When it comes to crafting a gaming environment that feels like a living, breathing world, no one seems to do it quite like the team behind the Monster Series. But keeping a world that’s constantly expanding with new monsters, items, and more in balance can be a difficult task. A game has to strike that right balance of challenge and reward, power and struggle. We recently had a chance to ask Monster Hunter Producer Ryozo Tsujimoto and Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak Director Yoshitake Suzuki about their process for creating new environments and tweaking gameplay for the upcoming Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak expansion.
Shacknews: I'm curious, how do you decide what new monsters to create and what monsters you're going to bring back and how do you balance between the two?
Tsujimoto & Suzuki: So of course, it's a difficult test to balance the monsters because there's a limit to how many actual monsters we can add. And one of the design goals in adding monsters is to make sure that they have some kind of impact on the game as an expansion and that they have a feel that's kind of fresh and innovative. And more importantly, it's kind of pointless, or there's not as much meaning to adding monsters, if the gameplay with the monsters that we do add feels the same as the ones that already exist in the game.
It's very important to make sure that the monsters all have a different feel and have a different kind of gameplay or gameplay elements to them than the ones that already exist in the game. That kind of helps us decide what monsters to add in which ones to bring back
And just to elaborate further on returning monsters, this also depends heavily -and it goes back to- what kind of appearances they have made in previous games. But it's important for them to kind of mesh well with the game system. The unique gameplay elements that come together to give Rise or Sunbreak its feel, it's important that the monsters work well within that system.
Shacknews: When you're approaching new content like Sunbreak and making an expansion like this, when you're laying out the plan, how much does community feedback play into your decisions?
Tsujimoto & Suzuki: We definitely look into the feedback from the community. So we're always aware of what kind of comments the community is giving to our games and we also have a system of communication set up with the Capcom USA staff for them to inform us how players feel about the series and where it is now.
We don't want to get too specific about exactly what kind of things were implemented because of the direct player feedback. But, we are planning on releasing information and details about what things we did touch up for Sunbreak, what things we kind of looked into, that are based on player feedback. Obviously there are things also that aren't exactly the way that they're communicated to us, we have to make decisions, we have to adjust to our needs here. But we will say exactly what kind of features have been adjusted.
Shacknews: How do you go about balancing and improving weapon classes between major expansions? What's the approach to deciding if a weapon needs more or less? And do you ever worry about the prospect that a weapon might be ruined in the process?
Yoshitake Suzuki: On the dev side one of the important things that we strive to do in regards to the weapon balance is focusing heavily on developer test plays and being very meticulous and listing up the kinds of adjustments and kinds of changes that need to be made on the development side to each weapon. And to do this we rely heavily on player statistics and data to make sure that any of the balances that we introduce don't kind of upset this balance.
Shacknews: What was your favorite part of designing the new biomes for Sunbreak? What did you hope to bring to the expansion’s new environments that we didn’t have in Rise already?
Tsujimoto & Suzuki: In creating the new areas for Sunbreak, it was very important to make sure that there was a different field than what the players had experienced previously in Rise. And specifically in creating the Citadel, one of the important factors in creating this new location was making sure that the kind of motifs expressed by the new monsters and the design elements that are introduced with those are also reflected into the design of the stage. So that players get a unified sense of that motif. Expressing that was probably one of the most interesting parts of creating the new stage, the Citadel.
Shacknews: So it's just making sure that like every living thing was connected and had a reason for being there, a purpose then?
Tsujimoto & Suzuki: Yes, you're right. So basically, the level design is something that has been very meticulously planned out for Sunbreak. For example, even how the monsters move throughout the environment and what actions they perform, how they behave in different parts of the stage, have all been very intentionally and carefully planned out.
Shacknews: Monster Hunter has already added several new mechanics to the franchise. And now you're adding the Switch Swap system as well. How difficult is it to integrate a system like Switch Swap without breaking the game? What is that integration process like?
Yoshitake Suzuki: One of the main features of Rise was having the ability to switch different abilities onto your weapons in the form of these Switch Skills. And so the base concept going into Sunbreak was focusing on how to allow players to more easily be able to switch between these core features of the weapons and the gameplay in real time. During a quest, how would they be able to increase the ability for players to utilize different combinations and do it quickly? So that's why in Sunbreak, there have been new features added in the Switch Skill Swap ability in order to allow players to really control their variability in real time.
Shacknews: So it's just more about adjusting to the situation than having an extra handful of abilities that you can call upon?
Yoshitake Suzuki: Again, we definitely want players to experiment. Yes. We want them to be able to experience different kinds of combinations and variation in their gameplay but also more importantly we want them to be able to realize a sort of showmanship or a kind of beauty to their gameplay. To be able to show off really cool looking combinations and fluid gameplay. With the addition of the switch skill swap and also the swap evade, which is also a new mechanic that is used when you're doing the Switch Skill Swap. By combining all these mechanics seamlessly they're able to perform really showy gameplay that they also will be able to enjoy.
Shacknews: I personally always feel like Monster Hunter is an experience that is good with friends. But there are a lot of single player features that are there so that you don't feel like you're just getting beat up all the time by monsters. But this new follower quest I find very interesting because I feel like it takes that single-player experience to a whole other level. Where did the concept of the follower quest come from? And what was the process of putting them into Sunbreak?
Tsujimoto & Suzuki: There are basically two main concepts behind what inspired the follower quests. As you know, in Monster Hunter Rise, there's an element called the rampage in which you can call at the time, it’s called the warriors of Kamura. And you can call upon these characters to aid you during the Rampage quests. We wanted to expand on that aspect by having all of the colorful cast of characters that are introduced in Sunbreak being utilized more effectively out on quests with the player. Taking advantage of these very interesting characters that you'll meet throughout the story and having them be partners in the add-on quest, was something that we really wanted to explore with this feature. And secondly, we're very aware that multiplayer is a very core element. It's a very attractive element for lots of players. But what we wanted to do was also introduce this kind of element of quasi-online play for single players that may not have been able to really experience the kind of the enjoyment of multiplayer in the past. By having the follower quests, we're able to have players interacting with characters in a sort of multiplayer -a quasi-multiplayer- setting, which we think a lot of players will enjoy.
Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak is set to release on June 30, 2022 for the Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam. Be sure to check out our hands-on preview or hit up the official Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak website for more information.