As the Nintendo DS and Wii sweep across the Japanese marketplace in the face of the 360, it's become clear that the country's most talented developers are mostly struggling to enter the next-generation race. One exception has been Capcom. With two hugely successful titles -- Lost Planet and Dead Rising -- complete, the company is moving into its second-generation next-gen titles as the PS3 starts to finally pick up some steam.
Here, Gamasutra spoke to Devil May Cry 4 producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi about the creative and technical decisions the team made on that title, and how the company approaches next-generation development. He also filled us in on some rarely-published details of the company's proprietary next-generation engine, MT ("multi-target") Framework, which powers many of its games.
Obviously you're coming up on completion of the title. If you can talk about how the overall development process has been going for this, because it's the first next-generation Devil May Cry game.
Hiroyuki Kobayashi: First of all, we started the development in 2005. At that stage, they were still developing the PS3 technology, and we didn't have a lot of the PS3 resources. However, we had the MT Framework -- that's a Capcom internal next-generation engine -- so it probably was an easier start than the other companies might have had for similar games. We showed it for the first time at last year's Tokyo Game Show in playable form, and the big point there was how much we could show of the game, and what we could show off with the technology of the PS3. At that stage, most of the core elements of the game were in place.
It's been one year since last year's TGS. Since that time, we've really just been developing the story, going through the stages, creating the enemies, and fine-tuning all of that and putting together all the content that makes up the game. At the same time, we were developing all the technical elements that were so important in the game, and now we're at the stage where we're pretty much complete.
I remember when development on this game first started. It was before the PS3 was finalized, and I believe you started to develop it on the PC, and then move it over to the PS3. Can you talk about that process a little bit?
HK: Yeah. As I've mentioned before, we started developing this on the PC on the MT Framework -- the internal Capcom engine. The PS3 specs were not finalized at that stage when we started developing it, so we did start to develop it on the PC. By developing it on the PC, it's very easy for us to work with the graphics and the gameplay, and see how the game is going to play. Actually, we're still continuing to develop it on the PC, as well as being able to check how it runs on the 360 and the PS3.
The MT Framework -- is that the engine that you used for the game? I know that Lost Planet also uses the same engine as DMC4. Is it also used for Dead Rising and other projects? Can you talk about that, please?
HK: I can't really talk much about the technical aspects of the MT Framework. It is the same one as was used in Dead Rising and Lost Planet and a lot of our next-generation games. Really, it's sort of a combination of all of the game know-how that we at Capcom possess. Basically, it's an environment for all the planners, programmers, directors, sound designers, and all of the people who are involved in the process of the game to work on something, for them to be able to work on it easily.
When the game was first announced, it was a PS3 exclusive, but then the 360 version was announced. Was that planned all along, or was that an opportunity that arose or a decision that was made? How did that affect development?
HK: We initially planned only to release it on the PS3 in the first arc of development, but during the development of the game, Capcom announced that we decided that we were going to have a multiplatform strategy for the next generation machines, and we started to develop it for the 360 at that time.
In terms of any problems or any effect it had in the development of the game, we initially didn't have a schedule for releasing it on two platforms simultaneously, so that did have an affect on the amount of work that we had to do. Because we developed it on the same engine -- on the MT Framework -- it wasn't double the work that we had to do, but it probably required about 1.5 times the work and 1.5 times the ability in order to be able to get everything done. There were some changes we had to make, and some extra work that we had to put into it.
The game's also coming out on the PC in North America and probably in Europe. I don't know if it's coming out in Japan on the PC, but I was wondering... for Devil May Cry 3, Ubisoft was a sub-licenser, and I'm assuming they involved with the development of the PC version somehow. Can you talk about that decision and why that was approached this time?
HK: For Devil May Cry 3, that was when we had finished the game. We created the PS2 version of the game, then we had a different team in Capcom Japan develop the game for the PC. So they ported it over to the PC, and then Ubisoft sold it. They were the distributors of the game, in North America, anyway. Not in Japan. They were just the distributors. But in terms of [DMC4], like I mentioned, we had the multiplatform announcement, and since then, we're developing it simultaneously for the PC and 360 as well. So it's different enough.
Can you talk about how the multiplatform strategy that Capcom's embracing for this generation is different to what's come before, and how it's affecting development of the games? The process for the teams over at Capcom.
HK: As I mentioned before, it does take probably 1.5 times more work than it did before. One of the things that takes up the most time in developing simultaneously on different platforms is that before, we would develop it just for the PS2, and would check it running on the PS2 and make sure that everything's okay.
