Dead Or Alive 5: Toning Down The Sexy & Life After Itagaki – Interview
Dead or Alive used to stand for many things. Fluid combat, vibrant colours and boobs, boobs and even more boobs. But times have moved on now, perspectives have changed and the series has matured with the coming of Dead or Alive 5.
Breaking the rules of confined arenas, Dead or Alive 5 blends its trademark free-flowing combat system with stage littered with peril, making ring-outs and knocking opponents into hazards more crucial than before.
To learn more about this new outlook on the Dead or Alive series, and how the franchise has fared without the input of Tomonobu Itagaki, we spoke with Team Ninja director Yohei Shimbori.
Dead or Alive 5 is the first game in the series created without Tomonobu Itagaki. How have you found the process of making this game without his input, and what did you want to achieve in terms of tone, control and art direction?
We have learned from him and many of our other seniors during our past Dead or Alive projects, and we have also learned and absorbed a lot from fans. We are continuing this DNA in Dead or Alive 5 and expanding on the formula.
Once you get your hands on the game, you should feel this in every area of gameplay. The concept of Dead or Alive 5 is “Fighting Entertainment” and through this we are trying to give casual players and pros alike a chance to get into the game in their own way.
We are also revamping the graphics and the atmosphere of DOA but still giving players the opportunity to pull off the massive techs and all the other cool things that the series is known for.
We are working hard on balancing the core fighting system and using each character’s unique aspects to give pro fighters a very deep fighting system.
The Dead or Alive series has been absent on home consoles for some time, aside from Dead or Alive Dimensions on 3DS. Now that games like Street Fighter IV and Tekken 6 exist, how confident are you that your game will be the best choice for fighting fans?
If you are after an evolution of fighting games I can tell you that Dead or Alive 5 is your choice. When you look at other fighting games out there, the difficulty of evolving them is evident. Dead or Alive has always had a casual side to it which gives us more room to add new gameplay features.
These new features will give new excitement to the gameplay. However, Dead or Alive 5 is still a fighting game, it is not an action game.
In order to learn and absorb the balance and the fine line between action and fighting games we play a lot of fighting games and our director is a fighting game fanatic. We are also making Dead or Alive 5 in that it can be a tournament fighter.
The Dead or Alive 5 gameplay trailers look superb. How far have you tweaked the combat and move set from previous Dead or Alive games?
We are putting in a lot of effort into these gameplay trailers so thanks for noticing! Dead or Alive 4 was a game which focused on critical strikes through its critical system, bounce combos and tech rolls.
Things like all characters having offensive holds and not having good offensive choices after taking an opponent’s back—these issues caused some characters to lose their uniqueness.
Dead or Alive 5 will feature a battle system and balance focused on character individuality and versus play. But we will also keeping the elements that make the series so fun.
There are many different elements to keep fighters playing the game, but one that stands out is the immense amount of move data. The more you study this data, the more depth you will find in the game.
Moves that you thought were weak can give you a frame advantage if you land them just in time. We really want expert players to get into the game like this.
We’ve noticed that there is less emphasis on the female component of Dead or Alive 5. Would you say that the series has now matured in this respect, and to what extent did you feel that the sexual overtones of previous instalments directed attention away from the actual fighting?
Up to now, the presence of the characters has stood out from the overall atmosphere of the game such as the backgrounds and the fight itself.
In Dead or Alive 5 we are not only focusing on making the characters stand out, but we are adding more presence to the backgrounds and sound, etc, to add to the overall experience.
In the previous games the more sexual aspects may have been a distraction to the fight and those were the only elements that made characters stand out.
However, in Dead or Alive 5 we are making sure that characters themselves have actual presence and not the sexual bits. The game is still in alpha stage so we are playing around with different parts here and there, but the overall concept will not change.
The battle environments also look incredible. Why did you decide to ramp up player interaction with each arena?
Stages have always been the axis on which Dead or Alive games have uniquely evolved. We are sure that players who saw the stages when Dead or Alive 3 came out were surprised.
In Dead or Alive 5 we wanted to show the evolution of these stages that were possible in this generation of gaming. The way players fight will impact the dynamic danger zones on stages.
Players will be able to strategically use each one of these danger zones, so finding out where each one is and knowing them will increase players’ chance of victory. Obviously, players will need to be good at the fighting as well!
Akira Yuki from Virtua fighter is included as a guest character. How did this partnership with Sega come about, and can you give us an insight into how he handles in the arena?
If there was no Virtua Fighter there would not have been a Dead or Alive in the first place. To us Virtua Fighter is like a father figure. As a restart of the Dead or Alive series with Dead or Alive 5 we wanted to celebrate our comeback by inviting this father figure to be a special guest.
We approached Sega when we started developing the game to see if they were willing to collaborate. One big challenge about this is that we wanted to keep Akira’s original feel and moves just as in Virtua Fighter, so it’s as close to a true collaboration as you can get.
For his moves we have had full supervision from the Virtua Fighter team. In regards to other character, stay tuned.
How challenging has it become to keep fighters and their move sets balanced over the years as you add more and more characters to Dead or Alive’s character roster?
Honestly speaking, balancing this is very hard. You have to think about all the combinations; you cannot simply look at the move list to get it right. I’ve been doing this job for many years now, and I have memorized all the important moves.
You also need staff on the team who can do the same as well as enlist the help of pro players. Even so, you could go on infinitely with just balancing the game in this regard. The most difficult to balance are the down-related aspects.
Even though they look simple, if you mess up this area it could really ruin the tempo of the game. The other element is the one that is the most difficult every time – AI. It takes a lot of time to give AI opponents different strategies than human opponents.
What can you tell us about Dead or Alive 5’s game modes aside from arcade? Have you looked at story based modes, tag options or other variants for online play?
There is a story in the game of course. We are making the story in a hyperlink cinema type of format with all new scenarios. Tag mode will not be like the tag we did in Dead or Alive Dimensions, but more like the previous console titles.
We will have the friend pairing like in the old games and will also implement new strategies through this. In terms of customizing your character, we are really focused on maintaining the characters’presence and character so we are not implementing an edit mode like Soul Calibur 5.
In Dead or Alive 5, each costume has a concept in itself and there are hidden gimmicks to costumes other than just design so choosing your costume will be fun in its own right.
The fighting game tournament circuit has grown considerably in recent years. How healthy is the Dead or Alive tournament circuit both in Japan and the West?
In Japan we have several tournaments a year but I would say that the most active scene is in the US. Last year, we participated in DID7 in Texas. Everyone was so good that we couldn’t win even once. But it was a fun time off work.
Team Ninja is known for creating superb combat-based titles. Would you ever consider straying into other genres or returning to other franchises like Metroid: Other M? Can we expect a sequel at some point?
We received a lot of feedback from Ninja Gaiden 3 and the Dead Or Alive 5 demo. We are really grateful for having so much feedback. Dead or Alive 5 is coming out in September this year and it will be a sign of the future of Team Ninja which shows our strengths and philosophy.
Moving forward, if there are projects which can allow us to match our strengths and philosophy then we will take up that challenge. What we want to do now is to grow the Dead Or Alive and Ninja Gaiden IPs as much as we can.