Ghostwire: Tokyo is not like other games, which is coincidentally why it is an original property. The title started out as The Evil Within 3 before undergoing drastic enough changes to justify it being a new IP. While it’s not unheard of for games to shift as development gets underway, this adjustment was just one of many over its long development cycle.
“Long,” in this case, is relative. After being established in 2010, Tango Gameworks’ first game, The Evil Within, was released around four years later, which is not outrageous for a freshly assembled team developing a 15-hour AAA game in a new IP. The sequel took even less time, coming in just three years later. Ghostwire: Tokyo, on the other hand, took almost four and a half years.
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It wasn’t even Ghostwire: Tokyo for all of those years, since it was, as was previously stated, originally The Evil Within 3. Game Director Kenji Kimura said the sequel started out somewhere “very cold” in northern Europe. That then changed to Japan, which then led to a series of other changes that took it further and further away from its The Evil Within roots and closer to what would eventually become Ghostwire: Tokyo.
However, this setting shift caused some issues, too. Kimura, through a translator, spoke candidly about how moving to Japan took time to get right, especially since the team was already trying to push into foreign territory, make a new IP, and go for a different tone; all of which were aspects that repeatedly came up. He even thanked Sony, Bethesda, ZeniMax, and Microsoft for their continued support as the studio struggled to find its footing.
“Finding, expressing, and implementing Tokyo the right way and honoring it in a respectful way and capturing its essence and implementing all of that took a lot of time,” the director explained.
Part of the problem stemmed from how Tango was making Tokyo. Many developers build the gameplay along with the world so they can, ideally, work in tandem. However, Tango opted to construct Tokyo first.
Working in this unusual manner meant that the studio had to fit the gameplay and story into the space retroactively; an unorthodox process that took a lot of trial and error. Masato Kimura, one of its producers, said this wasn’t the “normal way” of making games and is what partially contributed to its elongated development.
“You normally make the gameplay along with the city or the map so the gameplay always fits the city you’re making,” Masato explained. “Since we created the city first and had to graft the gameplay onto it, we had a lot of trial and error. The number of iterations it took to get it right is what took a lot of time.”
Combat also took some iterating, and that’s at least partly because Tango had very little to look at for inspiration. There aren’t exactly a lot of games about throwing wind spells at spirits that look like headless schoolchildren. Kenji also said they “intentionally avoided discussing other games or using other games as reference.”
Putting on blinders might make for a more original product, but it likely doesn’t make that process easier. Tango wanted spirits in the game, yet had to find ways for players to feasibly fight them. Shooting a demon with a gun doesn’t seem weird — Bethesda already has a series built on that — but shooting a spirit with a gun would be quite jarring. This realization made them research how spirits were traditionally fought against in Japanese culture. Strangely, they looked to theater.
“We saw theater that was performed for royalty or in ceremonies where the heroes would be conjuring up powers attained through nature and they would unleash those powers against those evil spirits,” Kenji said. “And then those evil spirits would be defeated. So it was natural for us to think in that fashion.”
Theater was a good starting point, but that didn’t mean that Tango had completely solved everything related to the gameplay. After trying “a lot of different things,” they ended up landing on giving players eight different attacks. Even though many other games are content with piling many weapons on the player, this ended up being too much for Ghostwire and “cluttered up the process.” If they wanted combat to be fun, exhilarating, and stylish, it would lose some of that luster if players had to think which moves they had and what combinations to use. Kenji said that that could be fun, but that wasn’t what Tango was going for. Thus, the decision was made to design through subtraction and have only three types of elemental ammo, so players could presumably remember what each attack did and not have to fumble around in the menus for too long.
A more action-based combat system might seem out of place for Tango, but not in this context, given how Ghostwire is less of a horror title and more of a paranormal one. In fact, despite its history, the developer went out of its way to not make it scary, a guideline that was also harder to nail down in practice. The line between paranormal and silly can be thin, according to Kenji, and wasn’t easy to walk.
It’s odd for the Evil Within team to want to pursue something so close to horror while also being staunchly against its inclusion. This comes from wanting to portray Japan in a more honest light. Kenji described how Tokyo could feel a little like a melting pot of discordant structures, as you could be walking by a block of high-tech buildings and then turn a corner and be surrounded by shrines or “little houses.” To Kenji, it felt like he was being warped into another dimension and that unique paranormal experience was something he wanted to put in the game. One that isn’t scary, just weird.
This is reflected in the game, too, as its traditional torii gates and collectible shrines are often sandwiched between rows of modern skyscrapers and buildings. Ghostwire is full of these anachronisms that call to Japan’s past and present and even though they might seem odd, they are still authentic. Pointing out the “unordinary within the ordinary” was one of its key pillars and these areas where the new clashes with the old can help bring that feeling to life. The game’s spirits also reinforce this notion, given how many of them look like everyday people bent through the filter of Tango’s incredible and haunting creature design.
Even though bringing Tokyo to life was a task as tall as the Tokyo Tower itself, both Kimuras were pleased with how it turned out. Kenji took pride in being able to execute the general vision of the game, while Masato was more specific, describing that he was most proud of how the world turned out.
“I am proud of the paranormal Tokyo that we made for the game,” stated Masato. “I am most proud of the vision of this game of letting players experience the unordinary within the ordinary. I am very proud that we were able to come up with that vision and execute on it. Hopefully, players will actually be able to feel that tangibly while playing.”
Masato then continued, saying that he wanted players to take the next step and visit Tokyo and compare Tango’s version against the real one. Other games set in Japan have acted as interactive tourism ads, encouraging travel to said places or at least bringing more awareness to them. Some Yakuza fans have visited Kabukicho, the real-life inspiration behind the series’ iconic Kamurocho ward. While travel has been restrictive since the game’s summer 2020 release, Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima brought more attention to Tsushima Island, as fans helped raise over $260,000 to rebuild a busted torii gate. Game Director Nate Fox and Creative Director Jason Connell were even made tourism ambassadors of the real island off Japan’s southwestern coast. Masato even joked that he could become the ambassador of paranormal tourism for Tokyo, given his game’s tone.
While they hope the player’s next step is to play the game and head to Japan, Kenji was not as certain as to what Tango’s next step is. It didn’t seem as though DLC or any extensive updates were on the table since the studio “put in all of the fun and experiences” that it could think of. He once again reiterated how tough the development was, so they will be taking a bit of a break before regrouping, looking at the market reaction, and going from there. He didn’t shoot down the idea of returning to the franchise, though.
“I am sure if we took a break and the opportunity arose to expand on this IP, then we could look at the best way to do that,” said Kenji of the series’ future. “Different people would have different ideas, so we would probably regroup and look at those ideas.”
Tango has already made one sequel, so the idea of developing another isn’t that peculiar, and if its past is any indication, a second entry could heartily improve upon the original. However, knowing Tango and the rough outline of the development behind this game, it’s possible that any future Ghostwire: Tokyo projects could start out as a sequel before blossoming into something else completely. Hopefully, it will just be as fresh and unique next time and not quite as difficult.