Monster Hunter isn’t a new series, it’s been around since 2004 when the original game launched on Playstation 2. It’s one of Capcom’s most beloved series, selling more than 45 million copies over it’s lifespan, primarily in Japan. So when the development team started on Monster Hunter World, their biggest goal was to capture the interest of every potential hunter outside Japan
They knew something signifigant was needed to get more people playing the series, it was already considered phenomenal by fans who sunk hundreds of hours into their 3DSs and PSPs. That’s what Yuya Tokuda, the director of Monster Hunter World, wondered when the higher ups at Capcom tasked him with making a new game. “Nothing comes without a mandate from above, Tokuda was given two tasks to complete,” said Peter Fabiano, Senior Manager of Global Production at Capcom. “He had to create a Monster Hunter game for the next generation of consoles and for a global audience.”
This meant dealing with new technology while keeping traditional fans happy. Luckily, the core formula didn’t have to change, it was already a structure that worked well. “The three core components of Monster Hunter have always been strong,” Tokuda said. “It’s the action, the multiplayer social experience, and the meaty gameplay loop that keeps you coming back.”
Something still had to be adjusted for the game to strike a chord with a new audience, especially since the series had developed an intimidating reputation due to its perceived difficulty. Tokuda knew the series well, he has envisioned his design for Monster Hunter since watching the announcement trailer for the first game in the franchise almost 15 years ago. Before he even worked at Capcom.
In order to help see his vision come to life, Tokuda took a team of around 70 developers and worked on a prototype for a year and a half. Once they finished it in November of 2015, he knew he had something special. Tokuda showed a video of that prototype for the first time in a packed room during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
The prototype is set in a dense forest similar to the Ancient Forest in the final game. “This is where we realized what the biggest change and challenge would be, trying to survive by only using the interactive elements of the environment,” Tokuda said. “We wanted to create a living world that you could rely on to help you survive--and that meant not using weapons.”
That was the change that Tokuda believed would elevate Monster Hunter to global fame, a living breathing world that carried most of the mechanics over from previous games but made the environment a much bigger part of the gameplay.
The prototype featured a lot of elements that didn’t make it into the final build of the game. Environments were more destructible, trees would collapse as an Anjanath rammed into them while trying to shake a hunter off its back. Even smaller things like how the hunter visibly reacted to evidence they found when tracking monsters, gasping when they ran into footprints and covering their nose near excrement, were too costly and had to get scaled back or removed completely.
The purpose of the prototype was to prove how seamless and dynamic the world could be. Elements like monsters having routines and actually moving through the world regardless of player action and small creatures that you don’t fight still serving other purposes made the territory feel lived in.
Tokuda took that a step further and imagined ways that the player would affect this habitat. In the prototype, a fight breaks out between the player and an earlier model of the dinosaur inspired Anjanath. The hunter doesn’t draw his weapon once as he is chased through trees, into a tunnel, and near a waterfall.
At one point the Anjanath loses track of the hunter but is able to find him by following his scent. “This was all about healing, since the play field is now seamless there is nowhere you can go where monsters won’t get you,” Tokuda said. “So creating ways for the player to hide was incredibly important.”
In some cases, its possible to get away from a monster if you're able to get out of sight. Since there is no safe place to retreat to when hunting the development team added the ability to hide in grass and made the world bigger so there are more opportunities to put distance between the player and the beasts. “But if we allow the player to remain hidden forever other things will come into play and the monsters will be at a disadvantage,” Tokuda added. “So we allowed the monster to chase the players scent.”
Mechanics were developed with the intent of deepening the world, Tokuda and his team wanted to reflect the world in the abilities of the player and the behavior of the monsters.
The prototype then goes to a familiar scene where the Anajanath accidentally destroys a natural damn, forcing both it and the player off the side of cliff. “It’s all part of the dynamic environment,” Tokuda said. “It also gave us a chance to display how vicious the Anajanath is since it tries to attack you as it’s getting washed away by the water.”
The Anjanath and player land in a shallow pool at the bottom of the cliff and a Lagiacrus, a leviathan like creature that was introduced in Monster Hunter 3 but didn’t make it into this game, arrives and finishes off the dinosaur. The hunter finally draws his weapon and faces the Lagiacrus. “The other reason not to use the weapon is that the mission was to use the Anjanath to lure the Lagiacrus out.” Tokuda said, as the video ended.
“This had been percolating in his brain since he watched the first trailer for the original Monster Hunter, it clarified a lot of the complex goals he had inside,” Fabiano said. “He didn’t have a backup plan, if he didn’t get into Capcom he didn’t know what he would have done.” The crowd laughed as Takudo blushed. “Finishing this prototype was a big moment for me,” he said. “Seeing this come to life was incredibly emotional.”