Ghostwire: Tokyo is a number of miscellaneous things. It’s a magic buddy cop drama, high-octane animated title, and spooky exploration sport from a studio known primarily for its horror titles. But according to producer Masato Kimura, none of those parts were the starting line for the sport. “The whole concept was born from the city of Tokyo”, he says The edge.
The sport takes place in a virtually empty model of the city, due to a mysterious event known as “the disappearance” which causes almost every individual in Tokyo to suddenly disappear. In their place, folkloric creatures and evil spirits roam the streets. Players use magic to battle enemies while searching every corner of the city for wandering spirits to avoid wasting. ghost yarn draws players through every location, from iconic areas like Shibuya Crossing to more mundane places like still generic alleys and offices.
According to director Kenji Kimura, much of the inspiration came from the duality of Tokyo, a city that is both surprisingly modern and rooted in history. “There are office buildings constantly under construction, but if you turn around the corner, you can walk straight into a sanctuary,” he says. “When you enter a shrine, the air is different, it almost tastes different, so you feel like you have entered a different plane. Sometimes you can walk the streets of Shibuya, turn in an alley and a few steps further you will be surrounded by normal houses or a completely different setting.We wanted to take this idea of entering another world in a very natural way.
Since growth studio Tango Gameworks is based in Tokyo, much of the analysis was just about lots of rides. There are plenty of video games set in Tokyo — from personas 5 for the world ends with you at each iteration of Yakuza franchise – however one of many targets on ghost yarn was to indicate the city from a particular vantage point that surface individuals will not experience as much.
“We didn’t just choose tourist sections that appear in guidebooks – we also selected many interesting parts that we saw and found to be interesting,” says Masato. “It’s a very modern city but also very steeped in history. Much of the traditional culture can be seen in the architecture and layout of the city. There are alleys and houses full of trash, there are apartment complexes that are run and owned by the government – all these different parts of Tokyo that we wanted to make it easier for the player to get to, so we have them condensed and stitched closer to Shibuya to make the map much more accessible.
One of the challenges was to capture the essence of a metropolis of over 30 million people when almost none of those people are current. Kenji says “it took a lot of experimentation” to figure out how to create this vibe, while Masato describes it as “a very difficult process”. ghost yarn animates the empty city in many ways, from the spirits of the townspeople who also remain, to the thumping music coming from now-closed bars and restaurants, to the cats and dogs that now roam the streets of Tokyo. (You can, after all, pet the dog, although it’s more difficult with cats. “Cats probably like you just as much,” Kenji says, “but they want to keep a little more distance. And so we try to represent this in the game.”)
Capturing the mundane and familiar points of Tokyo was also central to the game’s theme. The idea was that by grounding the city in reality, it would bring out more of the surreal and otherworldly parts of the game. “There are things that you can’t see but that actually exist and that can be very important to us,” Kenji says. “We have continued to use this expression for many developments: we want the player to experience the unusual that hides in the ordinary. These walks in Tokyo may feel like a normal day trip, but it can there are unusual things that we can’t see. This even extends to the protagonists: the main character is an everyday man named Akito who is possessed by the spirit of a detective named KK.
One thing the builders couldn’t predict, however, is just how prescient a sport might be in a few towns filled with empty streets. Development on ghost yarn began before the pandemic, and its premise had already been locked down so that, as Kenji notes, “we weren’t creatively affected by it.” But for players, it provides another layer of familiarity in a game filled with monsters, ghosts, and real-life legends. “Once the pandemic hit and we started to see how [empty] the city actually became,” he says, “it kind of made us feel that there will be parallels to real life now.