Now, even though we have the MT Framework in place, we still have to check the actual game that the customers are going to play and are going to have in their hands, so that means checking and going through not just the PS3 version, but the 360 and the PC versions, making sure that everything looks okay and runs smoothly. That does take a lot of time, and it really increases the amount of work that we have to do.
Having said that, developing it simultaneously for different machines is easier than developing it separately -- developing it for something, and then porting it over onto something else. But it does increase the amount of work that we have to do for the game.
Some of the team members who worked on this game have not worked on Devil May Cry before, and some have. With such an important sequel within Capcom, how do you go about forming a team that will end up taking on the title's development?
HK: The core members of the team are the people who worked on Devil May Cry 3. We do have some people who worked on Devil May Cry 1, but there's not that many people who worked on that game still at the company. We try to concentrate on people who have experience working on the series.
Having said that, there's probably twice the amount of people who have never worked on the series before working on the game than people who do have experience. Really, we have to get them to know the game, and just go through and develop it together and develop it together as a team, concentrating on the people who already know about the game.
When I was at Capcom in February to play the game, when we were playing the game, a whole bunch of team members came down from the development studio and observed the reactions of the press. I remember also at dinner that evening, you and [director] Itsuno-san were asking our opinions of what we played so far. Why is that kind of feedback important for you in the development process?
HK: At that time, in February, it was actually the first time we had the foreign press playing the game, and we were able to see what they thought of it. We had shown it at TGS before the previous year, but of course that's mainly a Japanese event, though some members of the foreign press played it there. We do concentrate on the Japanese media at that event.
So it was the first opportunity we had for us to see what the foreign press would think of the game, to see what they would think of the [new gameplay mechanic] Devil Bringer and that kind of thing. When we actually have people there at the company, it's easy to see what they think of the game and what they're playing for once they're playing it. It's easy for us to see what they think of it.
I remember there was a specific focus on asking what we thought of the boss battle with Berial, and what we thought of the balance. Did that affect any of your thoughts on game balance? I remember that was a real issue with DMC3 as well.
HK: Actually, before we showed it to the press at that time in February, I played that boss battle with Berial myself, and I found it to be really difficult. Because we had issues with Devil May Cry 3, I decided that before we showed it to the press we would make it a little bit easier. We just did this directly before we showed it.
At that stage, having had played it, I really wanted to know what you thought of the choice, and that's why I was asking so much about it. I think it was a good choice to have made it a little bit easier. Of course, it's very important, and it does have an influence, when we get people to play the game to see what they think of it. But yeah, ultimately, I think it was a good choice to make it a little bit easier and to tune it down like that.
Devil May Cry is a series that is popular in all three major territories, whereas I would say Lost Planet or Dead Rising are more targeted toward the western territories and less toward Japan. How do you do the balancing act of making the game popular? How is that influence the development of the game?
HK: Yeah, that's something I've often asked, having worked on this series and Resident Evil as well. But we don't really pay that close attention to satisfying the tastes of people in different areas. We just make the game that we think will be interesting -- the game that we want to make.
We do want to check some things in the game -- the characters speak English, so we have to get people who are native speakers of English to make sure that what they're saying isn't unusual, or the way that they move or their body language or their gestures or that kind of thing aren't things that would only make sense in Japanese. That is one of the things that we have to change, but in terms of the game development itself, we don't really pay that much attention to one geographic area or another.
What made me think about Western-targeting a little bit was that I was looking at an interview with [Capcom Japan producer] Ben Judd, who's working on Bionic Commando, and they talked about doing a great deal of focus testing on the arm of the character, really very early on in development. Obviously, that would be a more western audience-focused title, because the original NES version was more popular here. So I was wondering, do you guys do focus testing when you target your titles for several different markets simultaneously? How does that work for you?
HK: We don't do it! (laughs) No, we don't do any focus testing on the game. We just do it based on what we think is good.
Do you ask any of the Western staff members who work in the localization department, or do you just go with your instincts, and when you show it to the press... when you showed it to us, was that maybe to find out some reactions, or do you just do it, and then hope for the best, based on your creative instincts?
HK: Of course, we have many ideas ourselves for the game, like in terms of what [new main character] Nero's design is going to look like. It's not just the first thing we come up with. We have many different ideas. We look at them all in the team, rather than asking particularly in the localization staff or whatever.
We decide ourselves in the development team. We get all the ideas together, and we look over them, not just for Nero himself, but for all the new characters who appear in the game and all those kinds of things. We take all the ideas together, we look at what's best, and we decide ourselves what we think is the best choice.
This might be a little bit sensitive, but with Resident Evil: Outbreak, the characters looked like famous actors. Obviously that's well known for sure, and it was kind of funny, at least for Americans. (laughs) But I look at Trish, and she doesn't look like any specific Western actress, but she looks Caucasian. How did you come up with the process of modeling realistic-looking Caucasian characters without resorting to the copying process from before?
