Ninja Theory’s Tameem Antoniades takes on the internet…
Ninja Theory’s Design Boss Tameem Antoniades has learned just what it means to be demonised. In steering the reinvention of Capcom’s Devil May Cry (DMC), now’s his time to prove it’s really a blessing in disguise.
We’re going to read you some pearls of wisdom from the internet, starting with the cryptic: “DMC DOESN’T NEED A F**KING REBOOT.”
Nothing needs a reboot unless that reboot works. Look at Batman. The parallel to the Batman reboot was Catwoman. Nobody needed that, but when it works it can change the course of a franchise in a positive way. It can make it survive.
The decision as to whether DMC needed a reboot or not: it’s irrelevant what my opinion is because that decision was Capcom’s. They felt it needed something, which is why they not only decided to take a bold step and reinvent it, but to give it to a non-Japanese dev. They had their reasons and that was our mandate. They wanted a reinvention – a reinterpretation – and that’s what we went ahead and did.
Much of the argument surely rests on whether DMC4 was considered a dead end for the series. Was it?
There was a feeling from some of the guys at Capcom that it could continue the way it was, but that there were certain tropes that were being – I don’t know how to put this… I think when you compare it to where a lot of games have arrived at – Western games in particular, where levels feel more open and the world feels more grounded – it felt like DMC was a little stuck in its ways. It needed to be let loose. That’s what we were told as part of our mandate to reinvent it.
At the time, Inafune-san was at Capcom and suggested an idea that we should hold on to – that if it was a movie released here in the UK, or in America, what would that movie look like? That defined the approach we took. Because if you took DMC the game and literally translated that into a movie, it wouldn’t really work.
Could some of the animosity come from your strong identity as a studio?
We’ve pushed a strong philosophy in the past, which is that stories matter. That can be irksome to a lot of players. Even recently, David Jaffe was proclaiming that stories have no place in games. I think there is a place for stories in games, and when it works it elevates the experience. But there’s an assumption that if you’re going to put stories in games, other parts of the games have to suffer, which I don’t think is the case at all.
It’s also that we started off as an Xbox developer, moved over to PS3 exclusively, then moved back to multiplatform development. That, to some people’s minds, is a horrendous betrayal. It’s like moving back-and-forth between Arsenal and Tottenham. But, for an independent developer like us, our interest is in making games and trying to reach as many people as possible. We have no loyalty to bits of plastic and circuitry.
More internet: “They won’t have a chance of selling five million units.”
Usually the worst creative crimes are made when you’re trying to make a game for someone else – some perceived demographic that, in all likelihood, doesn’t actually exist. From my point of view there’s only one way to try and make a successful game, and that’s to make the game you want to play. A game that everyone involved is proud of. So from that point of view I don’t care if it sells a thousand units or two million units. I believe the time you spend making something has to be worthwhile. You’ve got 20 productive years of work in your life; if you’re gonna spend ten or 15 percent of it on something, make it worthwhile.
“I’m sceptical of how this game will perform. How much it will tear, how the framerate will hold up.”
I think that comes from the fact that Heavenly Sword didn’t hit 30fps at times. Then, when we moved to Unreal, we pushed Enslaved out in half the time of Heavenly Sword, if not less. And that one had some framerate issues which we regret; we should have held on and refused to release the build to the publisher until we’d hit that framerate. On this game we’ve got a commitment all round that we’ve got to hit it. And we’ve made sure that the game runs at a good solid rate all through development. So I don’t think that’s an issue. The people who’ve been testing the game say it’s really responsive, and these are people who know DMC.
Why did you use Unreal rather than MT Framework?
There was a brief discussion about using MT Framework, but it came down to the amount of time we set ourselves to make this game. We didn’t want to spend a year learning a new engine. We’re already deeply experienced with Unreal. That just meant we could hit the ground running and focus on the gameplay and content without wrestling with technology.
Did you decide at the outset to ignore the vocal minority? People who often sound more informed than they are?
When we announced the game, all we released was the trailer and a 2D portrait art of Dante. That’s when the bulk of the criticism came in. We hadn’t actually demonstrated any in-game video at all. So a lot of that’s just hot air at that point. You can’t steer the game project based on that.
People form a relationship with a series, and if that gets broken or bastardised, people get upset. That’s understandable. So I don’t dismiss it. We’ve all been there: the new Star Wars stuff, it’s changed a lot but not added anything. I think we’ve added stuff. We’ve added interesting things to the series that you wouldn’t have got from Capcom Japan. If we do our jobs right, you’ll get a good, fun game with interesting angles that bring something fresh to DMC.
Do you regret the way Dante was unveiled to people?
