THQ has announced that it has signed up Tomonobu Itagaki's new outfit Valhalla Studios to partner on a brand new action game for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Devil's Third is described as a "fast paced action game set in the near future in the wake of a global catastrophe", but other details are thin on the ground.
Fortunately, we were able to speak to Itagaki himself on the phone, along with THQ's executive vice president of core games, Danny Bilson, to talk about the announcement and discuss a few details of the project.
Before we spoke we were also treated to the game's first trailer, showcasing some of the combat concepts Valhalla has been working on that so impressed THQ. "It took me and my team about 10 minutes to make the decision to go forward," Bilson told us afterward. Check out the trailer below.
Itagaki was keen to stress that Devil's Third is neither a Ninja Gaiden or a Devil May Cry style game, despite superficial overlaps. "Gamers who pay close attention to the trailer will notice there's a substantial difference there," he explained.
"So if you think of it as a shooting game that includes a level of melee combat and fighting that has never been done in a shooting game before, that's a good way to think of it."
Watch the video then read on for our exclusive chat with Danny Bilson and Tomonobu Itagaki.
Eurogamer: Can you give me a little overview of how you got to this point?
Danny Bilson: We met the Valhalla team maybe 6-8 months ago, and they had an unbelievable prototype built in multiplayer that was something we'd never seen before. Ever. We really liked the team, believe in the team, loved their previous work and it took me and my team about 10 minutes to make the decision to go forward.
We met and I felt a strong connection with these people and their art, and about 10 minutes later we said, 'Let's go.' We made a deal, we visited them in Tokyo, we worked on a bunch of fiction together - it's mostly their fiction, we just responded to it. This is a game that is absolutely the work of Itagaki-san and his team. It has very little influence from us. We're very excited about it.
Eurogamer: Is the arrangement part of your THQ Partners programme?
Danny Bilson: That's incorrect. Itagaki-san is working directly with myself - I'm the executive vice president of core games - and our creative teams here. This is one of our internal core products with an external studio, so it's nothing to do with the THQ Partners relationship, which is much more engaged and involved across all aspects of [THQ] production.
Eurogamer: Could I ask Mr Itagaki - how would you describe Devil's Third to somebody who has heard very little about it?
Tomonobu Itagaki: [Laughs] We wanted to make a game that would appeal to a lot of people, that a lot of people could play and enjoy, and to do that we think we really need to come up with some new innovations to make that type of game - and that's what we're working on.
I think when people see the video we've prepared to introduce the game, they'll get a pretty good idea of a lot of elements of the game, and it will pique your imagination about what it all might be about.
Eurogamer: THQ was nice enough to show me the trailer earlier, so I've got a little bit of a sense of it. Could you tell me about the story and where the game is set?
Danny Bilson: I think we'd prefer to hold off on the story. I will give you one clue - the Kessler Syndrome. Just that. That's the only thing we can talk about now that may have something to do with the story. But the story is rooted in some reality and some fantasy and some futurism. There's a lot of truth behind the story.
Eurogamer: Okay that's quite interesting. I understand that the name Devil's Third has a musical significance or origin. Can you explain why you chose the name and what it symbolises for the game?
Tomonobu Itagaki: We had a lot of talk between THQ and Valhalla about the name, and we came up with this title that resonated on a lot of levels, which is why we picked it. The other levels sort of get into the fiction, so I don't know if we want to...
Danny Bilson: Not yet.
Tomonobu Itagaki: As more of the story becomes public, I think it will become clearer what the other meanings of Devil's Third are, but for now we'll stick with the music and... other meanings to be revealed in the future.
Eurogamer: Okay sure. The trailer looks to show two playable characters. Can you confirm that that's correct, and can you tell me anything about them and what they can do?
Tomonobu Itagaki: So everything you see in the trailer, everyone can do - it's not just one of the two people. The trailer is not about story, it's just to show a bunch of cool things you can do in the game. So everything in there you can do in the game.
So a lot of things you can do - game mechanics, vehicles - obviously aren't shown in the trailer yet, but the trailer was designed to give you a taste of every kind of thing you can do in the game, or at least a glimpse of it. But there's more of course.
Eurogamer: Can you say what kind of genre Devil's Third is in and how it will sit relative to Mr Itagaki's former products?
Tomonobu Itagaki: So we wanted to make a mainstream game that is a type of game that only Valhalla could make, and something that is kind of a new paradigm in gaming.
Danny Bilson: I can give you a little bit of a clue about this. Everything you saw - if you could imagine that in multiplayer action, you've never played it. I've never played anything like that. And that's only one aspect of it.
Eurogamer: Cool. Now, I've been sitting here looking at Kessler syndrome on Wikipedia since you mentioned it...
