Though it’s no stranger to consoles, the Monster Hunter franchise has become somewhat associated with handhelds in recent years. There are many reasons for this – from an exclusivity agreement with Nintendo to the popularity of handheld gaming in the Japanese gaming market where the franchise is most successful.
However, with the upcoming release of Monster Hunter: World, Capcom is hoping to make things truly global and as part of that it’s releasing the game on the same date across the world on the latest console generation.
We sat down with the producer of Monster Hunter: World, Ryōzō Tsujimoto, to discuss why PC and console were the right platforms for this push into the western mainstream and what it felt like to jump into the latest generation from handheld.
“It took some research for us to get up to date on what the current gen consoles can do,” Tsujimoto tells us, “We wanted to know what [...] kind of things we could show and then decide how that messed with our game’s concept and how best to apply that technology to the game.”
A big factor in the decision to release World on consoles was the “certain online assumptions” that come with the platform. “With portables we know you can connect online but it’s not all the time,” explains Tsujimoto, “We know you might be online at home but we know when you’re out and about you’ll need to be playing a different way or you’ll need to make sure you get the quests first before you leave the house.”
On console that’s far less of an issue – “you can log in daily and get your daily login bonuses, or get event quests which are only available for a certain time. You get a much more flexible infrastructure to create a great online experience and it’s been great to build up and flesh out the online modes that way.”
The same can be said for the PC version of the game, though it should be noted that Tsujimoto has said the game will come later on the PC platform largely due to a need to perfect the online matchmaking system as it’s more complex on PC than on first-party console services.
Aside from being better in terms of online infrastructure, Tsujimoto is also excited by the more powerful capabilities of the latest console generation, particularly the Pro and One X models from PlayStation and Xbox. While these consoles are known for their 4K resolutions, this is not what Tsujimoto is most interested in.
“With the power of the consoles at the moment, it’s certainly one aspect we can use to create more realistic and powerful graphics,” he acknowledges, “but I think the power of the current generation is exciting in more ways than just pure graphics.
"For example, the AI monsters take a lot of computational power and we couldn’t do this before. But with more power available to us monsters aren’t just aware of the player and when to attack them, they’re also much more aware of the complex environments in which they’re roaming and they can react to each other. In previous games the monsters were fairly limited in how they would fight each other. But now if you’re fighting a monster and another one comes in invading his turf, they’re going to kick off against one another and fight one another. It’s a lot more engaging in that way.”
More than resolution
Even as far as the improved visuals these consoles are capable of, Tsujimoto is less concerned about resolution and more concerned about improvements in “computationally expensive processes like textures and lighting.”
“There’s some monsters with very thin wings,” he enthuses, “and they’re very translucent and you can see the light shining through it. It’s that kind of thing. There’s a lot of detail, a lot of believability we can add and I think it goes beyond a mere pixel bump on the screen.”
Despite the many benefits of developing for PC and console, though, Tsujimoto certainly doesn’t seem to be done with handheld.
“I still love portable systems,” he tells us with a nod, “One thing that’s difficult to do with all consoles is bring it round to your friends house and play together so they still have that special in-person social gaming aspect.
"Of course the environment you play portable games in tends to be different. Being able to jump in and out of a game on the go commuting on a flight is a great experience. I think every platform has its unique pros and cons and the most important thing is to make sure you’re putting the game concept you want to make on the platform that suits it best.”
This doesn’t, however, mean we should expect to see Monster Hunter: World on the Nintendo Switch any time soon. Despite the fact that the Monster Hunter franchise has a good relationship with Nintendo, and Monster Hunter XX is coming to the console, Tsujimoto tells us there are certainly no plans “at the moment” for World to come to Nintendo’s new console.
We imagine the lack of clarity around the Switch’s online services at the moment would be a significant barrier to any kind of port plans though we can’t be sure.
This is certainly the most globally minded Monster Hunter release we’ve ever seen, which is, Tsujimoto tells us, a part of the reason for having World in the game’s title. But is the team ready for a global online player base? According to Tsujimoto, the trio of betas the game will have undergone are a big part of preparing for that.
While the betas have been a chance to show that despite more streamlined gameplay "the core gameplay is really the same thing", Tsujimoto told us the betas have also been a "great stress test" for servers – "with everyone jumping on board on the same day we really need to make sure in advance that we’ve got the capacity so that’s why we’ve been running it over several phases and getting ready for launch.”
With the third and final demo ready to launch on January 19 before the game’s global launch on January 26, only time will tell whether the betas have proven useful.