Def Jam Vendetta II Q&A

We talk to EA about its upcoming fusion of rap and fighting.

Def Jam Vendetta II is the second installment in Electronic Arts' and Japanese developer Aki's unique fighting series that blends the thrill of hand-to-hand combat with the allure of Def Jam rappers. The recently announced game is slated to include a host of improvements over its predecessor as well as a larger roster of fighters. We had the chance to talk to Josh Holmes, the game's producer at EA's Canadian studios, to find out what to expect from the promising new game.

Another solid reason to avoid the subways in New York at night.

GameSpot: How pleased were you with how the first Def Jam Vendetta came out? Were you ever concerned about how it would be received?

Josh Holmes: Anytime you create something that is new and innovative (whether in concept or game mechanics) there is a certain level of uncertainty about how it will be received. The original Vendetta was a big gamble, merging hip-hop and fighting. We felt confident that there was an audience out there for the game, but until it was released we couldn't be sure. Looking back as a team, we are all proud of the end result. However, being so passionate about making great games, we couldn't wait to come out and exceed everyone's expectations with the sequel.

GS: What did you learn from the experience that helped shape DJV II?

JH: As I'm sure you can imagine, we learned a lot about hip-hop and urban culture--even those of us who were fans before the project. We also learned a ton about fighting mechanics and what makes a really compelling fighting experience. On a personal note, I learned how to say, "Let's make the best game ever," in Japanese.

GS: So how did you approach this year's installment of the franchise?

JH: When we started working on the new game we wanted to surprise people by going further than anyone could possibly imagine. We started out by researching what consumers wanted to see improved in the sequel, and from there we developed a vision for the game we all wanted to create. When you are collaborating with three separate and unique organizations located thousands of miles apart (in this case, Def Jam Records, AKI, and Electronic Arts), it's really important to have a strong vision of the end product you are striving for, and to communicate that vision clearly and effectively between all parties. To date, I think we've done a terrific job of managing this challenge.

GS: How is the combat system changing? Why did you implement those changes?

JH: Both AKI and EAC wanted to create a fighting system that was revolutionary rather than evolutionary. We wanted to do a whole bunch of cool stuff that no one had ever pulled off in a convincing way. The first thing we did was to simplify the controls to make them more intuitive. Veteran AKI players picking up DJV found the controls familiar, but new players were often intimidated by the complexity. The revised controls (including dedicated punch and kick buttons) are much more user-friendly to a new player.

We found that straight one-on-one fighting tended to get stale over time, no matter how polished the fighting engine was. So, we implemented a lot of secondary strategic elements, like interactive crowds, environmental hazards, and the ability to use the world as your weapon. Everything in our gamespace serves an interactive purpose--if you see something, then you can use it to fight with.

We also found that individual players preferred to focus on different tactics in the game, and we decided to create distinct classifications of fighters to cater to different strategies. This gives the game amazing replay value, as each fighting class has unique mechanics associated with it and a signature way of earning a KO.

We break the fighting styles down into five basic classes: martial artist, streetfighter, submissions, kickboxer, and wrestler. Within each of these basic classes there are many substyles, so a martial artist may use karate, capoeira, tae kwon do, etc.

The overall focus of the fighting system is fun, over-the-top action rather than a simulation of technical fighting.

Dude got hit so hard, it almost undid his cornrows.

GS: What can you tell us about the lineup? How do you decide who to include? How much input do they have?

JH: I can honestly say that we've managed to assemble the most impressive cast of all-star talent in the history of video games. Seriously. There are over 40 rap artists and celebrities featured in the game this year, including Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Method Man, Redman, Ludacris, Carmen Electra, Lil' Kim, Sean Paul, Bonecrusher, Flava Flav, Ice-T...the list goes on and on. All of the main characters in the story are played by celebrity talent.

We chose people based on their fit to the product and their desire to take part in what is sure to be a huge event for hip-hop and gaming. They gave us input on costumes, lines, fighting moves--you name it, they were involved. Method Man even worked with me early on to help develop the storyline of the game! One of the coolest things with our cast is that almost every last person involved is a big gamer--it really speaks to the cultural relevance of video games within today's society.

GS: Can you walk us through the game's modes? What's returning/what's new? Are there any new match types?

JH: The main modes are story mode (single-player), battle mode (multiplayer), and online for PS2.

When breakdance competitions get too personal.

Last year we made a game that combined fighting action with a plotline, developed within the cinematics. It was well received, though many consumers expressed a desire for a longer experience with more variety and, of course, the ability to create their own character. This year we've brought story mode back, but we've improved it dramatically. It's three times the length of the original and features more than six times the amount of story content. It's no longer linear--you decide the path you take through story mode, making choices along the way. The choices you make actually impact the story.

All of the story sequences are rendered in real time, and look absolutely fantastic, thanks to our talented team of artists, animators, and engineers.

And of course, we've got a ton of new match types with varied objectives in this year's game that we'll be talking about in detail soon!

GS: Will there be any kind of a create-a-player feature?

JH: Create-a-player has been a primary focus for the game since the very beginning. Last year a lot of people wanted a create-a-player feature, but we wanted to be sure and do it the right way. This year we have created a completely unique and original create-a-player system that ties directly into the story of the game. No one has ever done create-a-player this way, and I'm sure people are going to think it's very cool.

GS: What can you tell us about the girlfriend system in this year's game?

JH: Well for starters, the girls in this year's game are absolutely gorgeous. They look incredible. Carmen Electra, Lil' Kim, Shawnna, Kimora Lee--you have the opportunity to hook up with whichever one appeals most to you. They don't come easy though--you've got to fight for their affection, because girls this hot attract a lot of attention. Look for your girlfriends to play a pivotal role in the storyline this time.

GS: What music is being used in DJVII?

JH: We've gone with a dark, edgy hip-hop soundtrack that fits well with the ass-kicking nature of the game. All of the music is interactive and changes to fit the mood and tempo of the fight. Songs have been selected to match the fight locations and moments within the story. The story sequences are further enhanced with some truly excellent original scores.

This is what happens when you try and jump the turnstiles.

GS: How are the graphics being improved in this year's game?

JH: By leaps and bounds--over twice the detail at four times the resolution. We have a ton of visual effects that have been specifically designed to complement the characters and action. Hair flows naturally, both blood and sweat spray on big attacks, jewelry "blings" as it catches the light, and every location in the game comes to life with all the little details you'd expect.

GS: What kind of multiplayer options will the game have? Any online action?

JH: Our first focus is definitely on the core fighting system, and ensuring that the game is a ton of fun to play with friends. Multiplayer is one of the most fun aspects of this sort of game. You'll be able to play up to four players in a variety of match types. The game will be online for the PS2.

GS: What can we look forward to seeing at E3 on the game?

JH: E3 will feature a playable demo that showcases the new fighting system, which includes several playable characters and demonstrates a scene from story mode.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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