For the first time, players learned about Ghost of Tsushima in 2017 at Paris Game Week. At the time, everyone was impressed by the spectacular trailer, but no one could have imagined that the large, but not so famous American studio Sucker Punch Productions could please the players and critics so much by collecting awards and ratings in the spirit of “910” in 2020.
Now a year later, the developers announced a director’s cut of their main hit, which will also affect the representative of the latest generation of consoles, the PlayStation 5.
In fact, while Sucker Punch is known to many in the context of Ghost of Tsushima, the studio has been producing solid titles for consoles since 1999. Starting with Rocket: Robot on Wheels for Nintendo 64 and the Sly Cooper series for PlayStation 2, and ending with the Infamous line, which the developers have given almost ten years. In August 2011, after the success of Infamous 2, Sony bought the studio, making it part of Worldwide Studios.
In 2014, Sucker Punch continued to develop Infamous on the PlayStation 4 and released Second Son and First Light in the same year. Yet despite such a busy schedule, the studio was already carefully planning its next step in the industry.
Thinking about what kind of project they would like to do next, the developers realized that everyone would also work with the open world, realizing that in this way they give the player more freedom.
Each employee of Sucker Punch could offer his idea, which eventually amounted to more than seventy. Among them, there was a place for Scottish folklore in the person of the robber Rob Roy, pirates, the Middle Ages in the aesthetics of steampunk, as well as The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. They decided to stop at the samurai within the framework of feudal Japan.
“We were looking for an incredible place that players would want to visit, and we realized that there is nothing more romantic than feudal Japan. And who else to be in such a setting, if not a samurai, ”recalled the director of the game, Nate Fox.
«There’s a lot of dignity and steadfastness about samurai that you don’t see in action heroes,» Fox added. — They are laconic, and if they threaten someone, they don’t make a show out of this. If the samurai act, then it is always as effective as possible.
For a while, the studio didn’t want to settle on the title «Ghost of Tsushima» for fear that it would be difficult for the majority of the public to hear. However, whatever other options they tried, they lacked something, while «Ghost of Tsushima» contained something unusual and attractive.
Perhaps the main source of inspiration for the developers were the films of the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, and specifically «Seven Samurai» and «The Bodyguard». It was Kurosawa who at one time introduced the Western public to the image of the samurai and Japanese culture.
Other influences include Stan Sakai’s Lone Wolf and Cub and Usagi Yojimbo manga, as well as video games such as Shadow of Colossus, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
The Ghost of Tsushima map is based on the real island of Tsushima, located between South Korea and another Japanese island, Kyushu. In order to convey the authenticity of the landscape and culture as clearly as possible, the developers went to Tsushima twice, led by the lead artist of the project, Joanna Wong.
During their stay on the island, the team consulted with artisans and historians, photographed and scanned the local flora, and recorded bird songs and animal sounds.
“The exploration of Tsushima is at the center of the entire gameplay of the game, and we designed the setting as a single character with a personality and charm that is constantly on the move,” Wong said. “When we first started, the nature of Tsushima was just a working background, but in the process of work, we realized its full significance.”
By the beginning of the development of Ghost of Tsushima, Sucker Punch had grown to about 150 people, but still, according to one of the founders of the company, Brian Fleming, it was not easy to develop such a large-scale world.
Although Infamous also sent the player into an open setting, it was smaller in scope, so the first couple of years of development was spent on building a new technical foundation. Despite this, Sucker Punch still could not aim to copy the real island of Tsushima due to its unbearable size. Instead of creating separate assets and placing them on the map, the studio focused on developing several tools aimed at procedural generation.
As a result, they came up with a map measuring approximately 28 square kilometers, including three regions, in which there was a place for forty different biomes.
According to the plot of the title, in the process of capturing Tsushima in 1274, the army of the Mongol Empire under the leadership of Khotun Khan exterminated almost all the samurai, without actually finishing off the protagonist of the game, Jin Sakai and his uncle.
