Activision Associate Producer Talks ‘Sekiro’ & Working with FromSoftware (Interview)
A few weeks ago, Activision invited me to their Preview Event for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. There was A LOT to unpack from the night and I couldn’t include it all in my ’First Impressions & Interview’ article – though lord knows I tried! Beyond the hours of gameplay and a video conference with FromSoftware’s Marketing Manager Yasuhiro Kitao, I also got to sit down with Activision’s Associate Producer for the project – Andrew Petrie – to ask him about his thoughts on the game and what it was like working with the legendary FromSoftware team.
Now to quote Andrew, “Producer is kind of a nebulous term”, and many of you might be wondering where an Associate Producer actually falls in the game creation process – or even how FromSoftware and Activision work together. Basically, if FromSoftware asks for help with anything, such as “quality assurance, localization, user testing [or even just] general guidance and suggestions on things they’re trying to improve”, Andrew and his team help them find a solution. Though even when asked for their input, Andrew makes sure that it’s a direction FromSoftware is comfortable with.
“We’re working towards the same goal… [and] it’s a relationship where we have a ton of mutual respect for each other. All we’re trying to do is just make sure we have the best product possible.”
And that love and respect is easy to see! When asked about his favorite personal moment during this whole project, Andrew recounted his first trip to Japan to visit the FromSoftware team.
“It was the first time I got to go to Japan, I got to go and sit in their office, talk through design meetings and discussions about everything they were working on at the time. And it was kind of a surreal experience just being able to be in their office, working directly with the team that we’ve only heard of for so long. And now I’ve been back and forth a few times, and it’s still amazing! Every time I go, it’s something new!”
Since Andrew got to sit in on so many meetings, I was curious to know the inspirations for the new game and whether or not it was tied to a previous FromSoftware game called Tenchu. As it turns out, Tenchu was certainly part of those initial discussions, but it was by no means the sole inspiration.
“[FromSoftware] spent time looking at Tenchu and saying ‘there are a lot of concepts in this game that we think are really really cool’, but they really wanted to turn it into something new and evolve it into a new product. And that’s how this game came out…. You can see some of the influences of [Tenchu], but they also took [inspiration] from many of the previous games they’ve made. Not even just the SoulsBorne genre, but everything else they’ve worked on.”
Though this multi-source inspiration was important because Sekiro takes the usual SoulsBorne formula in a direction it’s never gone before…. Up (literally).
“Yah! It’s weird, but awesome right? They haven’t done 3D movement like this in any of their flagship SoulsBorne games… So trying to be able to weave that in and find all of these really interesting ways in which a jump can be used was a really cool challenge for FromSoftware. And every step of the way, it was really cool for us on the Activision side to see how it was integrated.”
Playing Sekiro, the attention to detail with verticality really shows. But it’s not a superficial addition where you only get the illusion of completely explorable environments. Sekiro truly opens up the world and allows you to take full advantage of that 3D range of motion not only for exploring, but also for offensive and defensive situations.
“The act of jumping in and of itself enhances every part of the combat experience… And you not only can jump out of battle, but also grapple out of battle. So if you really need to close distance or get out of there fast because you’re in trouble, you can grapple right out as long as there’s a point near you.”
If my play time taught me anything – besides the fact that Sekiro more than any SoulsBorne game requires you to master movesets/ counters – it’s that being able to grapple your way in and out of battle is mandatory in many cases. This is especially true when you have an enemy like the Chained Ogre throwing you off a cliff. Sure, it’s almost hilariously overpowered at first; but if you stay vigilant enough, there’s usually a grapple prompt as you’re thrown off the cliff to get to safety… usually.
The emergence of these more fantastical elements are what Andrew likes to call a “slow descent into madness” – as opposed to quick descents like the previously mentioned cliff throwing. Even though you start off in a world that largely feels like historical nonfiction, the more you progress, the more fantastical things become. Though no matter how crazy things get, it’s Sekiro’s ability to stay grounded in an emotional aspect that is the most impressive. In previous SoulsBorne games, we’ve seen the outlandish, grotesque and fantastical all met with silence from our main character. In Sekiro, our protagonist actually shows emotion and whether it’s the inflection of a voice or how different NPCs elicit different body language, the subtleties of each interaction are a treasure trove for those loving a good story.
“I am so happy you noticed those things. I’m looking forward to how the community is going to pick apart all of that stuff, the subtleties. It’s the nuance, and the thing that you get to look forward to is that you’re going to see teases of lore everywhere you look. You’re going to see it in the environment, in the item descriptions, the dialogue.”
In closing, I wanted to ask what was Andrew’s favorite prosthetic weapon. I wasn’t expecting him to reveal a previously unheard of prosthetic; but he did confirm that there are prosthetic weapons in the game that have not been revealed yet. Additionally, he revealed that prosthetics don’t have a set power/ moveset. As you progress through the game, you can keep unlocking new applications and upgrade them into even more powerful weapons. Though even when choosing between all the revealed – and unrevealed – weapons, his choice is the same: Flame Vent.
“It’s super versatile. You can use it against most of the enemies in the game, and you’ve seen from the Gamescon demo that one of the evolutions of that tool is to be able to light your sword on fire! And that is just fantastic!
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice comes to PC, PS4, and Xbox One on March 22nd and I can’t wait for you all to experience it.