Mark Rein and John Gaudiosi explore UE3's role in the franchise's reboot
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 utilised Unreal Engine 3 (UE3) to bring this multi-world story to life.
Previously, Ninja Theory utilised UE3 technology to build Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, which was released by Namco Bandai.
“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,” says Dominic Matthews, communications manager at 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 continues: “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, says UE3 allowed the team to create larger open areas than they’d done before, moving away from corridors, and giving 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,” explains Jones.
Matthews says 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,” he says.
“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 closely with actor and director Andy Serkis – of Lord of the Rings and King Kong fame – on Enslaved as well as Heavenly Sword, the studio’s first PlayStation 3 creation.
In Devil May Cry, 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 Devil May Cry,” says 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 feel 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 deliver it 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,” says 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 customise 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,” says 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.”
“Having an engine capable of cross-platform development from the start provides a huge advantage,” Matthews concludes. “The platform flexibility that UE3 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.