Much like how when one thinks of Nintendo, the first developer that comes to mind is Shigeru Miyamoto, when I think of Capcom, the first developer I think of is Hideaki Itsuno. Over the course of his nearly 3 decade long career, Itsuno has worked entirely at Capcom as a planner, producer, consultant, and director for some of Capcoms biggest and best games. So of course, during our visit to Capcom in Osaka, we wanted to pick his brain on what he believes is special about Dragon’s Dogma 2, the lessons he learned from the first game, and his overall vision for this sequel.
IGN: What kind of game is Dragon’s Dogma 2?
Itsuno: Well, if you go by the numbering of the title, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is the game following the first Dragon’s Dogma that came out eleven years ago. While a number of other games have come out during that period, this is the second numbered title in the series. We wanted to make this an action-packed experience that takes place in an open world. It’s an action RPG, an open world game, and a game with action by Capcom, which means there’s been tons of work put into that part of it, primarily by our Devil May Cry team. What’s most notable of all is that it’s a single-player online party action game. Even though you play it on your own, you can experience the enjoyment of getting to play as a group. To be specific, there are characters known as Pawns, or followers that accompany your character, the protagonist. You recruit them on your own, then borrow two players created by someone online to form a four-player party.
IGN: The previous game in the series was a very ambitious one. Please tell us what you’re proud of in that game, as well as about the kinds of innovations you think you added.
Itsuno: Well, that is in part because I’m someone who hates having to do extra work. I’ve always loved role-playing games, but at the same time I used to find command-based combat and grinding for experience to be such a bother. Going back to when Street Fighter 2 was wildly popular, as a student, I wondered if just the action portion of these games could be like Street Fighter 2. I wanted to make those two desires into a reality once I was allowed to make games, so that’s one part of it. I started thinking about making this game around 2001 or 2002. Online games weren’t played on connections that were nearly as fast as today’s back then, but I still revered them. I had a chance to play some myself, and they were like the worlds I’d always dreamed of.
But at the same time, I found them surprisingly annoying. These were games you should be able to play anytime and anywhere in theory, yet I’d have to gather with all of my friends to start at a specific time, or I’d feel bad about going to use the bathroom, or I’d get mad at middle schoolers who wouldn’t type politely in chat. Because of all that, I found myself wanting to play online games while hoping to avoid these kinds of annoying experiences and not having to be so considerate of others.
There was a time when I came up with ideas for how to make that work, and I wanted to make an action RPG that did two things: I wanted to create an RPG that wasn’t a chore to play, and I wanted to make an RPG you could play alone that still felt like an online experience. I created Dragon’s Dogma by combining these two ideas. I’m proud that it feels like playing with friends even when you’re alone, and that it’s an RPG with action elements that feel just as fun as an all-out action game.
IGN: You were also able to draw on your career making fighting games in this game’s development.
Itsuno: Well, the first action game I made after joining Capcom was Street Fighter Alpha, so I’ve always had experience with fighting games as someone who came out of Capcom’s arcade team. After that, I ended up overseeing the Devil May Cry series, which I made by slotting in the knowledge I already had of versus fighting games. I got a lot of experience there with hack and slash action, battles on fixed fields, and player-versus-CPU fights, and I then put all of that knowledge into an RPG.
IGN: When you look back at the first Dragon’s Dogma, is there anything you wish you could have done differently, or any elements you weren’t able to implement? If so, how is that reflected in Dragon’s Dogma 2?
Itsuno: There’s a lot I wasn’t able to make happen. Much of it hasn’t come out to the public yet, but one big part is the presence of the beastren. We were able to do a pretty good job depicting their fur during the PlayStation 3 era, but it’d get a little too bogged down when lots of characters were on screen at once, or if you wanted to freely create characters. We’re able to do that now, and we’re also able to do more with online features.
At the time, the PlayStation 3 was the first piece of hardware in the PlayStation series that featured online functionality as the standard, and it was the first generation of hardware where ethernet connections were the default. I saw it as a time when playing online had only gotten started back then, but that world has matured a lot now as well, so we’re incorporating elements that we couldn’t pull off back then into this game too.
