Une excellente interview de Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro qui nous parle de Deadly Premonition - In english.
Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro chats to Tom Hoggins about his crazed Lynchian tribute, Deadly Premonition.
By Tom Hoggins 3:18PM BST 27 Oct 2010
This Friday sees the release of the weird and wonderful horror game Deadly Premonition. For all its obvious technical problems, it’s a sleeper hit waiting to happen, with an insane story populated by fascinating characters. Every cult success needs its auteur, though, and for Deadly Premonition it is Hidetaka Suehiro, also known as Swery 65. It’s not just the funky nickname that has drawn comparisons with Killer7 and No More Heroes creator Suda, however, with Swery producing a fascinating and unique game dedicated to a fantastically deranged vision. I had the chance to chat with Swery about Deadly Premonition, its hero Agent York and just why sandwiches in Greenvale are so darn expensive.
First, could you tell me a bit about how you came up with the idea for Deadly Premonition ?
I came up with the basis of the game a long time ago. I played a lot of the RPG games that were popular worldwide in the 8-bit era. It was at this time that I first though how great it would be if there was a game that was based in a realistic, not fantasy, world in which you, as a detective, travel around solving crimes. Later, after I had grown up, I dug out this old idea and it was sensational ! It seems like I just put everything into casting it into it’s current shape.
Obviously there are many influences that run throughout Deadly Premonition, Twin Peaks in particular. Are you a big fan of David Lynch ? How did you go about trying to capture that same sense of atmosphere ?
David Lynch’s movies are spectaluar and distinctive, and I respect him as a director. However, I think all creators take inspiration from many of the things we encounter day to day, so although it’s impossible to say I was not influenced at all by David Lynch, I can tell you that the creative activity that went into this game was not especially influenced by any single work.
The unique atmosphere of this game I think comes more from what I experienced and felt during my time in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. I can say that our development staff was able to recreate this faithfully in Deadly Premonition.
Deadly Premonition is, let’s be honest, very weird. Is there anything from the game that you had to remove as it was too crazy ? Or was it a case of the stranger the better ?
Yes, I pushed to get all of those strange bits included in the spec. Things like the deer head in the main menu and the fishing mini-game are good examples of this. There were obviously a lot of things that didn’t make it into the final spec. Agent York’s deleted shower scene was a big one, and there were also things like playable eating scenes that we thought about putting in.
We thought it would be fun if you could control a brush to wash Agent York’s body, and then use a hair drier on his head, but that turned out to be pretty lame.
How much freedom did your publishers give you ? Were they happy to let your ideas run wild ?
Marvellous Entertainment allowed me a lot of creative freedom. Of course the producer had his own agenda and we worked to incorporate his ideas as we progressed in development, but we had very understanding producers so that was actually quite fun. (The producers) Tomio and Louis, I love you so much !
Why did you change the title of the game from Rainy Woods ?
Well, the Rainy Woods project was officially cancelled at the beta stage and never got to go on sale. Deadly Premonition was started as a totally new project following this. At that time, our publisher in the USA suggested Deadly Premonition and it just stuck.
Did the name change cause you any trouble ?
You have to think of stopping and starting over as a normal part of software development. I feel like we went through a lot but were able to work through to the end.
And overall, how did the game evolve as you went through the development process ? Was it very different from your original vision ?
In the beginning, it was meant to be a cynical, urban game that focused on using forensic science to solve mysteries. In order to broaden its appeal, we added the uniquely mysterious atmosphere and horror elements.
Once I had an idea of the direction I wanted to take it, I made every effort to faithfully recreate what was in my head.
It feels like it’s been a while since there has been a really good mystery game, how do you go about creating such a twisted, complex tale ?
In most games, the scenario writing and the gameplay are handled by different people. In this game I handled the greater part of both of these tasks, so if my script called for something to be made in game, I was able to have it added. Also, I was able to make the most of downtime in the game with interesting writing. The order in which the story was put together also differed greatly from other titles, but it’s a long story ...
I loved Deadly Premonition, but it has received some very mixed reviews. Were you aware that your game would split opinion so much. Is this something you are happy for ?
I set out to make Deadly Premonition the way I wanted it to be. I knew there would be people who wouldn’t really accept it that way, but I never suspected opinions to split so cleanly. On the other hand, I also didn’t expect there to be so many extremely positive reviews. That honestly fills me with joy.
