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The Humans Are Dead, Long Live the Beast

Tokyo Jungle game director Yohei Kataoka reflects on what just might be 2012's most surprising game, and how the reaction of fans completely changed it.

One way or the other, Tokyo Jungle was destined for success.

It would have earned fans based on its premise alone, in which players control animals released into a post-human apocalypse, and fight for dominance on the streets of Tokyo. But few would have predicted Tokyo Jungle as one of better playing games this year. With its tight, interconnected survival systems and fair but brutal learning curve, Tokyo Jungle is equal parts good and goofy. Read my review for more details on what all that means. In short: it's rad.

Such balance is found everywhere in the game, including its ability to make positively savage confrontations between groups of animals (like a tiny but vicious Pomeranian "attacking" a velociraptor) something you can laugh at, too.

Tokyo Jungle requires careful calculation on the part of the player, with every risky remove having a potential reward...and a potentially swift death.

“We needed to represent sweetness and the harsh realities at the same time,” said game director Yohei Kataoka, who prefers to play his game as a pack of predatory chickens, in an email interview.

And though Tokyo Jungle seemingly came out of nowhere here in the United States, it was a quiet three-year collaboration between external developer Crispy’s through PlayStation C.A.M.P. (Creator Audition Mash Up Project). In C.A.M.P., everyday Japanese citizens were allowed to pitch projects to Sony. Tokyo Jungle was one of them, and while 26 developers worked on the game at the height of its development, it started with humbler beginnings: two people.

Tokyo Jungle and Resident Evil 6 were released around the same time in September, and the contrast between the two stuck out like a sore thumb. Resident Evil 6 came across as a game made for all people, aimed at pleasing a worldwide audience, and, thus, lacked a distinct vision. Tokyo Jungle was the opposite. It knew what it was.

“It’s not that we developed this game for Japanese users, but we focused on developing a game that ‘we’ genuinely think is interesting and fun,” said Kataoka. “I believe that this mind-set led to the positive feedback we received from Japan as well as overseas. From the beginning of development, at least at Crispy's, we were never that conscious about the marketing. Of course, we develop games based on what the Japanese users would find fun, so the game may appear more as a novelty for the overseas users, like how the Ukiyo-e [Japanese woodblock paintings] were a long time ago.”

Though Tokyo Jungle was released in Japan on a Blu-ray disc at retail, it started life as a PlayStation Network exclusive, which is how it was eventually released in the rest of the world. Conceived as a downloadable game, however, the game’s scope was understandably limited, which is what originally lead the game to be side-scrolling in nature. That earlier version of Tokyo Jungle was shown at Tokyo Game Show 2010, and got a huge reaction.

“As we did not have much budget allocated for this project, we tried to develop a 2D scrolling action game to keep the budget under control, but the replayable gameplay did not work so well,” said Kataoka.

Tokyo Jungle is an example of a game where the reaction shifted the game design. Positive responses from players and media exposed to Tokyo Jungle (I remember 8-4 Play really getting behind it early) prompted Sony to appropriate a bigger budget to it, and Kataoka’s team was able to build a fully 3D space for players and animals to run around in.

Coming to grips with Tokyo Jungle’s first few hours can be brutal. It’s not an easy game, but it’s one that rewards players who patiently learn its systems. Even then, success is not guaranteed. Kataoka cited a surprising influence on Tokyo Jungle: Capcom’s Steel Battalion. The original one, mind you, not the abomination made for Kinect.

“This game utilizes more than 40 buttons to operate a vertical tank to battle and when you fail to push the escape button when trying to escape the tank, all your save data gets deleted,” he said. “I was very impressed with its concept of going above and beyond the traditional life-and-death perspective in video games. Now that I think about it, I believe this concept of ‘death equals the end’ contributed to the game characteristic of Tokyo Jungle.”

(I had to ask Kataoka about the game’s ending, so prepare for spoilers, Tokyo Jungle newcomers.)

Even though it ruins some of the surprise, I’ve felt compelled to inform people Tokyo Jungle has a narrative justification for its madness, including why dinosaurs are running around. Though survival mode is where the meat of the game is, there’s a story mode unlocked by picking up collectibles. Tokyo Jungle's current lack of men and women involves time manipulation, mass discrepancies across time and space, and stupid, stupid humans.

Crispy’s didn’t start developing the explanation until after the game’s systems were in place, but it’s a piece of the Tokyo Jungle puzzle, one that weaves a dark tale, and Kataoka clearly took it seriously.

In this ending, you've chosen to let humanity rot in another time period, and the animals reign.

