Ghost of Tsushima devs describe the challenges of the “Lethality Contract"

By Brittany Vincent,
Sucker Punch's Ghost of Tsushima is a unique open world adventure in many ways. Much of that is owed to the painstaking approach the developers took to translating the way of the Samurai into a viable combat model. The team referred to this "fantasy" of how a Samurai fights as the "Lethality Contract," and it presented several challenges while developing the game.

Theodore Fishman, Senior Combat Designer, offered a compelling explanation about how it all came together.

"Keeping things lethal was a struggle," he wrote. "Assassinations and Standoffs nailed it, but what about standard combat? Lethality had to hold up across the entirety of the game." That included making these terms work for player progression across 30+ hours, for a diverse group of players across various difficulties, with responsive and fast-paced gameplay, and different combat experiences.

This is an overview of what went into keeping the "Contract" together:

  • Enemy defensive behavior (Stagger meter, Blocking, Dodging)
  • Speed of enemy attacks, group aggressiveness and length of combos
  • Timing required for Player Blocking, Parrying and Dodging
  • New enemy move sets to learn
  • Player Resolve gains from skilled actions
  • Damage output from enemies
  • Increase enemy HP (Last resort)
The team first had to deal with feedback that it felt like players were hitting enemies "with a foam bat" in terms of katana usage. They tried many different iterations of combat to ensure it didn't feel like enemies were simple "sword sponges" as well. From this, the team decided it would use a maximum "hits to kill" setup with all enemies in the game, with a variety of numbers that helped them avoid having HP that went too high with upgrades that still made sense in terms of what was on the tablet.

This affected a variety of game mechanics, including changing enemy HP on higher difficulties and changing enemy attack patterns while still figuring out the best way to assign Stances and explore Duels in ways that made sense under the "Lethality Contract."

For more details on the rundown, check out the official PlayStation Blog post lining out all of the decisions the Ghost of Tsushima staff made to reach the quality end product that they did.

Check out our Best PS4 Stealth Games Available in 2019 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.