Ghostwire: Tokyo’s Kenji and Masato Kimura Delve Into the Game’s Design Choices

The latest title from The Evil Within devleoper Tango Gameworks, Ghostwire: Tokyo sees players traversing the titular city as Akito Izuki, one of very few remaining survivors of a paranormal attack. He’s joined by KK, a spirit who gives him mystical powers, and together, the two investigate the attack and the mysterious man behind the event, who appears throughout the game wearing a Hannya mask. While not strictly a horror game, Ghostwire incorporates a number of different elements of the genre, including malevolent spirits and creepy locales.

In an exclusive interview with CBR, director Kenji and producer Masato Kimura dove into the design choices they made when creating Ghostwire, breaking down how they approached the game’s mix of Tokyo’s modern and mystical elements as well as the combat.

Note: The below interview with Kenji Kimura and Masato Kimura was translated from Japanese by an interpreter.

CBR: What are you guys most excited for people to see in Ghostwire: Tokyo?

Kenji Kimura: We’ve created a Ghostwire version of Tokyo that has some unordinary things that are lurking amongst the ordinary parts of Tokyo, so we hope players will pick up on those and enjoy it.

Something I found really interesting about this particular version of Tokyo was that it’s like the real Tokyo, but different, and I was wondering how you guys went about approaching taking something familiar and making it different for the game world.

Kenji Kimura: I took a lot of walks around the city. Folks on the team also took a lot of walks around the city. We actually took a lot of walks. It was a lot of hiking and a lot of footwork to rediscover what was cool about Tokyo. There are a lot of things that we knew, but we didn’t really pick up on, because it’s just so daily in our lives. But by doing this exercise, we were able to see what was peculiar, what was interesting or intriguing about the city. And it is a city that is very modern with technology and very, you know, high-tech things.

Buildings like office buildings look awesome, but between them, sometimes, there would be a bunch of trees, and there’d be, like, a small shrine, for example. And sometimes if we just walked by a series of houses and you just turn a corner, then it feels like you just entered a completely different realm sometimes. You feel like you’ve been warped into, like, another age if you walk into a shrine or a place that might feel a little bit more sacred. Sometimes the oxygen there it just tastes different. It feels like another plane, sometimes, and so we want you to bring that somewhat bizarreness that exists in Tokyo that sense that everything is ordinary, but there’s still so much that is unordinary inside of it and wanted to bring that fun to the gamers out there.

Masato Kimura: The area around the Shibuya station inside the game was [based] off the streets and architecture in a way so that it does feel very authentic and true to life. But because of the footwork Ken mentioned a little bit earlier, we were able to go out and find the other cool parts of Tokyo and stitch them closer to Shibuya station, so that we created this sandbox-style map that has all of the cool parts that are condensed together into easier to access locations. And so if you have a chance to play the game and then actually come to Tokyo, you’ll be able to see those very famous sites and some other kind of just normal residential areas that have been brought together in a closer way and in a much more accessible way. And hopefully, you’ll be able to enjoy Tokyo twice because of that!

That blending of the mystical and modern that you mentioned really does stand out to me in the game, and one way it stood out to me in particular was, when I was playing, I caught the Visitors looking at both spirits and mundane things like magazine racks. Can you talk to me a bit about that design choice?

Kenji Kimura: The enemy Visitors — the visitors are spirits that are basically modernized and Ghostwire-updated versions of the mythical creatures that kind of existed or were inspired by urban legends. And we had this concept in making our game, and we wanted to stay true to this concept in all aspects of the game. The concept was to make a game that allows the player to experience the unordinary that is lurking within the ordinary. So that could be taken as a sense of spookiness and also experiencing the paranormal. But we wanted to break that down into other words, and say we wanted players to experience the unordinary that is lurking in the ordinary.

And, in this case, we had the Visitors. We were creating characters that that would fit that vision, and so we picked characters that look like humans from afar. Because you’d normally feel the silhouette of humans look ordinary. And as you walk closer to them, as you walk up to them, you’ll start to notice that there’s something off about them, there’s something wrong, there’s something unordinary about them. And if for example, the salaryman who’s holding the umbrella would not have a face, but from afar [he] just looks like a normal salaryman.

In the example that you gave, the one that’s standing around looking at a magazine rack, from afar would fit that vision of just looking like a normal person looking at a magazine or just trying to pick out something to buy. But as you get closer, you notice that there’s something wrong with them, so there’s something that’s off about him And so that’s the basic approach of how we created the sense of mythicalness that you’re experiencing.

Masato Kimura: So that’s a good question that you brought up. It makes us very happy that you picked it up, because it’s something that is kind of weird. It’s definitely some kind of strange and it’s part of the appeal of the game. We wanted to create a situation where it just looks normal, but it’s a little peculiar. Why would this thing thing be looking at a magazine rack? But then it also spawns this sense of entertainment in regards to making you think about why, and why is always a good question that inspires a lot of people. The way that we created the question why in the player’s mind at that point is because of our vision, and the vision was to create that unordinary that is lurking within the ordinary, and it means that we were staying true to our vision and that has caused the intended effect, and so that’s a good sign.

Were there any urban legends or yokai that you guys wanted to include in the game but coudln’t for one reason or another?

Kenji Kimura: I can’t think of any urban legends, because we try to do as much as we can. But there were a lot of yokai, because there’s just so many yokai.

Masato Kimura: The kyuubi no kitsune, the fox with nine tails, would be cute. And that yokai has a specific story tied to it that just didn’t fit in with the background for what we had in mind, so weren’t able to fit it in this time.

Something I found interesting from a design perspective was that, in the combat, you can do the palm strike and the water Ethereal Weaving, but there’s no straight up melee option, like a sword and a shield. Can you talk to me a bit about that design choice to emphasize ranged combat over melee combat?