There are two possible endings in Tokyo Jungle. Upon learning humanity has abandoned the current time period, robotic dogs left by the humans are tasked with bringing them back. You don’t have to. If you choose to bring the humans back (the “bad” ending), the game fades to black. If you choose to leave them stranded in another time, it’s unclear what happens to the humans, and animals are Earth's master. It’s not really evident what happens, and Kataoka didn’t exactly jump at the chance to make it clearer.

“We decided to not leave a specific message and focused on natural providence,” he said. “If the population keeps increasing at the current pace, we imagined that it will be impossible for everyone to have a prosperous life with the current civilization level, in the First World countries. In both endings, we depicted our imagination of the future into the game.”

He did speculate on what might have happened to the stranded humans in the “good” ending, though.

“Hmmm,” he said. “I'm not sure. However, I will imagine that if they survive, they will live on making mistakes.”

Dark.

And what about a sequel, you ask? It hasn't been ruled out, but it's too early to say.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by patrickklepek

One way or the other, Tokyo Jungle was destined for success.

It would have earned fans based on its premise alone, in which players control animals released into a post-human apocalypse, and fight for dominance on the streets of Tokyo. But few would have predicted Tokyo Jungle as one of better playing games this year. With its tight, interconnected survival systems and fair but brutal learning curve, Tokyo Jungle is equal parts good and goofy. Read my review for more details on what all that means. In short: it's rad.

Such balance is found everywhere in the game, including its ability to make positively savage confrontations between groups of animals (like a tiny but vicious Pomeranian "attacking" a velociraptor) something you can laugh at, too.

Tokyo Jungle requires careful calculation on the part of the player, with every risky remove having a potential reward...and a potentially swift death.

“We needed to represent sweetness and the harsh realities at the same time,” said game director Yohei Kataoka, who prefers to play his game as a pack of predatory chickens, in an email interview.

And though Tokyo Jungle seemingly came out of nowhere here in the United States, it was a quiet three-year collaboration between external developer Crispy’s through PlayStation C.A.M.P. (Creator Audition Mash Up Project). In C.A.M.P., everyday Japanese citizens were allowed to pitch projects to Sony. Tokyo Jungle was one of them, and while 26 developers worked on the game at the height of its development, it started with humbler beginnings: two people.

Tokyo Jungle and Resident Evil 6 were released around the same time in September, and the contrast between the two stuck out like a sore thumb. Resident Evil 6 came across as a game made for all people, aimed at pleasing a worldwide audience, and, thus, lacked a distinct vision. Tokyo Jungle was the opposite. It knew what it was.

“It’s not that we developed this game for Japanese users, but we focused on developing a game that ‘we’ genuinely think is interesting and fun,” said Kataoka. “I believe that this mind-set led to the positive feedback we received from Japan as well as overseas. From the beginning of development, at least at Crispy's, we were never that conscious about the marketing. Of course, we develop games based on what the Japanese users would find fun, so the game may appear more as a novelty for the overseas users, like how the Ukiyo-e [Japanese woodblock paintings] were a long time ago.”

Though Tokyo Jungle was released in Japan on a Blu-ray disc at retail, it started life as a PlayStation Network exclusive, which is how it was eventually released in the rest of the world. Conceived as a downloadable game, however, the game’s scope was understandably limited, which is what originally lead the game to be side-scrolling in nature. That earlier version of Tokyo Jungle was shown at Tokyo Game Show 2010, and got a huge reaction.

“As we did not have much budget allocated for this project, we tried to develop a 2D scrolling action game to keep the budget under control, but the replayable gameplay did not work so well,” said Kataoka.

Tokyo Jungle is an example of a game where the reaction shifted the game design. Positive responses from players and media exposed to Tokyo Jungle (I remember 8-4 Play really getting behind it early) prompted Sony to appropriate a bigger budget to it, and Kataoka’s team was able to build a fully 3D space for players and animals to run around in.

Coming to grips with Tokyo Jungle’s first few hours can be brutal. It’s not an easy game, but it’s one that rewards players who patiently learn its systems. Even then, success is not guaranteed. Kataoka cited a surprising influence on Tokyo Jungle: Capcom’s Steel Battalion. The original one, mind you, not the abomination made for Kinect.

“This game utilizes more than 40 buttons to operate a vertical tank to battle and when you fail to push the escape button when trying to escape the tank, all your save data gets deleted,” he said. “I was very impressed with its concept of going above and beyond the traditional life-and-death perspective in video games. Now that I think about it, I believe this concept of ‘death equals the end’ contributed to the game characteristic of Tokyo Jungle.”