There’s also the simple fact that Capcom as a company didn’t know how much time and manpower was needed to create an open world RPG as development started, and I have a better idea of that now. That’s why I said that I could make this game in a systematic way from the start, assembling a team and saying that I’d only do so much while actually trying to do more, and I think that worked out well.
IGN: So you’re saying that Dragon’s Dogma had a different budget, scale, or development process as compared to today’s AAA open world titles?
Itsuno: That’s correct. There existed a game that I very clearly wanted to make, but doing that would require a massive amount of time. That made it pretty hard for it to get the green light. So even though a player will see it as an open world like any other, as a creator it becomes about how cleverly we can create that open world. I was aware that when you make a large open world full of stuff, users are only going to play and experience a small portion of it. The natural solution is to try and get players to enjoy as much of what you made with as little waste as possible, but you have to then figure out the compromise between that and an open world. In that respect, I think I did what I could back then as I made the game.
Capcom – Dragon’s Dogma 2
IGN: Would you say that this game comes even closer to the vision you had in mind when creating the previous title?
Itsuno: I would. As far as what I set out to do in the first game, I never wanted to create an infinitely large world, or one with an endless number of people in it. That’s why it’s so much fun. I made sure to explain this to everyone on the team. Theme parks are packed full of incredible content, and it feels like you’ll never run out of things to do there, but you do. You show up excited, looking at everything and thinking that you’ll never be able to enjoy it all, but you’re able to. That’s the kind of feeling I was going for as I packed the game full of content. There’s no end to the amount of time you can spend making a game, but I wanted to do a good job of controlling that. I think I was able to while doing what I wanted, even though we did go a little wild at times.
IGN: How would you describe the scale of this game’s development?
Itsuno: As far as map size, I said I wanted it to be at least 1.5 times bigger, or even twice as big if possible, but it ended up being roughly four times as big by the time we were done. That’s not a precise measurement, but I’d say there’s about quadruple the volume. That’s what’s causing us to struggle right now. There’s way too much for us to look over right now, which is making things really difficult on us.
IGN: Would it be right to assume that with the bigger map comes more playable content?
Itsuno: I don’t want to go too far and make people think I’m exaggerating, but we’ve placed items on the map and figured out ways to guide the player’s eye so that there aren’t any moments when they feel bored. This is something that other action games often do as well, and one of the basic elements in such games is the ability to see your destination while being unsure of how to get there, moving from scene to scene. We were able to give a lot of consideration to this kind of mapmaking at the grey- and white-box stages, before we really sat down to make them.
While we didn’t have lots of tools to help us do this last time, we had a full selection of them for this game and were able to start development while working with these tools that made trial-and-error much easier for us. The map ended up being bigger than we expected because that step was so much easier for us, and the larger map also means more stuff in it. As a result, we made sure to create blinders in lots of places so that there wouldn’t be more moments when players felt bored while also filling the world with items that will draw players’ attention. I feel like we made the game about as big as we possibly could.
IGN: Please tell us about anything you might have done on the development floor in order to make that vision into a reality.
Itsuno: We scouted for locations so that the team members would know what kinds of terrain I wanted and feel excited about it for themselves. This is something I’ve done ever since the first game in the series, as well as during Devil May Cry 5, which we made in between the two games. We went to all kinds of places so that planning members could understand what it means to be in a place where your destination is within sight and not too far away, yet you feel excited about the path there. This mostly involved climbing mountains. I also liked ria coasts, with their clear elevation changes and blocked sightlines, and so we all went around those and filmed them together too.
There’s also some amazing terrain in the village of Asuka in Nara, where I’m from. It’s a beautiful region with big streets, along with villages, terraced fields, and rivers all close to the mountains. We all went around there as a team as I told them about how exciting certain parts of certain areas are so that they’d all understand how to create that kind of terrain. When we climbed mountains, there were times when the closest way to the summit was a straight line there, but nobody takes those routes. Everyone takes paths that circle around the mountain, so we’d talk about why they did that instead of using some other route, and the answer is that it looks so tough. It’s not that you want to go but can’t, it’s that you don’t even consider taking that route to begin with.
