Dante is getting a makeover. The mercenary demon hunter is back in action in DmC Devil May Cry, a highly anticipated reboot of the franchise.
By working closely with Capcom, developer Ninja Theory stripped Dante to the bare essentials to incorporate the story of his origin into this new action adventure. The UK studio utilized Unreal Engine 3 (UE3) to bring this multi-world story to life.
Previously, Ninja Theory utilized UE3 technology to ship Namco Bandai’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
“We’ve worked with the Unreal Engine for a long time now, and we found that the engine would enable us to achieve what we wanted with DmC, whilst at the same time allowing us to get involved in making the game straight away,” said Dominic Matthews of Ninja Theory. “A new engine would have meant at least six months’ worth of learning before we could get started with the actual development.”
Matthews continued, “We’ve learned what we can do with the engine and how we can modify it to our needs. Everything that we learned during Enslaved development we’ve been able to take into our work on DmC.”
Alex Jones, producer at Capcom, said UE3 allowed the team to create larger open areas than they’d done before, moving away from corridors, and gave them more flexibility in opening up the gameplay.
“Unreal Engine scripting is very flexible, so some of our game events are a little more involved than in previous Devil May Cry games,” said Jones.
Matthews said Ninja Theory used pretty much all of the engine’s features at one point or another during the game’s development.
“One really useful aspect for us was Unreal Matinee, as this allowed us to easily set up complex cutscenes and really get into the minutiae of achieving the filmic look that we’re after,” said Matthews. “On a related front, the material system gives us complete control over the look and feel of every surface – early on we made the decision to allow our artists to create their own materials and this really helped us achieve the distinct atmosphere of the game.”
Ninja Theory has been at the forefront of performance capture, having worked with actor and director Andy Serkis on Heavenly Sword and Enslaved. In DmC, Dante and the other characters are being brought to life using the studio’s latest performance capture technology, which has excelled at pushing things forward over its past story-driven action games.
“We’ve developed an in-house facial motion capture solver that we used for all of the cinematic scenes in DmC Devil May Cry,” said Matthews. “This allows us to deliver top quality results without having to pay external companies to wrangle content for us.”
Performance capture plays an important role in bringing a Hollywood cinematic feeling to the game. Early on, Capcom told Ninja Theory to think of Dante and DmC as a contemporary movie, as one goal is to introduce a fresh take on Devil May Cry to a wider audience, while at the same time preserving and building on the DNA of the series.
“This idea of creating a Dante as if he were in a modern day movie has guided us through development,” said Matthews. “We’re very happy with where we’ve ended up and I hope that those new to the series and existing Devil May Cry fans will find a lot of fun in the game.”
In order to improve the overall game experience, Ninja Theory built new technology on top of UE3 to customize lighting and shadowing and to create faster and more accurate cloth simulations and faster particle systems. They also worked with Epic Games and other UE3 teams on the Unreal Developer Network (UDN) throughout the process.
“UDN is great for quickly looking up documentation, but it’s the community forums that are invaluable,” said Matthews. “All UE3 licensed developers have access to the forums so there’s a lot of experience to draw upon, which always helps when there is a tricky issue to solve.”
Gamers will have to solve some very big problems to save the world in the game’s story. DmC introduces a unique setting comprised of two visually divergent worlds, one inhabited by the demons that Dante can see and hunt, and the real world that’s completely clueless about the dangers that are always around them.
“This game is set in real world, but the action takes place across two worlds,” said Tameem Antoniades, game director, Ninja Theory. “Another world lives on top of our world called Limbo. People in the real world aren’t aware of Limbo. We’ve embedded clues within the environment of how people might be affected subliminally in the real world by actions in Limbo.”
Matthews said the team wanted to keep DmC grounded to a certain extent, whilst still making it a fantastical world. Dante gets dragged into Limbo by the demons, and when this happens his only choice is to fight his way out to survive.
“We wanted Limbo to feel like a world that is alive, evil and out to stop Dante at every step,” said Matthews. “Inspiration for Limbo came from a number of sources from surrealist artwork, to eerie time-lapse plant growth, to video references of violent implosions and fragmentation that helped us to create a world that feels like a living creature in its own right.”
The combat in DmC is very fast and very fluid, and the ethos of the combat is that players are given the tools and can decide on their own how to utilize them. The team wants players to be able to experiment with the combat and express themselves through the system in any way they want. One key element of giving players this level of freedom is the on-the-fly weapon switching that we’ve implemented.
Dante has three forms that players can switch between by holding the triggers on the pad. In each of these forms, human, angel and demon, players can then choose between a number of weapons. In human form Dante has his Rebellion sword and a choice of several firearms. By holding the right trigger Dante switches to demon form where he has the choice of higher impact, slower weapons such as the Arbiter axe. By holding the left trigger Dante switches to angel form where he was the choice of lower impact, faster weapons. By giving players this instant access to weapons, and the ability to switch between them whenever they like during play, players can choose the tactics that suit their play best, and most importantly, that they find the most fun. That fun will be available across platforms.
“Having an engine capable of cross-platform development from the start provides a huge advantage,” said Matthews. “This platform flexibility that the Unreal Engine demonstrates was a key factor in allowing us to concentrate on the game itself. Rather than having to designate one console as a lead platform we were able to treat them as equals. There are, of course, systems that work differently between platforms but, thanks to the engine, these are the exception rather than the rule.”
By allowing UE3 to do a lot of the heavy lifting, Ninja Theory was able to focus its efforts on creating a fresh approach to a beloved video game protagonist. DmC pushes the gameplay forward by giving players more choices, while offering a cinematic experience that’s sure to attract a wide audience.