Looking Back At 10 Years Of Monster Hunter With Its Producer
Last year marked the 10th anniversary of the Monster Hunter series – a franchise that has found huge success in Japan and has built a small but devoted fan base in America. To commemorate the series’ decade of killing monsters and using their remains to create armors and weapons, we spoke with Ryozo Tsujimoto, who has been with the series since its original release. He started by working on the network operations, and is now a producer on the series.
[An abridged version of his interview originally appeared in Game Informer issue #260]
Game Informer: How did the original idea for Monster Hunter come about?
Ryozo Tsujimoto: Back when I belonged to the team in the old days, we were trying to establish three new online titles for home consoles; these were Auto Modellista, Resident Evil Outbreak, and Monster Hunter. I was one of the game designers on Auto Modellista. Monster Hunter was designed based on the concept of a “multi-action online game that anyone can join and play,” and we made full use of Capcom’s best action game talent.
Did you ever imagine it would become such a popular franchise?
Those of us on the team often said things like, “We’d like to aim for a million sales,” amongst ourselves, but I honestly didn’t expect it to become such a hit. There were a lot of factors involved, but I think the co-op functionality played a major role for the series to have achieved such success.
Monster Hunter doesn’t portray a savage world, as we wanted anyone to feel welcome to jump in and play. If the game were too over the top and savage in atmosphere, we thought that even the co-op experience could come across as rather bleak. For instance, monsters are not defined as an “absolute enemy” in the game. Both monsters and hunters are together in this world just trying to survive; in this world, you either hunt or become prey. But Monster Hunter is also a world that’s designed in a fair way. It doesn’t matter who shows off the most during a quest. The rewards are distributed equally regardless who played the flashiest. We wanted to make sure that all players cooperate and help each other, and making sure everyone feels rewarded was a big part of that.
How do you feel about its popularity? Does pushing the franchise forward each entry cause undue stress?
I don’t feel much pressure. I only focus on further evolving the game where we need to and making sure that I protect the essence of the Monster Hunter franchise.
While it has found an audience in North America, Monster Hunter hasn’t reached the same heights in popularity as Japan. Why do you think this is?
Japan is a country made up of small islands, and this gives us an environment wherein people tend to gather rather closely together thanks to the well-developed public transportation system we have with our train and bus lines. Therefore, it’s easy for word of mouth to spread while people are playing together via an ad-hoc connection on their portable gaming devices. I think the environment was really well suited for building the fan base we now enjoy and for encouraging people to play with one another.
In the U.S., the environment and culture may not be as well suited to this type of play, and that has led to it not being quite as popular yet. That said, we are aware of a growing multitude of really strong and tight-knit communities that have sprung up in the States, and we know that they hold their own events on the local level. We treasure these dedicated communities, and I sincerely hope that these veterans will usher in a new group of fans to enjoy Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.
To learn about the process of designing weapons and monsters and if the team has ever considered making the game simpler, head to page two.
All of the monsters that appear in the game are visually and mechanically distinct. What goes into designing a new monster?
It’s no exaggeration to say that the monsters are the most important element of Monster Hunter. We put the most emphasis on designing unique attributes of each monster’s action while keeping in mind the user’s game experience.
The team also often uses reference materials such as National Geographic to bring a certain sense of biological plausibility to the monsters. Monsters are a fictional creation, but we develop them with the idea that they could very well exist in our world; in our reality. The more we learn about natural life forms and reflect that in the game, the more realistic and plausible that world becomes.
At first, we brainstorm ideas for game mechanics of each monster based on all sorts of elements such as when it appears in the game, what kind of actions we’d like hunters to learn from the gameplay, whether the mechanics are too similar to those of other monsters, etc. At the same time, we begin coming up with rough designs for the look of the monsters and make sure the design and game mechanics make sense as a whole. Sometimes we’re inspired by the monster’s art design, and that can lead to some interesting ideas for game mechanics.
After tossing around ideas and ensuring the uniqueness of the monsters’ design and mechanics, we start creating the animations and programming necessary to implement them into the game world.