That’s why there’s a number of different paths to the top, and we all take different routes to the summit. Nobody thinks of that as a lack of choice, right? That’s the kind of thing we talked about, saying that instead of creating a map that lets you go anywhere you want, placing areas that players won’t want to visit on it will let us decide where we want to focus on while not making the map feel any less free, because users will avoid those other places, just like the mountain we were climbing.
IGN: So you’re able to create a stronger sense of role-playing by incorporating realism into the game. Would you say that this focus on becoming the game’s protagonist as you adventure is something that was present in the previous game too?
Itsuno: That’s where it really becomes about hardware starting around the PS3. The graphics looking quite real means you can convey what’s safe and what’s dangerous through the art. Instead of using symbols to say “you’ll die if you fall here,” we could start making everyone understand based on looks that they’d probably die if they fell in a certain place. It let us bring our real-life sense of danger, safety, and security into games as-is. Now that we were in an age where we could do that, I was conscious of creating those kinds of experiences whenever possible.
That’s why we all went to this scary attraction where you can walk alongside the edge of the top of the Abeno Harukas skyscraper, because I wanted everyone to experience what was scary about it. I paid special attention at the start to teaching everyone and having them experience the kinds of terrain and views that move people emotionally.
IGN: In that sense, even though Dragon’s Dogma is about role-playing inside a fantasy world, it might also be an experience similar to traveling around Osaka.
Itsuno: Yes, I suppose so. We did go to Abeno Harukas and Osaka Castle, and we climbed Mount Ikoma and Mount Rokko, so I guess that could be true.
IGN: I wanted to ask about the lore of Dragon’s Dogma. Are there elements in this game that are related to the events of the previous one, or to the Gransys region?
Itsuno: I’ve spoken about this elsewhere in the past, but the world of Dragon’s Dogma is just the story of one of many parallel worlds. In it, the pawns interact with users and pawns each in their own parallel worlds, and this Dragon’s Dogma is also just one of those parallel worlds. That’s why the story of constant rebirth that’s focused around dragons, as well as the various elements of the world shown in the previous game have all carried over to this one as well. That said, it does take place in a different parallel world, which is why I think there will be parts that are similar yet different. That’s reflected in a lot of different places, and I hope players enjoy it.
IGN: Will players need to be familiar with the previous game in order to understand this one?
Itsuno: Generally speaking, no. The game is made in a way where you can understand it even if it’s your first time experiencing the series, but its world can be a little difficult to understand, and in that sense it wouldn’t hurt at all to play the previous title as a kind of preparation.
It’s pretty tough. You might have trouble understanding the idea of being able to enjoy online play on your own if you haven’t played the first game, and it may be hard to figure out just how much effort you should put into editing your pawns and more. Playing the first game could be a good way to get a feel for that.
IGN: It was a very bold choice to not have a lock-on mechanic, and to have a combat system that only allowed specific vocations to dodge or defend. I imagine that this game will use similar systems, but what led you to create something like this?
Itsuno: To start with the lock-on mechanic, Devil May Cry had a lock-on button, and it’s made in a way where you can switch between locked-on targets. Ideally for me, a game doesn’t need lock-on. In a perfect world, players can’t choose who to lock on to with the controls, and instead the game decides who the player locks on to on its own. Tons of enemies appear in this game as well, making it very difficult to manually lock on every time. This applied to the first game too, but I think that DmC: Devil May Cry, developed in the United Kingdom, also follows my ideal of having no lock-on. While I believe the later Definitive Edition brought it back, I do want to avoid lock-on whenever possible, which is part of why I’m making the effort to do so in Dragon’s Dogma.
As far as dodging, it is fun to have in battles. Dodging is great if you can do it, but I think of it as a very difficult maneuver, so ideally I want to avoid making a game that requires the ability to dodge if you want to have fun. Dodging means that if you can detect that an enemy is about to attack and time your input correctly, you can avoid that attack. You’re telling the player to act when they know something is coming, which is why I think dodging is an action that’s a step more difficult than guarding. That’s why I didn’t want to make the action so difficult that the game is unfun to the point of unplayability if you’re incapable of it.
