I’m both excited and wary as I consider the possibilities contained in the disc case sitting in my room with ‘DmC’ splattered on the front. The Devil May Cry series has a decade (and a bit) long history and an enfranchised fanbase, so, as somebody who just missed that train, I’ve watched from a distance in the past – curious but not too bothered. Now it appears, fresh from the re-imaginings of Ninja Theory, and I get the perfect opportunity, as both gamer and game designer, to find out what all the buzz is about. At the same time, there’s always the possibility that I missed it the first time around simply because it’s not my thing. What if the stuff that fans love about the series (perhaps partially because they’ve put in the time already) just doesn’t translate to me? On top of that, it’s a reboot with a new developer – who’s to say I’ll even be getting the ‘real’ Devil May Cry experience (and how important is that anyways?). There are a few specific places where I can see this tension playing out.
As I mentioned in WIHILA Deus Ex, the thing I hear and read everywhere is that Devil May Cry is about style. It’s a fast-paced action game where the obvious primary goal is to survive and beat up your enemies, but the glaring secondary goal is to do it with style (represented by a style grade). I’ve read the style grade has to do with things like not taking hits, chaining together your attacks so that you don’t spend time not doing much or being on the defensive, and varying your attacks so you’re not just mashing the same thing repeatedly. That’s as far as my knowledge goes, and I look forward to experiencing it first hand.
The first thing that comes to mind when I hear a game is about ‘style’ is that different people have different ideas of style, and I would far prefer the game recognise my sense of style than have to conform to its. Now I don’t expect to play the game like Skyrim or Deus Ex where I am (potentially) fundamentally playing the game differently than other people – it’s a fast-paced action game that rewards dealing with enemies quickly and efficiently. At the same time, however, while I would somewhat enjoy action-puzzles where I am figuring out the exact way to conform to the rules in a given situation, that doesn’t feel very stylish to me (no matter how cool it looks). Hopefully there will be the potential for solid variety in gameplay not just across the game but in each individual challenge. I’ve talked about this more in Deus Ex, and how it contains variety in gameplay choices and communicates that appropriately, but it will be useful to see if the same lessons apply here. Perhaps the game will allow some level of character customisation (Deus Ex made use of this as well, and I am aware Bayonetta has a vast array of different weapons and associated styles from which the player chooses). Even more than this I hope DmC brings something to the table I don’t expect at all, some angle I’ve not mentioned or not thought about, and I can report back about it in a couple weeks.
Will the Real Dm(M)C Please Stand Up?
Many of my expectations and hopes about this game are based, perhaps unsurprisingly, on its predecessors. But this is a reboot, with a new developer (though I have read there was ample support and instruction from the former developers over at Capcom). If ever the series was going to change, not just in setting and characterisation, but in gameplay, this would be the time. Of course the ideal is that DmC keeps whatever it is that made the series great while improving upon or cutting out leftover artifacts in the gameplay, but I’m not sure I would recognise that even if they pulled it off (but maybe you can chime in here or over at WILA DmC to enlighten me). Instead, I can hope for a game which openly welcomes a newcomer to the series, and also gives a solid representation of the series as a whole.
Just saying that it ‘welcomes a newcomer’ isn’t really specific enough, though. How exactly can a game do this? Managing the difficulty curve well would be a start. I’m not (usually) as hard-headed as my brother (don’t listen if he says otherwise), but I think it’s at least as much on the designer/developer’s head to manage my learning curve and instruction as it is on me as a player (and that’s being REALLY generous – I would happily entertain arguments all the way up to 100% responsibility to the designer/developer). If there is plenty of assumed knowledge or skill from previous games in the series, I could spend a lot of time frustrated. Moreover, if a big part of the ‘experience’ of the game is spending hours and being painfully aware of how bad I am at it, then I’ll be kind of disappointed as well. Some of the best learning curves are the ones where you always feel good but aware that you can learn (this is how I’ve imagined being taught Go while playing against a master would be like). The only time I’m really aware that at some point I was really bad at the game (besides, hopefully, a healthy helping of humility) is when I’ve already grown past it. I’ve mentioned this in the past, but Final Fantasy XIII and its sequel are good examples, with steadily more difficult challenges and solid instruction built into the entire game. I believe I’ve read (though don’t quote me on it – tell me yourself if you agree or disagree) that for some people the approach taken in those games was too slow, however, and that’s also a part of the balance to be handled. Having your hand held when it’s not necessary is not a great feeling either. Perhaps this relates to how much actual time must be spent to overcome a challenge once the appropriate skills have been mastered. If a battle is an hour-long grind even when you know what you’re doing, it becomes apparent and annoying quickly.
