Capcom’s Dead Rising was among the first of the company's titles this console generation to primarily target a Western audience. Since then, the company has increased its efforts to create games that will succeed outside of Japan.
With Dead Rising 2, Capcom decided to take the project's development out of Japan, and teamed up with Vancouver-based Blue Castle Games (The Bigs) to create a game that is more closely aligned with Western expectations.
This is not the first time Capcom has worked with a developer based outside Japan. The company also worked with the now shuttered GRIN on Bionic Commando and Bionic Commando: Rearmed -- and just yesterday, news reports out of Japan revealed the company's strategy to increasingly work with Western studios on its key properties as a way to speed development of entries in its major franchises and to reduce costs.
Gamasutra sat down with Capcom’s Shin Ohara, co-producer of Dead Rising 2 and based in Japan, to discuss the franchise’s transition to a Western developer, Capcom’s strategy for overseas success, and why Japanese developers often struggle to capture Western audiences.
How do you go about choosing a Western team to continue on an existing franchise like this?
Shin Ohara: [laughs] Well, for Dead Rising 2, what we wanted to do is show a lot of zombies, and the current tech that we had didn't allow us to do that. And the other goal with Dead Rising 2 is we wanted to really make it a game that the Western audience would really appreciate. Now, instead of using a Japanese developer, we looked to other regions, and we were shopping around.
We stumbled across Blue Castle, who had the tech to show a lot of zombies. Not only that, they really understood Dead Rising, and they liked the game. I think it just really clicked. It was easy to work with and talk to them.
Dead Rising is definitely a Western-oriented game, but it still has a lot of Japanese qualities, like interesting non-realistic things that really help it feel like a game rather than an attempt at making a movie. Did you have to work with Blue Castle to get them to keep that?
SO: Blue Castle really studied the inside and outside of the game, and they really understand what Dead Rising is about. Like you said, it's not a realistic game. The themes are realistic to some extent, but what you can do with the weapons might not be. For example, say you pick up a knife or chainsaw, all you can do with that is slice, and you probably know how that's going to happen.
So, we introduced a combo weapon system that allows two different items to be combined together to create this ridiculous weapon that you can use against zombies to get different reactions. So, it's very fictional, in that respect.
Did some of that come from Blue Castle on their own, or was that more of a joint effort?
SO: In the beginning, we worked together, and we guided them through. But once they understood what we were looking for, it was all them. They came up with these ridiculous weapons and we were like, "Yes! You guys know what you're doing. Keep it up."
Capcom seems to have a good strategy for making games that will appeal to Western audiences without necessarily just trying to make an FPS or just trying to copy Western games, but instead try to make games that will work in Japan and the West. Do you have any idea how Capcom achieves this? It feels like there must be a specific plan because everyone is trying it, but most people are getting it wrong.
SO: I think that Capcom always strives to do something new and innovative. Our teams always want to do something new, and I think gamers in general always want to see something new and play something new. And I think we've been we've been pretty successful in doing so because people really like Capcom games.
It seems like there must be more to it than just trying something new because many of Japanese developers have tried a lot of new things, but they often just don't translate over too well. But Capcom seems to have a more universal appeal than others. I mean, do you do a lot of focus testing when developing your games?
SO: In our R&D staff, we have a lot of Westerners. We have quite a lot of Westerners who can look at design docs and just give their own opinion on it. We get feedback from our European office and our U.S. office as well. We're always looking at those opinions, making sure that we're at least on the right path.
Why do you think has been so hard in general for people starting from Japan to succeed in the West?
SO: The corporate system of Japan is very old. There's a gap between what a company wants to do as a strategy and how the company needs to change as a whole to get there. It's easy for people to say, "We want to make games for the West." But in actuality, there are a lot of growing pains when trying to understand the business.
Working with a Western developer is not easy, and they probably don't find it easy to work with a Japanese publisher at the same level. It's about communicating and taking the time to understand each other. Things don't go the way that people expect. The company just needs to have patience and deal with that. Maybe, for some companies, that's a little bit harder to do than it is for Capcom.
A lot of companies I've talked to talk about how it's easy to say they want to make games for the West, but there are some shifts that need to be made that most people don't want to do.
SO: Yeah. I think there are two levels. Creatively, I think that game designers and artists should share their ideas. Getting there is hard, but once it clicks, it's pretty easy from there. I think on another level, management needs to work on the company relationship for those outside of the creative team.
You've got lots of zombies in the game now. How many zombies can you fit on screen?
SO: Last year at Captivate we did a demo. We had a strip -- It was probably like 10 meters wide and 200 meters long. We filled it with about 7,000 zombies. After about 3,000, you can't really tell the difference because it fills up the screen anyway. Over 3,000, it ruins the experience. It's not a game anymore. We can show about 7,000 zombies if we wanted to, our technology is not limiting us. If the game only shows about 500 zombies or 1,000 zombies, that's not the game's limit. We have just enough so that people have fun with the zombies and the gameplay is rewarding.
It does seem like there would be a sense of diminishing returns after a certain point when you've got a lot of zombies, and there would be nothing to do but mow through them. How did you balance those kinds of numbers when designing the game?
SO: It depends on how big the space is, basically. We want people to use a lot of weapons, and they need to be able to move around to use it against zombies. Traversing the space shouldn’t be a pain, but it needs to be a challenge as well. We didn't want to fill a room out of zombies where you had to wiggle your way out. Rather, you can jump over them, kick them, or go around them. There are many ways that you can deal with the zombies.
Just out of curiosity, what do you think of the new motion control interfaces, such as Move and Kinect?
SO: I think motion control allows game designers to make different kinds of games. I don't think it appeals to every game, but it does give us a lot of variety when we consider what we want to do. I think it's a good opportunity for game designers to start brainstorming about what they can do with it.
I think 3DS might be interesting because having depth of field may change game design to some degree. Have you thought about that much?
SO: I've seen a little bit. I've heard stories. Just [at E3], the people who saw the 3DS are like, "Wow. It works." But I think we're still in the phase of trying to understand it a little bit more. There's a whole lot of information about that technology and how we can use it.
Do you see many kind of Western-focused games succeeding in Japan? Let's say if you're making a game internally and targeting it for the West. Do you have to be concerned that it may not sell in Japan?
SO: Right now certainly we want games to sell in Japan as well. But I think it's project by project. For Dead Rising, it was the first game that we made that we wanted to appeal to the West, and I think we did a pretty good job with that. But we weren't perfect and we want it to go a little bit beyond that. That's why we teamed up with a Western developer. I think we're getting closer and closer to where we want to be. For that game, the audience is the West. I don't think we want to make a game that costs $50 million and is only geared toward Japan. There's just not the market for that.
Yeah. It does seem like the market for hardcore games in Japan has been on a steady decline for a while.
SO: Maybe a part of the reason for that is the economy is not as good as it used to be. People are behind; they can't fund the games for current gen. Right now, I think it costs over $20 million, $30 million to make a triple-A game. Another reason could be that when the new consoles came out, publishers weren't fully supporting it from the beginning. With Xbox 360, some of the publishers were playing it safe and just watching how it performs worldwide. By the time they knew that the Xbox could be successful, they were late in the game. There were already games out, people already knew how to use the tools and work with the console. I think they just got a late start, too.