CODE VEIN: challenges met by the production team!
A new original IP for global markets
CODE VEIN, a dramatic Action RPG released on September 27, was created by key members of the production team of BANDAI NAMCO’s popular game series GOD EATER. I asked the team to tell us about the story behind the production of this title and the appeal of creating an original IP from scratch.
Action RPGs take efforts: context of the birth of CODE VEIN
From left to right, CODE VEIN producer Keita Iizuka, director Hiroshi Yoshimura, and sub-director Yuichi Yoda
- How did CODE VEIN come about?
Yoshimura: When we finished developing GOD EATER 2 RAGE BURST and were working on GOD EATER RESURRECTION (2015), I said I wanted to take on a new challenge. At the time, the overseas market was also growing, and many popular titles were created in the "Action RPG" genre that we were exploring. My first motivation was to challenge this genre by using the technology and know-how that we had developed in our team.
- Were there any core ideas at that time?
Yoshimura: At first, we were looking at various possibilities, including social games. However, since the market will expand further in the future, and more importantly because we wanted to try, it took the form of an Action RPG.
- Many Action RPGs, such as the DARK SOULS series, are difficult and also known as "Dying Games” (= a game in which you overcome difficulties through repeated retries). What do you find appealing about them?
Yoda: Action RPGs are fascinating games in which you explore unfamiliar places gradually. You encounter obstacles wherever you go but if you overcome them, you gain access to new scenery. This is the first thing that appeals to me about this genre.
Iizuka: What makes this genre appealing is also the number of times you have to try until you manage to defeat your enemies, as well as the thrilling sensation of stress you feel when trying again after losing.
That's why you get a sense of accomplishment when you finally succeed.
Yoshimura: In other words, for players – taking on challenges many times until their efforts bear fruit is both satisfying and a great way to strengthen themselves.
- Is that the result of their efforts?
Yoshimura: I think so. In addition to the action, I feel that the mechanics derived from RPGs, in which their efforts accumulate over and over again, are one of the things that players most enjoy about these types of games. In CODE VEIN we wanted to convey the unique appeal of Action RPGs while creating something unique.
In a collapsed world, players overcome challenges with buddies. Devising ways to create a personal story.
- How did you come up with the world view of the game?
YOSHIMURA: We designed a post-apocalyptic type of world, which we already had experience with (= final view of the world after the collapse of civilization) but at the same time it was different from GOD EATER, something that doesn't exist in the world yet. The first thing I imagined was a scene like the key visual.
Yoshimura: The world is pierced by thorns, and the modern buildings we know are crucified. I first pictured the scenery as a grave of civilization. The vampire theme, which is recognized worldwide, is an additional layer, and I felt that it was completely linked. Vampires are immortal beings, so I thought they were an appropriate fit for the type of game we were creating (= no matter how many times they die, they will stand up and challenge themselves).
- In the world of CODE VEIN, people choose to be vampires with supernatural powers in order to survive, but this choice has consequences. The characters have to keep drinking blood in order to retain their human nature.
Iizuka: Vampires in CODE VEIN are stronger than humans, but they also have weaknesses. Vampires need blood even though they have supernatural powers, so they eventually suffer as humans do. It is interesting to set up because having superhuman strength doesn’t shield them from being vulnerable.
Yoshimura: The main characters are vampires, but what we wanted to show in CODE VEIN was "human strength". In order to draw it with a contrast, I imagined vampires as non-human beings who had the same problems. As for the world, I first worked out a rough idea, and then discussed it with the scenario members and designers.
- I think many Action RPG titles aim for realistic-looking characters, but I feel that CODE VEIN’s character design balances the charm of anime with realism.
Yoshimura: We sought both the attractiveness of anime characters and realism, in order to create a game that could retain the attention of a wide range of players across the globe. From the beginning, I said, "I want to pursue shadow details." When aiming for realism, we intentionally skip information like an anime character, and on top of that, we place particular importance on "how much information we can pack in the shadows".
Also, when I first thought about Mia’s character (Karnstein/CV: Ai Chino), I wanted her to look lively even though she is a vampire, so I asked the designer to draw her skin tone and eyes shinier than a normal person’s. We are also particular about the expression of the character's tears. Despite the expression in the characters’ eyes, we made it possible to imagine, "They're thinking about something now.", and I wanted to design an original vampire statue.