The developers have to manage this learning curve while balancing a number of other factors (such as similarity to, variation from and improvement upon older games in the series). I don’t envy them, but pulling it off is part of the job. I am using the release of Assassin’s Creed III and Mass Effect 3 on the Wii U as an opportunity to run a similar experiment with other popular series that I wasn’t immediately attracted to in the past (expanding boundaries is important to a prospective game designer, after all). Perhaps you will even hear the results of this experiment in this space in the future.
A Little Help From My Friends
Focusing on the here and now, though, I will have to trust the accounts of others as to how successfully the game feels like a ‘Devil May Cry’. Not completely overturning my expectations would be a start. If the game doesn’t feel like it’s about stylish fast-paced action, for example, then that would be a bit strange to say the least. This is where I’m counting on you: what does ‘Devil May Cry’ mean to you? Also, I spoke a bit about personal style in a game and managing learning curves. Do other games besides Bayonetta hit the ‘stylish action’ note for you? What games successfully meet your personal learning curve needs, and how do they manage it differently than other games? Let me know and we can compare notes when I come back in two weeks with WILA DmC.
I admit I’ve only played a few games with a “style” score incoporated, but it isn’t a very compelling game element to me. It’s a completely metagame way of looking at it. I’d prefer if the game was designed in such a way as to directly encourage active styles, if that’s what its shooting for. It’s kind of like saying “yeah, we designed a game that’s easy to beat if you play this way, so instead of fixing THAT we’ll just put you down for doing it.”
Am I offbase?
Not at all, it’s a striking comment about ‘style’ games. In order for whatever ‘style’ the game is encouraging to be meaningful, it seems like it should also have a lot in common with effectively playing the game – not be contrary to it. As you say, if the game is easy to beat one way, and the ‘style’ tries to encourage something else, then it’s just a mixed message and probably a bad design. On the other hand, if the style is trying to teach you more advanced techniques and gameplay that might not be apparent otherwise, then it’s a useful tool.
I don’t really know how many games fall into this ‘style-centric’ category outside of the Devil May Cry series and Bayonetta (I remember Castlevania: Lords of Shadow being somewhat similar in gameplay, though I didn’t play it myself), but I’ll also take a quick example from FF XIII, which might seem like it’s completely random, but I think is relevant.
In DmC, the point system, near as I can tell, rewards variety, doing a lot of damage, quickly dispatching enemies, and taking as little damage as possible. Surely the point of the game is killing stuff as efficiently/quickly as possible while not getting killed. If being ‘stylish’ means doing all the things in this list well, then they are simply quantifying and rewarding the best gameplay.
Sometimes these things are at odds, but for the most part the only one that stands out as weird is the ‘variety’. Variety is necessary in finding the most effective method for dispatching different kinds of enemies, especially if you’ve fought a lot of enemies where anything works, but it does sometimes run into the issue you raise.
I bring up FF XIII quickly because it reminds me of the combat rating system – each battle you fight is rated, essentially only on time. This might seem a bit odd in a role playing game where you can have many defensive strategies, but it gets at the heart of teaching ‘good gameplay’. If you can kill something fast, or kill it slow (with no other cost), then surely fast uses less of your personal time so you can get on with other things. The rating system seems like a good way to highlight this when it might not be the first thing people think of when playing an rpg.
Ultimately, I feel like I’m highlighting style as a teaching tool thanks to your comment. It’s a very important point, because while ‘style for the sake of style’ is certainly something to consider, it should really be integrated into the game design (like you pointed out) otherwise it probably doesn’t feel great to play.