[Our own Brandon Sheffield spoke with Yusuke Tomizawa, producer of intriguing PSP title God Eater: Burst to discuss the lessons learned from Monster Hunter and similar franchises, and why the cooperative action RPG style is in many ways "like a fighting game."]

Namco Bandai and Shift's God Eater: Burst hopes to capture the spirit of popular cooperative monster slaying action RPGs, while adding a prominent single player component to the traditionally multiplayer experience.

God Eater features gameplay akin to Capcom's popular Monster Hunter franchise, and includes mission-based objectives and a single player storyline to keep players busy even when playing alone.

The God Eater franchise made its debut on the PlayStation Portable in Japan in February this year, and immediately sold over half a million copies in the territory. The updated version of the original title, God Eater: Burst [YouTube trailer] will hit U.S. shores in early 2011. The updated title features new missions, monsters, items, and improved visuals over the original game.

Gamasutra spoke with Yusuke Tomizawa, producer of God Eater: Burst to discuss the game's lessons learned from similar franchises, how the game hopes to appeal to Western tastes, and the importance of incorporating user feedback mid-development.

Let's talk about the original God Eater. How was the decision made to move into this space? It was obviously dominated by Monster Hunter, and one could easily say, “Well, maybe there‘s no room for anyone else.” So how did the decision to make God Eater come about, and were you involved?

Yusuke Tomizawa: Well, in the early stage of developing God Eater, Monster Hunter was already really big in the genre - the boom was there.

So we thought that we could step in and there was enough space in the marketplace, and by adding the story aspect and this post-apocalyptic scenario, we thought that we could get enough people to actually buy it.

And it was only sold in Japan, but it already sold 600,000 units. And we feel that’s about the estimate that we were going to get. So we’re pretty on track in that sense.

When a game is very multiplayer oriented, how do you manage the addition of story, in terms of all players being able to have the same experience at the same time,bBut also not slowing them down too much with story?

YT: Yes, the multiplayer feature is really big. Most of the people after playing multiplayer together, especially in Japan, four people gather around and play together, but when they go home they want to get better at the game, so they play alone. And one of the motivations for them to keep on playing is the story, trying to figure out what’s going on in the world of God Eater.

And to differentiate from Monster Hunter, when you’re alone in Monster Hunter, all you can do is just gather things to make weapons. And some of the players didn’t think that was really motivational. So in that sense, the story driven part was really good for them.

And you can play single player, but when you get stuck, somebody can help you. You can join up with your friends and play multiplayer, then you can go back and actually clear it because your level will be pulled up by your friends, and that aspect is completely balanced.

There have been a lot of theories from different people I’ve talked to about why this genre doesn’t really succeed in the West. Do you have any opinion about that?

YT: The PSP itself in the U.S. isn’t that big in the first place right now. And in Japan, like I said before, four people getting together and playing is normal, but overseas it’s not. So in that sense, also it’s kind of difficult to do multiplayer on a PSP.

And especially Monster Hunter, this title, and Phantasy Star have been on PSP in Japan, so that way it’s probably hard for overseas players to really, get it and be sold that way. But personally for God Eater, since it has a good story mode to it; you don’t have to necessarily play multiplayer. So Western players may be able to get into it a little bit more than a game with Monster Hunter's system.

The multiplayer discussion is interesting because, you know, there are instances of multiplayer co-op being successful in America; like Left 4 Dead. So that’s why I’m trying to figure out what is the real difference is. It may be a hardware issue, perhaps if a game like this were on the 360 and people could play online that way, maybe that would change everything. I wonder if there’s more to it if the design sense appeals to a certain type of person.

YT: I'll use Monster Hunter as an example because that’s the one that’s really big in all countries. It’s hard to say, but maybe it’s the quests that make players do something that maybe doesn't appeal to the overseas players. You know, you might have to repeat stuff a lot of times to get a certain item or something like that. So maybe those kinds of repetitive tasks aren't really appealing to them.

