Building the Environments of Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak

Jan 31, 2023 // Shibata

Hello everyone! Koichi Shibata here, reporting from the Monster Hunter Rise dev floor!

For our next Monster Hunter Rise interview, I’ll be talking to Yuya Endo, the lead environment designer, about the locale design!

One of Endo-san’s favorite endemic creatures. Unfortunately, it did not make it into the game.

Q1: First off, could you tell us what your role was on Sunbreak?

A1: I was in charge of overseeing all work regarding the environments, so I was basically managing that department. I was involved in everything environment-related when we started development, including schedule management and communication with other departments, providing support wherever it was needed, and basically being involved in a wide variety of tasks.

This was the first time for me to be in charge of an entire department.

Q2: There are several locales with different characteristics in Sunbreak. Could you tell us a bit more about your overall concepts for the game, as well as the individual concepts per locale?

A2: The locale that is most clearly representative of Sunbreak’s concepts is the Citadel, which was made to reflect the main concept for the new monsters, i.e. “monsters from Western folklore.” From the early design stages, we were already aware that we had to design the environments with the Three Lords in mind, so we had to create territories for each of the three monsters: a forest, a mountain range, and castle ruins, with different visuals to ensure that each area feels like it has its own ecosystem.

We decided on the form and layout of the areas after hammering out the settings for each territory in more detail, while also taking the various gameplay gimmicks proposed by the game designers in mind. Since we have three different areas with wildly varying atmospheres, it was tough to get everything to fit into the game’s memory, and we had to reduce the process load until it just barely fit, so it all worked out somehow in the end… Fortunately, we had a lot of help from other departments, because I was really asking way too much from the members of the environment team. But thanks to their hard work, the entire locale looks beautiful, from the main hunting areas to the various areas that are just for exploring, so I hope everyone takes the time to search every nook and cranny of this lush environment.

Q3: The Jungle and the Forlorn Arena make their return from past titles. How did you decide to bring back these locales in particular?

A3: The Director was the one who proposed which locales to use, so you’ll have to ask him, haha.

From what I’ve heard though, the returning locales were decided based on the monsters that were going to be in this game, and especially the Forlorn Arena was pretty much a lock-in when we decided that Lucent Nargacuga was coming back.
We created these locales to feel nostalgic to people who played those older games, but since the Jungle used to be an environment that was divided up into separate areas, there were a lot of spots where the geometry would fall apart if we simply connected the separate parts together, but if we tried to properly match the parts together, we would end up creating something that would feel different from the locale in the older games… And since there have been a lot improvements in lighting technology since the olden days as well, it’s hard to use smoke and mirrors as well, so the designer in charge of the Jungle really had to think very carefully about how to make this locale work.

The original Jungle was a locale with a lot of verticality, from underground areas to high plateaus, and I think we managed to turn it into a nice seamless three-dimensional locale with plenty of platforming elements. Because of its three-dimensional nature, we ran into some performance and rendering issues with the vertical design, but we managed to resolve this somehow with the help of the Jungle staff and other departments.

The Forlorn Arena actually has an area transition so it’s not one connected stage, but we put a lot of care into the construction of the tower and the backdrop, to make it feel familiar to series veterans. I think we managed to turn it into a more convincing version that shows a bit more of the exact nature and location of the locale.

Q4: In Sunbreak, you can go to the ruins in area 10, and even all the way down into the underground, which wasn’t previously possible, so you really want the extra mile, didn’t you?

A4: At the beginning of development, the ruins in area 10 weren’t actually accessible, but then someone was like “This is dumb! Why can’t I go there!?”… The underground area beneath the ruins used to be a passageway for wyverns only, but we reconstructed it so that the player can now access it as well. I think a lot of fans were wondering why those ruins were there on that remote island when the locale was first introduced all those years ago, so I think we did the right thing by letting the player access it now.

The designer in charge of this area was very adamant about including the underground ruins. It looks a bit like a cave temple. I like it a lot!

Q5: It’s not a locale per se, but the new base, Elgado Outpost, is also very different from Kamura Village in Rise. What kind of themes did you have in mind for this?

A5: Elgado’s theme started out as a “kingdom-like base.” It was built around the crater that ties into the story, and it was made a sort of royal fortress on the land that wasn’t swallowed into the hole. The setting for the kingdom was of a culturally advanced country with access to advanced technology, so we created some background elements like steam-based technology to add flavor.

I was also very particular about including some platforming elements. There are lots of interesting sight-seeing spots, like the Cohoot owlets, and watching down on the crater from the top of the large crane that you can reach by climbing the fortress.
There’s also a trolley driving around the outpost like a sort of roller coaster. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should really give it a look as it moves around, especially near the Tea Shop.

We also put the various facilities closer to each other to improve usability. There’s a lot more elements crammed into one space than I originally expected, so I was really worried if the performance was going to remain stable… Again, and I feel like a broken record here, but we were able to get everything to work thanks to the environment staff and all staff members from other departments as well. I cannot thank them enough!

– Closing Comment from Shibata:

Thank you, Endo-san!

By looking at the three different areas of the Citadel, you can really see that they are closely tied into the themes of the Three Lords, the three new monsters in Sunbreak, and they offer a glimpse at what makes this new world so unique.
Even returning locales like the Jungle have been recreated to match this game by making them seamless and providing plenty of opportunities for vertical exploration. It’s fun just running and flying around!

Next time, I will be talking to Yoshitake Suzuki, the Director, about Espinas, whose appearance caused quite a stir among the fans!