Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Devil May Cry and the Art of Combat

I believe games are art. The game is your canvas, the controller is your paintbrush, and your actions within the game's world (whether it be running, jumping, fighting, etc.) act as the paint upon the canvas. When the game is over, your painting is complete, and while its beauty is in the eye of the beholder (the player), art has been crafted regardless, because you, as the player, were challenged to paint upon the canvas, and, overcoming that challenge, you crafted your art.

Of course, videogames aren't an artform that gives you too much freedom outside of some open-world RPGs and MMOs; rather, most games only provide the player with limited "color palletes" and force the player to paint in a particular style or "genre". In this sense, the art that a player can create is limited to what the developer's desires. However, this does not mean the finished painting will be any less beautiful; after all, not all of us are artists. In fact, many of us know very little of what it means to craft a beautiful piece of art; therefore, we require the guiding hand of the developer to help create our masterpiece. It is up for debate, but I argue that these paintings that require the guiding hand of a developer end up being the most beautiful of masterpieces, for within the unique styles of the developers, we can end up with a much more unique piece of art than what we would end up with if every developer provided us a blank canvas and allowed us absolute freedom in creating our painting. This is why our paintings formed from playing a Grasshopper Manufacturer game will end up looking very different from one playing a Bioware game; their beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there is no mistaking that they are very different paintings in the end.

As stated above, the art of a game comes in many different shapes and forms. I'm going to try something, and write blog entries detailing some of the particular "art styles" shown by specific games. To note, however, just because I detail a particular art style to one game does not mean that it is the only game that displays the particular style, it is simply that I find the particular game I write about to be one of, if not the, best practitioner of the particular art style.


With Resident Evil, Shinji Mikami and his team forged a gameplay experience where combat was something to be feared. Prior to the survival-horror genre, combat was often something the player looked forward to, or was basically all a game was about, but in RE, it was something to be feared, .... and conquered. RE's approach to conquering the challenge of combat was item management and precise thinking. It was a different type of "action" game, a different type of "art style" than what was previously used in crafting the painting that is a videogame, an "art of survival". This art style would serve as a precursor to a new art style in Team Little Devil's "Devil May Cry", the "art of combat".

In Devil May Cry, the atmosphere was scary and intense. It was a foreboding atmosphere similar to that seen in the RE series; however, the execution of the gameplay, the execution of the way the player painted his/her painting was very different. Combat in DMC was challenging, for enemies were often a force to be feared; they attacked in groups, made powerful strikes that matched the players own, and were relentless in their assaults. This situation, combined with the fact that the control scheme of DMC was an entirely new button set-up for players (thus forcing the player to use new tools to paint with than used in previous games), created the challenge the player was given. The execution of the combat probably matched that of the RE series at first; after all, combat was hard, and restorative items were few and far between. However, as the player grew more knowledgable of the combat system and realized just how different DMC's style was, they realized that the painting of DMC was meant to be forged in a different art style; this is where the "art of combat" arises.

Combat is hard, but Dante doesn't just face it head-on, he flies above it, slashes it into the air and shoots it up, and walks out of the room completely unscathed. This is the "art of combat" created by Team Little Devils. Where the player is put into a situation where they are challenged to the hilt, but given the abilities to make it through the challenge without a scratch if they have enough skill. In action games of the past, challenges were something to simply get through in order to reach the goal, and that was enough; these were situations that couldn't truly be called combat. Combat needs a form, it needs finesse, and DMC provided that; thanks in no small part to it's sword/gun combo system and use of the 3rd dimension. DMC rose above the simple concepts of the past to create this new style, a new execution; one that would become known as "stylish combat" due to how the player looked when playing at the best of their abilities. Before, combat was a task, a process to simply make it to the end, and while it may have been satisfying, it was never executed in a way like DMC: an act of taking on a challenge with strategy and finesse. A process that created a different type of painting as a result of using a different art style: the art of combat.

After DMC, the art of combat would be a valuable style tool in many videogames, currently culminating in Bayonetta being, arguably, the most beautiful execution yet of the art style. I chose the original DMC to explain the art of combat because as the series would go on it would lose a lot of the essence that made gameplay exemplify the process of combat; later DMCs and action games either grew more "campy" and fun in their execution, or went back to the old-school styles of back-and-forth fighting. I find DMC executed the "art of combat" in its purest form, thanks in part to its survival-horror foundation.

I'm a big fan of the art of combat, and look forward to seeing where it goes in the future, perhaps leading to an entirely new art style.

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