The news that Sony is remastering MediEvil, one of its most beloved 32-bit classics, certainly caused quite a stir, and with good reason; the original game was a massive commercial and critical success back in the '90s.
However, for two of the key figures behind the 1998 title's development, the news is somewhat bittersweet. Chris Sorrell - who also created fellow '90s icon James Pond - served as creative director on the original game and it was from his fertile imagination that MediEvil was born. Currently working on VR projects as well as a long-planned independent game, he reveals that the news came as a surprise. “It definitely came out of the blue," he explains. “I wouldn’t have expected them to do this after so long and I certainly have a lot of questions! Who is working on this? Which version of MediEvil are they re-mastering? And of course do they have the time and budget to get this right?!"
Lead designer Jason Wilson - who now writes and illustrates comics under the pen name Jay Gunn and has had his work published by Titan Books - was equally shocked by the news. "I first heard of the Sony announcement via Spanish MediEvil fans on Twitter," he says. "At first I discounted it as another fan-made game, trailer, or fan-film. The fan cult that has grown up around MediEvil is actually quite amazing and only that week a Russian MediEvil fanclub had interviewed me about the making of the game’s art and design and also included a potted history of the studio and Chris’ work. But it turned out that this was an actual 100 per cent official Sony announcement and at first I was rather bemused then happy at the thought of our fun game being released; it was after all the happiest time I had spent in the games industry and I’m proud of our work on MediEvil."
Despite not having any inside information relating to the new game, Sorrell's hopes are as high. "I would really love to believe that the game will receive the kind of respectful, state of the art update that we’ve seen a number of times now from Bluepoint or that Vicarious Visions achieved with their Crash remasters. Just the other day I was watching videos of the new Shadow of the Colossus remaster and thinking how awesome it would be to see a new version of MediEvil looking nearly so beautiful! If that’s what’s happening then I’m sad not to be part of that team, but I know I’d be thrilled to one day load up that game and revisit Gallowmere in 4K splendour. Giving me hope is the fact that so far this generation, Sony seem to have been doing an amazing job of meeting fan expectations with its remasters. Added to that, I see Shawn Layden announcing the game with such excitement and I’m reminded of what a great ally he was to our team, helping us to work with Sony partners in Japan to create the Japanese version of MediEvil. Really, I have nothing but respect and admiration for Shawn and I knew the PS platform was in good hands when I saw him pick up the top job."
However, this optimism is tempered slightly by Sorrell's previous experiences in the industry. "I’ve been a little burnt by the dismal 're-mastering’ James Pond games have received over the years," he says. "A Sony remaster is obviously a whole different kettle of fish (gah, can’t help those puns!), but it does make me a little nervous. With regard to the MediEvil franchise, I made the terrible (personal) decision to pass on MediEvil 2 and watched as they made a great MediEvil game but with a noticeably skewed tone, as if filtered through the eyes of a leery schoolboy. MediEvil Resurrection came up just after I’d finished work on Primal. I would have loved to work on that, but thanks to some moronic studio direction, a team that would have been perfect for ’24’ made MediEvil and my team was pushed into working on ’24’. It was made clear that ‘they needed space to make their own game’ and with the failings of Primal so fresh I was in no place to argue. The team went on to make a game that no doubt was technically superior to the original, and made some notable character design improvements - I really liked their update of Sir Dan. But... it also spoiled a number of other characters, messed with the story, weakened several levels, and omitted some of the best, most quintessentially MediEvil levels altogether."
Sorrell's single biggest fear is that this new title will use Resurrection as its base rather than the 'definitive' original. "This seems quite likely since those source assets will be in a far fresher state," he explains. "I hope I’m wrong about that. I hope there are people involved that would appreciate that this isn’t the version of the game that fans want, or better yet, people that would truly ’get’ why - to a MediEvil fan - this version missed the mark."
Wilson is equally concerned about which version of the game Sony is using as its source. "Apart from a few visual elements such as Sir Dan’s physical redesign I also didn’t much care for the PSP remake - it looked grey and pallid compared to the colourful excess and arcade adventure clarity of the original," he says. "As Chris has already noted, a number of key levels had been omitted from the original including the Asylum gardens and the riddles of Jack of the Green, a level that I had spent a lot of thought over coming up with riddles and physical puzzles to solve."
Both Sorrell and Wilson are keen to stress that while this might all sound a bit like sour grapes at not being consulted on this project, their concerns come from the right place. "All of this is tempered by a certain sense of warmth and pride that anyone still remembers and care about our game," Sorrell says. "As I’ve said before, working on MediEvil was a definitely a special time in my career and the one of the most enjoyable team experiences I’ve even had. If the new team has as much fun with this as we did back then, then perhaps my fears are unfounded."
Wilson feels that whichever team is working on the remaster has to get close to same inspirations that drove the original title. "I feel that if a new team is to recapture the magic of the original MediEvil then they need to love and embrace the genre influences of the first game with open arms and return to the original vision," he explains. "I have fond memories of sitting in Chris’ house with his partner and co-designer Katie watching Zombie Flesh Eaters together, we all had unabashed love of the subject matter. The influences of gothic horror are evergreen and the gameplay stylings and world building of Zelda are always worth revisiting. I think that Chris would agree with me that there was a sort of innocence to the original MediEvil. I would love to see that balance between humour, ghoulish horror and bright fantasy recaptured. A little too scary for younger players but also testing and challenging enough for older players."
Of course, pleasing two of Sir Dan's original creators is a duty that Sony may not even be aware it has to fulfil, but it surely cannot ignore the demands of the thousands of MediEvil fans around the world who have patiently been waiting for a new instalment. "I’m keenly aware that Sir Dan has a diverse fan base around the world," says Wilson. "I know for a fact that MediEvil was very popular in France and Europe because Sir Dan wasn’t a typical macho Americanised hero with a square jaw and muscles - he had no jaw and his body is emaciated! He was a bumbling undead idiot that was a hero because of a lie! He was part Ash from the Evil Dead series and Charlie Chaplin in skeletal form! I have so many fond memories of working with Chris and the team at Sony and I hope that Sony and a new team honours the legacy of Sir Dan and have as much fun as we had making it the first time round. I know that there are many fans around the world that share the same wish."
Don't forget you can check out our making of MediEvil feature here, which contains behind-the-scenes comments from both Sorrell and Wilson.