Ninja Theory talks overhauls and backlash
DmC: Devil May Cry has been controversial to say the least. Ever since Capcom announced a new game, developed by Ninja Theory and starring a redesigned Dante, fans have been furious, declaring this a grand travesty of the highest order.
Of course, that wasn't the point, merely the end result. So why did DmC reboot the series, and why does Dante sport an all-new look and attitude? Destructoid spoke with Ninja Theory's Dominic Matthews to talk about the rebuilding of a beloved videogame character, and the perils that come with it.
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"We actually started with some concepts that were a lot closer to the original Dante, but Capcom were very keen that we took our own direction with the character and really started from scratch," explained Matthews. "So our first step was to think about Dante’s history, where he grew up, what his motivations are, what he’d been through and build an idea based on that. Attitude is critical to Dante and it’s something that was a focus in the design. Dante has been through tough times and this is reflected in his outlook on life. He looks rebellious, because he is rebellious.
"Creating Dante involved a lot of people on both the Capcom and Ninja Theory teams and the character went through a number of iterations. The importance of a protagonist is so great that it’s well worth putting in the time to get it right."
The watch-word for DmC is "contemporary." Capcom's desire from the start was to have a new Dante that reflected the modern world, for better or worse. The publisher very much wants to continue to crack into the "Western" market, but unlike other Japanese publishers, actually drafted a Western developer into the mix, rather than simply guess what Western gamers like and work from there -- a practice that hasn't worked out too well for some games.
"Very early on in the project Capcom asked us to think about what Devil May Cry would be like if it was a contemporary movie, and that is a mindset that has stayed with us throughout development," explained Matthews. "We wanted to take what was at the heart of Devil May Cry and bring it into the here and now and give the franchise a wider appeal in the west. For example, music remains a very important feature of Devil May Cry, but we’ve taken music that is cool now rather than just replicating what was cool when the original games were made."
The current Dante didn't go through too many design overhauls since inception, with Ninja Theory remaining fairly committed to the character. Instead, Matthews says the studio has worked on "finessing" him over time, with Capcom apparently giving the team a lot of freedom to work its own ideas into the Devil May Cry series. Ninja Theory believes it has a clear and solid vision for what DMC is all about, and remains confident that it can only add to the series, rather than take anything away.
One thing Matthews is particularly proud of is the design of the environments. While everybody focuses on Dante, nobody talks about what have been some pretty interesting environmental designs, featuring a world that twists and morphs around the player, and with threatening messages glowing oppressively on walls. Part of the design, according to Matthews, was to explain some of the gameplay mechanics from a narrative perspective.
"In the original Devil May Cry games Dante would be trapped in an environment by demon doors, giving him a limited area in which to fight demons," he said. "It’s a staple part of DMC. We wanted to find a reason for Dante being prevented from moving forward and came up with the concept of the world being alive and trying all it can to stop Dante in his tracks. The idea really grew from there. We wanted the world to feel like it is bursting with anger and venom towards Dante and the messages [are] one of the tools the demons are using to throw Dante off his pace."
Of course, no explanation, no motivation, no amount of promise will assuage some of the fans out there, who remain angry at the overhaul and the "Westernization" of Devil May Cry.
"It’s natural for people to fear change, so it is understandable," admitted the developer. "But we feel we've made a game that the fans will really enjoy, so if people are still unsure, then get the game in your hands and feel it for yourself. If you play it and don’t like it then fine, but give it a chance. The downloadable demo will be out before the end of the year, so everyone will have the chance to make up their own mind by playing it first for free."
Addressing specific points, though choosing not to get too deep into them, Matthews said that combat would be as deep as players like, stating DmC is "about figuring out the weaknesses of enemies and selecting the right tools for the job, whilst performing as stylishly as possible." For those worried about the combat being too shallow, Matthews countered by promising a "huge" amount of depth. He also empathized with fears about the framerate, but promised the game would be fluid and smooth, and that the team made it a "real focus" for development.
In truth, nothing was said that would really provide much comfort, as the developer seems quite guarded when it comes to addressing specific fears from fans. Any attempt to draw much more was met by the watch-phrase -- "play it." I suppose that's a fair enough statement from a developer who knows no amount of words will lay the rage to rest.
As far as Dante's "asshole" attitude is concerned, the developer said it was all part of the character progression. Though some fans have found the new character repugnant in his cocky ways, Matthews suggests that, "the Dante you see at the beginning of the game might not be the Dante that you see at the end. With no hope and nothing to live for wouldn't you be an asshole? If you’re given a reason and purpose in life maybe you’d change."
Of course, there's always concern when a traditionally Japanese series is given over to a Western developer. Silent Hill has been out of the hands of Japanese game makers for many years now, and the fanbase has gone pretty much nuts after several sequels of often dubious quality. DmC is being presented more of a collaborative effort than one publisher farming out its property to a studio, and Matthews believes this dynamic will make for a much better game.
"Capcom have always given us their full support and they've always pushed us to follow our creative instincts. Capcom chose us because they felt that in partnership we could make a better game together than they could alone. They have allowed us on the inside and taught us a lot, particularly about combat design, something that they of course have an amazing heritage in. I’m sure some Eastern/Western partnerships may not be so open, but any problems relating to cultural differences have been easily overcome, partly down to the mutual respect between both teams."
And what about Japan's reaction to DmC? We all know how Western fans feel about the game, but does Ninja Theory have any insight as to how it's performing out in Dante's homeland?
"From what I hear it is going well," Matthews answered. "I’m told that Dante has proved to be a big hit with the Japanese ladies!"