Danny Bilson: [Laughs]
Eurogamer: And I don't think I'm any closer to guessing anything about the game. You don't want to give me any more clues about that?
Danny Bilson: Not yet. We've got a long way to go.
Eurogamer: Okay. You mentioned that you were first interested in working with Valhalla when you saw a multiplayer prototype. Would it be possible to talk a little bit about that prototype and how it grew into the game you've got now?
Danny Bilson: They came in with a design and a plan for an epic game, but the first demo we saw was built and prototyped in multiplayer. The first day we met, we went down to our room where we can play, and most of my executives picked up controllers and were laughing and having a wonderful time in an experience we've never had before in game space.
And I'm only talking about the multiplayer side - I'm not even talking about the deep, epic fiction on the other side and the complete single-player experience.
Eurogamer: Sure. Your frequent use of the word "epic" - a lot of people would use that term to refer to open-world or non-linear titles. Is it that area you're heading in or is it more traditional linear storytelling?
Danny Bilson: I don't think it can be defined either way. I think it gives freedom and aspects of both and structure in others. I wouldn't define it one way or the other, certainly not yet.
Eurogamer: You've got guns in there as well as swords. Is there anything you can say about the combat system you've gone for and how the game is controlled?
Tomonobu Itagaki: The Ninja Gaiden games I've worked on before were kind of a hackandslash experience - combat with weapons. And of course there are games like Devil May Cry. So first of all I would say even though you can see things that look like both of those games, I want to make sure people don't confuse it and think that the game we're doing is either a Ninja Gaiden-type game or a Devil May Cry-type game.
Gamers who pay close attention to the trailer will notice there's a substantial difference there. So if you think of it as a shooting game that includes a level of melee combat and fighting that has never been done in a shooting game before, that's a good way to think of it.
The reasons for wanting to do this kind of game are that we were looking at the shooting genre and think someone should take it to the next level, and I think this is a good way to do it.
Also I want to have more realistic elements of military combat - and that's one thing where Danny and I have very similar tastes. We're both very knowledgeable about real military combat weapons. And we like killing each other [laughs].
Eurogamer: Were you able to draw upon experience within THQ? For example, Volition have a lot of experience with third-person action through Red Faction. And what kind of technological base and sharing has there been between the teams?
Danny Bilson: You're absolutely right. When I talk about this not being a THQ Partners kind of deal, that means Itagaki-san's team and Valhalla will have access to any resource across the THQ world, whether it's Kaos, Volition, Vigil or any of our other teams, and any tech and support they need or any design or anything else around shooting.
But I have to say - we haven't seen any need for that yet, because their art has a very unique and specific kind of shooting and melee blend, which is going to be very unique to this game. So they are offered support, but we haven't seen any need for it yet, because what they offer is very unique.
Tomonobu Itagaki: Well, in the trailer, you'll notice where the guy in the snakeskin jacket grabs a military dressed-up guy and smashes his head against the side of a military vehicle? That is actually a tank from Homefront.
So that's a very small level of cooperation [laughs]. But whenever the resources are needed, we arrange what we can.
Danny Bilson: You've got to understand that we treat this team as if they were an internal team. They have our full support.
Eurogamer: I understand that Kaos is doing some quite ambitious things with Homefront on the multiplayer side. Are you looking at this game as a long-term multiplayer prospect with persistent elements?
Danny Bilson: Oh you have to do that with multiplayer now. All multiplayer has to have progression, perks, persistence, all those things - that's what makes it fun and keeps people coming back for more. Those kind of systems will be applied once the game's tuned and we've built the mechanics. That's absolutely our current thinking.
Eurogamer: So what sort of stage are you at with development of the game?
Tomonobu Itagaki: About 10 per cent of the way through. Well, we say that but nobody ever believes it [laughs].
Eurogamer: Well, they also always say that the last 10 per cent of the game takes 50 per cent of the time, so when should we look forward to playing it?
Danny Bilson: [Following conversation off-call] Yeah I don't mind. Very roughly - we haven't announced any kind of date - but you can imagine it's roughly two years from now. Roughly.
One thing about the way we develop here at THQ now is that we don't ship it until it's unbelievably awesome, so when I say two years, it could be shorter, it could be longer, but it really is dictated by game quality, and when Itagaki-san and our team shake hands and say we're ready to go. That's when we go.
We can't afford any more in this world to push stuff out the door - it doesn't work that way. We have to compete at the highest level of excellence, and that means the code is more important than anything. It's my job here - and I'll say me on that one - to protect the code, and so that's sort of how we get in business easily with talent like this, because they know now that the game comes first here at THQ.
