When you think of the term "director commentary," you consider something premium--a reason to buy the new 20th Anniversary Blu-Ray, or hidden unlockables or paid DLC for a game. What you usually don't consider is the lead director of one of 2010's greatest (and gayest!) action games, alone in his home at 1AM, playing his own game and recording thoughts and secrets on his iPod. But it's true: Hideki Kamiya, who also directed Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, and Okami, has been inspired by folks playing his game on YouTube to upload his own playthrough of Bayonetta, with commentary on everything from cutscene choices to undocumented features.
So far, the series has three videos uploaded, with more appearing on the Platinum Games blog every week or so. They're all embedded below, along with some notes on my favorite revelations. Make the jump to Purgatorio and we'll see its secrets together!
Kamiya pores over the cutscenes at length, which is sensible considering how much of Bayonetta's signature style and humor are conveyed from them. The first scene has Bayonetta & Jeanne hurtling down a cliff fighting angels on a crumbling clock tower, which was done to convey the player falling into the middle of a huge, supernatural war. The combat tutorial came later, since this scene was mainly a story event.
The graveyard act which introduces Bayonetta in the modern era is filled with little jokes and references put in by the Sega team, some of whom even slipped past each other. For example, animator Eijiro Nishimura is a huge fan of beetles, hiding them all over Resident Evil 4, and Kamiya was surprised to discover one at the beginning of this game, too. And while any Sega fan probably caught the idea that Bayonetta had assassinated "Eggman," the baddie from Sonic, Kamiya insists that he thought of the name on his own and only later realized it corresponded to an iconic Sega villain. It was also apparently a last-minute choice to include the "Team Little Angels" headstone, which is a nod to Kamiya's group under Capcom, "Team Little Devils."
There are plenty of differences between the genre-defining Devil May Cry and Kamiya's latest project - in addition to the scope of many battles, Platinum wanted the player to travel through populated areas. The idea of 'Purgatorio,' a reality next to our own where the witches and the angels wage their war, was convenient to allow storytelling with human characters. (Although, it's also used to set up one of the more contrived subplots between Luka and Bayonetta, so it's not without its flaws!)
Kamiya then explains one of the touchy points about the game's cutscenes: the fact that plenty of them have no animation, resmbling an advanced motion comic. Internally, this living-storyboard style was referred to as a "simple cutscene," and they had plenty of debates as to which scenes deserved to be fully animated. The director notes that Bayonetta includes over 90 minutes of story sequences, so it would've been impossible to release on time if they'd fleshed out and mo-capped every scene. He notes there's a "certain romanticism" to rendering a game's cutscenes in realtime, so he's proud they were able to do over 99% of the scenes in-engine rather than pre-recording.
The commentary also has some intriguing insights about Bayonetta herself: one of the early concepts had her speaking in a haughty schoolmistress voice, but that proved too alienating. They knew they had to use a British voice for the character, invoking a European idea of witches as self-sufficient female warriors. Bayonetta's controversial high-powered sexiness is only barely touched upon, however: of the first "climax scene," Hideki Kamiya simply says, "this is something that might be embarrassing to watch with your parents."
It seems Platinum also made the game with casual players in mind, perhaps to the dismay of the hardcore who'd love to keep the experience all to themselves. Kamiya goes in depth about the Witch Time mechanic, something he calls a new kind of defense which rewards risk for pro players, while also making escape quick for those less skilled. Doding is activated with just one button, which is much easier than in DMC. He also notes the refining of ideas behind Viewtiful Joe, where players had to time their dodge, then manually activate the Slow power to fight well. Finally, he mentions that the Easy Automatic mode has much more style and flow to it than in his first game, making it an option for players who just want to have fun with Bayonetta.
Most interestingly, Kamiya revealed a few hidden features in Bayonetta that weren't found in any menu or manual! If the titular character has a lollipop in a given cutscene, the player can choose its color by holding down the corresponding button before that scene begins. And, proving most useful, the 'Practice Mode' that shows up in loading screens can be extended indefinitely by hitting the Back or Select button. These tips have been discovered by internet codemasters much earlier, but it's always fun to see an artist reveal hidden elements to his own work.
As someone who enjoyed every ounce of Bayonetta's unbelievable style and fierce gameplay, hearing the fabled director who gave stylish action its start discuss his own game is a treat - I hope more developers take the cue and offer a personal post-mortem on their titles. Platinum Games' blog will be periodically updated with more of these videos, and I enjoy combing through them so much I might have to revisit the Witch/Sage War soon amidst the rest of these new releases. Look forward to more of director Kamiya's videos in the future!