Cambridge, UK-based Ninja Theory has been out of the limelight for a while - a spell of quiet time the studio probably appreciates, after weathering a fan backlash to its excellent Devil May Cry reboot. The studio recently released Fightback with the help of Chillingo, an iOS brawler that combines DmC's florid art style with a "revolutionary" set of touchscreen controls. It's also working on a mysterious new IP, glimpsed at the end of a product reel from last year.
Where will the creators of Enslaved and Heavenly Sword take us in years to come? Adam Starkey reached out to product manager Dominic Matthews for more.
Ninja Theory is officially a decade old now. How has the studio developed since you started?
In terms of what the studio values, I think things have stayed very much the same. We like to make games that are high-quality, tell a great story and look really nice. Over the years we've added strength in particular areas, such as in performance capture, hardcore combat and mobile development, which have helped to reinforce those values. The studio has obviously grown a lot since the original bedroom start-up that it was at the beginning, but I think the closeness of the team has help keep the feeling of a small, dedicated group of developers.
The company has worked with lots of big names outside of the videogame industry, such as Andy Serkis and Noisia for the music in DMC. How do you think this sets your games apart?
One of the aims of the studio is to take players on a journey through our games, and we like to work with talented people from outside of the games industry to help us do that. Andy Serkis for example knows how to bring a character to life through performance capture better than probably anyone out there, so it makes for a very strong partnership when you add his performance skills with our technology. Andy can take the viewer on a journey through performance. The same goes for Noisia or Combichrist on DmC. They are experts at taking people on a musical journey, so combined with our in-house sound fx and VO we can create something special.
An important point is that we don't just want to work with big names because of their name. We want to work with talented people who have a passion for making games, that is what we have done so far and we've learned a lot in the process and hopefully that quality comes across to the player when they are playing.
Your latest release was Fightback for mobile platforms, how was it developing for a smaller platform in comparison to your previous big budget titles?
Developing for mobile platforms is almost an entirely new experience, particularly on a game like Fightback where you are trying to build a great free-to-play experience. We had to really think about how, when and where players on touch screen would be playing Fightback. For example, we had to make sure we could get our player into gameplay within a matter of seconds and hook them straight away. Unlike a console game, where the player has already made the decision to buy the game and will want to see the story set up, in Fightback we had to get the player straight in to the action. We couldn't afford for them to be bored and just drop the game before they had even experienced the gameplay.
Fightback was a real test for us to see if we could maintain the values of the studio on a new platform. The challenge was to see if we could make a game look great and have fast, response combat controls within the tight technical and functional restrictions of mobile. I think we achieved what we wanted to on Fightback and we're looking forward to taking on new mobile projects in the future. It will be lot easier now that we've got all of our mistakes out of the way!
Are you still bothered by theoutrage from certain Devil May Cry fans about your DmC reboot?
We took it on the chin and actually it is something we can smile about. We're just people that want to make fun, cool video games. Sometimes you can't please everyone, even though you might try. The pleasing thing is that DmC was released to great reviews and great feedback from players. We're still getting tweets, emails and letters from people telling us how much they like DmC. When I go on youtube and see the madness that some players have been able to achieve with our combat system, it makes it all well worthwhile. DmC is a game that we're incredibly proud of.
How do you feel about the UK games industry, now that developers are getting tax breaks?
I'm very pleased that tax relief has now become available to UK developers, but qualifying for it is far from a given. Developers will have to think very carefully about the content of their games to ensure that they are eligible. Games relief is so new that I think it is going to take a little while for the industry to really understand what qualifies and what doesn't. We need some case studies to hold our own games up against.
The UK games industry has been going through a tough time, but I don't think tax relief will be a silver bullet. The games industry as a whole is going through a transition from big AAA games to smaller self-published or mobile or digital titles. Studios need to adapt to this transition and find their place in the market. I think it is a very exciting time for the games industry with more exciting tech, distribution methods, business models and funding options becoming available all of the time.
How are you finding the Xbox One? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
We're fans of the Xbox One. I think we need some time for the true potential of it to be realised. We know what can be done with the technology, and it is impressive, we just need some time for this to be realized in games that will actually be in the hands of players. I personally like the ability to capture your gameplay on the Xbox One, being able to share your game experiences very easily is great. It will make the life of those crazy combo video makers a lot easier! I'm also very interested to see if voice control really is the future. At the moment it feels like technology that is cool, but that hasn't seamlessly worked its way into the way we play games. I'd like to see more games use it in ways that makes playing games more user friendly, like using one word to access a menu that might otherwise be multiple button presses away.
Second-screen functionality is very cool, but again I think it needs time to mature. We've seen the "call in an airstrike" trick a few times now, and I think we're ready to see something that takes it to a new level.
What do you think of the [email protected] program? Have you considered joining?
It looks great. It's actually something that I've been looking at very closely in recent weeks. Yes, we would consider joining. It is exactly the type of self-publishing programme that the industry needs to help in the transition from boxed product to digital distribution.
As a studio, what are your plans and hopes for the next 10 years?
We've like to continuing doing what we have been doing. Focusing on quality, action, art and cinematics. We're looking very closely at the market and thinking about what the next 10 years will hold. We've already branched out into mobile development, to complement our console development, and with new gaming technologies hitting the market we may branch out even further.
From a technical perspective we want to continue pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved. We always want to be challenging ourselves and the technology.
Can we expect a sequel to one of your previous titles in the near future?
Not in the near future, but never say never in games!