Eurogamer: Looking at that kind of timeframe and this level of ambition, a lot of things are going to change with control and even display options in the next two years. Are you considering PlayStation Move or Project Natal, or even stereoscopic 3D?
Danny Bilson: On this game? I don't really want to comment on that now, because I don't think it would be fair.
Eurogamer: How do you feel about 3D technology?
Danny Bilson: Well I think it's a lot of fun, and with THQ you'll see we have a couple of things we're going to show at E3 that are going to surprise people in 3D. For now it's fun and fun is good and interesting, but we're definitely experimenting and have a couple of projects in 3D that you'll see at the show.
Eurogamer: Cool. Could I ask that question to Mr Itagaki as well? What do you think of 3D technology?
Tomonobu Itagaki: I'm very interested in looking into 3D. We've been looking at what's available for 3D PC games, and I also have a 3D TV at home now.
Eurogamer: Man, I don't have a 3D TV. You were talking about the commercial realities of developing games these days, and another one is that you need to focus on a global audience rather than any one territory. Is that your philosophy, and has the need to appeal to a large audience altered the way you approach development?
Tomonobu Itagaki: I have a clear policy on this, and that is that you can't make a game focused for any group of people - you have to make it a game that appeals to people in general. We need to make a game that has central themes anyone can understand and appreciate.
There's also something I want to say about the story. We can't talk about the story yet, but I believe in any shooting game up to this point, none has had a story as big and involved and elaborate as this one.
And I also think that the multiplayer - really, single-player and multiplayer are both the main modes of this game. The multiplayer will also be really very fun. So the game itself is maybe 10 per cent done, but I'd say the "battle engine" is at about a beta state now. So when we had Danny and everybody out to the studio in Tokyo to play the demo, after 15 minutes everyone was just playing games and the meeting kind of fell apart.
This is the first time I've made a shooting game, but I am a veteran at making games that involve competition between people, so I feel confident that we can bring that core essence of competitive gameplay to the shooting genre as well.
Eurogamer: You've described this game, I saw in coverage of your comments last week, as the fifth all-new project in your lifetime. But I'm curious what kind of lessons you take from your previous projects into this one.
Tomonobu Itagaki: Everything. And not just myself, but the whole team I'm working with. We've brought all the lessons and know-how to bear on this project. For example, in Dead or Alive details such as going from standing state to crouching state - how many frames should that be, and the real details of working a system like that. There are only a couple of people in the world who really understand how that works, and that's just one piece of knowledge we're bringing to this.
Eurogamer: One of the things that characterised Ninja Gaiden was quite a severe difficulty level - is that something we can expect from this game or is it more accessible?
Tomonobu Itagaki: Compared to the time when we made that game, we've kind of developed to the point where we want to and can make games that appeal to a broader audience. It's harder to make easy-to-play and fun games than it is to make a hard-to-play and fun game. I feel that now we've compiled enough experience over these genres that we can do a good job of making a game that is both easy to get into and fun.
Along those lines, as you mentioned earlier, making the last 10 per cent of the game takes 50 per cent of the time - you're correct that we will spend a long time on the last 10 per cent of this game as well. That is one of the main reasons that I decided to work with THQ - we can do that here. Danny has been very clear on that concept - that we will only make good games.
Eurogamer: Something you were quite famous for during the period you were developing Ninja Gaiden for Xbox 360 was your distaste for the PS3 and its complexity. Do you still feel that way or have you changed your mind?
Tomonobu Itagaki: Well you know, when I'm talking to girls, I'll say I like one more than the other, but when we're talking about hardware I really don't have much preference. When I was speaking about hardware, [it was] if I were to build the machine, maybe I would do it that way, but it's kind of an engineering approach discussion - I have no emotional involvement in the issue.
Eurogamer: So we're moving into E3 next week. Have any of you seen the Nintendo 3DS?
Danny Bilson: I don't know if I'm allowed to say. It's all NDAed. I don't think we're allowed to speak of it. But in saying that... I can't speak of it. You'll see it next week!
Eurogamer: John Riccitiello at EA said it was "cool". Can you confirm that it's "cool"?
Danny Bilson: Errr, if I saw it I'd probably think it was cool. Hey, you know what, if JR says it's cool, it must be cool!
Eurogamer: Mr Itagaki, I know you're sort of solidly moved on from Tecmo these days, but I was wondering what you thought of Dead or Alive Paradise?
Tomonobu Itagaki: Tecmo gave me the game as a present, but I've not had time to play it yet. But I have a good relationship with Tecmo now - we're all friends.
Devil's Third is in development for PS3 and Xbox 360. Tomonobu Itagaki is head of Valhalla Studios. Danny Bilson is executive vice president of core games for THQ.