We recently shared Sucker Punch's approach to historical accuracy for Ghost of Tsushima, the upcoming samurai game based on an actual 13th-century invasion of Japan that features decidedly non-13th-century elements. As studio lead Chris Zimmerman described, the team will lean hard into historical fact so long as it doesn't conflict too strongly with the mainstream definition of samurai, be it their stereotypical appearance, combat techniques, or demeanor.
Sucker Punch's concoction of facts and fiction extends to the island of Tsushima itself; lots of small details are derived from on-location research, but the layout and atmosphere are tuned to heighten moment-to-moment exploration and combat. For Sucker Punch, it's all about glorifying the source material to set the stage for equally beautiful and tense moments in a war-torn idyllic countryside.
As we saw during the E3 gameplay reveal, Ghost of Tsushima's story isn't simply about good versus evil; rather, it aims to display the devastating, transformative effects of war. Distressing emotions like pain, fear, and desperation manifest in different ways depending on the person, and Zimmerman promises that perspectives from both warring factions will surprise players expecting a straightforward campaign.
In part two of our interview below, Zimmerman gives us a taste of what players can expect from Ghost of Tsushima's story and open world, and how he hopes to draw you into not only the conflict at large, but the interpersonal chaos that occurs when groups of people are forced into survival mode.
GameSpot: Based on what we've seen so far, Ghost of Tsushima is a very serious game. Are there moments of levity that help break things up?
Zimmerman: There's serious stuff going on in the story, but it's not just a drear fest from end to end. There are moments of quiet and beauty too--that's part of the experience. This isn't a sea of enemies. It's more grounded than that. There are times when you're walking through the woods and you listen to birds, or you spook a deer, or you hear a wolf in the distance and then it pads across the path and looks at you before it keeps going. That's kind of magical, when that sort of thing happens.
In any open-world game, you're not spending most of your time in combat. You're spending most of your time exploring and experiencing the world, and that's kind of why we put so much effort into designing a world that's so great to experience and explore. We're doing our best to capture the beauty and serenity of Japan, but there is an air of ever-present danger. It's beautiful, but there's a cloud of smoke on the horizon. Or you're going through and you crest some pass and you see a gorgeous valley in front of you, and then you stumble upon a Mongol party. It's that juxtaposition that I think is pretty special. There's an ugliness to the violence [of] some of the stories set against this natural beauty. There's this tension there that plays into the experience.
It's one of those things where you're trying to figure out how to get the player's experience to mirror the character's experience. Removing the barriers between those two is what pulls you into a time machine, to make you feel like you're actually there.
For these people, for many of them, this is the only home they've ever known. They know it was beautiful. They know that what it is now is not what it should be--that something's wrong. Making sure that when you're a player that you can feel that as well, that you can feel the tension between natural beauty and being in a building that's been burned and looted by the Mongols. We'll sometimes show you buildings that haven't been touched so you can sense that this place, this beautiful place, has been or is being ruined.
It's the difference between an open-world game that does a good job of pulling you in to let you feel like you're actually there, and an open-world game that never lets you forget you're playing a game. There's nothing wrong with those games, but that's not what we're aiming for. We're aiming for a game where you forget it's a game. That's a fun thing to try to do. It's nice to be able to aim high.
Are the Mongols always your enemies, or do you ever encounter Mongols that are more complex?
I think that'll be super interesting. That's one of the things that came across in the debut trailer, where the speaking part is actually the general who's leading the invasion, and you get a sense that they're not orcs, you know, they're actually people. We're not showing anything or really even talking about it, but I think what you're looking for--that idea that there's some nuance there, at least at some points--you're going to see that, I think on both sides. Maybe not all the Mongols are just purely bad, and one of the points we're trying to make with what we showed at E3 this year is that not all the Japanese people are all good either, right? It's tough on everybody.
I decided halfway through the show, when we were in the mud pit [in the demo], I was going to tell people that mud is a metaphor, and in fact it is. It's a metaphor because this is a messy place and a messy time and nobody gets out clean. The decisions that everybody makes here are leaving them a little bit muddier each time, and at the end of the whole thing everybody is covered in mud.
As development continues, what are some of the big decisions you still have to make?
Lots of details. We wouldn't have showed this demo unless we thought the heart of the game was pretty solid. But, there are lots of details to polish. The thing we're trying to do here is build a big open-world game, and all that means, entails, and implies, but we're doing it as a Sucker Punch game. It's not just about scale, but about taking the quality of the experience that we demand of ourselves and maintaining that at the scale you expect of an open-world game, so that your control experience, your action-game experience, and the characters and the graphics, everything is up to the standards that we expect of ourselves. But, it's just a lot bigger--it just keeps going, there's more to do.
How long do you think it will take to get from one end of the map to another?
It depends on whether you're on a horse or not, and it's a great question to ask because it's a question we ask ourselves. I'll give you my smartass answer: an epic amount of time. I don't mean it takes forever; I mean that if you make that journey you really want to feel like it was a journey, you went through stuff along the way. It's less about how long did it take or how many kilometers is it, but more about how long would it take you to tell the story of that trip from one end of the island to the other. I think what we're aiming for at the end is to be able to tell a great story from that.