Cambridge outfit Ninja Theory on its new mission to revamp Devil May Cry
Dante’s use of hair dye in the upcoming DmC may have sparked an internet civil war, but Ninja Theory is still buzzing from taking control of a vital Capcom IP.
The UK studio’s ‘Chief Development Ninja’ Nina Kristensen talks about the new deal, the importance of IP ownership, and working with Capcom.
So, firstly, how did a UK independent score one of Capcom’s biggest IPs?
It really was a meeting of the minds. We knew some of the guys at Capcom and some started talking about how they wanted to reinvent, reboot and revitalize the Devil May Cry franchise, and they saw us as a very good fit.
Why do you think Capcom specifically chose Ninja Theory to work on one of its biggest IPs?
I think there’s a few elements. Firstly we have a reputation within the fighting genre, and for telling a compelling story with good cinematography and believable characters. Those two things are key to telling the next story of Dante. I think there was a lot of synergy between us and Capcom – what they are looking for is what we love doing.
Is DMC a collaborative effort between yourselves and Capcom?
Yes, Capcom America looks after the day-to-day side of things and Japan has creative oversight on the project.
The essence of good development for us is finding the right collaboration, on both a publishing basis and a creative one. We try to partner with people who we think are best at what they do; it’s the reason why we partnered with Alex Garland for Enslaved – all of those things were collaborations and the quality of work wouldn’t have been there if it was a one-way process.
I take it the Devil May Cry deal means you’re putting the brakes on other projects.
Well yes in a sense. When we were thinking about what we were supposed to do next, we were feeling around for things and talking to a number of publishers, but obviously when Capcom put this project to us we just dropped everything.
This being your third big project, you’re still not producing a game from your own IP.
And the studio has in the past talked of the importance of owning IP.
I think with Devil May Cry, [the deal] was a great opportunity. It is a beloved franchise and for us it was a very good fit – it’s all about the things we love; high energy fighting and cool cinematics.
It was also a project that wasn’t an original IP, which we’ve never tackled before. This deal was of course a no-brainer for us.
Are you still pursuing projects where you own your IP, or does Ninja Theory need to continue on a work-for-hire basis?
I think it’s more complicated than that. If you’re owning your IP it is incredibly valuable. It’s something that we’re pursuing.
That being said, if someone else is funding a project, then having key creative rights within that IP is also important, from a business perspective as well as a creative perspective. If you’ve spent as many years of your life conceiving something new and exciting and it’s your baby and you want it to be treated really well.
Do you want Ninja Theory to remain an independent studio?
You know what, it’s really fun being an independent developer. It really is. We get to choose our projects. We get to work on stuff we like. There’s a really good vibe here.
I get the impression Capcom’s given you an uncommonly high amount of freedom with the project.
Yes they have. Capcom came to us because they felt we could add something to the franchise that hadn’t been seen before; that something would reinvigorate it. But they also knew that we would also respect the DNA of Devil May Cry.
Capcom are a very empowering company. They have a very clear idea of what they want to do, and they give us a lot of freedom to take the game’s vision forward.
I think we’re bringing a new look and feel to the franchise, because it’s important to have the franchise appeal to a broader audience. Obviously the franchise has very loyal fans.
[Laughs] And we hope that in due course that they would love what we’re doing too. We are respecting the true DNA of the franchise. At its core, Devil May Cry is a high-octane fighting game that makes you feel very, very cool.
That’s what we fundamentally need Devil May Cry to be, but we’re brining it in to a visualisation that is a little more down-to-earth, a little more urban and has more of a general western appeal. We’re also going to be pushing on the storytelling aspect, and the engagement with the characters.
What was Capcom’s response when you showed them Ninja Theory’s original concepts for Dante?
The concepts for Dante went through a lot of different iterations – they went all over the place – we went really far out with some. The first time we sent our initial concepts to Capcom Japan, they said no, no you need to push it way further.
Because, obviously, Dante is a big character for Capcom, we stuck fairly close to the original design template. But Japan said we needed to go much further, go crazy with it, and so we did.
Does it still matter to be an independent UK developer – or is the industry far too much a global enterprise for nationality to be relevant?
I think game development, absolutely, operates on the world stage.
I’m very pleased to be here in the UK. There is a huge amount of talent here. There is obviously the concern that a lot of that talent is moving overseas to places where it’s more economical to develop games, and I do think that is a problem generally for studios across the UK.
But I would also say that, outside of whether the industry gets support for the Government, I by and large don’t approve of tax breaks wherever they are implemented. Businesses should be profitable without having to rely on the help of the state. If you’re not profitable you shouldn’t really be in business.
Regardless of my personal opinion, I think the UK industry now should get tax breaks – simply because it now is competing on a world stage with other countries that do. The UK is at a disadvantage and needs that balance addressed.