HK: Trish, of course, was a character in Devil May Cry 1, but on the PS2, the polygon count was completely different. The artists who come up with Trish or these kinds of characters look at a lot of movies or fashion magazines or things like that that have Caucasian women in them.
We get inspiration from that, and maybe specific parts would come from a variety of different places. But we do put them together to make something that's our own design in a specific way. It doesn't come from one specific person.
It's sort of the fine line, right? Designing characters that look like real people yet still have a style to them must be quite difficult for art directors, I think. A lot of times, you'll see that western games get knocked a bit, because the main guy is always sort of a generic space marine or whatever. It's hard to find individuality for the characters. But Devil May Cry is very stylized. It has to have these really cool, interesting characters, but they still have to look realistic enough to look like people. How do you balance that? How is that challenge?
HK: In terms of character design, that's one thing that Capcom is good at. The way we do it on this game is that first we decide what the character themselves are like and what their personality is like, and what they think and what personality aspects they have.
From there, we decide, "Well, if their personality is like that, what kind of fashion would they wear? What kind of clothes would they wear? What kind of hairstyle would they have?" That's how we decide the things like that. For example, if you have Lady, based on her personality, what kind of sunglasses would a person like that choose to wear? So that's how we decide it, and that's how we go on to create interesting and cool characters.
Sometimes in Capcom games -- not Devil May Cry, but in some other games like Onimusha and Lost Planet -- you've based some characters on actual actors. Is that something that's done for promotional purposes, or is it to bring a realism to the character? Where does that come from? I don't know if you can talk about those titles with authority...
HK: I can't really say why those teams made those decisions. In the DMC series, we start from zero, making the characters, and it does take a long time.
If you use an actor like Takeshi Kaneshiro in Onimusha or Jean Reno in Onimusha 3, you can immediately have the image of what that character is going to look like and be like. It is a faster process. But we do it from scratch in Devil May Cry. That's something we've always wanted to do, is to create the characters themselves.
One thing I remember talking about in February was, "It's a world that will have phones, but not cell phones." That quote's stuck in my mind. The Devil May Cry world is like the real world, but it's not quite the real world, and I was wondering... you build everything from scratch in Devil May Cry, and it's realistic, but it's not real. Is building a world like that so difficult, and has it taken all these sequels to develop that out fully? How has that process worked for the series?
HK: Of course, building that kind of world is a difficult process. The most important thing for that is that the core members who are involved in the team need to have the same sort of thought process and idea for what the world is going to look like. That's really the most important thing. In Devil May Cry [series character Dante's] office, they do have a phone, but it's a black analog kind of phone. That feeling of what the world is like is something that we really want to protect, so even though it does have phones, we don't want it to be a world where there is a cell phone and you can immediately talk to anyone in the world.
Having said that, it is a world where they do have motorbikes, so creating this mix between high-tech and analog technology -- a world where some things have advanced and some things haven't advanced -- is pretty difficult.
For example, there's a jukebox in Dante's office, but it plays old vinyl records. Some parts of technology have advanced, and some haven't advanced. Keeping that true throughout the series and the game is difficult, and we need to have all the core members on the same page. That is certainly one of the challenges in making the game. Having said that, it is a lot of fun to be able to create this kind of unique world of our own design.
You've talked about this a little bit before I guess, but do you have a design handbook or a series bible that delineates what can be in this world? How do you keep it consistent from sequel to sequel to sequel, and also with the different members of the team leaving and joining, how do you keep a consistent workflow that defines the world of Devil May Cry?
HK: (laughs) There's no handbook, I can tell you that much. How do we keep it consistent?
I don't know, how do you keep it consistent? (laughs)
HK: First of all, we have the directors and producers and scenario writers and people like the team director, Shimomura-san. We look at all the stuff that has been done before, and we judge how to create something new but isn't going to break the rules of the world that we have, based on what's done before. Just being conscious of what has gone before us, we create new stuff based on that.
For example, if there had been a cell phone in DMC1, there would still be cell phones in it now. We analyze the various elements that have been in the previous games so far, and we create new things based on that without breaking any of the rules that we have done so far. But it's... I don't know how we do it.
There's only a couple of people who have consistently worked on the series. You can probably count on the fingers of one hand how many people there are. There's certainly no more than ten. There's Itsuno-san, the director, some scenario writers, and the model designers. It's really only a tiny bit of the team that's consistently been working on it. If they weren't all together, it would probably be difficult to make new Devil May Cry games.
