'Derisive' is probably the best word to describe the initial reaction to the Devil May Cry reboot.
News that Capcom was handing off development of one of its most cherished franchises to a western studio didn't go down well at all with the fans. With just a redesigned protagonist to cling to, the public bombarded DmC's developer and publisher with a torrent of negativity.
Vocal Devil May Cry faithfuls refused to entertain the idea that Ninja Theory, a studio that has thus far released two well-received titles - both acclaimed for narrative and characterisation - could introduce a fresh twist to the stagnating series. Or that Capcom Japan's hands-on approach to development would enshrine the deep, core gameplay of the series.
At the time, DmC producer Alex Jones played it cool and said the knee-jerk response was expected. The hope was that over time, as Capcom showed off more of the game, fans would soften to the idea of a Devil May Cry developed in the west.
Did they? We sat down with Jones, along with Capcom Japan's Motohide Eshiro to find out.
Have you seen a change in attitude towards DmC?
Alex: Yes, I think the original reaction was repository for other fears that [fans] might have had and the redesigned character is the only thing they had at that point. As we were in a position to show more and put it in the hands of people, I knew that eventually we could turn the tables.
Because of the support we have in Capcom Japan and the inherent talent at Ninja Theory I knew we'd end up with a game that felt like a DMC game, which at the end of the day is what people put at the pre-eminent spot in terms of what they want out of a DMC game. The other things would fall into place once they knew that quality was there.
What was the reaction in Capcom Japan when the audience didn't take to it?
Eshiro-san: I was there when we made the first announcement and played the trailer, it was the day before TGS 09 at an event called Capcom X TGS. Actually, for the record, the people there watching reacted pretty positively.
But after that people did get pretty upset, nervous and negative. From our side it was important to take note that the negativity wasn't driven by any sort of outright evil or hatred. It was just nervousness and unease born from too many unknowns.
There was a lot of things happening at once, Capcom taking the series out of Japanese developer hands and giving it to a western studio and a brand new redesign... there's a lot of reasons to make people uneasy. We recognised that but we also knew it was going to happen. Any time you take an established IP or character and attempt to reboot or change it a lot it will make people upset and nervous.
The question became 'what are we going to do with that?'. We could have walked it back and changed our mind, but we knew we didn't want to do that, we had made the decision early on that we were going to stick to it. We wanted to work with Ninja Theory to realise their vision and globalise the franchise while we maintained some control over the control, feel, action and things like that.
We didn't want to just turn away from that, it was the goal we set ourselves so it was of the utmost importance that we stick to it. One of the worst things you can do in that situation is to walk it back so much that you forget what your original vision was, if you lose track of that it's a recipe for making a not-so-good game.
At the same time we were confident that when people saw it in context and saw what it was all about we wouldn't have to worry anymore.
From a western perspective, do you think it's a matter of convincing a group of people that this kind of game can be made outside of Japan?
Alex: That's totally true, I think there's a perception - perhaps totally not unwarranted - that as the origin of games like that, Japan retains the expertise and the institutional knowledge to continue making them. So yes, it's a fair stereotype.
The important thing to stress and what we were always making pains to say was that while there were vast tracks of the game where we'd just tell Ninja Theory to run with it and we trusted them on story, cutscenes and gameplay outside of combat, when it came to specifically redesigning Dante, his motion and behaviour, actions, animation, style, responsiveness, fluidity, the balance between animation fidelity and fluidity, that was almost co-development.
We had Itsuno-san, who was lead creative on Devil May Cry 2, 3 and 4, we brought over animators, artists and character models from Japan to work intensively with the Ninja Theory design staff.
It was frame counts and hit stops, it was tactical, strategic and philosophical, it was a wholesale multi-level wisdom transfer from people who have been doing this for 30 years to people who have an innate ability to do it, but probably didn't have the experience that these gentlemen had.
So that's fair, but it's important to stress the fact that in that one particular part of the game it is very much a co-developed game. It might even be a version of the combat that the Japanese part of Capcom may have made. There was training wheels on for that but we feel the design team here is so talented that they're totally capable of going forward and seeding this knowledge within the studio at large.
As far as the confines of this particular game... it was not like any other normal external developer relationship where you just chuck something over the fence, review a build and give some notes. This was in the trenches design with the team.
This East meets West collaboration is something that Capcom is pioneering in the face of criticisms that Japan has fallen behind. Do you think more Japanese developers should be partnering with western developers in an effort to change that?
Eshiro-san: I see it on a case by case basis. I think there's still room for a Japanese-y game for a Japanese market and Japanese developed games for a world market, but there's also room for this kind of collaboration as well, not only aimed globally but developed globally.
Maybe not everyone can do it but I think it's important to because you take away so much from it. Both sides walk away with a greater understanding of the culture and the development methodology on the other side. I like to think we've taught these guys some lessons they can take away and we certainly gained a lot of knowledge as well.
Make no mistake, we're not going to take credit for the fact that this game is good - these guys are an excellent team and have been great partners. That's why it went really well. That doesn't always happen, so there's probably some luck in us hooking up with Ninja Theory to begin with.
But once again you take so much away from the experience, almost regardless of if it results in a successful game for a company, I'd recommend doing it just because you learn so much and take so much away from the experience.