Kenji Kimura: It is intentional, definitely. We wanted the player to feel immersed in the game, and so we chose to use a first-person camera. And that immersion is very important to us. And the thing is, we also wanted the player to feel like — there’s a lot of hand movements in the game — and we wanted the player to feel like those hands were the player’s own hands. While experimenting and working on the combat, we did a lot of different iterations on combat. We learned that the kind of enemies that we have, when we’re trying to fight them, they are spiritual enemies that are non-physical, and it’s kind of hard to get the sense that my hand would actually be able to grab them or do damage to them directly. And it felt more intuitive to us as a team. And it actually felt better to be able to use these kinds of attacks that get thrown. You have these energies that you’re able to unleash and lash out as, like, projectiles, and so that ended up making the focus out of combat be more of a ranged type of combat.

Masato Kimura: When we started thinking about the combat, the enemies are non-physical entities, and so it didn’t make sense for us to start thinking about using hammers or swords to combat them. Also guns were out of the question, because we didn’t think that bullets would do any damage to spirits. And in that light, we were thinking, while it’s hard to like grab or grapple, do like wrestling moves, against a ghost. And so it made sense more to us to think about using what kind of elements are in Japanese traditional stories? How did they purge evil spirits? How did they combat or fight evil? And we did our own research and came upon the idea of old Japanese sorcerers that would use their hand movements to conjure up powers of nature to unleash against spirits. And because the spirits are natural entities, well, unnatural, I guess, but you’d be able to use the powers of nature against those unnatural enemies. And that was one of the reasons where we tilted over to being more of a ranged combat type of game.

And that also is about the feel-goodness of combat. When the enemies are so up close to you in a first-person camera, it gets to be very stressful, and sometimes the characters that we created, they looked very scary. And so having them up close that much was too stressful as an experience that we wanted to create, and so it felt more natural to have mid-range combat. That has led the game to evolve in a way that’s unique. It’s more of a unique experience because of the mid-range combat. Other first-person shooter-type games would have a lot of up-close melee and also a lot of long-range combat. But this one has probably a heavier focus on mid-range combat, which would help make this game even more unique.

So something that struck me is even though Ghostwire: Tokyo isn’t a straight up horror game, it expresses real-world anxieties in a way that’s common to that genre. For example, with the salaryman Visitor, I saw the the official Twitter for Ghostwire say that he’s «born from the hearts of those push to utter exhaustion by their work,» and there’s a sense throughout the game of the player being in a city that has undergone a major attack that has just wiped out everyone and you’re wandering alone through it. Can you talk to me a bit about how Ghostwire addresses those real world anxieties?

Kenji Kimura: We really looked at urban legends for inspiration. And urban legends in Japan are based on paranormal things or entities or very unnatural, supernatural, very scary things sometimes. But they are basically, when you dissect them, they are really addressing the strong negative emotions that are felt in certain situations. And what we gravitated to was which ones are felt universally, and which ones are not just specific, you know, a specific type of person or place. We gravitated towards the ones that were addressing or trying to make sense of the anxieties or the stresses that are felt when people enter a new stage in life.

And so you’ll see, for example, like when you just moved to a new city. You feel this sense of loneliness, and that’s kind of like the sense of loneliness that we put in. Also the sense of when you enter a new company as a full-time employee. There’s a lot of stress there. Some of the other characters you’ll see — if you just graduated from middle school and entered high school, for example, there’s a lot of anxiety to fit in and a lot of peer pressure. And the manifestations of all of that stress are what have culminated into […] the creatures that we have put into our game. And so when we look back at it, a lot of this stuff is based on what we’ve learned from the urban legends that we did our research on. And also, we live in Tokyo, so we experience a lot of anxieties here just in our normal daily lives, and it’s very likely that our daily anxieties have been expressed in a much more augmented way.

A lot of the urban legends, or the kaidan/kwaidan stories, in Japan, they express those anxieties in a format in a really creepy way, but they don’t actually harm you. And when you actually read them, or hear about them, from word of mouth, it’s what we mentioned earlier. You’re walking down the street, you see a dark area between two buildings. It’s dark, but you notice something is moving there. Somebody’s wearing a black suit, and you walk up to it, and then you find out he doesn’t have a face. And then that’s the end of the story for a lot of the urban legend things that we hear of here, and it’s up to the listener to think about what happens next. There’s no real harm that gets done in those stories. Nobody actually says, «They attack you.» So it’s really up to the listener to think about what happens afterwards. The experience is made whole by the listener. And the teaching, or the moral there, is told by the grandparents or the teacher at that time. […]

The Visitor that you mentioned earlier, the salaryman that’s looking at a magazine rack, is also similar in that fashion. The experience is made whole by the viewer. That salaryman is actually wearing a formal black suit, so he could be just not a salaryman, but somebody going on his way to a funeral. And there’s a lot of different interpretations of these urban legends. We also wanted to maintain that way that there’s different interpretations that could be had. And so we’ve created things in that way so that players can be able to think about and use their imagination and think of how to make that experience whole.

As as a final question. is there anything you can tell me about bringing the game to Xbox at this time?

Masato Kimura: We can’t really say anything now. We did receive a lot of love and support from Sony. And we are very happy with the experience of being able to work with them. And because of that relationship, we feel that we’ve been able to create some very awesome games. And as game developers, we’re looking to the future. We want to bring the game to as many customers as possible, but we can’t really say anything about what you just asked.

Ghostwire: Tokyo releases on March 22 for those who pre-ordered the deluxe edition through the PlayStation Store. Otherwise, the game’s wide release is March 25.

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