- The partner system is also a big feature of CODE VEIN.
Yoda: Initially, the main character was journeying alone, but as the prototypes progressed, the idea of "Wouldn't it be more fun to have a partner?" emerged.
- You mean, not alone, "fight strong opponents with someone by your side".
Iizuka: Yes. Of course, it's very important that players eventually get through it with their own skills. However, I feel that fighting with a buddy is interesting. Having them by your side can be reassuring, but at the end, you're going to be tested. In the end, I think that balance was well achieved.
Yoshimura: I wanted partners to feel like "buddies", to explore together even in non-combat situations. Therefore, we worked on creating a sense of distance and a relationship with the buddy, but also on the position of the battle scene and the buddy’s movements, such as when s/he climbs a ladder. I hope that players will feel that it is natural. In fact, we have gone through a lot of trials and errors to achieve this.
Iizuka: That's a big step forward from our previous demo version. In the final version, I think the buddies’ movements and the sense of distance with the player become quite natural.
Yoshimura: The hot springs that appear in the story are the same points. This is because CODE VEIN is set in a harsh world, so I thought, "Let's make a place where you’ll feel healed." We are also proud that we have created the world's best player character customization. In CODE VEIN, it is possible to create a large variety of characters.
Yoda: Although we were producing an Action RPG, I didn’t want a title that depended too much on the elements of the action. Therefore, we introduced the “Gift (perfused blood)” system, which is an effective way to move forward even for those who are not good at action. We thought that the option to cancel an attack was also something that could be appreciated.
Iizuka: As you can see with the "Blood Code" system, we have several ways for players to identify their favorite battle style. This way, they can fight against strong opponents the best way they think.
Yoshimura: Even when you are confronted by a strong opponent, you can explore other possibilities by switching your fighting style. I think this is an excellent system in the sense that it lowers the threshold for retries, which is inherent in Action RPGs.
It took 5 years to complete CODE VEIN. How did you feel about creating a new original IP?
- I think CODE VEIN has finally been completed after about 5 years since the start of development. What was the biggest challenge you encountered during production?
Yoshimura: Action RPGs are very meticulous to create, so I had a hard time finding the best answers to every challenge on my own. I wanted to explain the concept the best way possible to the people involved, spread it and help everybody grow. This was a satisfying experience.
- After all, making games relies on team work. It must have been a very rewarding experience to create a new original IP.
Yoshimura: One of the appeals of creating games is that we can work with a variety of people to create a product. The RPG story helps point out the place to go next and create the motivation to go on, but we didn't go too far in CODE VEIN. We stuck to the idea that players need to search by themselves. In the end, we gave feedback on how we played through the game and made changes to the scenario, which resulted in the creation of some maps. I think we had a hard time for this, but as a result, we were able to work out the consistency of the overall story.
Iizuka: It was hard to convey the fun that only CODE VEIN can offer. In addition, I had to deal with language and hardware support at the same time for worldwide markets, which was also a challenge for everyone involved. We wanted the game to be enjoyed by as many people as possible.
- Now that it's on sale, how would you like players to enjoy CODE VEIN?
Yoda: A variety of battle styles can be explored in CODE VEIN by choosing different player builds, so I hope you will find a fighting style/strategy that suits you and enjoy it. With this experience, you may discover things about yourself.
Yoshimura: With this title, you will experience grand and dramatic stories, so you will face many difficulties, but I want you to get to the end and complete your own story. As for the ending – there isn’t only one, so I would like you to enjoy your story and play it again to uncover various endings.
Iizuka: Action RPGs tend to be difficult, so some people may avoid them. CODE VEIN too has a challenging level of difficulty but there are supporting buddies, so I hope those who have never played such titles will experience the joy of overcoming difficulties together with buddies. Each character has its own detailed story, so I hope you can find your favorite, pick a battle style that suits you and enjoy the game.
We learned through interviews that the background of the creation of this original IP is the aggregation of ideas from various people over a long period of time. CODE VEIN is a title with a very high level of involvement, and you will feel a sense of accomplishment by trying many times. Just like in the game, the production team has overcome many hardships to complete it, so the story made me feel the "fun of making games".
Interview and profile of Hitoshi Sugiyama