I don’t know what would have happened if we’d have revealed him now. Would we have got the same level of vitriol? I don’t know. But it’s good that we’ve got the bulk of it out of the way and can move on. Until you meet that character and see him, and hear him talk, and see the scenes he’s in, you don’t get him. He’s not a comic book pin-up in the traditional sense.
How about this theory that he’s modelled on you?
What can I say? He’s a decade and a half younger than me, way better looking… The only thing he’s got is black hair. And he’s male. I didn’t design the character. I didn’t go to our designers and say, “I think it’s a really good idea if we make the new Dante look like me, because I want to be in the game.” They’d laugh at me. They’d throw me out the window.
“Only DMC fans are going to buy this. It’s not going to win a new audience.”
I don’t know if that’s true. So far it’s the DMC fans who have been vociferous about not wanting to play it. [Laughs] It’s the people who haven’t been interested in DMC since the first ones who are starting to get interested. But I’m not a marketeer. Philosophically, the way to make a successful game is to believe in what you’re doing, then hope that sales follow. I’m not trying to design around what I think people will want. That’s where you get into creative bankruptcy. That, more than anything, will kill a series.
“It’s never going to win over Bayonetta combat-wise, so why even try?”
We never set out to beat Bayonetta in combat. We’re aiming to make the best DMC in the series. We want our combat to be better than the rest, because we take pride in our work. We want it to be accessible; to have all the arcane hardcore depths that you’ve seen in DMC.
When Itsuno-san from Capcom and his crew come out, we spend days going over the combat system, and things they’ve added to previous entries that you won’t find on GameFAQs. But in terms of feel, we’re aiming this as something that’s like a movie. Something with rules that make sense; that has characters that feel real, that you empathise with. For that reason, we’re not looking at Bayonetta.
Are you trying to prove something to yourself as a designer with this game?
DMC is a hardcore game, and that’s where it should stay. Itsuno-san said the general philosophy of DMC is that the more you give it, the more you get out of it. In DMC, the philosophy is to constantly give you harder modes of play, more depth and experience, and more chances to excel. That doesn’t mean you have to exclude everyone else.
And I think it should be a hardcore story. Every game we’ve done so far has been a Teen-rated game, and this one’s not. I get frustrated that, despite there being violence and blood in gaming, the stories are all so very safe. Your average novel or play has the prerogative to push boundaries and break ground in some fashion, but in games that seems to be ignored. So that’s what I’d love to do with DMC.
There was a lot of collaboration involved in Enslaved. Writers, musicians, actors, techniques… Is that the case here?
We have music artists involved from different genre spaces who are working with us. We’ve taken our performance capture techniques further. We’re working with Giant Studios who shot Avatar. We’ve got head-mounted cameras, and we’re capturing the motion of the cameramen as well, so what we shoot on stage we get in the game. Alex Garland is story consultant, so although I’m writing I’m still under his consultation.
Have you binned all the character archetypes from earlier DMCs? Dare we say it, the massive tits?
If it’s true that the average console gamer is over 30 – which I totally believe – then you can’t use those cheap tricks to titillate people into wanting to buy your game. I’ve nothing against big tits – I’d rather have my head resting on a pair right now – but if you’re going to try and stimulate someone on different levels, there’s better ways to do it. If you look at the stars in movies, the women people find really attractive are often not the ones with the biggest tits. You’ve got to be attractive on a different level.
We did that in Enslaved with Trip. People loved her, not because she had big breasts and high heels, but because she felt like someone who could be your girlfriend. That to me is more attractive than a prostitute walking around with a big gun. Not to demean prostitutes – it’s a valid form of commerce.
The game seems full of ideas. How smoothly are you able to iterate them when dealing with Japan and the US?
Something I believe deeply is that the path to success is strewn with failure. The more you can close off dead ends, the more chance you have of making something good. So we’re quite happy to try as much as possible, as quickly as possible, before we get to the truth. And Capcom are very good at allowing us to do that, to make mistakes.
One of the ideas that came out of that was this idea of The Malice, the world being a character. It was this idea of explaining why the demon doors appear every time you have a fight. How do you explain that trope? One of our artists had the idea of the world being alive, trying to block you. Then we extended that into traversal, so you can pull out bits of the environment and move through it. We developed that idea, pushed it out, did some tests, showed it to Capcom and they liked it. In other instances we’ve done the same and it’s fallen flat. But that’s the nature of things. Nobody got fired, it’s part of the process.
Were you keen to keep all those aspects separate? It’s one thing to have a novel traversal mechanic, quite another to mix it with a combat system.
We’ve been trying to integrate combat and traversal and Malice and all those bits into each other. We’re trying to make a world that feels like it’s contiguous and not separated out into mini-games. DMC’s a combat game and that’s what it’s always going to be about. But if we can add some variety around the sides, I’m all for that.