We caught up with two Capcom veterans in what was likely the coldest room at the LA Convention Center (the central AC was on full blast and the developers left the room in between interviews to keep warm). Longtime Monster Hunter producer Ryozo Tsujimoto and executive director and art director Kaname Fujioka, were on hand to talk about the game that got its public unveiling at the Sony conference. It's the latest entry in a franchise that has proved tremendously popular in Japan, but even if there is a hardcore following in the west it has struggled to achieve the same level of success and mainstream appeal.
"We've got lots of requests over the years from our western fans who want to see the game coming back to consoles," Tsujimoto said when asked about this. "So I think the fact we are on console is a great chance for us to capture a greater audience than before. It's a series that's been running many years in the west, of course, we've released quite a few titles, we've built up a community of die-hard Monster Hunter fans. We want to see more and more people join us though, and get into the game. I think we're going to be able to do that because we are for the first time ever merging the servers, so it's global online servers, so people around the world can play each other and we're also aiming for the first time ever to have a simultaneous launch window of the game. So it's going to come out and everyone can play together at the same time. We're really hopeful that with this kind of approach we can see better than ever success in the west."
Monster Hunter: World is the next evolution of the series, and in many ways, it's a huge leap after a number of years where the main focus has been on portable iterations (even if Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate did come to Wii U).
"Monster Hunter has been a series for over a decade now", said Tsujimoto. "And we felt it was time to maybe reevaluate the series a little and see what we wanted to do next. Using the latest technology available on home consoles meant that we're able to create a fully living, breathing world with its own ecosystem. The monsters have their own intelligent behaviour. They interact with not just the hunter, but they interact with each other as well. It was really just a chance for us to make the most deep and involving and detailed Monster Hunter world ever."
"Monster Hunter is obviously kind of a fantasy world with fictional creatures that we invent at Capcom, but now that we have this amazing technology available we can make the monsters look more realistic than ever and this is what we wanted to go for", explained Fujioka. "Not necessarily photo realism as they're obviously creatures, but I think if you look at them up close they're so detailed and you can see the texture on their skin, with their scales and their muscles moving underneath the skin it's so much more impactful than it's been ever before. That extends also beyond the visuals to the AI behaviour of the monsters as well. We're able to use modern technology in order to make you feel like you really are watching a living animal on the screen. It's going to have its own ways of behaving and its own quirks. It's got its own complex interaction with the geography of the environment, so I think you're really going to be blown away by how much you feel like you're seeing a real monster on the screen."
"We wanted to have a more dynamic style of hunting, so we have this living ecosystem, which is something that's not just fun to look at, you can actually also use it strategically in your hunting," said Tsujimoto. "So whether it's finding areas to trap the monster or using your sub weapon to break off parts of the environment and they're going to fall off and hurt the monster, you know. There's a lot of interactivity on the stages. We felt that adding this kind of variety to the action will make it keep things interesting so even if you're a Monster Hunter veteran player there will always be something new to explore. And it means there is also lots of great strategy available to people who are newcomers to the series as well."
Later on, we asked to what extent the player could influence the ecosystem, if for instance, killing a creature would have an effect.
"I think if you literally had the ecosystem disrupted by you defeating a monster it would be very difficult to design a game that would be able to use that feature consistently," said Fujioka. "Because it would just change so much that the gameplay would not be consistent at all, but certainly we have you being able to interact with the ecosystem. Whether it's letting two big monsters fight it out, because they discovered each other and you're just going to let them sort it out and damage each other, or luring them away from different areas or using the environment to distract them. There are all kinds of things you can do with the ecosystem in the game to make your hunting more effective. So you can look forward to that kind of cool action."
One element of Monster Hunter that we got a small glimpse of in the first trailer for Monster Hunter: World, but that has been central to the series over the years, is the light-hearted themes and humour that's present. With a more realistic look and feel we asked what we could expect in terms of this aspect.
"We are from Osaka in Japan, which is the home of comedy in Japan", says Fujioka. "So it's only natural that we're going to want to have light-hearted elements in the game as well as the more serious actions. So you can look forward to the humorous side of Monster Hunter shining through in the game."
Monster Hunter became a phenomenon largely thanks to its focus on playing together, something that's naturally different on current-gen consoles and handhelds.
"Well, the series has been on console before, obviously, right at the start, there are even team members who are working on Monster Hunter: World who have been there since beginning", said Tsujimoto when asked about the differences of creating this sort of game for modern consoles and portable platforms, in terms of multiplayer and online.0
"It's not like we've only ever had portable versions, but certainly with the new game we know people are going to be playing it at home on their TV where we're using online to do multiplayer. So we have considered how to make the game more easily playable in that environment. In addition to the previous system of everyone joining together in a hub and then choosing a quest and you go out together, we've also added drop-in multiplayer. So if you're playing by yourself and you're on a quest and maybe you're getting in trouble, the monsters are kind of giving you a bit of a beating, you have the option of sending up an SOS flare. People on the server can see that someone needs help on a quest and you can just go right in, jump in and join them. And that includes if your friends are online they can come and help you. So, we've added features like that which are going to make it something very special on console and playing online multiplayer."
"We've announced the game is coming in early 2018, so of course, we'd be in trouble if we weren't close to wrapping up at this stage," said Tsujimoto. "But you know we're getting and we're going to be working up till the last minute to make sure we can polish and fine tune the game and bring you guys the best possible experience in early 2018. So please bear with us a little longer."
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