How do you decide which weapons will make it into each new game? What do you think about when designing new weapon types?
At its core, Monster Hunter is a multiplayer action game. Similar to designing monsters, it’s very important that new weapons also establish different and unique gameplay mechanics that make them distinct from the existing arsenal. We brainstorm new weapon designs by type, keeping in mind the range of attack, the rhythms and cadence of play versus monsters, which monster types may offer an advantage or disadvantage, the likely position of each hunter on the battlefield, and the general feel of the action.
At the same time, we also make it a point to set a memorable theme or key word for us internally to keep in mind such as “deformation” for the Switch Axe or “transformation” for the Charge Blade. A lot of times, as we begin working on new concepts, keeping these phrases in mind is what keeps us motivated and inspired.
What’s the strangest bug you’ve ever encountered while developing a Monster Hunter title?
This wasn’t really a bug, but one day some of the developers in the team asked me to test the game with a very cute looking monster, but they had actually set the parameters to be incredibly strong without telling me. I was seriously beaten up by that monster and they were having so much fun. Perhaps they needed to square accounts with me from our working days [laughs]. Of course this monster was appropriately balanced before it made it to store shelves, so you don’t have to be humiliated like me.
Has there ever been a temptation to make the game simpler or easier?
If there’s a quest you can’t clear right away in Monster Hunter, you can change up your tactics and strategize – change your weapon or armor set, bring different items with you, try a new battle tactic, or come to an understanding of the monster’s movement so you can effectively deal with it, etc.
In the end, your technique as a hunter is the ultimate deciding factor since it’s an action game. However, there are times when your friends will make up for your mistakes during a multi-player quest. I really hope that hunters will enjoy the satisfaction that comes from rethinking your strategy and trying again to overcome a difficult obstacle as your skills also improve with continued play.
To learn why you will probably never see a massive team of players take on a single monster and why the maps are segmented, head to page three.
Is there a reason the maps in monster hunter continue to be segmented instead of exist as one large open area?
The most important element in Monster Hunter is the action strategy between monster and player. Considering the way the monster is currently moving and deciding how to react is paramount. Always being aware of your location and the context of the battle is key.
Action-wise, we can create a sort of focal point for the strategy between monster and hunter by setting up a certain space of the map. This provides a much deeper gameplay experience. By creating a field that is constructed with a series of these smaller areas, I think players are naturally encouraged to think about their strategy in relation to the monsters’ habitat.
Have you ever considered making larger hunts that allow more than four players to play together at once?
We try to make sure every hunter’s action is valued even in a multiplayer gaming environment. For instance, I think the individual actions of each hunter tend to become menial if there are dozens of people playing with the monster at the same time. Considering the current monster design and gameplay experience that we’re aiming for, I believe the maximum of four players is the most appropriate for this kind of gameplay.
What are some of your favorite movies? What movies influenced the design of Monster Hunter?
Generally speaking, I like Pixar movies. They present a distinctive universe and I love the cheery mood they put me in.
With Monster Hunter, I think the team is less influenced by movies and more influenced by the natural world. The team often uses reference materials such as National Geographic to bring a certain sense of biological plausibility to the monsters. Monsters are a fictional creation, but we develop them with the idea that they could very well exist in our world; in our reality. The more we learn about natural life forms and reflect that in the game, the more realistic and plausible that world becomes.
Was Dragon’s Dogma’s monster climbing mechanic an inspiration for Monster Hunter 4’s monster climbing?
These titles were mostly developed by different teams, so we were not actively sharing ideas in principle. However, come to think of it, there were some staff members on the Dragon’s Dogma team who had previously worked on Monster Hunter. In that regard, it is true that both titles were developed by team members who have a knack for the kind of action that Capcom excels at, but no active sharing, no.
Do you have a favorite monster?
I suppose it won’t come as a shock to hear that I really like the Gore Magala in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. I find the dark and mysterious feel to be unique and compelling.