I think there is that element there. You know, often now when players are presented with something that looks like an open world, you don’t want to have invisible walls and they don’t want to feel trapped, they want to feel like they can go wherever they want. So when you have that, plus a lot of grinding, it makes people feel like it’s an older kind of experience. But there may be some game design things in there that are really appealing to players. What do you think about that?

YT: It’s sort of like the core experience is like a fighting game. You go out on the field, and you fight the same enemy over 100 times. For instance, if you were playing Tekken you might use Kazuya against Heihachi over and over to get better.

So if you don’t like walls in the first place, it’s kind of weird to have a fighting game that has no invisible walls because you wouldn’t be able to fight the same way. So it’s probably just the game type.

I think God Eater has an interesting position because you have the ability to kind of iterate on what previous other companies have done. You can see what other games in this genre have done wrong, and improve upon it or see what users request and you can answer those requests in ways that perhaps the original companies can’t. So I wonder if that was part of your design process -- looking at those weaker aspects and what users thought about those games and incorporating that into your own.

YT: The director of the dev team actually wanted to make a user friendly game, a game that answered most of the feedback from users. So he took in, as you explained, the weak areas from Monster Hunter, and tried to learn from them.

And in order to do so, he went over a lot of playtests before releasing the demo. The demo went well, but still some of the players didn’t like some parts. And before releasing the game, after releasing the demo they took the time to fix those parts.

And that’s because we wanted to answer people’s feedback. So in that way, too, God Eater: Burst is tweaked a little bit after the original God Eater was released people gave us feedback. Those concerns are addressed in God Eater: Burst.

Is the story component that the main motivation to get players to buy a sequel? Because now you can actually continue the story or, you know, whereas with other games you may just have more weapons or new classes or something, you can actually continue a storyline as well, and build upon the game's universe. What is your main drive with God Eater: Burst?

YT: Yeah, that’s a big part of God Eater. As you said before, the action part we keep on tweaking and fixing by listening to player feedback. In continuing the sequel, since we have a good storyline, it will make people motivated to buy the next one. And in God Eater: Burst, we have a little bit of story added from the original God Eater, so that will motivate people to play the game.

The 3DS seems like it might be a really good place for this kind of game. Do you think it would be a good fit? I know the whole ad-hoc thing is very PSP based right now, but Nintendo is making a lot of changes with the 3DS. Do you think that would be a good home for God Eater someday?

YT: Personally, as a platform, the 3DS is probably very appealing for these kinds of action games. These kinds of games have very high speed, difficult controls. So being able to touch the screen and being able to control that way would probably be good, as well.

But the problem is, at least for God Eater, since one of the core aspects of this game is that it has high speed compared to Monster Hunter, so we have to keep on turning the camera, So that’s probably going to be a little bit difficult when they’re doing for 3DS. There are pros and cons, and so on.

That was actually one of the things I noticed when playing it is that it’s much, much faster than Monster Hunter, which is one of the reasons that I didn’t like playing that series, because I don’t like to wait a long time for my attacks to come out while I’m getting attacked by giant monsters. How did you tune how fast you want the gameplay to be versus how fast you can get characters act in these kinds of games?

YT: Yeah, as you said, the speed is really hard to get right because when the original God Eater was released, some of the players said, the enemies were a bit too fast. And we are still fixing everyday, the speed of your character and the speed of the enemies.

If the enemy is too slow it’s just going to be a boring game, so we’re trying to figure out the perfect balance. If your character is too fast, you can’t control it as you wanted to. So the balance is really difficult. And our ultimate goal is that the player can control their character to the extent they want to, not too fast and not too slow. So everyday we’re shifting it.

For God Eater, when you’re fighting you can devour the enemy and take their power, and that speeds you up a little bit. That gives you a little bit of advantage over the monster. So that balance too is difficult, but that’s like the core and fun part of that aspect of the game.