(I had to ask Kataoka about the game’s ending, so prepare for spoilers, Tokyo Jungle newcomers.)

Even though it ruins some of the surprise, I’ve felt compelled to inform people Tokyo Jungle has a narrative justification for its madness, including why dinosaurs are running around. Though survival mode is where the meat of the game is, there’s a story mode unlocked by picking up collectibles. Tokyo Jungle's current lack of men and women involves time manipulation, mass discrepancies across time and space, and stupid, stupid humans.

Crispy’s didn’t start developing the explanation until after the game’s systems were in place, but it’s a piece of the Tokyo Jungle puzzle, one that weaves a dark tale, and Kataoka clearly took it seriously.

In this ending, you've chosen to let humanity rot in another time period, and the animals reign.

There are two possible endings in Tokyo Jungle. Upon learning humanity has abandoned the current time period, robotic dogs left by the humans are tasked with bringing them back. You don’t have to. If you choose to bring the humans back (the “bad” ending), the game fades to black. If you choose to leave them stranded in another time, it’s unclear what happens to the humans, and animals are Earth's master. It’s not really evident what happens, and Kataoka didn’t exactly jump at the chance to make it clearer.

“We decided to not leave a specific message and focused on natural providence,” he said. “If the population keeps increasing at the current pace, we imagined that it will be impossible for everyone to have a prosperous life with the current civilization level, in the First World countries. In both endings, we depicted our imagination of the future into the game.”

He did speculate on what might have happened to the stranded humans in the “good” ending, though.

“Hmmm,” he said. “I'm not sure. However, I will imagine that if they survive, they will live on making mistakes.”

Dark.

And what about a sequel, you ask? It hasn't been ruled out, but it's too early to say.

Staff Online
Edited by MarekkPie

I need to play Toyko Jungle.

Posted by Atwa

its a jungle alright 

Posted by MooseyMcMan

Nice article.

Online
Edited by Vegetable_Side_Dish

Thanks for the article!
 
@patrickklepek Kataoka mentioned back in the summer that the game is partly inspired by a photobook called Tokyo Nobody by Masataka Nakano. It's a gorgeous set of pictures of Tokyo's streets with zero people on them (most pictures are taken early in the morning). I highly recommend it. 

Posted by Vlaphor

Except for the huge spoiler at the end, nice article.

Posted by RitzkriegRap

"risky remove"

As one of my favourites this year, and a fantastic return to PSX era weirdness- seriously, this game feels like it came on a disk from PSM with a Rival Schools demo and a bunch of Net Yaroze games- this article is much appreciated. Thanks Scoops :)

Posted by ripsteakface
Posted by Shaanyboi

@Vlaphor said:

Except for the huge spoiler at the end, nice article.

There's a spoiler warning right in the text...

Posted by Draxyle

That ending to Tokyo Jungle was surprisingly profound to me. Especially leading up to it, what you discover when you go to pick up that very last piece of intel during survival mode. That was pretty chilling.

I couldn't believe the game actually had a proper end boss fight on top of it either, in the traditional sense that is. Most of the story is kinda just there, but the last two chapters are certainly worth seeing.

Posted by natedawg_kz

I still haven't played it yet, i can't make up my mind whether to get Tokyo Jungle or Unfinished Swan, two completely different games???

Posted by bybeach

I can't seem to like this game from anymore than from a distance. I'm not offended though by the humans being stuck somewhere else as the good ending, as I am convinced they will probably continue to make 'mistakes' also.

it seems to have basis in real-time and in my reality.

Posted by MikeGosot
@Vegetable_Side_Dish said:
Thanks for the article!
 
@patrickklepek Kataoka mentioned back in the summer that the game is partly inspired by a photobook called Tokyo Nobody by Masataka Nakano. It's a gorgeous set of pictures of Tokyo's streets with zero people on them (most pictures are taken early in the morning). I highly recommend it. 
Wow, there are some pretty awesome pictures in there:

Posted by SomeJerk

ZombiU bundles were sold out, Tokyo Jungle helps me cope. Thanks for yet another piece of actual gaming journalism work Patrick, by god do I appreciate it!

Posted by beepmachine

"Resident Evil 6 came across as a game made for all people, aimed at pleasing a worldwide audience, and, thus, lacked a distinct vision."

This sounds off to me. Being made for all people is not why the game would have no vision. What's wrong with trying to make a game appeal to everyone? Does the Uncharted series not have a distinct vision?

Edited by MarkWahlberg

@Shaanyboi said:

@Vlaphor said:

Except for the huge spoiler at the end, nice article.

