If you've ever wanted to meet up with your friends online, explore expansive vistas, and kill giant lizards by the score, Capcom's Monster Hunter is the game for you. Monster Hunter's North American release is imminent--the game ships in just three weeks--and in light of this fact, we caught up with director Kaname Fujioka to find out what went into conceiving and executing the ambitious online game.
GameSpot: Did you ever think about making Monster Hunter an online-only game?
Kaname Fujioka: No. From the initial phases of development we placed an emphasis on online play. We never thought about removing or separating the online content. GS: Why do you think we're not seeing more online games?
KF: First of all, the initial investment on the development side is extremely high, and unlike offline-exclusive software, there are running costs even after a product is released. These are the kinds of factors that contribute to an environment in which the software itself is still rather difficult to develop for. In addition, even with just a certain amount of investment, there are still all kinds of preconceptions amongst users, like, "In order to get started in an online game there's all kinds of troublesome procedures such as configuring your network adapter and creating an account," or "You can't really get anywhere with this game unless you play for a long time," and so on.
GS: What's the most important feature in balancing an online game?
KF: We think that perhaps the most important feature for balancing an online game is producing an environment (gameplay included) in which the player can have fun playing casually.
GS: What's the biggest mistake developers make with online games?
KF: A big mistake might be feeling the need to get gamers to play for long periods of time rather than making the game fun to play, the results of which make it difficult to play in a fun and casual way.
GS: How do you think Monster Hunter avoids making such a mistake?
KF: There are powerful monsters to defeat and lots of high-class equipment to obtain as the player's objective. By eliminating character progression through a system of experience points, we've tried to make efforts towards creating an environment in which users don't have to spend all kinds of time on these areas. In addition, the quests are broken up into short periods of time where it's easy to get started and pick up where you left off. We think we've realized a game that users can have a good time playing casually.
GS: How did you come up with the idea for Monster Hunter?
KF: From the simple idea of wanting to hunt really big monsters, we decided on a concept in which players could hunt and cooperate with others.
GS: What inspired you to make that kind of game?
KF: Dinosaur picture books seen through the mind of a child and images where monsters appear (TV programs, movies, anime, etc.) were a few of the things that inspired us.
GS: How did you decide on the setting? The different classes?
KF: We established a framework in which a great emphasis was placed on having natural indigenous backgrounds (settings) and having a really grand scale of textures and space. From this perspective, we put together a fairly simple concept in which we decided to have "really big weapons for hunting really big monsters." From there the big blade and the massive heavy bow gun firearm, which are symbols of the Monster Hunter world, were born. As for the single blade and the light bow gun, these were the light weapons we created for more casual missions.
GS: Could you tell us about the pros and cons of the different classes?
KF: Single Blade: This weapon's attack power is rather low, but its movements and its attacks are agile.
Big Blade: This weapon's movements and attacks are slow, but this weapon unleashes a powerful attack over a wide area.
Hammer: When you charge this weapon up, the awesome power of a MAX attack makes this the most devastating weapon. An inability to guard with this weapon, narrowness of the attack area, and the slowness of its attack speed are its drawbacks.
Lance: This is the best short-range weapon. The wide area of its guard ability and its lunging attack power are characteristics of this weapon.
Gunner: This is the sole long-range weapon in the game. Its ammunition allows functions for a variety of purposes, such as scatter bullets that spread explosions over a wide area, bullets that paralyze monsters, dead-aim penetrating bullets, and bullets that enable you to rejuvenate friends, to mention a few.
GS: Once you settled on the concept, how did you determine the style of gameplay? Was it always going to be online?
KF: The style hasn't really changed since the initial phases of development. We thought that this type of gameplay was really well suited for online cooperative play.
GS:The game has been out in Japan for a while now. Have you been surprised by the way people are playing?
KF: This game has unique controls and gameplay characteristics. It is designed to have easy trial-and-error gameplay. We're very happy and surprised that this area has been so well received by players out there.
GS: Did the final game end up being what you had intended it to be, or did it turn into something else as development progressed?
KF: As a challenge many developers face, throughout the development process there are all kinds of different elements that you wish you can include. But as far as the core aspects of the game are concerned, we feel that we've pretty much been able to express what we wanted to.
GS: What are you most pleased with about the game?
KF: There are a couple of things that please us the most: The fact that this game isn't simply about graphics, there's a variety of gameplay throughout, and that we've been able to create a space that people won't get sick of even after many hours of exploration.
GS: Thanks for your time.