If you haven’t played it, Koei Tecmo’s adaptation of Attack on Titan is frenetic and adrenaline pumping. It’s not the first game to tackle the franchise’s hyper-mobile, giant-killing battles; there have been attempts on mobile and handhelds before — with mixed results — leaving many fans wondering if a faithful adaptation of the anime was even possible. By breaking away from their trademark Musou style, Omega Force has lovingly captured the spirit of the series by focusing on the freewheeling, effortless movement of Titan’s steampunk-esque scouting unit.
The result is arguably one of the most fun combat and traversal systems ever (even if the game’s difficulty could be harder), but figuring out how to get it right took some time. To find out more regarding Titan’s design, I corresponded with Attack on Titan producer Hisashi Koinuma via email. He was able to provide some interesting, if all-too-brief insight into the team’s process. Enjoy.
You’ve mentioned that figuring out how to control Titan’s Omni-Directional Mobility Gear in a game took a lot of trial and error to get right. Can you go into detail on the history of that?
At first we disregarded the laws of physics for the wire action at the core of the Omni-Directional Mobility Gear and focused on creating something that felt good to control, but it didn’t work out.
Next, in order to show more natural movement, we added physics mechanisms to the base of the [design] foundation. But if we simply followed the laws of physics, we would lose the comfortable feeling of the system, so we refined that base and created something that allows for satisfying aerial movement.
While [this made] movement possible, we needed to improve the maneuvering mechanisms in the controls since they were complex, and non-aerial movement also needed to be considered — we felt some obstacles should be automatically avoided. After that, we continued many other improvements until the game master was completed.
What were some of the visual looks for movement that the team experimented with before finding the right one?
Movement is [big part] of the anime, so we thought about how we could create a graphic depiction that went beyond that. To do that, we used a pattern of repeated fast wire animations characters used in the air, and to get the feel right, we decided that it was necessary to add in a curved swinging motion to the base linear movements, which resulted in its current form.
I read early on that the Mobility Gear was hard to control, and it gave the team motion sickness at times. What was the original idea for the controls and camera placement? Was a fully rotatable, third-person camera always the plan?
At the start of development, the R2/L2 buttons were used for swinging and the R1 button for launching hooks. While there was a high degree of freedom, it was a very complex set of controls. Also, the camera would track the character too closely, which when coupled with not being able to move where you wanted, caused some motion sickness — it put the team in an awful situation at one point.
We planned from the start to have a fully rotatable third-person camera. However, since it is a game that has a lot of buildings and objects that act as covers, we had a hard time with that.
The targeting for combat is also very interesting in how you automatically “reel in” toward a Titan after firing an anchor rather than having to press or hold down a button. Was that a natural progression from how the mechanism works in the source material? How did the combat controls evolve?
This is also an action system that resulted from trial and error — at first we tried various methods of approaching the Titans by using the control sticks or by button mashing. But in the end it [made more sense] to come up with controls that let players focus on what tactics they could use against the Titans. I think we were able to put this in without ruining the image of the wire action.
In battle, there’s seemingly a lot to juggle between timed events, inventory management, movement, combat, teammates, and so on. How did the design evolve to keep gameplay and UI from being too overwhelming? How did the team decide how to streamline elements apart from movement?
The team worked hard to compile simple and easy-to-understand — not to mention stress-free — elements outside of movement, since overly complex strategic elements would have been confusing. In particular, we wanted fans of the manga who normally don’t play games on a regular basis to enjoy the game, so it was important to create something that they could [easily] follow.
How did you manage the challenge of adjusting the Titans’ algorithms and actions so that they weren’t impossible? What was the source of the issue and what was the process of balancing out the AI?
The overwhelming attack strength and number of Titans did cause the game’s difficulty to be too hard at one point, so we had to modify the Titans’ AI. By having only the instances when the player is accompanied by allies as times which the Titans targeting is scattered [Ed. note: this may have been translation miscommunication, but I think he means when NPCs swarm a Titan], that creates advantages in battle.
Given the Titans’ size, how much of a problem was getting the sense of scale right?
It was difficult, since if we stayed too faithful to the manga’s settings, we wouldn’t have been able to show the Titans’ size [properly]. We thought it was important to focus on the sense of scale, so we adjusted the size of the Titans’ to match the game while depicting the extent of their size.
The game’s violence, while graphic, doesn’t take center stage as it might in other games. To use one example, the camera doesn’t linger on Titans biting down on humans in cutscenes, though there are sprays of blood in the gameplay itself.
We think that the brutal and desperate world outlook of the manga is the big appeal of Attack on Titan. We ultimately used the battles, which revolve [around] humanity’s struggle with the Titans, to convey this to the maximum extent possible.
I’m surprised the Western marketing wasn’t more focused on the game’s violence, as that can be an easy selling point in the States. What’s the hardest part about presenting this game to an unfamiliar audience?
We created this game first and foremost for fans or people who are interested in Attack on Titan. So we created the Omni-Directional Mobility Gear action — which is the most important thing in the manga — as the focus. And then in order for players who are not familiar with the manga or anime to enjoy the game, the story is explained and progresses in a way that people who do not know the story from the beginning can also follow along. First, the Attack on Titan fans get excited about the game, and then it spreads to people unfamiliar with the source material — we think this is fine.
The violence is not the focus of what we really wanted to represent in this game, so we haven’t focused on it. But as a reproduction of the source material, it is a very gripping representation.
If the violence, and the fact that main characters can die, are what makes the show popular in the U.S., what do you think makes it a hit in Japan? What does the team love about it?
I think that the biggest factors in the show’s popularity are that it has an impactful setting that we haven’t seen before and the human drama that is depicted within that world. So for us, implementing battles using Omni-Directional Mobility Gear and reliving the source material are what we placed the most emphasis on in the development of the game.
What do you think the cultural significance is of Attack on Titan?
I think Attack on Titan is unique, and that has a big influence on pop culture worldwide. After it became a hit in Japan, there was a sudden increase in the number of manga with storylines based on an “extreme situation,” as well as manga with horror-like settings. That may be a good influence on entertainment not just in Japan, but all over the world.