DmC will reinvent Dante and throw Ninja Theory to some of the most vicious fanpeople in video games. Capcom US producer Alex Jones speaks to Dave Cook on nailing combat and fearing for his life.
"We've been working on this for a couple of years, and we were at Ninja Theory about a week out of the month. We'd spend probably one day intensely on Dante's redesign at the start of the project, and then another three out of five days on just combat, combat, combat."
DmC, the next in Capcom's Devil May Cry action series, is one of the publisher's most anticipated and controversial games. Despite the fact it looks incredible, both Capcom and UK developer Ninja Theory have gone to great and constant lengths to assure the IP's devoted fanbase that this really will be a Devil May Cry game. There are those that still don't believe them.
Capcom US producer Alex Jones sat down with VG247's Dave Cook at gamescom last week to talk through DmC's latest reveal - the return of Vergil - and the pressures of working on such a famous action game.
VG247: Your most recent reveal was of Dante's brother, Vergil. Why did you decide to bring him back and what sort of role will he play in the overall plot?
Alex Jones: Even though we're making a lot of changes there's still going to be a healthy dose of continuity, and we're certainly showing that in the combat area. The combat feels like a DmC game. Dante's got Ebony and Ivory, he's got a sword, and it was also important to make sure that we kept same sensibility, brought back recognisable elements.
Vergil made the most sense out of the pantheon of past DmC games. We're re-telling Dante's origin, and we've changed some stuff in the canon, including Vergil's relationship with Dante. We don't want to give away too much about it, but he is Dante's brother, he's head of the Order and he's had his eye on Dante for some time.
He's been waiting for the best time to reveal himself to Dante, suck him into his master plan to fight the demons. The idea was, we wanted anyone who had played a previous Devil May Cry game to not find this an alien experience or a stretch of the imagination.
Aside from Vergil you also revealed a new stage that sees Dante assaulting the headquarters of a Demon propagandist. It seems to take many smart pot shots at spin, right wing news and the media in general. Can you tell us a little more about this part of the game?
Sure, yeah. Dante is on his way to face Bob Barbas, who is patterned after... well, a bunch of TV news hosts in the States [laughs]. He's been spending most of the game painting Dante as a mindless, vicious sociopath.
It's both setting up the demons using their influence over politics and the media, as well using things like energy drinks to demonise and villainise Dante to the general public.
So that particular section showed CCTV footage of Dante fighting to survive against demons, but what the public sees is him wantonly slaughtering innocents, which is actually not happening. It goes to show you the level of control the demons have over society and that people fall into their way of seeing things.
Devil May Cry has always been a slick, stylised series, and that particular level was the same in the way it was themed like a FOX news ticker. It was inventive. You guys must have been given so much freedom to really run wild with the source material.
Yeah, it's great. Capcom cared about some things intensely because they thought they were essential to the DNA of the series. But in other areas like the presentation style, areas of game design, and a lot of things outside the combat mechanic, we were given pretty much free reign to do what was best.
I will say that Capcom Japan was totally open to the idea of making this a western game, which was totally exciting and we've made good on that. It was liberating, but it's also learning without a net because - if by chance you fucked it up - it would have been all on you.
You're right to say that there has to be those core fundamentals that make this feel like part of the Devil May Cry series, and combat is probably the most important aspect. How difficult was that to really nail?
Yeah it was hard. I only observed it for the most part, but it was the designers on the ground and a number of key creatives in Capcom Japan who worked on it most intensely.
In essence it was like a 25-year wisdom transplant from Capcom to Ninja Theory - from Street Fighter up to Dragon's Dogma - everything Capcom's ever learned about one man hitting another essentially [laughs], as well as how you hit people in the most enjoyable fashion possible.
We've been working on this for a couple of years, and we were at Ninja Theory about a week out of the month. We'd spend probably one day intensely on Dante's redesign at the start of the project, and then another three out of five days on just combat, combat, combat.
It was everything from frame-counting, putting a hit stop there, no not quite like that, we have to use this sound for that move, and it was really awesome for Ninja Theory and I think they learned a lot. They're going to be making amazing combat games for years to come now.
We've seen Dante's combat in action thanks to a few reveals so far. He uses launchers, jugglers, grapples and weapons. Just how big does his combat tree get after you land that first hit?
The thing is, the combat tree gives you infinite ways to attack. There are discreet combos that can be strung in an infinite number of ways to seamlessly change between angel and demon weapons. But within that you can use the d-pad to switch between weapons on the fly without any waiting.
You can just jazz, you know? Just bust out attacks to your heart's desire, and we're expecting there will be tons of YouTube videos after launch that feature combo strings that even we haven't found out yet.
Sitting down and actually playing this game - it's clear the combat is there. What about other things that make this part of the Devil May Cry family? Stage progression in the original could be difficult as there were barely any checkpoints and that could be pretty brutal. Does DmC use the same format?
No, and I think it's fair to say that part of the western sensibility is that we have less-soul crushing checkpoints. That was one of our things, not having unfair checkpoints, so yeah I think we have very kind checkpoints, and I don't think its going to frustrate people or make things too easy.
But that exact feeling of 'I just did the same checkpoint eight times and I keep dying, I don't want go back to that. I'm done with this game'. No that won't be there.
At the end of each stage will we also get the same progression and levelling menus as previous games?
Yeah the red orbs are kind of our primary economical element of the game, and you won't just get them from enemies but there will be some areas - and it's not an open world game - where you can go down certain paths and find packages with more orbs and other things.
So they're the main currency of the game if you will and there's further continuity in progression, buying new combos, upgrading certain weapons, getting items, and so it's going to be very advisable to DmC fans to collect those orbs.
We've already discussed that DmC won't be an easy game, but where does it sit among the series in terms of difficulty?