When Hollywood or the gaming industry turned to Japan, either the Sengoku period (circa 1573-1603) or the Edo period (1603-1868) were mostly depicted. Sucker Punch chose to work with the Kamakura period (1185-1333), which was never even made into a movie. The main idea of Ghost of Tsushima was as follows: «A samurai has to sacrifice his honor in order to become something else and save his native land from the invaders.»
Two actors were called to voice Sakai: Kazuya Nakai (Yakuza 0, Persona 3) handled the Japanese version, and Daisuko Tsuji (Death Stranding, Call of Duty: Black Ops IV) handled the English version. The voice of the antagonist was given by Isobe Tsutomu (Nioh 2, Final Fantasy XV) and Patrick Gallagher, known for his role as Attila in the comedy Night at the Museum.
Perhaps the main advantage of the game was how reliably the developers showed Japan, trying to get rid of the usual Western interpretation of such scenarios to the maximum.
Once the developers put together the basic prototype, Fox and Fleming first took the idea to Shuhei Yoshida, one of the key people behind the PlayStation brand and president of SIE Worldwide Studios from 2008 to 2019, to make sure they were on the right track.
“We did not know if we could realize our plans. We decided that if we couldn’t convince Yoshida, then we would switch to something else, ”recalls Fleming.
However, Yoshide, on the contrary, saw great potential in Ghost of Tsushima and advised the developers to use all the resources they could find to remove any uncertainty in the project.
When asked what was the most difficult thing to develop, Fleming without hesitation highlights the creation of a combat system. To implement the key mechanics of the game at the highest level, the studio invited two real-life samurai Masakumo Kuwami and Ryuzetsu Ide, who, under the direction of director Billy Harper, gave the game’s heroes movement through the motion capture system.
By the way, it is curious that in 1274 the samurai mostly used bows, not swords. Katana became popular among them only after four hundred years. And when the warriors needed to use cold steel, their choice more often fell on the tati’s two-handed sword. Also, the masks that cover only part of the face worn by Sakai only appeared during the Muromachi period between 1333 and 1573.
Composers Shigeru Umebayashi and Ilan Eshkeri were invited to write the soundtrack for Ghost of Tsushima. The first is known for his work in Japanese and Chinese cinema, and the second is especially distinguished by the music for the film «Young Victoria». The musicians had only a year and a half to create a sound palette that embodies both the island itself and the emotional experiences of the protagonist, tearing him into two parts as the game progresses.
“When I composed the music for Ghost of Tsushima, I was inspired by Japanese nature, its climate and lifestyle. In my compositions you can hear such Japanese instruments as shakuhachi, koto and taiko drums. I hope the players, listening to the soundtrack, will feel the spirit of the people of Tsushima. The spirit of those who plow his land and those who protect it, following the path of the samurai.»
Even before the release, the developers realized that they wanted to add a cooperative mode to the game, and finally did it on October 16 as part of the Legends update. Sucker Punch has added story episodes and survival missions that you can now play with friends. In addition, Legends brought with it a «New Game+» mode, in which the player can play Ghost of Tsushima again on increased difficulty, retaining the learned skills and equipment.
The game was originally supposed to be released on June 26, 2020, but due to the pandemic, the release date was postponed to July 17. Within three days of its release, Ghost of Tsushima became the fastest-selling original title on PS4, with two and a half million copies sold, and Nate Fox and creative director Jason Connell became Tsushima’s official ambassadors.
Critics were enthusiastic about the game’s visuals, but many expressed indignation at the open world activities and the beatenness of many of the title’s gameplay mechanics. Fox himself, on the contrary, was pleased with the non-linear approach to the gameplay, where the hero is not led by the hand in all stories, but only in general they show the way.
By the way, the success of Ghost of Tsushima inspired Sony to start work on a potential film adaptation of the game, directed by Chad Stahelski (the John Wick series).
As promised by the developers, the highlight of the director’s version of the game for PS4 and PS5 will be an additional location in the form of Iki Island, which Sakai will be able to visit, not to mention technical improvements in the version for the latest PlayStation.
As for the future plans of Sucker Punch, not so long ago it became known that the studio is hiring new specialists to develop a new «grand» game, twisted around multiplayer. One way or another, whatever the next Sucker Punch project is, it will have a lot more eyes on it this time around.