Ghosts of Tsushima might be about a fictional character, but its creators are putting a lot of effort into making sure the history of the time period, the outfits, weapons and armour are correct, but with a lot of flair. Like so many of us, creative/art director at Sucker Punch Studios Jason Connell loves Samurai films and feudal Japan. Ghosts of Tsushima is the studio’s most ambitious project yet, and Connell’s love for Japanese films and getting artistic shots and vistas can be heard in his voice. In a behind closed doors session, Connell went through the same section we saw in the Sony Conference, but with pauses to showcase the graphics or scenery while talking about the various animations and thought processes that went into making the game.
The initial shot of a samurai riding out of a forest sets the scene, reminiscent of many Samurai film. The version we saw was all with Japanese voices and the release version of the game will let players choose between Japanese and English and I much preferred the Japanese voice acting. Wind is a big theme of the game and wind is used to play with pretty much everything in the scene. Pausing the game to load a type of photo mode, the wind keeps fluttering and moving the trees, flowers, the grass and even the hair and bamboo raincoat that Jin is wearing. This makes walking or riding a horse through the fields look amazing, like the flower fields that lie in the middle of the island. Connell says that the island has been recreated from maps of the area and will have several beautiful locations to visit with different themes attached to the visuals. He also said that if you see it you can go there, with the whole island available to players if they want to go exploring.
After the beautiful flower fields, we see mass graves from the Mongol invasion. This is their biggest game to date and there are buildings and a storm off in the distance. Apparently, this mission, with its story of betrayal and forcing people to work with you despite that, is just a side mission. It also shows that the conflict wasn’t a simple red vs blue combat, with each side still having allegiances and motivations other than just the invasion that is currently ravaging the lands. This is where the combat starts. Jin kills a grunt with a single strike, straight from the sheath with a smooth iaijutsu strike. Connell pauses the game once again and you can see blood splattering away from the cut and the blade, with the grunt’s mask getting knocked off by the strike. Some of the blood lands on Jin’s raincoat, staining it, while the mud of the place they were fighting starts to cling to his leggings. Connell says that the words, Blood, Mud and Steel are mentioned often in the studio as they create set pieces and fights. While the fighting does involve blood flying and coating you, the game doesn’t use gratuitous violence. While there are dismemberments and gouts of blood, it isn’t about the shock factor, and instead is a counterpoint to the beauty of the world around you, a place muddied and tarnished by violence.
Stronger enemies take multiple hits and Jin spends a lot of time outnumbered. To help with this Jin can use stealth to strike and kill enemies in a single strike, even killing multiple enemies in quick succession. This is Jin having to become something besides a samurai to survive against such grave odds. He also makes use of a grappling hook to get around the outside of houses, finding places to sneak into the rafters. Jin’s honour has to be changed or put aside for him to deal with this threat to his land.
Watching the fight between Jin and his betrayer, a lot of red is used in the scene. Autumn leaves move away as the two circle each other, flaming arrows set the background on fire and the sky going red as the sun sets. Almost everything in the scene is live particles thanks to the engine work they did with the inFamous games. The game has a dynamic sky and to make sure that the sky is always something that helps set the scene, Sucker Punch put a lot of time into making sure dawn and dusk look as pretty as possible for dramatic scene lighting.
While Jin’s honour is in peril due to the way he now fights, he still offers the sword back to his betrayer, showing that he needs some help and that he is passionate. A few things gleaned from the discussions with Connell about the game is that there are no narrative branches, it isn’t about story choices, but choices in terms of where you go, how you approach a situation and the like. The ambition is that players go wherever they want on the island. Grunt enemies will have a one-hit kill, there will be outfits in the game (there was no mention if they have stats or not), but there will be skills in the game. Sound and Foley crews from Japan Studios helped with the sound recording of places in Japan and they have hired historians and cultural experts to get details right.
Oh and Jason Connell’s favourite samurai film is Ran, and he really likes 13 Assassins too thanks to the amazing sword fighting sequences. Jin’s fighting style and movements are modelled from a weapon expert who does the mocap in studio and works with the animators to make sure the combat forms are translated properly. Oh, and there will be a photo mode.