How Ghost of Tsushima teamed with Akira Kurosawa's estate for new cinematic mode
"I think one that is just crystal clear is the movie Sanjuro," Fox tells EW of the 1963 work. "It's a film that features, at the very end of it, a standoff between two samurai. The tension that those two warriors have, they wait for the other to make a first move and then one of them dies with just one stroke of his sword. We tried to translate that into the standoff in our game very directly." Another he points to is Kurosawa's 1954 classic Seven Samurai, "which defines my concept of what a samurai is," Fox remarks. "The samurai in that film have a dignity and a heart that we really strived to capture."
Connell, Fox, and their team at Sucker Punch, which developed Ghost of Tsushima after the inFamous series, pulled from a long list of inspirations for their next saga, about a lone samurai who must betray his noble principles in order to save his home from invading Mongols. We're talking everything from Japanese comics like Usagi Yojimbo to other games like 1984's Karateka. But the influence of Kurosawa's work is so strong that they decided to honor the director, who died in 1998, with something called Kurosawa Mode.
Prospective players caught a glimpse of this gaming format during May's virtual State of Play preview presentation. It's the black-and-white cinematic mode that mirrors Kurosawa's filmmaking style and aims to give gamers the feeling of playing inside a samurai movie. Connell and Fox pitched the concept to Kurosawa's estate to get the official blessing.
"We have this great game that transports people back to feudal Japan and Akira Kurosawa was one of our reference guides, especially early on about how we wanted it to feel," Connell explains. "As we got closer and closer to making that a reality, we were like, 'What do we call this special mode that we created, this black-and-white throwback?' We threw out a bunch of different words and we thought, 'What would be awesome would be if we could call it Kurosawa Mode.' In order to do that, we felt that we needed to reach out to the estate and see if that's something they'd be interested in. We sent a short video showing what it generally looks like, what it feels like."
It's not just a black-and-white filter, Connell clarifies. "We actually did some research on the curves that may have existed on that kind of film that [Kurosawa] might've used."
It proved difficult to translate that directly into a game like Ghost of Tsushima with current film-mapping technology, so Connell took various black-and-white samurai films and analyzed scenes from various times of day and weather conditions to track "how deep were the blacks? How bright were the whites?"
For final touches, the team added a film grain to make the mode appear as though it had just emerged from the age of Kurosawa, as well as an increased wind function. In Ghost of Tsushima, the wind serves as the player's navigational tool; Jin actually follows the wind to find his next destination. In the Kurosawa Mode, the wind is "cranked up," says Connell. "And lastly," he adds, "we actually toyed with the audio a little bit. Our audio team have an internal tool that mimicked sounds of old TV and, specifically, megaphones, radios, TVs back to the '50s." It all makes for a game with the feel of theatrical entertainment.