When Devolver Digital
lifted the lid on its intention to publish a cinematic samurai hack and slash in black and white that homaged the silver screen greats of Akira Kurasawa
and ilk, we were immediately drawn to the project. Add in that it was being helmed by Flying Wild Hog
, studio behind some of our favourite OTT games such as Hard Reset
(which needs a sequel, stat), the Shadow Warrior
series and the upcoming Weird Western
shooter, Evil West
(cannot wait for that one) and our excitement really knew no bounds.
Now, that very game: Trek to Yomi
is out in the first week of May, and while we slash diligently away at its review, ahead of release we were given a chance to chat with the game’s director, Marcin Kryszpin
. Read on for what he had to tell us about setting the period, tone and what the team was watching to overflow that inspiration glass in front of them.
Naturally, the cinematic black and white presentation of Trek to Yomi gives off the feeling of classic cinema and samurai films from many decades ago. How does this inform the gameplay and landing on side-scrolling action?
We wanted to immerse players into our cinematic setting. So what we did was basically not
implement some mechanics that are typical for 2/2.5D combat games such as: jumping and passing through enemies. We felt those types of actions would pull the gamer out of our setting. After all, one of our goals was to make it such that the player feels like they’re part of a movie-like experience.
Historical accuracy and capturing a time and place is by no means an easy task, with Trek to Yomi what were some of the steps taken in terms of research, discovery, and consulting?
Not going to lie, it meant a lot of binge-watching of the so-called “chanbara eige
”. You know, both the classics were directed by [Akira
but also Harakiri
by Masaki Koboyashi
and Teinosuke Kinugasa
’s Gate of Hell
"We also received a tremendous amount of help from Aki Tabei Matsunaga, who specialises in the Edo period. She helped us with translating the dialogues and styling them to fit Edo Japan...”
On top of that, we also watched some anime classics like Ninja Scroll
(yay! - Steve.), and Samurai Champloo
. For those of you who haven’t seen them, do yourself a favour and watch them!
Obviously, that wasn’t everything. We also received a tremendous amount of help from Aki Tabei Matsunaga
, who specialises in the Edo
period. She helped us with translating the dialogues and styling them to fit Edo Japan
. She also made sure that our lore is as accurate as it can be in a videogame. All dialogues and descriptions were stylized to fit the time period the game is set in.
Striving for and capturing that cinematic look of Kurosawa; composition and framing are important. How did the team look at things like lighting, environments… and even level design through this lens?
We were trying to balance these two aspects: exposing the cinematic nature but not at the cost of playability. Each shot was analysed in terms of composition, light and strong points of the image. We tried to develop a visual language primarily by means of an appropriate balance of light and separation of planes.
Locations were also tediously prepared in a special way, based on references, and later fit in such a way that would fit our gameplay needs.
Sound and music play an integral role in presentation, gameplay cues and adding to dramatic tension, how did this side of Trek to Yomi evolve and take shape?
The main concepts for the character, mechanics and use of sound and music in TTY were firmly outlined in the pre-production stage of the game. We started sound production first, from simple, basic iterations, and as the game systems expanded we developed them until we reached the final effect. In parallel, music composed by "Emperia Sound and Music
" was created, and thanks to the great cooperation with their studio, we were able to work with preliminary versions of the music from the early stages of the game.
"The [design] environment was responsive to changes in game development and gameplay tension...”
With the joint development of sound and music in the game, the environment was responsive to changes in game development and gameplay tension, while also serving as inspiration for other game design departments. In the end, all of the initial goals for sound and music were met, and they became an important and integral part of the overall character of the game.
Difficulty and accessibility are two very different things. What were the goals in terms of creating a challenging environment to learn specific combat techniques, and were there any challenges in keeping it all clean and clear to understand with such a striking cinematic look?
Our initial focus test showed one thing: people who are normally not advanced players really enjoyed the style of the game and wanted to see more and continue the story. After that, we decided to add a few difficulty levels to make this game accessible for everyone and keep the challenge for more advanced players..
It’s one thing to play up to classic samurai cinema, and quite another to also reach into Japanese folklore. What did you explore on this front and what made it into the game?
"We’re dealing with a game to which you can’t apply the same rules as you would in a movie...”
-- one of the oldest existing records of Japanese history and beliefs, was our main point of reference in terms of Japanese folklore and mythology. We decided to implement these snippets of knowledge into the game via collectibles. Wait till you reach the Yomi part of the trek, it truly is mythology galore.
In doubling down on the cinematic aspect of it all, a lot of classic samurai flicks are a slow burn before a large crescendo. Was it difficult using filmic reference points as far as cadence/pacing is concerned when taking this idea into account?
It was because you have to remember that we’re dealing with a game to which you can’t apply the same rules as you would in a movie. It was a tough feat that required a lot of trial and error, but in the end, I think we nailed it!
Was the game always going to be a side-scrolling presentation? Can you talk about this and if you explored any other ways to present the game/idea?
We definitely didn’t want to create another generic hack and slash side-scroller, that was absolutely out of the question. At the same time, we didn’t want to limit ourselves by sticking strictly to 2D. 2.5D was, in our opinion, the best way to convey this game. So to answer your question, yes, the game was always intended to be a side-scroller but we wanted to play with the convention a bit -- add that special little Hog
ingredient to it.
Trek to Yomi is out for PC
, Xbox One
and Xbox Series X|S