On the other hand, Devil May Cry is a game that you can’t even begin to play without dodging, and so it starts off by teaching you how to dodge. I didn’t want to do that, which is one reason for the combat system being this way. It’s a game you play after putting together a party, constantly borrowing your friends pawns again and again. I wanted to put an emphasis on that action, which is why I thought of making dodging one of the elements that makes a vocation unique. So if you’re good at dodging, why not try using that vocation? Vocations that can’t dodge have other systems and techniques that still let them fight effectively. We want players to go ahead and pick the vocation they want based on the actions they’re best at. Making something all-powerful will just lead to everyone using that. I don’t think an RPG like that would be fun, which is why dodging is limited to specific vocations.
IGN: While many battle systems in recent years demand a mastery of controls, it seems that Dragon’s Dogma 2 emphasizes the role-playing side, or experiencing an RPG world through its action.
Itsuno: Well, its concept is the full realization of life in a fantasy world through an action game. It all starts from the idea of “what would happen if I went to a fantasy world?” When you start thinking about what vocation you’d take, you might start thinking about a vocation that lets you take advantage of your physical strength, or your ability to fight with your wits. We want you to simulate those strengths and weaknesses through your abilities with the controls, because controls are what an action game is all about. It’s something we’ve been very conscious of.
IGN: The detailed and wide-ranging character creator also helps contribute to the depth of this game’s role-playing element. I could really feel all the attention you put into that when I played it for myself.
Itsuno: There’s a lot that went on behind that. It’s something I was thinking even when we made the first game. I thought that there aren’t any action RPGs that allow for proper character creation, so my initial goal was to make one that could at least allow you to create the kind of character you wanted to see. While the first game’s character creator is actually limited in a lot of different ways, and I know this might get cut, but we did go so far as to allow for profiles with extreme settings, to the point where you could make something like a character from the popular series Kaiji.
Doing that ruins the character though, and so we didn’t make that available to users, but there was enough freedom in the settings to basically allow you to recreate manga characters as-is. It’s something we put a lot of work into for the first game, but with better hardware performance this time around, we could add as much freedom to the system as we wanted. The problem is that this means that the act of creating a cool character, or the character that you want to see, becomes no different from doing so with clay. It becomes impossible if you don’t have an understanding of art. You could have your ideal character in mind, but you’d basically need to be an artist to form that character with your own hands, so that’s where we had to begin when deciding how character creation would work. One other factor was photogrammetry technology, which became realistic to pull off starting around the time of the PS4. This is technology that lets you scan something in 3D and create in-game graphics that essentially look like a real human face, lighting included.
The question was how to make use of this, and I discussed it with lots of different team members, including those on the technical side. This is how we ended up with two challenges: One was to be able to create photorealistic characters, while the other was to find a way to allow anyone to create a good-looking face, even if they aren’t artistically inclined. The first idea we had was to scan nearly a hundred human faces, then use those as a base for creating characters. This real-life data acting as our base meant that it would be easy to create realistic faces so long as you don’t apply absolutely ridiculous values to them. The other thing we did was to make it easy to create the base face that you would directly edit. By picking the face that seems the most acceptable among the ones that come up, you’re then given other possibilities based around that face.
By repeating this process of picking the best out of a group, you’re able to get pretty close to the kind of face that you like. From there, you can make the final adjustments yourself, which gave us a system where you can do whatever you want while not requiring everyone to be an artist. If you’re able to control truly detailed settings, a perfectionist like myself could spend hours upon hours and still not finish creating a character. That’s why I thought that maybe we should make it simpler, but then our artists started saying, “No, that’s what I want! I want to do that, let us add lots of detailed settings.” So that’s what we went with and worked hard to create a system that gives players access to every available setting if they want it while also offering a simpler creation method.
IGN: So you shared your vision with your team as its leader while also incorporating the staff’s opinions as this game came together.
