By now, most of you should have seen the most recent State of Play, covering roughly 18 minutes of Sucker Punch Productions‘ next title, Ghost of Tsushima. If you haven’t already seen it, then you can read up on our coverage here. On call with us today is Nate Fox, creative director of Ghost of Tsushima, where you play as Jin Sakai, a samurai, and the titular “ghost”. “Samurai movie” might have been something you’ve heard tossed around a lot, but let’s just take it step by step. Incidentally, the game is expected to clock in at least 50 hours of gameplay, so certainly much longer than a “typical” movie.
The combat is incredibly fluid in the presentation, essentially showing off a no-damage run. Games often have health bars, so we had to know how much punishment Jin can take.
“One thing that makes a samurai sword battle, like you see in classic samurai movies, so tense is that with just 2 or 3 hits, people die.”
Fox praises their player, saying he knew how to do everything right, and thus the flawless display of taking Mongols down in a single hit. Likewise, this applies to Jin himself, where a well-placed strike will kill you at once. The game will be very challenging, even with the option to select the difficulty. Skill is still required, but if you’d prefer an breezier – heh – time to simply experience the story, then yes, you can set it to Easy.
You might have seen the Ghost Meter appearing in screenshots, and this represents Jin’s transformation in the game. The so-called “Code of the Samurai” is the “correct” way of fighting enemies, but in the face of overwhelming odds, Jin is forced to give up at least part of the code he was raised with in order to perform assassinations and traverse unseen to even the odds. Jin’s legend as “the Ghost of Tsushima” will grow as more people know him, feeding into the abilities he can learn. Technique points will be spent in a traditional skill tree and players choose how they will build their playstyle accordingly.
In an amazing player’s hands, you’ve seen the moves Jin can pull off. Coming off the Infamous games which had more fantastical powers, we asked how they kept Ghost of Tsushima looking grounded while still being stylish. They took what they learnt from Infamous to apply to a grounded, classic samurai movie, recreated in an interactive medium. You’ll get the immediate feed from the tensest of combats for that snappy, precise response to your inputs in battle.
“At Sucker Punch, we believe the game must be fast, fluid and fun, that the controller must evaporate in your hands, and you can just do what you want in the game world.”
You’ll be facing down the Mongols – and only Mongol, in a break from historical accuracy – and their armoury of weapons that the people of Tsushima have never seen before. Fox mentions the falcons the Mongols have kept as pets, used in game as a way to see Jin coming from a mile away. The diversity in weaponry will also keep players on their toes, to ensure they do not get used to just one enemy type. While the Mongol army did have other nationalities within their ranks, they chose to not include them to make a “more direct fictional story”.
Speaking of fiction, the first Mongol invasion of Japan saw 80 samurai face down the invaders on the island of Tsushima, where they made the first landfall. All those samurai were slain, but for Ghost of Tsushima, they have taken inspiration from this event and had a few of these samurai survive. The story will see the survivors reinvent themselves to strike back against superior numbers, the designated villain of this samurai story.
“We knew we wanted to give players the opportunity for players to become a samurai, like the character you see in classic samurai movies and explore feudal Japan.”
With the concept of “wandering samurai in feudal Japan” in mind, there has to be plenty of content that they may decide on cutting or keeping throughout the game’s development. Fox makes it sound easy to decide: anything that rewards your curiosity to explore Tsushima, stays. Something that seems like “you’ve seen it before”, or “an action movie trope and not a samurai movie trope”, gets cut.
Japanese culture is certainly a large contrast with western culture, considering how Sucker Punch Productions is based in America. They are fans of samurai movies and comics, but acknowledged they were totally unprepared to do this on their own. Fox credits being part of the Playstation family as being one of, if not the, biggest help: the Japanese studio led them on a research trip to Tsushima Island, even doing sound recording to ensure authenticity. They have also reached out to experts from religion to clothing and architecture, early in and throughout game development as well. He’s found the process extremely worth it, even if it may slow down the overall process.
Going back to the game itself, Jin is aided by nature: from the wind, to the birds and foxes as guides. There are no mythical aspects to this game, but instead, Fox suggests it is the island itself who wants to help Jin, as he in turn is working to help Tsushima. The “natural” elements tie in to their efforts to have no “gamey” UI that can distract you from really looking at the game world. You will not be exploring a one-to-one recreation of the actual island of Tsushima, but you’ll be wandering the various elements you can expect to find in feudal Japan.
“We want to make sure that as a player, you can decide to not follow the wind, to go all on your own and explore. Your curiosity about a strange shaped tree, or a lake, is rewarded with content; either something valuable to pick up, or a story to discover, or maybe even a new weapon.”
