Turning it around, has anything Ninja Theory wanted to do surprised you and changed your perceptions -- have you ever been like, "Oh! That is a good idea! We should change our thinking about that"?
ME: Yeah, there's lots of things like that.
The first example to come to mind would be the idea that, in previous Devil May Cry games, you were always trapped in a given area and had to kill the enemies before you could move on to the next area. There were those red doors that would pop up, and it was a very video gamey sort of convention.
What Ninja did was come up with the concept of having the world around you actually shift to block you into different areas, and that morphed into the whole Malice system, with the real-time deformation morphing of backgrounds.
It turned from a simple idea -- how do we trap people in an area logically? -- and expanded beyond that to a really cool concept that helps define the world in which the game takes place. That's an idea that they came up with that we hadn't thought of, and perhaps could not have thought of on our own. There's a lot of little examples like that.
Had you previously personally worked with a Western studio on a title?
ME: Yes. I was involved in Bionic Commando, actually.
Is there anything you learned when you were working on Bionic Commando that you were able to take forward, and smooth out things when you were working with Ninja Theory this time?
ME: One important lesson I think we learned was the idea of not forcing our own methodology and our own design sensibilities on the developer but, rather, giving our general concept -- why we think the way we do -- and the sort of results that we're after, communicating that, and letting them find their own solution to the puzzle, so to speak, as opposed to saying, "Hey, do this. Do it exactly like this." Rather than that, saying: "Hey, this is what we're after. This is the problem we're trying to solve for. How would you solve for it? What is your way of tackling that?"
Obviously -- and it seems simple in hindsight now -- that's the much better path to take. That was a lesson we learned. That and, obviously, communication itself -- the importance of that and the frequency of communication becomes a key component in it, as well.
Between Western and Japanese development, there are definitely differences in methodology. Did you have to find new ways to evaluate where the game is at certain points in development? The results -- are they coming along, or are they not coming along?
ME: Yeah, absolutely, and I think if I were to generalize -- and obviously, there are exceptions on both sides -- but if I were to generalize, it seems most Japanese studios will tend to make very gradual, incremental progress in a relatively steady state, whereas, working with a lot of Western developers, what I've noticed is that you get to a certain base level of quality, and the game starts to expand, and then you hit a point where it just takes a huge jump in quality rather than these minor incremental things.
So it can be really difficult to judge how far along the game is when you're looking at a milestone. You do have to be sensitive to that; you do have to squint a little bit here and there because, just once again, the way of doing things is in and of itself different.
A really specific example would be in a Japanese game we might get one level of a game done and just really concentrate on polishing it to a very high degree, so we've got one small portion done to a very high degree, whereas what we see sometimes with Western developers is that they'll have a larger chunk of the game is done but in gray box or blue box, and the whole thing gradually moves along together. As opposed to one area being done-done and another area being done-done. The entire game is done to a degree, and makes gradual steps.
Do you see any advantages in the way that Western developers approach development now that you've had a chance to work on a couple of major projects with them?
ME: One thing that I've noticed, is that it seems like, with a lot of Western developers, it seems more egalitarian, so to speak, in that you have people with knowledge of multiple fields on the teams. Someone could be, for example, a designer, but they might have a degree of programming chops as well, so they can speak to different things, and they can all get together and bounce ideas off each other.
Whereas in Japan, you tend to be much more compartmentalized; if you're a programmer, you're a programmer. You sit with the programmers. You don't talk to the designers so much unless you need to, etcetera. I think we could work on having people with knowledge in multiple fields and in an environment in which they can bounce ideas off one another and communicate. That's certainly a lesson that we could take away from the way Western studios tend to approach things.