Itsuno: Oh, absolutely. I mentioned earlier about the map getting bigger, and when I asked if it’d really be possible to adequately create a world that big, they confidently told me they would. My reaction at that point was just, “Well, okay then,” but then the map ended up a little too big. Folding it all up was every bit as difficult as I thought it’d be, but we don’t have the ability to make the game so good that it can live up to every idea that the staff wants to add in. I did what I could to incorporate and make use of what I could, then leveled things out before incorporating more, and just repeated that process as we made the game.
IGN: I was also stunned to see each individual NPC react in such lifelike ways as I roleplayed in this fantasy world.
Itsuno: This has been true since the time we made the first Dragon’s Dogma, but I wanted to create properly detailed NPCs, even if that was only the case in a limited scale. We ended up with a ridiculous number of people this time around, but we wanted characters who lived in the world as they acted according to their own goals, had reasons for their decisions, and made those decisions for themselves, and for the world to properly react to these reasoned NPC actions. We’ve put in a lot of work thinking about how to create such systems, including how to do it with as limited resources as possible. As early as my time playing games with pixel art, I never liked protagonists that seemed to be randomly picked from a bunch just because they looked good. I wanted to make it so that any NPC might have someone who could take a liking to them, and that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re still working on it, though.
As far as affinity goes, it only existed between the player and NPCs in the previous game, but this game features affinity and relationships between NPCs as well. For example, if you find a pair of friends, hitting one will cause the other to get mad at you too. Or if you do something nice for the child, the parent might thank you and like you more as well. That’s what I mean by relationships between NPCs. NPCs also have a level of affinity for the player. It’s not very realistic for two NPCs to get along with each other if they both like the same person, right? We’re seeing if we can add things like fights breaking out over someone into the game.
IGN: Does that mean players can even find themselves in stressful love triangles?
Itsuno: I don’t know if I’d call it love, but if you become friendly with characters in-game, there are internal parameters for determining that kind of thing. A character who grows close to you might come over to your house to play, but if they meet another character there who’s done the same thing, a fight might break out. Personally, we just made the system because we wanted to be able to say, “Stop, don’t fight over me!” It might be best if your readers play through the game while trying to avoid that kind of outcome.
IGN: Tell us about the world of Dragon’s Dogma. What kinds of concepts is it built upon, what kinds of inspirations did it take, and what kinds of images is it based on?
Itsuno: We’re being very careful to create a high fantasy world that looks and feels like one that everyone would imagine a real-life fantasy world to look like. That’s been the case since the first game. That’s why even the monsters are created in the way they are, with their own traditions. Our approach to design is to think about what a monster would look like if it existed in real life. It’s hard to remember what these monsters are named when they show up, so we’re careful to create characters that look just like their names. Griffon, Griffin, it doesn’t matter which, but it can be hard to remember.
It’s Griffon in Devil May Cry. The Sphinx you interacted with today is another example. We wanted anyone in the world to be able to see its design and say, that’s a Sphinx. We interviewed lots of people from around the world after creating the first game, and there were a lot of monsters that appear in Dragon’s Dogma that people said looked exactly like their mental image of them, such as the Griffin. That’s something we’re proud of, and we’re glad we put so much attention into it. It’s great to hear people say, “Yes, this!” That’s why we focus so much on creating a European and northern English feel, down to the vegetation and structures. Battahl is also designed in a way that’s fairly easy to contrast with this, as the image of a neighboring country that the residents of an orthodox medieval fantasy world would have. It’s why we’re so focused on crafting it as the idea of a neighboring nation rather than limiting ourselves to any one country.
Itsuno: I think we did a good job of walking the very fine line that is creating a foreign nation inside what is already a different world, allowing players to experience its differently-colored land, weather, variety of races, religions and industries, and more without bringing to mind any specific country. It’d make me happy if players feel the same way.
IGN: Battles with gigantic monsters like Talos have also made significant leaps forward in this game. What did you put special attention on when designing fights against these behemoths?