Fox talks about how they sculpt out the world, then ride through it themselves to see what they are drawn to. Some of these elements may or may not be embellished, but the encouragement to simply wander is there. The player is eased into getting into the loop of asking, then choosing to pursue their curiosity, or not. The wind often comes up in samurai movies too, in which two warriors, unmoving, will still radiate sheer power and will, due to the billowing wind disturbing the grass and trees, playing into their theme. The wind will change accordingly to Jin’s identity, and how the people react to him, while being under your command. Ask it to take you to a waypoint, or let it be.
As you make your way through these branches, you will be meeting various characters throughout Jin’s “transformation” from samurai to ghost. These characters will be having their stories and problems, for you to choose to engage and delve into their deeply personal quests, should you stop by from location to location. “The game is a big anthology of stories,” Fox says.
“We’ve done full playtests where people play it everyday for five days, and at the end of those week long tests, many of our players haven’t reached the end of Jin’s story because they keep engaging in the side stories.”
Some of these stories will culminate in the climax of samurai stories: the epic duel between two very skilled warriors. Fox says there’ll be plenty of these, dubbing them the most challenging combat in the game. The one-on-one, extremely personal battles, will require you to read your opponents, understand their attacks and find how to best counter. When you do triumph, you’ll be rewarded with the sense of accomplishment of besting a worthy foe.
But wait, what about the “Ghost” gameplay? You’ll be both at the same time, Fox explains. Just because Jin learns “dishonorable” methods, it doesn’t mean he’s forgotten the sword. “Ghost” and “Samurai” are merely gameplay styles, and there will be points you need to pick up your blade. There’s just many other instances of problems in which you can approach them in a method you prefer.
While you’ve seen the expert parries and dodges in the State of Play presentation, you can choose to be more aggressive and take down your highest priority target. You’ll merely have to be prepared to face down the Mongols who would doubtlessly be standing in your way. In which case, you could turn their own weapons against them, such as the torching of gunpowder in the demo.
Fox assures us that the Hard Mode of the game will be extremely tough, specially tuned to the players who seek the challenge. As mentioned, even Easy still requires a level of skill if you don’t pay any attention. He understands that those who put the game on Hard want that satisfaction of overcoming a very stiff, but nonetheless fair, gameplay challenge.
For those of you wondering about the armour and skills, you can certainly mix and match around the pieces and techniques for the playstyle you want best. However, Jin Sakai is THE hero, with Ghost of Tsushima being his personal story, and thus you will not be able to make changes to how he looks at his core. As for his loadout, well, Fox is coy and wishes for players to find out the rest of the weapons he may find for themselves, besides his trusty sword, the kunai and smoke bomb they’ve demoed.
“The discovery is a big part of the game and I don’t wanna ruin the surprise by just talking about it right now.”
Let’s close off with the whole “samurai cinema mode”, the de-facto “rule of cool” of the game, you might say. The Samurai Cinema Mode will not just change the colors to black and white: weather effects will be intensified, film grain and scratches will be added, and the audio will be reminiscent of the classic movies of yore. Fox doesn’t seem to think it will be the “main visual selling point” of Ghost of Tsushima.
“Samurai Cinema Mode is absolutely beautiful and it is us trying to show how much we respect the source material, but the game is gorgeous in full colour. I think the game’s graphics. and how it makes you feel like you’re in a samurai movie are the biggest accomplishments, and the colour really helps that. It’s personal preference, but it is the way I choose to play. I ride through the fields in Tsushima, and drink in the view, like going on a hike, or being outside.”
Last but not least, Jin’s cape. We’re sure you know of memes of objects clipping through, and that would only ruin the immersion. Fox sounds especially excited about the “romantic ideal” of samurais as seen in the classic movies: the wind being Jin’s guide, the sea, and the whole package giving the game that cinematic feel.
Of course it’s been rigged to not go through his body. I think the most intriguing thing to me – I don’t know if you’ve noticed – but that he has no bow on his back when he has a cape, and that bow shows up when he doesn’t it. We dynamically remove it because it’s so cool to have a cape!
With the whole photo mode also in the game, we think we can, at the very least, eagerly keep an eye out for the various clips that people will doubtlessly create with the locale of Tsushima. This in itself, is yet another story, one that doesn’t necessarily need to be tied to Jin, to be told, don’t you think?
How will Jin’s legend grow in your hands? With the passion of the team behind Ghost of Tsushima, we surely can be assured of one of the greatest stories to be told in the coming decade. May the wind be your guide, as you travel through uncharted hills and plains. What will you find? We will all find out come 17 July 2020.