Addressing another developer full-house, on Sunday at Eurogamer Expo in Earls Court, London, Capcom US Producer Alex Jones and Ninja Theory Communications Manager Dominic Matthews took time to talk fans through what they can look forward to from the next instalment in the Devil May Cry franchise.
For a game still months away from its retail release, you can’t help acknowledge the feeling that Ninja Theory, who’ve had their equal successes and struggles with previous properties Heavenly Sword and Enslaved, have gone and gotten themselves into another fine mess with DmC. Not because it’s looking bad, or even below par – it’s not, it looks fantastic, but because to say the least, Devil May Cry and all its subsequent constructs bring with them a certain level of fan-worship that few other franchises dare to wish for.
And that’s the last thing they need. For all the positive critical and fan reaction that Heavenly Sword and Enslaved received, you can’t escape the feeling that a lot of the royalties that rolled in went on paying for medical bills and headache tablets. Both these games have a nebulous future – and one that Ninja Theory has little control over.
“Heavenly Sword is an IP owned by Sony, so we get a lot of people asking us whether we’re going to revisit that series. All I can say is that we’re not working on it at the moment and if everyone loves it, then Sony would be the people to tell,” said Matthews, in reply to one fans’ question over whether we’re likely to ever see it again.
That’s that then. Sometimes, fans like to kick developers when they’re down – next? ‘Is the door slammed shut on Enslaved?’ asked one fan. “We loved Enslaved. We still have a lot of love for that franchise, but again, the IP is not Ninja Theory’s - I would never say that the door is slammed shut… but at the moment we’re not working on it – but there’s a lot of love for Enslaved,” said Matthews.
In the interest of fairness, it’s worth pointing out that I’m putting a bit of spin on the nature of the questions. There was plenty of chatter about DmC and where its future lies, but jumping from Ninja Theory’s previous challenges to the expectation that comes with a Devil May Cry launch can’t be easy. After all, Dante has taken on a new look and the latest entrant in the series has jumped all the way back to the start of Devil May Cry’s chronology – decisions initially met with mixed fan enthusiasm.
With Devil May Cry, people want assurances. Of all the conferences we attended last weekend, this was without doubt the one that left the audiences’ microphones dripping the wettest with the kind of hot saliva, only produced by stewing fanatics. It’s something that the current administration seems to have well in mind. “Keeping continuity with previous DMCs in the challenge rooms and secret areas and stuff was very, very important because we were cognisant of the fact that we’ve obviously made a lot of changes to the series tonally [and] that there was a ton of continuity with the previous games, so that’s a holdover from previous DMCs,” said Alex Jones.
There might be one or two other changes afoot, though. One of these will be DMC’s manual-lock system, replaced with an auto-lock to targets for the newest iteration, Dom Matthews confirmed.
“We wanted to make sure that the combat was accessible to as many people as possible and I think the lock-on system is something that, although the real hard-core guys really loved it, it’s something that was an obstacle maybe too far for a lot of people. So what we’ve done is we’ve worked really hard to create an automatic lock on system that works really well. But at the same time we’ve maintained a huge amount of depth in the combat… There’s loads of different combat options, so for the hard-core guys, although the lock-on is kind of done for you, it gives everyone the opportunity to really score with the different options available.”
From what we saw, it looks like it’s all coming together nicely. A brief play through of a mid-game partition looked very promising, as Dante navigated the perils of the monster-infested limbo territory, between the mortal and demon realms.
“The combat system is essentially based on Dante’s three forms – so he’s got his angel form, his human form and his devil form. Typically, his angel attacks are faster and lighter and his demon attacks are heavier and slower, so I think that’s probably quite similar to the previous Devil May Cry games where it had similar weapons and similar actions,” Matthews explained.
The team at Ninja Theory aren’t looking to stifle the combat experience, established by its predecessors, though.
“I think what we’ve done with DMC is we’ve implemented a system that allows players to switch-up weapons and combos on the fly. You can change weapons mid-combo… It gives players a lot of options, so I think what we’ve done is created a system that gives everyone the set of tools to express themselves through the combat,” continued Matthews.
“I think that what we wanted to do was find a nice mix [between] special addition 3, and 3 [which] was probably way, way hard, too far. So we’re probably somewhere in between those two, which we think is a sweet-spot which will allow hard-core players to get the challenge that they want but not alienate more casual players… less digitally dextrous players,” Jones echoed.
Facing further questions from fans regarding Ninja Theory’s reputation for short but robust releases, Jones replied, “This will not be a short game. Obviously I think that if you’re an expert DMC player, you’ll finish it shorter than your casual or average player but it’s not going to be short in any extent and there’s tons of re-playability options.”
So it’s out of the pan for Ninja Theory, who seems to have replaced a perverse struggle for recognition with the pressure of a much-loved release and an already well-established fan-base. Balance is key though – whether it be fan expectation, game mechanics or the bottom line. For all the questions asked, they seemed to very much have the answers.