Ghost Of Tsushima Combat Designer Discusses The Difficulties Of Katana Balance

Getting the balance of combat right in a sword game like Ghost of Tsushima is difficult, as the game's senior combat designer explains.

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One of the big challenges when designing a game based largely around realistic sword combat is finding the right balance so that attacks feel powerful without combat relying on one-hit kills (unless you take the Bushido Blade path). When designing PS4 exclusive Ghost of Tsushima, Sucker Punch Productions had to find the right balance, and now the game's senior combat designer has provided a deep dive into what their process looked like.

In a post on the PlayStation Blog, Theodore Fishman has delved into some of the issues they faced while designing the game's combat. A term he uses throughout is "lethality contract"--the player's understanding that if they cut an enemy with a sharp blade, they'll likely die. While it's possible to make silent kills and standoffs instantly lethal, getting the balance on standard combat was difficult.

"When we did our early playtests we received very negative feedback that enemies felt like 'sword sponges,'" Fishman recalls. "My favorite quote from players was 'I felt like I was hitting enemies with a foam bat.'" Giving the enemy a form of hitpoints wasn't working, so the team ended up integrating a "maximum hits to kill" system, whereby no standard enemy could withstand endless attacks.

The balance needed to account for weaker enemies still being enjoyable to fight, though--if "low HP" enemies died in one hit, it would not be satisfying. "We had to increase difficulty across other aspects without breaking our 'lethality contract' with the player," Fishman says.

The staggering system became important, he says, because the initial system of parries and counter-parries made fighting too reactionary. "The time it took to stagger an enemy was the time other enemies could strike, and was a core aspect of how we injected enemy variety," he writes. The "Stance" system also helped to incentivize varied combat, as switching styles let you stagger faster.

However, the rules had to be bent for duels and boss fights. "Though the Samurai cinema trope is two swordsmen facing off and the first strike kills, we knew players would have different expectations," Fishman says. "These were boss fights with high challenge and intensity. We had to bend the contract and honor this moment."

Fishman goes into more detail, and if you're interested, the full post is worth a look.

In any case, all the hard work paid off, and Ghost of Tsushima ultimately became PlayStation's fastest-selling original IP. The developer now seems to be gearing up for a sequel or continuation.

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