Ghost of Tsushima: interview with Jason Connell, creative director of the game
We talked to Jason Connell, creative director of Sucker Punch, about the gameplay but also the stylistic and narrative choices of the highly anticipated Ghost of Tsushima
Announced back in 2017, Ghost of Tsushima it took a very long time to show its final shape. Last week a dedicated State of Play gave us the opportunity to take a close look at the gameplay of the PS4 exclusive, prepare ourselves for what awaits us when we play Jin Sakai. Unfortunately for the moment we have not yet been able to get our hands on it but in the coming weeks we hope to fill this gap by returning to you with the first impressions. To pass the wait, Sony gave us a chance to interview Jason Connell, Creative Director by Sucker Punch. With him we talked about gameplay, deepening the combat system as well as the evolution of the character, but also about the setting, the work of historical materials and artistic choices.
What were the most challenging aspects of the development of Ghost of Tsushima?
First of all, it was very difficult to find the correct work set up: the right people to consult to have precise information and cultural references, to talk to Japan Studios and so on … we are happy to have received a lot of support, I am very satisfied with the work done.
The second difficulty was and is obviously linked to the current situation involving the whole world, to the pandemic that forced us to rethink our way of working precisely in the period in which we were completing development. Here too, however, thanks to a fantastic team, we were able to overcome those obstacles.
In the game the character can face the adventure by choosing an approach from Samurai, more direct, or from Spectrum, moving stealthily. How did you set up the design work starting from this premise?
Jin Sakai he was born as a samurai, he received that training and begins his adventure embodying his values, fighting in that way. When the war recounted in the game explodes on the island of Tsushima, Jin will be faced with the choice of evolving his fighting style but also of changing his way of thinking, leaving behind some of what he has learned up to that point. However, it is important for us that the player can always choose: if he decides to take the path of the Ghost, he will still be able to face the fights like a samurai, using what he learned in his youth during his training.
For the combat system Did you choose a path more like the free flow of Marvel’s Spider-Man Batman, or can players expect a higher level of complexity and challenge?
It is not easy to give a definitive answer to this question. As we showed in the State of Play, the action includes the ability to jump into the fray as well as to act in the shadows. There are extremely complex moments and simpler ones, clashes with large groups of enemies as well as one-on-one battles. During our demonstration of gameplay, Jin was checked by one of our testers who knows the game perfectly and showed the mechanics without ever making any mistakes. If I had played him I would probably have been beaten up more than him. And of course I’m pretty good too.
Then there are the difficulty levels to choose from, which will make the experience customizable: certainly our goal is to create an adventure that is accessible, not niche, but that can give a different degree of challenge based on the user’s choices and that can also engage a lot at certain times.
It will be possible to level the weapons?
Yes there will be a progression for the spade, we want it to be an important tool for the protagonist and therefore for the player. The sword is said to be the samurai’s soul, so we don’t want him to throw it away to get another one, it’s an important item for Jin and his family. So yes, there will be a progression related to the sword but not only that. There are ability and new tools, as also shown in the State of Play.
Can you tell us more about the techniques that will be learned in the course of the game?
There will be a sense of progression throughout the adventure. Samurai sessions are characterized by different positions while playing as a Ghost there are numerous gadgets, such as kunai or bombs. All of these will be elements that will be part of the growth of the character.
The voice Legend of the Ghost what exactly are you referring to?
We will talk more about this in the future. But I can say that the game is not only about Jin’s transformation from Samurai to Ghost, but also about his path that will lead him to become a legendary fighter. People will come to know it, they will notice its passage and there will be presences in its life who will notice this change. You can think of this element as its growth.
Akira Kurosawa was cited as a source of inspiration for a series of choices related to the narrative but also to the image of Ghost of Tsushima. What kind of work have you done on it?
When we started working on the project we made a list of the elements that, artistically, should have guided our work. Second or third on that list was the wind, we wanted it to give constant movement and dynamism to the image. If you study and observe directors like Kurosawa, elements such as wind but not only, for example rain, are central to making each frame less static.
The wind was therefore a central aspect of the game’s look for us but it was not easy to implement within an open world: when we did it we decided that it would be interesting to exploit it even more, making it a sort of guide for the game. player, so as to integrate it also at a playful level within the gameplay. I therefore believe that the wind was the strongest and most concrete inspiration we took from Kurosawa’s work.
What role will theexploration in the experience economy?
The reason we started State of Play by pushing on the game world and its exploration is because it is something we are very proud of. The experience is not limited to walking around and fighting a few enemies. If you are only interested in history you can go straight to the point, follow it from start to finish and we are sure you will be blown away by it. But if you like to get lost in the details of the game world, explore it down to the smallest detail and look for everything there is to see, we are equally sure we have a lot to offer.
Internally we think of the story of the game as a tree: the trunk is the main story, the one with Jin as the protagonist, but through a whole series of encounters made during the game, others will develop. Just like the branches of a plant. For example, if you are interested in the character of Masako that we showed at E3 2018, you can deepen his story through dedicated missions, so as to better discover who he is, what his ambitions are and what fate awaits him. We have side stories, collectibles, secret armor set … there is so much to see outside of the main story.
How did you work onTsushima island, from reality to the setting of a videogame?
We visited Tsushima, studied it thoroughly. It is a very beautiful place but, even today, it is covered for more than 80% by a dense forest and has many differences in height. It is not an easy place to carry within a video game. Our task was therefore to take as many references as possible and then use them to create an environment that was suitable for a video game.
In some areas we have decreased the density of the plants to allow the passage of the character while in others where there was a beautiful ginko biloba tree, for example, we put ten to make that place more meaningful and recognizable, saturating the image of yellow. We have perfectly reproduced entire farms, houses and temples based on what the historians we consulted have told us, but even in that case certain choices were made inevitable to find the right balance between historical fidelity and fun.
You will leave it to the player freedom total to explore the environment since the beginning of the adventure?
In the very first few bars we want to explain to the player who Jin is, what his background is and what moves him. After that we will give the player total freedom to go wherever he wants, to freely explore the game world.
Everyone knows samurai and Japan very well, the same probably cannot be said for the enemy, i Mongols. How will you make them interesting?
The first thing we did is have a great actor. So good that we wanted him on stage for the first presentation of the game in Paris in 2017. We put him center stage because he really perfectly showed the danger these enemies represented at the time. In a few words he was able to make us understand how the danger embodied by the Mongols was not limited to some very bad opponents, but also to a group of intelligent and determined people.
This was the first contact we wanted to give players to the enemy. Then we worked on cultural references: it is true that there are not as many as there are samurai ones, but they exist and are interesting. There are colors, symbols, clothes and much more that represent Mongolian culture. We have also prepared a series of collectibles that will help you understand their culture, should you wish to do so.