And why cries of "they're trying to appease Western casuals" are nonsense.
I've reviewed a fair few Monster Hunter games in my time, and I've always been able to see the brilliance but never quite able to grasp it and enjoy it as much as the hardcore fans of the series. Paradoxically both attracted and repelled by the series' inherent and deliberately obtuse nature, I never quite went as deep on the series as I'd liked. That makes me the perfect target audience for Monster Hunter World.
I saw the game back at E3 2017 and wrote that I thought it had the potential to please both fans and newcomers alike. The game immediately became a bit of a favorite of VG247 - we gave it one of our E3 Editors' Choice awards, and we've already got a Monster Hunter World guide page up that breaks down everything we know about the game. Basically, we're pumped.
The reason we're pumped is that this might finally be the Monster Hunter for somebody like me. The aim, its developers explain, is to keep many of the complex systems that made the series popular but make small quality of life tweaks to make the series more approachable for a wider number of people. It's like they peeked inside my brain.
A few days after first seeing the demo, I got to sit down with series veterans Ryozo Tsujimoto and Yuya Tokuda, respectively Produer and Director on this latest entry in the series. Our chat covers the likes of series chronology through to exactly how that famously fiddly gameplay is being streamlined without being weakened.
VG247: Let's start with the obvious. Is this Monster Hunter 5?
Ryozo Tsujimoto: Yeah. It's the next title in the main series. This is not a spin-off.
"This is the main, next entry in the series. It's not a side entry or a spin-off... the title just doesn't have a number in it."
I imagine you've had to explain that a lot.
Tsujimoto: Yeah, we've been asked quite a bit about it. I think when you get a series that runs for quite a few years... the numbers start to get bigger and bigger, and it starts to become increasingly off-putting for somebody who isn't into the series already. They might think "am I going to try Monster Hunter 5 when I haven't played the first 4? What if I don't get it?" and so on. We wanted to take the next main-line title and name it in a way that is indicative of the key concept of the game.
I think that once everyone is able to see more after the announcement and ultimately play the game next year, it's going to make a whole lot of sense that the 'World' concept is the reason we didn't simply number the title.
To be absolutely clear though, yes - this is the main, next entry in the series. It's not a side entry or a spin-off... the title just doesn't have a number in it.
A lot of fans are looking at this as the 'Westernized' Monster Hunter. Where do you stand on this? This series is quite famous for a level of deliberate obtuseness that is beloved by some and off-putting to others - how do you balance the needs of a wider audience versus the classic series formula?
Tsujimoto: Everything kind of flows from the concept we have from the title. We don't make changes at random, and we don't just decide 'let's make it easier' and then pick things to change.
It's more that... once you've decided a new concept for the next title - which in this case is a living, breathing ecosystem full of rich interactions between predator and prey monsters and little creatures... the hunters are jumping into this world, but even without you it's kind of getting on with its own business being a realistic ecosystem.
Once we did that, we took away the loading screens zones as well. Each map is still separated, it's not completely open world - we still have separate maps with different concepts. The maps still have numbered zones so you'll still be able to say "it's in zone 8" or whatever - but there's just no loading screen between them, it's totally seamless.
Once we've got that concept in place down the line from that the ripple effect comes on all kinds of features of the gameplay. You have to consider them, otherwise they'd totally clash.
Yuya Tokuda: One example people have noticed a lot is that you can now drink your potion while walking along, right? Some people have maybe taken this as "the Westerners didn't like the potion animation, so they've taken it out. They're trying to appease Western casuals." But... we don't just start picking our own game apart at the seams like that!
It's just that now the monsters can be anywhere near you and there's no loading barrier to hide behind. You can't jump out of the area by one pixel and suddenly be safe and have time to do your animation - you have to be ready to face the monster. It's almost like the pace is much quicker.
"Some people have maybe taken this as "They're trying to appease Western casuals." But... we don't just start picking our own game apart at the seams like that!"
That's how we take each of these things and look at how to do them. Otherwise we'd have a new concept but it wouldn't mesh with all the existing features.
We have to take everything, put it on the table, pour out the pieces, and then take a look at each one critically and say "this one is fine to stay the same, this one can go since it's no longer needed in the new context of Monster Hunter, and then we need to add this to make the new gameplay work" - that's how we make our games. It's definitely a top-down approach on the concept, not a bottom-up decision to change features around.