It's interesting to me, because the game's so elaborate, and certainly the world's so elaborate. I think that's good, though, that you have the creative power that the people who are sitting down on the current sequel can stay within certain boundaries that aren't really that stringent, I guess. You can sort of say, "We're going to do what we want to do." I guess Nero came out of that? Is that how that worked?
HK: Well, having done Devil May Cry 1 and 2 and 3 and having Dante as the hero in all of these games, I wouldn't say that we were exactly sick of Dante, but we did want to do something new, and we felt that people wanted something a little bit new from the series. Of course, there are lots of fans of Dante out there as well. We did want to do something new with it.
Getting into the specifics of it, the sales of all of Devil May Cry have gone down from 1, 2, and 3. They have consistently sold less and less. So in order to bring in some new fans into the series and to bring back those old fans who maybe stopped playing with Devil May Cry 1 -- to bring them back, we decided that if we had Dante as the hero this time, it would be difficult to satisfy both of those groups, the old fans, and to attract new fans in the series. We thought that would be pretty hard.
So Itsuno-san and myself basically decided right from the start that we absolutely needed to have a new hero in this game -- a new main character. The other reason we decided to do that was that having done the other three titles on the PS2 generation and switching to the new generation hardware was a good opportunity. It was a good chance to do something like that. So that's basically where it comes from.
Speaking of switching to new hardware, there's been a lot of discussion with developers -- and I'm sure you've been party to a lot of it -- of what makes a next-generation game. I think even in regard to Devil May Cry 4, there's been some discussion of what separates this from the prior ones. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on what's happening with the next generation. Capcom seems to be pretty advanced compared to some other Japanese developers, in terms of aggressively making high-profile next-generation games. Basically, what makes a next-generation game?
HK: Well, of course, with next-generation games, you have to do things that couldn't be done before on previous generations' platforms. In terms of Devil May Cry 4, what makes it different is -- and this has been true since we made Devil May Cry 1 -- the graphics must look really good. That's something that's taken for granted with a Devil May Cry game.
In terms of what else is next-gen, there are a couple of things that have to be changed and have to be new. First of all, because we have the new main character in the game, we decided instead not to just do the sword and gunplay that we had before.
We had to add a new ability that we couldn't do before, and that is the Devil Bringer with Nero. Creating the movements and graphics for that, and creating the balance between that and the other two aspects of the gameplay was one of the things about the game.
The other thing is what we couldn't do before in Devil May Cry was to create very large, wide backgrounds and large areas that have large fields in which to play in. That was one of the other things that we've tried to do in this game. So those are the two things about this game that separate it from previous titles in the series.
It seems like there's a push at Capcom to do large-scale next-generation that is maybe lacking in some of the other Japanese developers. The market splinters into the Nintendo platforms and... the PS3 has been a slow starter in Japan, and the 360 is a non-starter. Why do you think Capcom is so focused on creating these high-budget titles? I mean, they've been successful, so maybe that's why.
HK: In terms of the Capcom development, I guess one of the reasons is because we had developed the MT Framework at the time. This gave us the opportunity to do things easily with the high-tech machines that maybe other developers weren't able to do so easily. And also because we had Devil May Cry and the Resident Evil series that existed before.
There were entries in those series, and it gave us the ability to do something new with those series. I guess those are a couple of the main reasons for those decisions.
Do you think a lot of it came from Inafune-san? His philosophy was to make Onimusha, Onimusha 3 especially, a very high-spec, broad appeal game... I talked to him way back when that came out, and now he's head of R&D.
So did this direction come from him, or is it just something Capcom's culture picked up on, that Capcom was suited to anyway, to embrace this high-spec thing? I think a lot of Japanese companies are struggling with it.
HK: For games like Resident Evil or Devil May Cry, as a company or as creators, we do have a duty or a need to create new entries in those series. That's kind of separate from that, in terms of Dead Rising and Lost Planet.
Those projects were of course very strongly influenced by Inafune-san. He was the one who wanted to bring those projects out early, and he was the one who pushed to bring those out as well. Because we don't actually have that many people working within the company itself, and we do things one by one. We move from one title to the next. Inafune-san had a very big influence on that, but of course, as a company in that respect, that started to be the way we do things as well.
Do you think that embracing the 360 early -- unlike a lot of other Japanese companies -- and doing full-budget, full-team, high-quality games on it gave you guys a leg up in the next generation that you're finding is helping second-generation games like Devil May Cry down the road?
HK: Because we got out the gates early on games like Lost Planet and Dead Rising, we were able to develop technology we were able to put into games like Devil May Cry and Resident Evil 5.
Of course, that does help us in the development of these games. The fact that Dead Rising and Lost Planet were successful and they sold well also helps us to further develop bigger next-generation games, of course.