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Q&A:  Dragon's Dogma  - Capcom's Step Into Western Fantasy
Q&A: Dragon's Dogma - Capcom's Step Into Western Fantasy
July 14, 2011 | By Christian Nutt

July 14, 2011 | By Christian Nutt
More: Console/PC, Design

In 2010, Capcom COO Haruhiro Tsujumoto told analysts that his company would pursue a new strategy -- in which the internal development teams in its Osaka studio would forge ahead with new IP and Western studios would create titles under existing brands.

This strategy is currently in full swing with Resident Evil: Operation Racoon city, a shooter developed by Canada's Slant Six Games, the team best known for its work on the SOCOM franchise for Sony.

Meanwhile, Capcom director Hideaki Itsuno and producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who last teamed up to helm Devil May Cry 4, are currently working on original fantasy action game Dragon's Dogma while England's Ninja Theory (Enslaved) tackles the latest iteration of Devil May Cry.

In this interview, Itsuno and Kobayashi discuss the thinking behind this move, what they hope to achieve with the game and how they intend to do it, and how moving into contemporary production processes have affected Capcom's internal development studios.

I was wondering if you could give me a sense of your basic goal for the game -- what you want to accomplish with this game.

Hiroyuki Kobayashi: The main thing we want to accomplish with this game is to create something that felt like you were actually having a real-life adventure.

It's got a very hard-fantasy look with it -- very realistic. Is that part of that goal, the art direction?

Hideaki Itsuno: Yeah. The goal for us was to try to create a fantasy world that looks believable and realistic. If fantasy were real, how would you react? What would you do when you're in this fantasy world? We wanted people to imagine how it could become realistic for them, and then interact with that in a realistic way.

This is one of the first examples we've seen from Capcom of the new strategy of putting existing IP onto Western studios and creating new IP from within the company. Could you talk about that strategy, what it means, and why it's interesting to you as creators.

HK: For us, we have the two strategies working simultaneously. There is, as you said, giving our famous franchises to other companies to see what they can do. We're always looking for new challenges for us at Capcom, and one of those is creating new IPs -- new franchises that will resonate with the fans. For us, we wanted to try something new, and that's why we developed this title internally.

We look at the other franchises as our children: we grow them, we raise them, and then we send them out to other companies and see what they can do with them. That gives birth to things like the new DMC, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, and such.

It's interesting to see Capcom do that. It's become increasingly rare -- as it usually does over the course of a generation -- to see new IP launching. We're pretty far into the generation, so it's interesting to see you pursue a strategy of working with new IP, I think.

HK: Yeah. (laughs) Like you said, I think it is kind of rare for companies to put out new IPs in mid-cycle of a console's life. But, for us, I think this is the perfect timing for that because we have all of this experience making Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games. Now, we want to use that and show everyone what we can do. Because now you have a really good install base for those two systems, I think the time is right to bring out a new IP because now you have more people that can potentially get in on the ground floor of a new franchise.

In launching a new IP, the kind of investment that you have to make is very substantial. How did you arrive at the idea of Dragon's Dogma and say, "This is it. This is where we want to go at this point"?

HK: I think that we were just blessed with timing and resources coming together. We knew that we wanted to make a new IP, and we had this dev team that was free to do that. Then the director, Itsuno-san, was free at the same time and looking for a new challenge, as well.

HI: The fact that the team itself became open and I, the director, was open -- these things just came together in a perfect match because we as a company want to put out a new IP, but, as you said, the resources available for that and everything just came together at the right time for that.

What attracted you to doing a fantasy adventure game? It's very much different aesthetically than your previous work -- and it's even different from Monster Hunter. It's very grounded. What attracted you to that atmosphere and that style of gameplay as well?

HI: For me, personally, I've always been a big fan of The Lord of the Rings series. I think everyone in the world would be in agreement that that's kind of the starting point, the prototypical fantasy storyline.

For me, it has always been a goal of mine to get as close to that as possible when creating a game. You can have your Monster Hunters and your Devil May Crys, and I think that they become their own genres, their own things; but for me to try and create something as close to a Lord of the Rings-type setting, that's not something I usually have been involved with. I really wanted to get involved with something that's like Lord of the Rings because I respect that series so much.

When I last spoke to you for Devil May Cry 4, there was a lot of discussion about doing extensive research trips for architectural reference, so I was wondering what kind of preparations went into this title.

HI: Yeah, for this game as well, we went all around Europe to actually get a lot of info, especially for the backgrounds and environments in the game. We did a lot of research in Europe that's helped to try and recreate those in the game.

Are we talking architectural reference or natural reference? Did you actually do any photoing for textures and stuff like that?

HK: Actually, it was a combination of both. We looked at architecture and buildings and things of that nature and also just natural environments as well. We took many pictures, of course, and we tried to recreate those as closely as possible in the game.

HI: For us, if you just use what you have available in Japan, it's going to feel Japanese in the game. We wanted to make sure we had that authentic feel for the game, and that's why we went around in Europe and got all that as materials and tried to recreate them in the game.

I'm curious about the process and structure of the team since Capcom has had the most solid technical framework of Japanese developers this generation, thanks to the MT Framework engine, but Japanese studios have a very different structure to Western studios. I was wondering if the way the team is structured has changed from earlier in the generation to follow new processes in the way you develop games?

HI: Yeah. The structure of the teams has changed a lot from the beginning, on PlayStation and PlayStation 2. We're working with five times the amount of team members as we used to. Compared to what we had on Devil May Cry 4, the number of members involved is just phenomenal. I think we have more line to production -- more units -- because there's more things that go into the games now than what we were putting in before, so we have to do that.

Has managing that become the big challenge; or have you risen to the challenge, and is it going smoothly?

HI: I think more than managing the team itself is the fact that we're dealing with a new IP, so everyone involved in the game's production doesn't really have a clear idea of what the game is going to be when we come out at the end.

Right now, I think the team is working well together. All of the wheels are greased properly, and they've got the motivation and the teamwork aspects down. It's just the fact that, at the end of the day, what kind of game are you going to make is something that you can't see until we get there. But as far as managing the team itself, I think that's gone pretty well.

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