There's a spoiler warning right in the text...

Yeah. BUT it is a little weird that he mentioned it at all though, because he could easily have just included Kataoka's response without directly explaining what he was referring to. If you've played the game, it explains why it turned out the way it did, but if you don't, it still lets you know what the creators were aiming for - which is kind of the point of the article. The spoiler itself is warned of ahead of time, so you can't really complain, but the need for it is somewhat dubious.

Posted by krossmojination

I'd love to play this on a Vita.

Posted by WilliamHenry

@dennisthemennis said:

"Resident Evil 6 came across as a game made for all people, aimed at pleasing a worldwide audience, and, thus, lacked a distinct vision."

This sounds off to me. Being made for all people is not why the game would have no vision. What's wrong with trying to make a game appeal to everyone? Does the Uncharted series not have a distinct vision?

When you try to be all things to all people, you sometimes end up being nothing to anyone. You spread yourself so thin trying to appease everyone that it makes a muddy end product that is ultimately flawed.

Posted by pbhawks45

@WilliamHenry said:

@dennisthemennis said:

"Resident Evil 6 came across as a game made for all people, aimed at pleasing a worldwide audience, and, thus, lacked a distinct vision."

This sounds off to me. Being made for all people is not why the game would have no vision. What's wrong with trying to make a game appeal to everyone? Does the Uncharted series not have a distinct vision?

When you try to be all things to all people, you sometimes end up being nothing to anyone. You spread yourself so thin trying to appease everyone that it makes a muddy end product that is ultimately flawed.

I've been really meaning to write about this. I see where you are coming from, but I respectfully disagree. I think RE6's idea for multiple campaigns is freaking brilliant, and outside of a few cases, inherently unique. Where RE6 faulted was not making enough distinct differentiations between the campaigns. Leon's feels more like older RE games, and Chris's is definitely more action oriented, but neither go far enough in that direction for the campaigns to truly feel different.

Posted by bushpusherr

The distant future, the year 2000.

Posted by beard_of_zeus

@MikeGosot: Wow, those photos are really striking! Thanks for posting a couple. I can definitely see the inspiration there.

And thanks for the article, Patrick! Anything more I can find out about this game makes me happy. It's cool to hear that all the positive buzz affected the game in a good way, letting them make the game they really wanted with the bigger budget.

Online
Posted by MikeGosot
@beard_of_zeus: I would post more but i was afraid this would be considered spam or something, because seriously, the images are fucking beautiful. I could post them all day long.
Posted by BillyTheKid

Good Article I have not played the game at all but it really interests me. Seems like my kind of game.

Posted by Pepsiman

@Vegetable_Side_Dish said:

Thanks for the article!

@patrickklepek Kataoka mentioned back in the summer that the game is partly inspired by a photobook called Tokyo Nobody by Masataka Nakano. It's a gorgeous set of pictures of Tokyo's streets with zero people on them (most pictures are taken early in the morning). I highly recommend it.

Oh wow, I wasn't aware of that inspiration at all, but I definitely wanna go track down a copy of now. My favorite sites in Japan tend to be exactly that sort of urban area that's on the brink of liveliness and abandonment, of which there's plenty to find. When I was living over there, they easily constituted the majority of photos I took since those areas are just so endlessly fascinating to look at on an aesthetic level, so to see them done by a profession in a book sounds like a real treat. Thanks for the info!

Posted by tourgen

this game needs FMV cutscenes and a disk release! not joking. I'd buy it

Edited by happymeowmeow

(warning, spoilers)

I'm curious about what he'd have to say about the packs of cave men once you get past year 100. Why they exist and why they are inedible. My theory was they are the game's version of penicillin around the petri dish, keep people (or i should say, animals) from getting too far past the game's parameters. Didn't keep those people with the insane 999 years survived on the leader boards down, though.

Posted by MjHealy

Never finished Tokyo Jungle, only got a couple hours in, Probably should get on that.

Edited by Paindamnation

@natedawg_kz said:

I still haven't played it yet, i can't make up my mind whether to get Tokyo Jungle or Unfinished Swan, two completely different games???

Pick up Tokyo Jungle and DONT YOU DARE LOOK BACK!

@Shaanyboi said:

@Vlaphor said:

Except for the huge spoiler at the end, nice article.

There's a spoiler warning right in the text...

It's the internet, I just assume people are dumb. Plus the game is great. But it's a GRINNNND.

Posted by R3DT1D3

@bushpusherr: The world is very different ever since the robot uprising of the mid 90's.

