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Monster Hunter redefined big game hunting

Why I Love: Infinite State Games' Charlie Scott-Skinner explains how Capcom's PS2 classic precisely targeted his personal soft spots

Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This entry was contributed by Charlie Scott-Skinner, one half of Infinite State Games. The other half, Mike Daw, had his own Why I Love column run last month.

Hi, I'm Charlie - programmer and designer on Rogue Aces. It's a game about planes shooting each other and making almost everything on the ground explode in a satisfying way. As one half of the two-man team that is Infinite State Games, we're both really proud of it. It's taken us the best part of three years to make using our own engine for PS Vita, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch and it's been hard work, but also incredibly fun. However we were very lucky to wrap it up just in time for the recent release of Monster Hunter World, because as any hunter knows - Monster Hunting is life!

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As a kid who moved from PC gaming to consoles in the '90s, I didn't have much experience with online gaming, beyond getting my proverbial rear handed to me repeatedly by Korean Starcraft players or much better Unreal players. My first real experiences were Criterion's excellent Burnout 3 and the very first Killzone in 2004 (and also my first experience of patches as Guerilla consumed almost an entire memory card with an update). But then in 2006 a friend from the clan we had formed across those games tipped me off about another little game Capcom had just quietly released... Monster Hunter.

I've always had a soft spot for samurai, swords, armour, and dragons. (Also helicopters, but they, to my knowledge, aren't in Monster Hunter - yet). In fact, I have a shelf at home dedicated to all the dragons I've collected over the years. So of course this game sounded like it ticked every box. I immediately rushed down to my local Game shop and managed to find a single copy tucked away in a low-profile spot on the shelves.

I rushed home and booted it up. The intro video, to this day, is one of my favourite I've ever seen, immediately getting me excited for the game to come... It must hold the record for least skipped intro video by me. It does such a good job at hinting at the levels of ecology that permeate every Monster Hunter game. Plus, spoilers: dragon!

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I jumped online and joined my friend who proceeded to show me the ins and outs of Forest and Hills: the first proper area you see in the game. Because of the way the game was structured - many little individually loaded areas with connecting corridors - it could throw the full power of the PS2 at every tiny area and it showed. The little cutscene they showed as you emerge from the first camp was fantastic for setting the scene. The environment art in the Monster Hunter franchise has always been second to none, which carries through to World - as my PS4's fan keeps reminding me!

As we were just wandering about in Forest and Hills, grabbing herbs and honey, suddenly the music swells and my character cowers in fear. I spin the camera to see an overgrown turkey bearing down on me! I panic and run down a corridor with the camera facing backwards, while calling to my friend for help over the mic. (We were using MSN messenger for voice comms, if I recall). I make it to the end of the corridor before the monster reaches me in a scene reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. This was my first encounter with a monster and as I fumbled with the controls and camera system it was genuinely terrifying. It was at this point the franchise sealed a place in my heart forever.

From there it was just an ever-increasing list of cooler and cooler monsters, some of which even came with their own pre-rendered ecology videos, which for the days of PS2 was the height of production values and I lapped it up.

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In Monster Hunter you don't level up your character; you level up as a player as you get used to different monsters' movesets and juggling the manual camera and slow, oversized weapons. Knowing when to heal, sharpen, block, attack or run are crucial. You also get used to a monster's patrol route and nest location which all helps with tracking them. All these things compound to make you feel like you are growing as a hunter, which adds a real sense of progression not found in many other games, and probably feeds into a deeply ingrained hunter-gatherer psyche (empirical evidence needed).

All that gameplay goodness is layered on top of a deep crafting system which provides the core loot-grind loop. Your equipment is made from parts of the monsters you kill, and of course the best bits require the rarest parts. Later games also added skill gems to add further depth to the build system. As there are no character stats your character's individuality comes from the weapons and armour you equip.

There are a wide range of weapon classes, all of which play vastly differently with their own learning curves to climb. Whether you like to mash attack and roll like crazy with the sword and shield, go for big, slow power hits with a hammer or a great sword, defensively tank and poke with a lance, fire big explosives with a heavy bow gun or try a more supportive role with the light bow gun there is bound to be something in the weapons repertoire that you would enjoy. And they are just examples from the first game. They have been adding weapons classes ever since, to the point where there are now 14 in World. I have over 600 hours clocked in World and am still yet to try the Insect Glaive, Charge Blade or Switch Axe. It's just too much fun poking things with a pointy stick!

Upcoming Why I Love columns:

  • Tuesday, July 17 - The Trailer Farm's Dan Porter on Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
  • Tuesday, July 31 - The Trailer Farm's Tony Porter on Halo:Combat Evolved
  • Tuesday, August 14 - 3rd Eye Studios' Gregory Louden on The Darkness
  • Tuesday, August 28 - YoYo Games' Russell Kay on Portal

Developers interested in contributing their own Why I Love column are encouraged to reach out to us at news@gamesindustry.biz.