Well if you want to call Devil May Cry - the non-special edition - the apex of the difficulty scale, we're not that hard. We're very, very challenging, so hopefully we're around the special edition of Devil May Cry 3, which I think was very fair, a fair balanced challenge.
For long-time players, they're going to get every bit of a challenge that they want. Our goal was to make sure we retained that appeal for those guys, but at the same time to not to leave out crushing difficulty players.
The other thing is that there will be remix modes that are so soul-pulverisingly difficult that there will be plenty of stuff for the super-hardcore player to test heir mettle against.
That's smart to include such a wide range of difficulty settings, especially as more and more people of varying skill levels are now playing games.
Yeah and thing is, we never took it as a given that servicing those two groups are mutually exclusive - something can be accessibly skill-based. There's tons of depth there and some of it we've made very apparent so casual players can see it, and there is some hardcore stuff in there for those who want that sense of accomplishment.
Speaking of appeal - and apologies as this is an old, worn issue - but your redesign of Dante polarised many gamers initially. But as they see more of the game in action, it feels like many - not all - fans have now come around and accepted his new look.
Yeah, now it's fine, but I could have done without having to fear for my life [laughs]. There was always going to be people who saw new Dante and who didn't want it, and that's fine. We understand - I understand - that people are passionate about it, so this isn't a bad thing.
Being angry about it - yeah I get that - but we always said, 'when you see the game and you play it, trust me, you're going to understand that we were doing the right thing'. Now that's happening, so yeah it's vindication, but it's not like smugly sitting back and going 'ha ha'.
It's more like, 'We understand why you guys had doubts, and we knew that we had to prove this to you, and we were happy to do it.' That was our responsibility.
That's the funny thing because - looks aside - he is Dante. He's foul mouthed, he's brash, he swears more than ever. Was censorship ever an issue for you guys during development?
"The combat tree gives you infinite ways to attack. There are discreet combos that can be strung in an infinite number of ways to seamlessly change between angel and demon weapons. But within that you can use the d-pad to switch between weapons on the fly without any waiting. You can just jazz, you know?"
One of the things about making a western game, we wanted to make the tone a little less campy, and a little more darker. It's still got a sense of humour, but it's just more appropriate in the world Dante is now in, where's it's less acceptable to make corny jokes and better to make darker ones.
He's still irreverent, he's still - at the end of the day - the guy who will kick your ass and drop a cool one liner afterwards.
And as this is a re-telling of Dante's origins, would you say there is more empathy here? Will we get under his skin deeper than we ever have before?
Yeah, I mean the story is Dante kind of finding his purpose. He’s on the margins of society at the start and he’s just kind of surviving, and then Vergil finds him. At first, just by offering him an opportunity for revenge, Dante then at least has some sort of a goal.
As he moves deeper into the story he becomes more connected with the larger struggle it’s about him finding his place in the world. So he starts off in one way and ends up in another. There will be a trajectory he follows that brings him to be a fully-formed person.
At the end of his journey, what main things do you hope people will come away with, besides the usual awesome, mad balletic shit?
Yeah [laughs], hopefully ‘balletic awesome shit’ will be one of their few takeaways from the game. For the story, I hope it’s a satisfying story that resolves itself and potentially leaves people wanting to find out more about this world and what could come next. But yeah awesome balletic ass-kicking was one of the main objectives.
That's good to hear as a lot of hack n' slash games have really dumbed down their combat when compared to games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. Is that a trend you've noticed as well, and is it fair to say that DmC is a return to form?
We're trying to re-establish our claim in the genre. We're aware of Bayonetta and it's a perfectly fine game, but we never took that as a standard we were shooting for explicitly, nad that also goes for other less-hardcore games with the same kind of melee combat.
We never looked at those games and said, 'we need to do that'. We were trying to live up to the standards of DmC while adding new value and ideas with the insight of Capcom Japan. We're always aware of what's out there, but it's not like we had a box cover of Bayonetta tacked up to the wall.
So you weren't throwing darts at it?
No exactly, we did nothing like that [laughs].
Although they have this strong, focused mission statement Ninja Theory - contrary to what disapproving gamers may feel - are actually a humble bunch and feel grateful for the chance to handle this franchise. Would you say this process has helped them grow in any areas?
They have been great to work with, no doubt about it. A lot of developers may crack under the pressure, and we have been taskmasters throughout this whole project. But they are just as perfectionist as us, and they have been so passionate about every little pixel.
On top of that they had a deep reverence for Dante and the first DmC especially is a big thing for Tameem, it resonated with him very deeply. Yeah I think they were humbled, but I think they were also super gratified that we came to them with this opportunity.
They have turned down other publishers to work on some of their IP, and we felt honoured that they would work on it, just as we felt honoured we brought it to them.
We had difficult challenges to overcome together, but it's all part of the process. They took our feedback amazingly well, we understood the strengths of what they did well and we got out of the way of that, and it's one of the best partnerships I've ever been involved in.
It's a clichéd thing to say but it sounds like a was a dream come true.
Well a little bit yeah, I mean Tameem was stoked. He is so good at taking feedback and incorporating it into the game. But nah, it has just been great.
Flip it around then, and what has Ninja Theory's involvement taught Capcom about development?
I can't speak for the Japanese contingent but personally, seeing how a western developer makes games on the ground is very different to the way it's done in Japan. In Japan it tends to be - make something perfect and then move on to the next thing and then make that perfect.
In the west it tends to be - let's make the entire game incrementally. So I think it was interesting to see the guys watch that style of development, and to see it work, especially as some collaborations between Capcom and other western developers perhaps didn't come off so well.
By the same token, we have taken a lot away from how the Japanese approach their games, so it was definitely a two-way street.
DmC: Devil May Cry will launch in Europe January 15th 2013 on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.