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By Spencer . June 22, 2010 . 1:29am
Early next year, Ignition will release their take on the stylish action game genre. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron stands out from the competition with a watercolor style and biblical base. During E3, Shane Bettenhausen, New Business Development Director at Ignition, briefed us on the game and explained why Lucifel, an angel living in the distant past, is holding a cell phone.
How did El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron get started? From the trailers, it looks like the game has been in development for awhile.
Shane Bettenhausen, New Business Development Director: It has. About three years ago, our home office in London, sought out to build a studio from the ground up in Tokyo. The director of this game is Takeyasu Sawaki, he was the art director for Okami. The producer of the game is Masato Kimura, he worked on Okami as well as Devil May Cry, Super Mario Kart, and F-Zero.
You have a lot of ex-Clover Studio people. Were you tracking them down?
There are people from Clover. There are people from Square Enix and Sony Computer Entertainment. The people at the very top of the company used to work and Clover. And friends tend to bring friends along, so I think that is more how that happened. There was a lot of set up of the studio.
The original concept to make a game based on the Book of Enoch actually came from London. But, we allowed Sawaki and his team to kind of take it and run with it — filter it through their lens, make it their own, but still be representative of the source material.
That’s interesting. I didn’t realize the idea came from London. How much guidance did you give Sawaki-san’s team after outlining the concept?
The narrative part, we had more involvement with that, the overall structure of the narrative. In terms of the art design, combat, and level design it really is the creative team’s work. Especially with the art, we let them do whatever they want. Whatever it is you want to create, the vision you want to express – do it. Even at Capcom, he said that what he wanted to do was sometimes too edgy or strange.
Speaking of combat, can you tell us about the weapon Enoch is holding, the bow-like Arch he’s using as a sword?
Behind the wall there is a secret trailer that explains what the Arch is. Definitely take a look at it! But, that is one of the weapons you fight with in El Shaddai. Enoch can also fight with his bare hands. Enoch can also steal weapons the enemies. You’ll see in the trailers Enoch disarms a foe, purifies the weapon, turns it to its godly form, and uses the weapon in combat. Combat with the arch feels kind of like fighting with a sword, but it is unique. The Arch also changes throughout the game.
I didn’t think Enoch would get an evolving arsenal. I remember a previous interview where Takeyasu said he wanted the players to feel like the are better than playing the game rather than earning a bunch of powerful tools.
That’s true. Also, there is no inventory or equipment in the game. Enoch is, you know, changing and gaining abilities through the game, but you never have to go through a sub-screen and press buttons to choose options. There is narrative progression, but also character development progression. Enoch at the end of the game is not the same guy you started with.
OK, do you mean that in a character development sense or a Devil May Cry sense where you suddenly turn into a demon with wings and have an ultra powerful sword?
Umm… we’ll leave it up to interpretation. I would also look at the subtitle of the game as a central plot point.
Can you talk about the relationship between Enoch and Lucifel?
It’s Lucifel, and that’s intentional. In this game, Lucifel is God’s favorite angel. He does not betray God, some of the archangels have. Lucifel, in this game, is sort of tasked by the Lord to be Enoch’s guide, to help him out. He’s constantly giving him advice, in your ear. At save points he will give you words some of encouragement.
Lucifel is also very powerful, he can transcend time. You might see him in the trailers on a cell phone. That’s a direct cell phone to God. Or the jeans that Enoch is wearing is a gift from Lucifel. Lucifel can travel into the past or to present day. He loves our era, the 2000s. He’s that it’s really cool and he is constantly bringing things back from the future.
And I was right about to ask why he has the cell phone.
To talk to God.
What other artifact does Lucifel bring back?
I can’t tell you that yet, but there are surprises.
OK, let’s go back to combat. Could you explain the system? Is it light attack/heavy attack or something else?
One of the goals of the team was to break down some of the barriers in character action games. They felt a lot of these games have too many button inputs and too much memorization. This game uses three buttons: one attack button, one jump button, and one defend button. The way combat works is with more rhythmic button presses. Also how long you hold a button and how hard you press it.
You can experiment and discover all of these combos. It’s very intuitive and feels very tight. We really wanted to make a game that you can figure out very quickly. There is depth and mastery there, but if you are kind of a light user/casual player you’ll still be able to enjoy this game. With the art style and characters we didn’t only want to go after the hardcore, 18-24 year old God of War market. We wanted to bring in other gamers. Young gamers. Older gamers. Female gamers. We have a broader field because of the art style and characters.
Wait you said young gamers. Are you shooting for a teen rating?
Yeah, teen would be the absolute rating max. It maybe E-10+. Because its based on a biblical test, it’s not too gory, and there isn’t any offensive sexual content in it.
It seems like every publisher, even in Japan, has a God of War-like game. So why aren’t you shooting for the established audience?
Nick Des Barres, Media Strategist: That market is pretty saturated. If everyone has a God of War, why not be the anti-God of War?
SB: The anti-Christ of War [laughs]. Yeah, I feel the same way. The photorealistic graphical style that most of these games have, although it looks cool, after you played five or six of those you might feel like you played all of them. Where in this case the moment you see the art style, its such that its divisive and disruptive. You either feel “well, that’s too weird” or you want to know more. We would rather standout from the crowd than be one of them.
ND: Director Sawaki said that in a world of all of these gray and brown character action games this feels anarchic, like Shane said, to be disruptive.
Is El Shaddai the only game in development at Ignition’s Japan studio.
SB: This is the only project the studio in Tokyo is working on.
But, you have more studios like the ones in Miami and London. Are they assisting with El Shaddai or working on their own games?
They [the Miami studio] are working on their own game that will be debuting probably at the end of the year.
We also have a studio in London. Their game was previously announced, it’s called Wardevil. That’s been in development for quite sometime. I’d would say the game is still in development, but it’s changed direction a bit. It will be revealed, hopefully, by the end of the year, the new direction that is.
Ignition is starting to publish their own games now. So, are you going to continue to license games or has your business plan shifted focus to your internal studios?
We are definitely going to continue licensing games. At the show, we have Arc Rise Fantasia from Marvelous and Black Light Tango Down from Zombie shipping this summer. We also announced Swarm, an externally developed title by Hothead Games. We are still looking at picking up boxed products and continuing to do new external development on the Western and Eastern front.