While attending E3 2018, I was invited behind the scenes at the PlayStation booth for a closer look at Ghost of Tsushima, the latest project from Sucker Punch Productions. A video with some gameplay had gone up not long before that meeting, and the portion of the game I saw was the same—but this time, played live on the PlayStation 4 Pro, taken more slowly, and with commentary from the game’s developers.
Sucker Punch co-founder Chris Zimmerman guided the demo, answering questions as we explored. As the game’s main character, Jin, ran his horse through a lush green field, with plants parting as the horse passed by. The greenery was an important part of making the game come alive, Zimmerman explained; the actual Tsushima island is extremely green, and everything had to feel as close to the actual location in Japan as it could. Storm clouds rumbled in the distance, and Zimmerman pointed out that even the weather followed the real world as closely as possible with procedural clouds, rain, and other weather patterns—even the clouds floating across the game’s title screen aren’t looped, but procedurally generated with the rest of the island.
Moving onwards towards the first enemies Jin encounters, I got to see something not in the gameplay trailer. Just as Jin sliced into the first enemy, the game paused. Droplets of blood and leaves hung frozen in the air. Tree branches in the background still waved and Jin’s clothes flapped in an invisible wind, but the motion was completely still. As it turns out, the game has a photo mode, letting players capture any moments they want, but that wasn’t the only reason the demo had stopped. When play resumed, Zimmerman pointed out that all of those blood droplets that had hung in the air had now splashed somewhere. All the blood spatter on the ground and across an enemy’s face and clothes had been determined by the trajectory of each and every blood drop, not just added in as a random effect.
Watching, I was impressed by the flow of combat. Every time Jin engaged an enemy, the scene shifted subtly, framing the fight with an eye towards the dramatic and cinematic. Every action taken in the fight was deliberate, each strike punctuated, posed, and held for a moment before flowing into the next strike. Bright red blood hung in the air with bright red leaves, bright against a stormy gray sky.
As the demo moved on, it seemed that every scene was framed with an eye for what would be most cinematic. Players aren’t just exploring a one-to-one recreation of Tsushima Island; they’re exploring a version of that island as it might exist in a samurai movie, with all the dramatic framing, lighting, storms, sunsets, and stark color contrasts that entails.
Of course, some concessions needed to be made to make Ghost of Tsushima a game and not a movie. In the version of the demo I saw, there was no HUD, but Zimmerman informed me that the final game would include one—there’s simply too much information that players need to know, and the simplest way to convey that information is to just have an overlay. It’s also possible to play Jin in a way that’s not exactly samurai-ish, taking down enemies from hidden positions rather than facing them outright with honor, for example. That choice is left up to the player—though choosing the way of the samurai and confronting dozens of enemies head-on will likely be the harder fight.
Ghost of Tsushima is still a long way off from release, but if every part of the game has as much of an eye for the cinematic side of samurai history, it could be a treat for cinema and movie fans alike. There’s even the option to play entirely in Japanese.