The master hunters explain their vision for Capcom's big 2018 RPG.
As 2018 draws perilously close I've been reflecting on the year to come, and I'm pretty sure that Monster Hunter World is one of my most anticipated games of 2018. It impressed me quite a bit back at its E3 announcement, and since then I've got to play it a couple of times, both in a bite-sized hands-on and a behemoth twelve hour session it's left me hungry for more.
This weekend you too will be able to see what's got me so excited when the Monster Hunter World beta launches on PlayStation Plus for the weekend. Before that happens, I thought it'd be nice to check in with the development team on the game's progress and vision.
We spoke to Producer Ryōzō Tsujimoto and Director Yuya Tokuda back at E3 after the game was announced, but I had a chance to catch up with them a few weeks ago after having my mega hands-on session with the game. Here's some of our exchange, where we touch on dealing with current-generation hardware, world size and the surprises of monster AI that truly has a mind of its own.
VG247: I want to kick off by talking a little about the size of the game. As I've played this recent build I've been surprised by just how expansive the zones are, so... is your plan to match the previous games in content, or have less content and be more dense? Obviously I figure it's a lot more time consuming to create assets now you're on home consoles rather than handhelds...
Ryōzō Tsujimoto: Once we knew we were going to make a Monster Hunter game on this amazingly powerful current generation of main consoles we knew we had a choice of how to approach it. Looking at a lot of open world games that are out there, we did feel that their unique selling point was their size - the sheer massiveness of the map or how long it takes to traverse it. We didn't really want to complete on those terms.
We thought that we're not going to start to join all of the maps together as one big world - Monster Hunter has always worked with a series of different maps, each of them a different stage. But what we can do is make them bigger, and within that we're going to have an incredible density.
The hardware allows us to portray an amazingly rich, detailed living ecosystem, and so the stages are completely packed with interactive elements and just sort of dense details including lots of usable parts of the environment. We definitely thought from the start we'd rather go for a more compact-but-dense approach to open-feeling stages. We call them seamless maps rather than open world.
You mention the power - how has developing for this hardware been? Has it been more difficult essentially developing for four machines rather than two now you have to consider a feature set for the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X?
Yuya Tokuda: Taking the two consoles and their two successor variants as four, it's certainly a big challenge for hardware targets - especially given that when we started developing the game the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X didn't exist yet. We started out working on the consoles that we originally planned for, and by the time we were able to get information on the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X there wasn't enough time to do a lot of in-depth exploration just by ourselves.
We really had to rely on the first parties themselves - Sony and Microsoft were very forthcoming with lots of great technical help and information and support. They'd help us get the most out of the CPUs of the new consoles and to make them run as efficiently as possible. We've been able to go so far as to offer the players a multi-mode choice when they start the game up on those consoles - so they can choose if they want to prioritize resolution, or having the frame rate higher, or having the graphics. You can increase the draw distance and make the graphics look better that way. I think we've been able to accomplish a lot given that we've had a lot of graphics targets to hit.
In our last chat we spoke a fair bit about this being a 'Westernized' Monster Hunter that maybe makes certain more obtuse aspects of Monster Hunter easier and more accessible to reach a wider audience. Now the launch is so close, where did you draw the line on changing the formula?
Tokuda: You phrased it there as how to make it easier, but we don't really think of it as making the game easier. We don't tend to open the game up to more people simply by simplifying. It's more that we want to have this great core action gameplay where players observe monster behaviour and then learn how to take advantage of that and manipulate that to assist in hunting them. We want to make it so that if they make mistakes they don't feel it's unfair but instead think that it's their mistake and they have to grow and learn.
In terms of core gameplay, getting you to that point is what we want to do. We're not going to change the core gameplay, but we're going to make it so the staircase to climb up to that is more reasonable. The way we've done that is in the little details - by making the animations and the transitions between different moves more seamless so there's no more stop-start animation... even to pick up items, you just grab them on the way past.
Or the potion change to making them able to be drank while moving, which was talked about a lot at E3... Even then it isn't an instant hit - there's still a risk/reward because the longer you can stay drinking with the animation without getting hit you'll get more energy - and you'll get the max amount of energy if you stay safe. You're not going to be able to stand with a monster right in front of you, press the button and get instantly full energy. You still have to make sure that you're analysing the situation, observing monster behaviour and make sure you're finding the right timing to take action. All of that great stuff is still in there. The way we draw the line is to say.. well, how can we establish what's in the core gameplay, and what from there can we make into a smoother process?
A big element of Monster Hunter World is that, like the title says, you've got this living ecosystem, which means monster AI that to a point does its own thing. Does it surprise you what they get up to sometimes?
Tokuda: So many times! [laughs] It happens all the time. We're constantly surprised, and in fact it can be a bit of a nuisence when... say you're doing a live stage demo and you want to have a predictable flow? Suddenly, stuff is happening and you're like 'oh, okay, I didn't know this was going to happen today' or, y'know, 'I didn't want to show this part'.
It can be obvious stuff like we're fighting against Anjanath and suddenly Rathalos flies in and they start attacking each other, or even like... One time I was fighting a monster, Diablos, and the egg-holding, raptor-ish thing Kulu-Ya-Ku just came in, bashed it with a rock and ran off! [laughs] I didn't even think they'd come into the area where I was, but it just decided to do that hit and run!
There's constant surprises - not just for players, but also for us. We've set up the rules for how they should behave, but in that sense we didn't script monster behaviour - we just gave them rules to behave by, and we still get surprised by how they respond to those rules.
Back at E3 I asked you about post-launch content, since a lot of really popular games now like Destiny are growing and changing post-launch. Can you talk a little more about your plans at this point?
Tsujimoto: I think we're known for our great post-launch support and keeping things going for fans to enjoy - be that extra downloadable quests or collaboration DLC add-ons with other brands, we fully intend to continue that strategy with Monster Hunter World, so we've got a timeline of free DLC and items and special events planned, and we're going to be making announcements as and when we can as to what's coming and what to expect.
In the past, on portables, you had to download the quests, disconnect and then play them - but with consoles we expect you to pretty much be online while you're playing, so when you log in we've got things like log-in bonuses, daily rewards, special quests that are available for a limited time only, and even the collaborative items... we might change things up! You might only be able to get an item on a specific week and it might not come back, you never know. There's a lot more feeling of participating in the community in real time.
You might not be able to talk about this yet, but... how far are you going to go? Will you be looking as far as new zones and monsters and the like?
Tsujimoto: Well... [laughs] watch this space for more news.