How do you feel about people saying Deadly Premonition is ’so bad, it’s good’ ?
Well ... I take it as positive reception. I love everybody !
In terms of mechanics, Deadly Premonition can feel rather dated in places. Was this a budget issue ? Or was it because the game had been in development for so long ?
It was a combination of the two. When we started this project we didn’t even know the specs of the platform we’d be releasing on. We moved forward with only a concept, which lead to budget overruns when we had to rework what we had made.
But, we knew that the game had good fundamentals, so we determined to push through. The game turned out like it did even though the project got cancelled once, and it took a long time to work out the technical issues.
There are some really inventive ideas in Deadly Premonition, did you ever wish for a bigger budget to expand on them ? Or could they have only worked within this exact game ?
If we had an unlimited budget I would have used on fixing up the low-quality areas and increasing the size of the game. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at doing that kind of thing, so I would have liked to add what I call "lovely useless elements". If that’s OK then I would gladly accept as much funding as I could get.
I found the ghouls in the shooting sections very creepy, what was the inspiration behind them ?
We always made a balance between the horror elements and the incidental, sentimental elements. "Shadows" are one example of this. They used to be alive, obviously having a life, but we wanted them to also come after the player to elicit fear.
In Japan we have this tradition of residual haunting, and we used this notion in the game. The spirits can’t make physical attacks, so what we see in the game is what they become after having possessed a corpse.
By the way, one lesson we learned from this was that if we made an enemy look like a monster, there was no way to express sentimentalism in it.
There are a lot of incidental things to do during the game, why did you feel York changing his suits, (loving the pink cherry blossom outfit), checking the weather or having a shave was important to your game ?
I mentioned this above, but it is my contention that without incidental elements, you can’t create this dark, fearful side behind it. Also, to repeat what I stated at the beginning, I wanted to make a game in which you inhabit a realist world, solving mysteries that could actually have happened. In this way, the meaningless "incidental" parts of the game are actual indispensable elements.
I wish I was paid $12 every time I had a shave !
(Laughs) Me too ! Unfortunately we don’t have a beard stipend at Access Games.
Talking of money, just why are unbelievably delicious Turkey sandwiches so expensive in Greenvale ? I didn’t get much change from $100 !
Normal common sense doesn’t apply in Greenvale. There are no cell phones, everything closes down when it rains, popular shows don’t play on the TV, the flays are HUGE ...
Don’t you remember when York said, "Life is fun because of the mysteries. Right, Zach ?" This is what he was talking about.
I want to talk about York. He’s a fantastic character. My initial reaction was that he was just like Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks, but as the game went on he became far more complex than that. Where did the inspiration for him come from ?
In a word, I think it’s because we created a "gap" between perception and reality. The first impression of York is that he looks cool and possess a brilliant mind, but something is off and he is occasionally pointless. This discrepancy gives the character impact. However, as the story progresses you get to see this human side, and you understand his passion. Here we set up another gap to accelerate at a strokethe transfer of the emotional focus from the player into York. I can truthfully say that the character was created by our team according to exacting calculations following many repeated brainstorming sessions.
Why is York so rude to the Greenvale police at first ? How do you think he feels about their initial reactions to him ?
Are you saying York was rude to George ? Indeed, in the scene on the bridge when he first meets George, York is blowing smoke in his face, and generally being a nuisance. However, following that York is really just taking his time in conducting his investigation the way he wants to.
If he heard you say he was rude, he would surely say, "But you know, George, Emily, if my behavoir has offended you, I’d like to apologise. I might seem rude to you, but it’s just that I don’t really understand other people. I have no other intent. All right, Zach, on with the investigation."
And tell me about Zach. Where did the idea for him come from ?
The first obstacle we ran into after fleshing out Agent York’s character was how do we get the player, sitting on the sofa munching popcorn, to connect with the character, investigating a grisly murder. The more you develop the main character, more he becomes someone we aren’t.
We wondered whether there wasn’t a way to make this character, who is someone totally different from us, into our own alter-ego. Zach was invented after many hours of discussion with my co-writer. I don’t think the game would have been as successful without this invention.
Some of York’s conversations with Zach are fascinating, how did you go about writing these dialogue exchanges ?
Most of these scenes were written by myself and my co-writer, Kenji Goda. We just wrote down conversations we’d had while drinking almost verbatim. Especially the movie talk. When I read them I still think we were able to write interesting conversation.