Itsuno: In the previous game, due to technical reasons you couldn’t let go once you grappled on to a monster, but I begged the programmers on that one point this time around because I wanted players to be able to stand on solid-looking surfaces without having to hold on, and to be able to fall off and grab on again. The reason we couldn’t do this last time was because there were some enemies where it became an issue if you held on to them for too long. Griffin was one of them, where if you held on to it and it started to fly, you’d cross a loading area and create a technical issue. We’ve been able to overcome that barrier in this game, though, so you’re free to ride for as long as you please, and you’re free to stand up whenever you want to recover your stamina. Not only that, you can stand and fight once you’re upright, so you’re free to walk around on top of a large enemy. Talos is one such big enemy designed to allow you to play this game in that way too.
Also, while you grab on to an enemy after jumping, grabbing without jumping lets you grasp an enemy, then push it or pull it around, changing an enemy’s posture, so we’ve made some major advances in grappling in this game. It’s something that people would have naturally done in the previous game but couldn’t due to technical reasons, but this time around they can. You may not see it and think, “Whoa, what’s going on?!” because being able to grab something in a natural way isn’t something flashy, but I think it’s a huge step forward.When it comes down to it, this is a game where you die if you really fall. There aren’t many games like that out there, but it’s pretty difficult to have an enemy as big as Talos in game where you can’t fall.
Even if you do fall, a pawn might help you back up if you’re lucky. Only if you’re lucky, though. Also, if you’re about to fall, you noticed the harpies flying around you, right? You can actually get onto one and grab on, so you can leap over to save yourself if one happens to be nearby when you’re in danger of falling. One of the challenges we set out for ourselves in this game is to let players do everything it looks like they’d be able to do, so of course you’re able to stand on Talos’s shoulders, or on body parts that are exposed after it gets stabbed and its armor is stripped off. Whether it’s grasping on or what happens after you fall, we’ve made it so that you can do just about anything you think you can do, and I hope people play around with that.
IGN: A game that is ready and able to let you do anything you think of comes across as very TRPG-like to me.
Itsuno: I’ve actually never played a tabletop RPG before. I have read game master books and such, though, and I think of an impressive GM as someone who’s already made preparations for everything players might think of and is ready to respond, so when I make games, I think of myself as a game master. I’m one of those people who has always been drawn to tabletop RPGs but didn’t have any friends to play with, so I just played gamebooks. I really am getting to feel like a game master this time around, though.
It’s also actually why I brought up mountain climbing earlier. We’re letting players do anything that seems possible, but the technique of not making the impossible look possible was important as well. Players won’t want to try something as long as you don’t make them think they can do it, and so we’re exercising control in that way.
For example, not using graphics for an inaccessible place that might make players want to try going there. If there are parts of an enemy that we can’t really prepare reactions for when attacked, we make sure they don’t look like somewhere you’d want to attack. Meanwhile, there are sections that will really make players want to attack them, which is how we maximize control over a player’s feeling of being able to do anything.
IGN: You’ve said that Dragon’s Dogma 2 is designed to be an action game that lets you freely roleplay in a deep world, but could you tell us about the kinds of playstyles and players you hope to see?
Itsuno: We worked hard to create a world that would react in a believable way to whatever actions a player wants to take, so one answer would be those who want to seriously pretend to be a part of that world, or people who want to experience a new life in a simulated fantasy world. While we did also make a world where people who are skilled at action games and those who have trouble with them can both find a way to survive, there is also a deep action game awaiting those who are seeking one, so we of course welcome with open arms those who want to simply muscle their way through.
As for people who don’t know much about the game but want to try it out because they heard it was fun, I feel like after all the effort and time the whole team has put into creating this game’s pawns, they can almost act like a friend who sits beside you to give advice after playing through the game themselves. That’s why I feel like you should be able to have plenty of fun even if you’re coming to it with that attitude, so please just rely on your pawns and learn what you need from those that your friends have made. They’ve already gone through the game and will teach you what you need to know, so you should be able to play through the game even if you’re not super committed as long as you lean on them. I hope you give it a try.
Mitchell Saltzman is an editorial producer at IGN. Special thanks to Shuka Yamada of IGN Japan for conducting this interview.