Game director Yuya Tokuda and senior manager of global production Peter Fabiano played to a packed room today at GDC 2018 with their postmortem of Monster Hunter: World.
The game debuted early this year and proved a smashing success, especially in the West, where it seems to have been embraced by more players than any other entry in the long-running series -- in part because it's a bit more approachable and forgiving.
Nevertheless, Fabiano says that it was designed to be very much in line with the three core pillars of the Monster Hunter franchise: compelling action, convivial multiplayer, and an engaging upgrade loop for weapons and equipment.
From the beginning, Tokuda’s goal with World was to create a game with a dense, seamless world; Monster Hunter was the game series that inspired him to join Capcom, and as a director on World he wanted to try and break down the artificial barriers between zones which have been a hallmark of the series.
Breathing life into the World of Monster Hunter
He showed footage of an early prototype (built by 50-70 people in about 18 months) of World, highlighting multiple examples of how the team took pains to try and make this game feel more “alive” with little touches like making player characters animate in specific ways to look at nearby creatures, or fine-tuning monster movement code so they would move naturally through the environment.
“In previous Monster Hunter titles, the routines for movement where such that monsters would actually get stuck in between the trees,” said Tokuda, by way of example. “What we did this time around was we customized the tech so that we could have monsters move around without getting stuck.”
The team also tried to make the environments of World feel more alive by fiddling with the creatures to make them more life-like, taking pains to ensure that monsters would attack and interact with each other like real animals. In World, for example, the smaller “fodder” monsters will sometimes gang up and attack the larger trophy monsters, giving the player a bit of help.
“Up until now, the smaller monsters were only enemies,” Tokuda continued. “But with this game we wanted to show they can be either friend or foe.”
He also said the team took special pains to make confronting the big monsters feel dynamic, devoting resources to expanding and refining the process of taking down a big enemy -- each of whom is created with a very clear theme.
"With each creature, we also wanted to have a very unique sort of characteristic that stood out and made them unique," he said. "[For example] their attack style, maybe a creature moves very mechanically and so has an almost bulldozer-like attack; that becomes a motif for the creature. Having said that, we also then have to go back and make sure it fits into this living, breathing environment."
The team spent a lot of time fine-tuning the ways a player can “mount” a monster and move around while riding it, for example, and they also invested heavily in ensuring that bosses would be vulnerable to environmental dangers -- either those crafted by the player (flash bombs, triggerable environmental hazards) or those inherent to the environment, like fast-flowing rivers or other, bigger monsters.
“You spend so much time with the boss battles in Monster Hunter, so we tried to utilize a broad number of methods to have a good variety, and keep a good tempo going,” he continued. “This is how we were able to realize Monster Hunter: World’s most ambitious change: to make it possible to use the environment.”
Bonus Round: Making Monster Hunter more approachable
In responding to audience questions after the talk, Tokuda opened up a bit about how Monster Hunter: World's was designed to be more approachable to a broader variety of players. It's an interesting subject given how well the game has done internationally, and Tokuda said a lot of it came down to playtesting this game with Western audiences.
"For the Japanese domestic market, we did not do any playtesting; we have resources internally, and obviously as a Japanese team we have those sensibilities and we think we know our audience pretty well," he said. "For overseas, we actually had two testing opportunities, one in North America and one in the UK...in addition, when we were out at conferences and events, we could get live feedback and playtesting on our demo."
In response to another question he gave a specific example of how this Western playtesting pushed the team to change something that's core to the Monster Hunter franchise: how the player understands how much damage they're doing in combat. World gives players the option to see damage numbers pop off every time they hit n enemy, something Tokuda said Japanese players would not appreciate.
"We felt like perhaps the Japanese userbase may not welcome this change: to show damage, up until now you would have to judge from the reaction of the monsters," said Tokuda. "But the Western users, when we did a lot of focus testing, the feedback was that they wanted to see something immediately. But the Japanese users might not want this option, so we included it as an option to show or not show [how much damage you're doing]."