When developers Ninja Theory were asked by Capcom to come up with a new look for the star of a reboot of the popular action game, now known only as DmC, publisher Capcom told the studio they wanted extreme redesigns.
But Ninja Theory, perhaps worried about messing too much with so beloved a character in such a storied game, came back to Capcom with three or four new looks for Dante that were “maybe five percent improvements.”
“We said, ‘No, no, we want you to risk making us angry,” lead DmC producer Alex Jones said in a recent interview with Kotaku. “We want it way out there and then we will walk the design back.”
The final look of the new Dante for the new Devil May Cry is a much younger hero, a man with a thinner frame and a shorter jacket, with modern tastes but no trademark white mane.
For fans of the 9-year-old game series, it was too much.
When news, and pictures of the new Dante hit, die-hard fans metaphorically gnashed their teeth and tore their hair. They protested, kicked off petitions promising to not buy DmC until Dante, their white-haired Dante, returned. They called Jones a “defiler.”
“This was not unanticipated,” Jones said. “Dante is an iconic character that people have genuine affection for and this is a radical departure.”
Perhaps surprisingly, it was a departure driven by the people at Capcom who birthed the Devil May Cry series.
Jones said when he was first approached by Capcom Japan, he was told that the U.S. offices of Capcom were being given stewardship of the series because the developers wanted a “western-oriented title.”
The Capcom folks in the U.S. were fans of Ninja Theory and their work on games like Heavenly Sword and Enslaved. Jones said they felt that Ninja Theory would be a good fit for DmC because they felt the studio knew how to make solid melee games and, more importantly, games that are character driven.
“Outside of creating just amazing looking art, Ninja Theory really do embed narrative in their games in a way that is relatively sophisticated,” Jones said. “Japanese game design also starts with a character and then builds a game out from there.”
Because of that Jones and his team knew that the most important, most contentious part of the series reboot was the look of Dante.
Once Ninja Theory became comfortable with the notion of having to reinvent so popular a game and character, they came up with a number of designs which Jones and Ninja Theory’s creative director flew to Japan to present directly to the top developers at Capcom.
That first presentation, which included a number of different looks for the character, was intimidating, Jones said.
“Of course we were nervous, we were walking in there to a bunch of guys who are steeped in Devil May Cry,” Jones said. “When that first PowerPoint slide showing the delta between the original Dante and the new Dante hit, we winced.”
But the team in Japan, led by Keiji Inafune, weren’t offended by any of the suggestions.
“I didn’t get hooted out of the room or have rotten sushi thrown at me or anything,” Jones said.
But that didn’t mean that the group liked everything they saw.
“We had a shirtless version of Dante, with just suspenders. That went nowhere,” Jones said. “It looked like he had just stumbled out of a Clash concert. That was as far out as Ninja Theory went with the character design.
“When Inafune saw it he said, ‘I don’t think so.'”
When they settled on a look they were happy with, they sent the duo back with a bunch of suggestions for tweaks.
The final result is a Dante who is meant to have, like the game, a bit of a punk ethic. Jones promises that Dante’s new look isn’t arbitrary. There is reasoning, a story behind why the young Dante looks so different than his older self.
When pressed for details about the story, Jones was coy.
“There’s a lot of Earth still moving under the story, ” he said. “It took us a year to deal with character design. We’re just getting underway on the story.”
He did say that DmC will be an origin story and explained how that impacted the character design.
“Part of the ethos of a reboot or retelling of an origin story is to go back and find out why certain totems of a franchise exist,” Jones said, talking about Dante’s famously white hair. “We want to tell those elements of the story.”
Jones added that part of the redesign also has to do with “making the game relevant to the current times.”
“Look at the (Christopher Nolan’s) Dark Knight,” he said. “That went from the Gothic fun house of the earlier Batman movies, to a fairly dark look at Chicago crime today.
“We want to update and mature the tone of Devil May Cry.”
Jones knows that he and his team have a lot of work to do to not only produce the game, but to win back the fans of the original titles.
“I totally understand the reaction, but I want people to know that we will make them proud… eventually.”