One thing that became clear from the demo is that this is a more dynamic world. Lots of things seem to interact, and the game in general seems less stop-start and more seamless. This must have significantly changed your approach to encounter design, right? How did you approach it?
Tokuda: Yeah, the fact that the environment is so much more complex and detailed and the fact that the geography itself is much more complex means that we've had to approach encounter design and combat design differently. The graphics are looking better on console, but you also have to bring the AI up and up your game using the power of the console computationally speaking to make them that much more intelligent and smart.
Even at the most basic level, we have to make sure that they don't get stuck path-finding on this new complex environment because compared to previous games this is much more complex in terms of where the monsters are going to need to go in order to chase you down and attack you. We need to make sure they'll respond reactively and realistically to your environment.
That flows into again... if the monsters are going to be more fluid and dynamic in their actions, that's another reason that we have to ensure that the hunter's actions are that much more fluid - the hunter can't be left behind in all this dynamism we're doing or you'd be at a disadvantage! I think you'll be able to bring your existing knowledge if you have it of the weapon design and the weapon class features of Monster Hunter, but seeing how you can apply that knowledge is going to be a lot of fun for veteran players.
You're coming to PC, but later. Why? Is this a manpower issue, a piracy concern, what?
Tsujimoto: Yeah, it's... as you said, it's just a resources and manpower issue. We're developing the game with our internal Capcom team in Osaka - the Monster Hunter team. We haven't really put out that much on PC before that's been developed internally, so we're just asking for a little bit more time on the PC version so we can bring you a more optimised, fine-tuned version.
Other than that, you can see that our strategy is for the other versions to release everything in the same time, in the same launch window, worldwide. This is the first time ever for a Monster Hunter title. There's no wait in between the Japanese version and the Western one - we just need a little bit more time to get the PC version done right.
For those hardcore PC players waiting, do you plan to go deep on support for high-end PC users with settings options and such?
Tsujimoto: Yeah - that's what we need that extra time for - to see how much we can do with PC in terms of meeting the needs of both players who want to go with their super high-spec rigs but also we want to support a huge variety of hardware. Everyone's got their own custom build on PC, and we're going to look into what we can do to ensure the PC version is as optimized as possible.
In terms of multiplayer, what sort of systems are you building to bring players together? The Monster Hunter community is more self-organizing, but consoles are a very different world to 3DS...
Tokuda: We want to make it easier than ever for people to find friends to play with online, too. Going to console online multiplayer co-op is going to be a key feature for multiplayer, and we'll talk about this in more detail as we get closer to launch, but we're going to try to make it so that it's a really seamless way for you to find your friends.
Yeah, so we're going to try to make that system really easy to use, but we also know that existing players are really used to the current system of going to a hub, joining your friends, picking a quest and going out. Of course you can do that - that's the basic expectation for Monster Hunter - but we've also added drop-in multiplayer.
If you're already on a quest alone and are connected online while playing and find the monster is too much you can send up an SOS flare. People on the server will get a notification that someone is stuck on that quest and then they can accept that quest and jump right in to help you.
I think that's a big change for Monster Hunter and it's going to make it a lot easier for people - even without a pre-planned meet-up in the hub you'll be able to notice somebody needs help and jump right into multiplayer. We'll have more exciting announcements to make about multiplayer later.
"Even without a pre-planned meet-up in the hub you'll be able to notice somebody needs help and jump right into multiplayer."
Are you going to go deep on cosmetic items for players who like building their characters? The more subdued art has me wondering if more outlandish looks will still be available.
Tsujimoto: Now that we're in HD and on televisions there'll be so much more visual detail to the characters - the armor itself is looking so much cooler and so much more bad-ass.
We totally know that there are fashion hunters out there who focus more on looks than abilities who want to make a really good-looking outfit, and they're not going to be disappointed by this game.
Just to wrap up - big RPGs with rolling content and constant updates, 'live games', are pretty big right now. Is the plan to go fully down this path with Monster Hunter World?
Tsujimoto: Well, as you know Monster Hunter has a long tradition of being really generous with our post-launch roll-out in terms of updating the roster of quests that are available and we plan to keep that same system here.
So after the game releases we're going to have a roll-out of time-limited event quests for you to join and bringing out more content for players to enjoy online as the game rolls on - so yeah, you can look forward to lots of post-launch excitement.