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Having played a bit of Capcom's upcoming Monster Hunter: World, GameCentral, the video game branch of Metro.co.uk, offers a hands-on preview and an interview with the game's producer Ryozo Tsujimoto. The preview makes Monster Hunter: World sound quite intriguing - intentionally clunky and tough to figure out but extremely satisfying when you do. And the interview, in this age of ubiquitous Story Modes and games where you do nothing but hold W while a narrator is talking to you for two hours straight, is such a breath of fresh air that it alone is almost enough to make me a Monster Hunter fan. Have a look:
GC: It’s obvious this is an important milestone for the series, but what surprises me is that despite the improvement in graphics this still plays quite similarly to the last couple of 3DS games. Is it maybe the formats and the demographic that you’re aiming at which are the most important changes here, rather than the gameplay?
RT: I think you can’t really separate the audience from the content, because you’re only making the content because you think your audience exists. So it’s hard to say which is more important for this entry. It’s definitely a big step for the series, because the shift back to [home] console… it feels like a really great chance for Monster Hunter to break through in the West, in a way that perhaps it hasn’t been able to achieve on portables. And that’s something we’re looking forward to seeing.
The gameplay is not the product of an analysis of, ‘this is what people want so we’ll give it to them’. We’ve had a firm concept in mind for what we want the game to be, and we want to get the core Monster Hunter gameplay to be more accessible to more people. But the way to do that is not to change the gameplay to make it what people are used to, it’s to make the on-ramp easier to get onto. So they can get to the good stuff faster and with less frustration. So it’s kind of all connected, it’s hard to really pick out one thing that’s more important than any others.
GC: I admire the fact that you’ve not tried to dumb the game down at all. But given how long the franchise has been around, what gives you the confidence that Western gamers will finally take to the series? Because although it’s accessible in terms of the basic controls it does require a lot of patience and attention to detail, which is not necessarily the case with a lot of other mainstream titles at the moment.
RT: This is a game where you do need to learn the skills to play the game, and put them to use. And then you’ll feel this cycle of achievement as you progress and get better. You’ll maybe hit a wall where you can’t beat a monster, but what you can do then is strategize and look at your gear – see if you can improve your weapon and armour, go back in and beat it. And then getting through that hurdle is going to be really satisfying.
And yes, it does take patience… but that’s the game. We’re not going to simplify that just to make it easier to get through the game. The feeling of getting through the game, even though it was tough, is the challenge. If you want people to get better at chess you don’t sell them checkers. You let them get into the game in easier ways.
This is not a game where your character gets XP by your playing. You’re the one who actually gets better. It’s only your gear that you can improve, so it’s the skill you get from learning how to play the game that becomes most important. So as you go through it and overcome the challenges; one day you’re looking at your character with this cool gear and weapon and then you realise actually, ‘I’ve earned the right to this stuff, because I’ve got so good at the game that I’m actually this amazing hunter now!’
That’s the enjoyable experience we want people to have, and it’s one of the most unique aspects of Monster Hunter. It’s kind of like playing a sport. You’re never going to be able to get rid of the challenge, and the need for patience and practice, but then the ultimate reward is so much better.
And again, in terms of capturing an audience, we’re leaving all our great stuff there but we’re making it so that the tutorials are better and you can get into it easier. And the game starts quicker, and instead of reading a lot of text you can have a voiceover telling you what to do. All these little quality of life improvements to get you into the middle, into the core part of the game, are what has been improved and made easier now. We haven’t made the core itself easier.
GC: I know from my experience, and speaking to others, that the reputation of Monster Hunter – the initial sense many Western gamers get from seeing and playing it – is that it feels, for want of a better word, clumsy. The controls, the camera, and the general confusion of battle. As you say, overcoming that is the game, but it does present a problem when trying to attract players that are not used to it.
RT: I think if anyone plays the game and finds it clumsy… perhaps they expected a game where you could press a bunch of buttons and get these sword slashes, but it turns out they chose the Great Sword and the animation to do a big heavy hit was big and heavy and took time. The reason for that, on that particular weapon, is that that’s the strategic power of that weapon.
