It had been almost twenty years since Clock Tower: The First Fear released on the Super Famicom when series director Hifumi Kono returned to horror with NightCry, the spiritual successor to his early horror games that is now available on Steam and Playism.
Siliconera caught up with Kono-san to talk to him about what it was like to come back to horror all these years later, how the genre has changed over that time, and the unique things the veteran creator has brought to modern fear.
What prompted your desire to create a spiritual successor to the Clock Tower series? Why come back to horror now?
It has been 10 years since I last made a horror game. Over that long period, my craving for horror gradually built up inside me until I felt as if it were about to pour out of my mouth.
When it comes to horror, that feeling represents both my addiction as a fan and my desire as a creator.
Also I truly love the Point and Click horror game style. It would have been nice if someone else were working on such games…but there wasn’t. I simply wanted to make the kind of horror game I would want to play myself, so I took on the challenge.
What was it like to create NightCry now? To be making a horror game today versus when you created the first one on the Super Famicom?
The ability to provide expressive detail has greatly increased since the Super Famicom era, so the sheer impact you get from an image of horror is fantastic in any game today. Now we have an abundance of images of the grotesque, so this time I felt it necessary to place focus on the story that ties all these images together.
With Leonard’s ending, for example, I felt it would be more effective if the player could control him for some time and get an understanding of his inner personality first, rather than the removed perspective of him as a non-playable side character.
What ways did you feel that making a horror game now was has gotten better? How it has gotten worse?
Today it is less easy to market horror game titles that only aim to scare their audience.
It is hard to recoup a large budget for a horror game that isn’t simply a horror themed action game with grotesque monsters.
With that in mind, I think it is natural that a lot of horror game developers choose to go indie, just as we see in the film industry. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the improvements in graphic capabilities mean there isn’t all that great of a difference, so I feel compelled to spend more time worrying about the game scenarios. I think it is a lot of fun to work in this era where creators compete with their ideas and expressions of horror.
What difficulties do you meet in splitting up the story in so many different directions with its many endings? How do you divide a story so that it can split into so many different paths?
A problem for any game with multiple paths would have to be consistency.
The information the player acquires and the endings that lead from it must all connect smoothly.
Unfortunately, however, we had to limit ourselves on how much data we were creating, so we weren’t able to prepare drastically alternating routes. This did reduce some of the work making everything consistent, though.
NightCry is unapologetically old school with its puzzles and challenge. Why keep this difficulty in this modern era of quicksaves, autosaves, and checkpoints?
To be honest, I think we could have been a little more free with the check points.
So in the recent update, we added some more check points.
As for the puzzles, I made the choice to make some rather unapologetic puzzles that do not follow standard game theory. I make horror games with the intention of simulating real survival horror, and in real life you don’t survive a horrific event by following a predetermined set of rules. But I do think the player should at least be able to recognize when they succeed at a puzzle in the game.
Were you nervous at all about how modern players would react to this difficult gameplay?
Confident it would be well-received? What were your feelings about how you felt it would be received during development?
I was nervous, and to be honest I had no idea whether it would be accepted.
We had to consider whether we should change from point and click controls several times during development. But when we thought about why we are making this game as an indie title, it became clear which path we should follow. Anyway, we stuck to our principles in our approach to this game. All we can do now is wait and see how it is received.
NightCry‘s story is quite vague, leaving room for the player to interpret many events.
How do you accomplish this without making the player feel that the story is full of holes?
I’m extremely grateful for your understanding. My methods don’t communicate well for some people, who tell me they don’t get it and just leave it at that.
This approach is one that places great importance on the game’s atmosphere and
one that I love to use. When taking this approach, I always prepare the plot and setting so that I would be able to explain any part of it in detail if necessary.
Some parts are clear and others are just hinted at. Without stating anything directly, I piece these images together for the player to break down and interpret in their own way. This means the player should be able to arrive at the correct conclusion, while leaving some room for them to imagine how things transpired.
Did you get to do everything you wanted to do with NightCry?
Our limited staff worked very hard on this project. But if you ask me whether I accomplished everything I wanted to…So many ideas, so much of the story, parts I wanted to redo, brush up, all ended up vanishing into purgatory.
In game creation, it is very rare for a creator to be so lucky as to accomplish all that they wished to. Still, of everything I have worked on so far I am sure NightCry will remain in my memory as having the most left that I wished to accomplish.
Will you return to horror again in the future, or are you planning to work on something else?
While there is the regret that I could not accomplish everything I wished to, I still enjoyed working on a horror game after such a long time. So, now I feel like I would like to make another horror game (in a better environment and with more resources).
I have received many invitations to work on projects which cover not only game but a range of media, but from time to time I would like to work on something that I simply had a desire to create.