Posted by VisariLoyalist
Posted by BigD145

One of the few reasons to own a PS3.

Posted by villainy

@Pepsiman said:

@Vegetable_Side_Dish said:

Thanks for the article!

@patrickklepek Kataoka mentioned back in the summer that the game is partly inspired by a photobook called Tokyo Nobody by Masataka Nakano. It's a gorgeous set of pictures of Tokyo's streets with zero people on them (most pictures are taken early in the morning). I highly recommend it.

Oh wow, I wasn't aware of that inspiration at all, but I definitely wanna go track down a copy of now. My favorite sites in Japan tend to be exactly that sort of urban area that's on the brink of liveliness and abandonment, of which there's plenty to find. When I was living over there, they easily constituted the majority of photos I took since those areas are just so endlessly fascinating to look at on an aesthetic level, so to see them done by a profession in a book sounds like a real treat. Thanks for the info!

Tested posted something similar by Ross Ching. Time lapse video of San Francisco edited to remove all people/cars. Very cool stuff. I wasn't aware of Tokyo Nobody but I'm going to have to find it now!

Posted by TheSouthernDandy

@VisariLoyalist said:

damn, beat me to it

Posted by jman220

I can vouch for this game. Where else can you kill a T-Rex while playing as a pomeranian? Exactly.

Posted by themangalist

@MikeGosot said:

@Vegetable_Side_Dish said:
Thanks for the article!

@patrickklepek Kataoka mentioned back in the summer that the game is partly inspired by a photobook called Tokyo Nobody by Masataka Nakano. It's a gorgeous set of pictures of Tokyo's streets with zero people on them (most pictures are taken early in the morning). I highly recommend it.
Wow, there are some pretty awesome pictures in there:

I went to Japan for a month and it really does happen. Nobody on the streets. Freaked me out the first time seeing no one on a lazy Saterday morning..

Edited by MikeGosot
@themangalist: I want to see that happen in Hong Kong. I've never been in Hong Kong(sadly), but from what i hear, it's crowded as fuck.
Posted by JackSukeru

Cool game, solid concept and game design, I should finish it sometime.

Online
Posted by themangalist

@MikeGosot said:

@themangalist: I want to see that happen in Hong Kong. I've never been in Hong Kong(sadly), but from what i hear, it's crowded as fuck.

I don't think "nobody on the streets in the morning" will ever happen in HK. Elders tend to wake up at 5 and start doing their exercise routines in parks or streets for one.

Posted by Lind_L_Taylor

Sounds awful!

Posted by mynthon

Kill the Beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!

Posted by WMWA

Right on. Such an awesome game

Posted by DeF

@mynthon said:

Kill the Beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!

Who holds the conch now!

:D

Posted by MikeGosot
@themangalist said:

@MikeGosot said:

@themangalist: I want to see that happen in Hong Kong. I've never been in Hong Kong(sadly), but from what i hear, it's crowded as fuck.

I don't think "nobody on the streets in the morning" will ever happen in HK. Elders tend to wake up at 5 and start doing their exercise routines in parks or streets for one.

Daaaaaaaamn... At 5? Holy shit.
Posted by joey8bit

Did they ever decide if they were going to release the DLC where you play as humans outside of Japan?

Posted by Darkelement17

This game looks truly interesting.

Edited by DoctorFaust

@happymeowmeow said:

(warning, spoilers)

I'm curious about what he'd have to say about the packs of cave men once you get past year 100. Why they exist and why they are inedible. My theory was they are the game's version of penicillin around the petri dish, keep people (or i should say, animals) from getting too far past the game's parameters. Didn't keep those people with the insane 999 years survived on the leader boards down, though.

I think the packs of cavemen serve a gameplay and a story purpose. They're certainly meant to give the message "Alright, it's time to stop playing" since they start showing up in MASSIVE numbers and all you can do is drink water at that point, anyway. Without implementing tool use or fire, the game still tries to convey that humans are the top of the food chain. However, they're also what provides the real duality of the ending. Do you bring back the population from the future who has proven they are unfit to survive, or (if you believe in evolution) do you give homo erectus another chance to not totally ruin the world with their carelessness? Of course, these are technically the same cavemen who evolved into that present-day population, so it's another one of those time-travelling tautologies.

Posted by ambience07

I really wish this would come out on PC.

Posted by loudgeekjr

Is that a fox?! Boy, since when did Japanese games get weird. Amarite, guys? huh-huh-huh

Posted by SMTDante89

@joey8bit: It's been out for nearly two weeks now in the US, not sure about anywhere else though.

Posted by finotti94

Looks like interesting.

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