
[NBGA – DT]: We have always intended to pay homage to the classic monsters and memorable areas from the original games, so… yes; there is new stuff that has yet to make it out the press at this point.

Rob: Will there be any kind of alternate costumes available at all, whether DLC or unlockable in-game?
[NBGA – DT]: You’ll just have to wait and see. We definitely have some cool stuff in the works, that is for sure.

Rob: Are there any new weapons available for Rick to acquire in-game, ones that have never been seen in any of the previous Splatterhouse games?
[NBGA – DT]: Damn right! What kind of gamers would we be if we did not give the player some cool new stuff to disembowel the legions of monsters with?

Rob: How's the gore looking? Anything equal to the awesome "punching a rotting shambler RIGHT IN HALF" from the first level of Splatterhouse 2? And are there any "2X4 + wall + monster = SPLAT" moments?
[NBGA – DT]: With a game called Splatterhouse, you know we are paying special attention to the blood and gore. We definitely have some nasty new tech to spray-paint the world with. Again lots of eyeballs flying, skulls cracking and internal organs, newly yanked from their previous locations, are going to be seen all over the place.

Rob: In relation to the soundtrack, is it more orchestral or metal? Are there any aural nods to the original, amazing horror-inspired soundtrack from SH 1-3?
[NBGA – DT]: We are maintaining the metal edge to the music but there will also be more horror movie soundtrack songs going on as well. We need to be able to build the suspense a bit here and there before POW! the metal starts wailing and the killing begins!

Rob: Is there any tie-in merchandise on the drawing board? Personally, I think we need to finally get some action figures, but I'm dying for a well-crafted comic book.
[NBGA – DT]: You better believe it buddy. We have lots of stuff coming. We have been approached for a number of different merchandise tie-in opportunities and other media to create some really cool tie-ins. It’s a bit early to talk about the details but soon it will all be revealed.

Rob: How will the approach taken by the new Splatterhouse differ from the approach taken by other games in the horror video game genre? Will it be unremittingly grim and gritty, or retain the 'B' movie feel of its predecessors?
[NBGA – DT]: Our stance is firmly tongue-in-cheek. That is not to say that you will not see some dark, and horrible stuff going on and loads of gory action but there is a still a bit of humor behind the madness.

Rob: How do you think Splatterhouse will shine in an oversaturated horror game market, with Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Alone in The Dark and Condemned - among others - all competing for the title of best horror game?
[NBGA – DT]: First of all, I don’t think the horror market is saturated. I think there is plenty of room for other games out there to get going. Yes, there are some old franchises that have been around a while and yes, some of them are running a bit thin after such long stints, but horror is going to remain ever present in our media for a very long time to come. Secondly, Splatterhouse is not a survival horror game, so you are going to see more action than in other horror games. The blood on Rick’s hands is going to epic and glorious in its gratuity and his mano-a-monster momentum is going to be more frenetic than some of the slower paced zombie type-games.

Rob: What reactions do you anticipate from the public in terms of controversy? Are you expecting to hear from Jack Thompson about this?
[NBGA – DT]: Haha! It may garner some attention from some of the public, but again there is plenty of room in the world for all types of folks and their wacky opinions.

Rob: You're facing two distinct groups of gamers here: those that remember the original games, enjoyed them and are expecting a worthy followup that doesn't stray from what's been established in the originals, and the newbies that have grown up on the current crop of horror games and are too young to remember the original games, and as such aren't as shocked by what was once so controversial. It must be a fine line to tread, trying to come up with a game that will satisfy the long-time fans who have been waiting sixteen years for a new Splatterhouse and still appeal to the noobs, as well as the other gamers out there who are looking for something new. Knowing this, what degree of success do you think you've had in creating a game that will appeal to all interested parties?
[NBGA – DT]: If you like action games, you will dig Splatterhouse's combat and it’s visceral, brutal nature. If you played and loved the original games than you will feel right at home and have plenty of "Ah-ha!" moments.

Rob: While there has to be a certain amount of inspiration and characters taken from the original series to please long time fans, there also needs to be a degree of originality to bring new ones into the fold. How difficult is it to blend and balance these two approaches? Is it more about infusing the game with 'Splatmosphere' rather than specific elements?
[NBGA – DT]: Being long time fans of the Splatterhouse games, H.P. Lovecraft’s writings, heavy metal, mature oriented comics and as well as horror movies in general, it all came together rather seamlessly. The team has a collective sickness of the imagination that I think many people growing up in the 80’s and 90’s can relate to. It has been a great pleasure and honor to work with the crew that we have on Splatterhouse and I think in the end the game will bring that universe back from the dead… as it were.

Rob: Did you know if anyone at Namco expected Splatterhouse to still have a fan following all these years after the series 'ended' (my West Mansion site, message boards, fan games etc)? Does Namco Japan have any idea how much of a following Splatterhouse has around the world?
[NBGA – DT]: We knew there was an existing fan base out there but we did not realize, at first, how passionate they were about the original games. It was very encouraging in terms of the brand support that we hoped to grow and expand from. Namco, as whole, seeks to build franchises that inspire that rabid and un-relenting fan attention so we look forward to satisfying the fans for many more years to come.

Rob: How useful has my West Mansion site been during the course of the new game's development? I had heard that it had been a source of info since the project began, so I admit to being curious as to exactly how much help it's been to you and everyone else.
[NBGA – DT]: The West Mansion website was incredibly useful during the entire development process, from outlining the original story elements to soundtrack reference and character outlines. Thanks for your long standing support of the franchise and your continued love for all things SPLAT!

Thanks to Dave and Dan for taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer these questions, and thanks to Namco Bandai Games America for agreeing to the interview.

Namco Bandai Games America: http://www.namcobandaigames.com/
Official Splatterhouse website: http://www.splatterhousegame.com/

This exclusive interview is © 2009-2010 SCAR Productions.