It’s incredibly powerful, but as a built-in power of the weapon you have to know how long it’s gonna take to hit. And you can’t just walk up and hit the button. You have to be reading the monster’s behaviour, and hitting ahead of time almost. And that’s the choice you make with the Great Sword.
Compare it to a fighting game: if you haven’t played Street Fighter before and you pick it up and you choose Zangief you might think it’s a clumsy game because he has no fireball moves, and he’s slow, and he’s big, and he only has grapples. But the reason we have so many different weapon types in Monster Hunter is the reason you might have 16 characters in Street Fighter. There’s a variety of ways to play the game and you chose the one that suits you.
So, the Dual Blades are incredibly fast. They’re low DPS, but they’re going to be able to get you moving faster and hitting more. We have ranged weapons where you can hit from a distance, you have powerful swords, you have lighter swords, you have the lances with charge attacks… there’s such a huge variety there.
In Street Fighter it’s an equally valid game experience for the guy who likes picking Zangief and the guy that likes picking Chun-Li, right? They’re playing the same game after all. But they’ve decided what they want to prioritise in that gameplay experience and that’s completely legitimate. And we’d actually encourage it, because in a four-player co-op game there’s no need for everyone to have the most powerful weapon.
GC: Monster Hunter as a concept could already be described as games as a service, of the sort that is becoming very popular now with things like Destiny and GTA Online, is that something you’re actively looking to expand upon with this game?
RT: We definitely don’t plan this game to be a five or 10-year client, where you buy it and then you have content for the next decade. We always have had a really rich post-launch experience for Monster Hunter players, with lots of free DLC and extra quests. And, as we recently announced, there will be regular large free updates for Monster Hunter: World, starting with the first one in spring with an extra monster.
So there’s a lot to sink your teeth into after you’ve finished the main game, and you’re going to be following along with the DLC plan, but it’s not something as long-term as years down the line we’ll still be releasing things for this game. It’s a regular game with a really meaty post-launch content schedule, but it’s not like a service.
Sounds great, huh? However, if you've never played Monster Hunter before you may feel that figuring out a game that comes with over a decade's worth of intricacies all on your own is a bit too much. In that case, I'll direct you to this Polygon article that covers a great initiative by a couple of veteran Monster Hunter players who are eager to help you learn the game and have fun while doing so. A bit on that:
Monster Hunter is known to be intimidating to new players. It’s a good thing that those interested in checking out Monster Hunter: World, the series’ upcoming console entry — the first in more than a decade — already have a group of veterans in place to help them out.
Adopt-A-Hunter is a burgeoning fan community meant to invite more people into the series. The goal: Give individual players personalized help in navigating Monster Hunter World’s copious systems, varied weapons and crafting elements when the game launches on consoles Jan. 26.
“Historically, Monster Hunter is a franchise that has had a strangely high and somewhat prohibitive barrier of entry tacked onto a fairly steep learning curve,” said Woulfe Condra, the website’s co-founder, in an email to Polygon. “Many people start the game and then end up giving up due to frustration over lack of information, seemingly ‘clunky’ controls, or other traditional Monster Hunter obstacles — hitting what can feel like a ridiculously thick brick wall. Having personally brought many of our own friends into the franchise, we quickly learned that having somebody experienced helping you through the initial frustrations often ends up creating lifelong fans of the series.”
Both “novice” and “veteran” players can sign up on the website to either receive or get help when Monster Hunter: World is out. Adopt-A-Hunter’s staff will pair up individual players, in the hopes that people will have a direct contact, and new friend, to reach out to for guidance. Among the matchmaking criteria is home country and native language, so that players can communicate with someone local and without a language barrier.
As of now, Condra and the Adopt-A-Hunter crew have primarily used the Monster Hunter subreddit and other communities to pitch their campaign. That’s a good way to attract longtime players, but it may take a little more work to get anyone starting the series with Monster Hunter: World on board.
“For Adopt-A-Hunter to work, we have to have veterans that are able and willing to adopt novice hunters,” Condra told us. “With that being said, I am also aware of the challenges in continuing to reach and attract new players once the game is launched and into its life-cycle. This is a movement I would love to have persist at the very least through the entire development cycle of World, if not the future of Monster Hunter.”