I can write and write, so if I had more time I would have wrote even more. In the end, we had to record these conversations into voice, and we had to work within the constraints of our budget and the memory allocation.
York has some twisted tales to tell, were you ever worried that some of his stories would be too horrible to go in the game ?
Agent York’s past experiences do not make for polite conversation. Some of them are still classified, so what you hear about in the game is just a small part of the whole. There are a lot of drunken, frightful, ridiculous, grotesque, comical conversations that we couldn’t include in the game. It would be nice to have a chance to write those down, but it wouldn’t be allowed in the current video games industry. In fact, Deadly Premonition doesn’t shy away from some gruesome incidents, but they often come alongside some wacky humour.
How do you go about striking that balance between horror and comedy ? Or is it more effective when it is so jarring ?
One of the themes of this title is contrasting existence. This means that when there is a front side to something, there is a hidden back side that contrasts it. The red trees contrast the green forest, the bucolic setting contrasts the grisly murder mystery, the hospitable villagers contrast the frightful shadows ...
This theme was also built into things that are not visible. For example, the comedy contrasting the horror.
How did we build this in ? I can only say that it was accomplished through secret calculations, but it came to the point of reading things out many times and making adjustments to find a balance.
Just where does York find the time to watch all those movies ?
Back in his college days he and Zach watched often watched movies together. Now though, he is so busy solving crimes to make it out the theatre. This is a source of concern for York.
York’s great but there are a lot of interesting characters throughout the game. I particularly liked Harry. Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind him ?
The first thing I came up with for Harry was his look. This image just popped into my head of an old man in a wheelchair wearing a gas mask. I can’t recall precisely when this occurred, but I wrote downs notes about it in my idea notebook. I also dashed off a note that he’d wear formal attire including a suit, and that decided his appearance in this game. A rich, wheelchair-bidden old man wearing a gas mask, who refuses to speak to anyone except the youthful-looking young man who accompanies him.
And do you have any favourite characters yourself outside of York & Zach ?
Thomas MacLaine, Polly Oxford and Forrest Kayson. I like George and Emily as well, but I avoided including them.
Are you worried that many people won’t ’get’ Deadly Premonition because the mechanics appear old and is strange and unique ?
I think this may be partly the case. However, I am fully confident that Deadly Premonition will provide you with a unique experience unlike anything you would find in other games. So if you enjoy this game even a little, tell your family and your friends about it. Try to find other people who can "get" it with you.
It’s refreshing to see such a risk being taken, especially at a time when there has been a lot of talk about the Japanese games industry stagnating. What are your feelings on that ? Are you worried at all ?
I myself am proud that we were able to bring this project to a conclusion while working within the industry as it is currently. However, that included, the game was not well received in Japan. Since games do have a dimension of being a product, this is a fate that we could not avoid, but I think at the very least the fact that the title had these issues will significantly impact our production activities in the future. I don’t think every game creator needs to take chances in their work, but I would certainly like the opportunity to take on new challenges. That’s the honest truth.
Why do you think there is such negative feeling about the Japanese games industry right now ?
The video games industry has developed rapidly and now occupies a major position. As a result, a bizarre interrelationship between game makers and the buying public. Simply said, users have been split up into many niches.
I think the difference between games and other media such as movies, TV dramas, novels and comics is that because the games industry developed without having to appeal to the average consumer, creators don’t really know how to make that appeal ... or maybe they don’t have the skills to do it. I’m including myself in this group.
So, even if the industry evolves, it does so on a very narrow path and there isn’t room for a lot of hit titles. In this way, game makers will try to get sure results by focusing on the already existing user groups, reinforcing the niche attitude. It may be that just such a spiral has cast a negative shadow on the industry in Japan.
Finally, can you tell me anything about what you’re working on next ?
I would like to be able to say Deadly Premonition 2, but that is as of yet undecided. I am personally moving forward with planning it, but there are still a lot of major obstacles to overcome. Regarding other ongoing projects, that doesn’t concern the topic at hand so I will respectfully decline to answer. My apologies.
Thank you so much for your time, and thank you for Deadly Premonition !
Oh, no, thank you. I can tell even on the written page that you have a true love for Deadly Premonition. Thank you truly. I love you, everyone !
By Tom Hoggins 3:18PM BST 27 Oct 2010