Dragon’s Dogma director Hideaki Itsuno has made comparisons between his game’s pawn system and old-school bulletin board systems in the past. The full extent to which yesterday’s information tech informed Dragon’s Dogma’s development was made clear at his GDC talk today. Much of what Itsuno discussed during Behind the Scenes of Dragon’s Dogma was intended to elucidate his team’s process for developing this unusual open-world RPG, for the benefit of fellow game makers in attendance. In the process, though, he divulged some truly fascinating tidbits on the game, and how it evolved throughout its development. Highlights follow:
- Dragon’s Dogma’s working title was rather prosaic: “BBS RPG.” Itsuno thought up the pawn system as early as 2000, but had a hard time communicating the concept to his colleagues at Capcom, thus the metaphor. And before they were “pawns,” players’ custom-designed AI companions were called “CMCs” — for “Custom Mercenary Characters.”
- Itsuno was charged to conceive of a new IP that would eventually become Dragon’s Dogma in 2000, right after development on Capcom Vs. SNK 2 concluded. It was a long road before he’d settle on the concept of an open-world action-RPG. His first idea was a 2D fantasy fighting game that he neglected to elaborate on. Evidently, he hasn’t abandoned hope that he’ll someday get to make it. His next idea was to develop a 3D fighting game that captured the Devil May Cry series’ dynamism. He’d go on to explore simulation-style games (he mentioned playing lots of SimCity lately), traditional Japanese-style RPGs, and a concept for a peculiar adventure game that he wanted to set in an enclosed space, like a train, or starship. It was a long road to Dragon’s Dogma, no doubt.
- Before the character customization features were a twinkle in Itsuno’s eye, Dragon’s Dogma — I mean, the BBS RPG — had an actual protagonist. He even showed a picture. He was silver-haired, like Dante, which makes sense given Itsuno’s previous work on Devil May Cry. Itsuno says that silver hair is certifiably cool by Japanese standards, though it also suggests a lunatic demeanor. Furthermore, in early concepts, pawns — sorry, CMCs — could be monsters in addition to humans. He showed a concept drawing of a ogre-ish creature as well as a critter that resembled a Pokémon.
- The first stab at a world map for Dragon’s Dogma consisted of a series of islands, rather than the peninsula that Gransys finally emerged as. The world was more heavily gated in these early concepts, with distinct zones sorted by character level. Itsuno said that the original concept was actually twice as big as what ended up in the game, which ultimately proved too large to complete given budget and time constraints. Among the locations cut is the moon, which players could visit. Also, something called the Endless Tower, which eventually evolved into the Everfall. The transportation method for traversing the world in these early concepts? A hang glider.
Throughout his presentation, Itsuno played internal concept and development videos that I really wish you folks could see. One, a tech demo made to internally showcase the game’s character customization feature, ended with a J-pop dance routine by a gaggle of cyclopses of varying sizes. The presentation slides were also decorated with never-before-seen concept art, which my phone camera wasn’t quite able to capture. I’m trying my darndest to get my hands on them, however!
From the sounds of it, there was a quite a bit left on the cutting room floor at the end of Dragon’s Dogma’s development. The game was evidently a success, though. Itusno mentioned the one million units the game sold globally, and stressed that fans continually clamor for a sequel. So who knows? Maybe some lunar jaunts are in the Arisen’s future before too long.