Whether you know him as Swery65, SWERY, or ‘the guy that made Deadly Premonition,’ Hidetaka Suehiro has slowly prevailed as one of the most distinctive voices in videogames over the past five years. But his popularity didn’t start immediately after the launch of Deadly Premonition in 2010.
The game was notoriously given a two out of ten and, at first, was only considered noteworthy for how flawed it was. But over the following years it gained an appreciation for its offbeat humor, strange characters, and engrossing mystery storytelling. All of this overcame the technical flaws of the game among some and that earned it a cult status.
As Deadly Premonition found its audience, so too did its director and designer SWERY, whose next game was to be D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, which came out on Xbox One last year. It didn’t disappoint fans of SWERY, with many of the qualities that he brings to his games shining high, while the flaws that brought down Deadly Premonition were absent. It’s another crime mystery with cat girls and people in love with mannequins, with gesture-based controls, and the odd spot of topiary thrown into a blend of humor, wild action scenes, and consistently surprising characters.
The biggest issue that people had with D4 was that it was exclusive to Xbox One. But more recently, SWERY and his company Access Games announced that D4 would be heading to PC on June 5th. With reworked gesture controls to work with computer mice rather than the Xbox’s Kinect, the game should otherwise largely be the same experience on PC as it is on Xbox One.
Siliconera caught up with SWERY to talk about porting D4 over to PC, but took the opportunity to also more thoroughly investigate his creative process – how and why he casts the characters he does, what he loves about American mystery shows, and why do people in his games eat with such peculiar mannerisms.
Deadly Premonition and D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die are both mystery stories featuring characters with amazing deductive skills. This may be preaching to the choir, but it’s a device that has often been seen in American mystery shows since at least Twin Peaks. What is the enjoyment your audience and producers get out of deductive stories like that?
SWERY, director: It’s all in the name of the genre – the mystery itself is the fun part. For the audience, there’s nothing more fun than chasing down a riddle and using their own deduction to come up with an answer. The most exciting moments come when you’re expertly deceived. That’s really it. It’s no exaggeration to say that people read, or play, or watch because they want to be fooled.
And of course, producers like to create such moments. It’s fun to think of devices and meticulously place them in the right places to get the audience to experience that feeling. The important thing is the expertly part. You have to avoid using cheap tricks and cheats; everything has to be fair. By doing that and creating a good mystery, it becomes something the player talks about with family and friends even when they’re not playing, spreading the word about the product. It’s an example of how the world in a game can influence the real world, and I think mystery is a great genre to do just that.
The characters you write have a tendency to be pretty strange. For example, when several people thought Duncan was gay, you clarified by saying that he was not homosexual, but object-sexual. Do you deliberately make these weird characters? Why?
Of course I work very hard to fully flesh out my characters. It’s because characters are the foundation here, and they’re pivotal to the whole experience.
Especially in the cases of the works I’ve directed, there hasn’t always been enough money in the budget, and I’ve had to cut out a few of the characters I came up with. In times like that, I look over each character, sift out what I can, and make tough choices. That’s why there are only a select few. The characters who stand out the most survive (appear in the game).
Incidentally, when I’m creating characters, I focus on three things. One, they have to have an easily recognizable silhouette; two, even without a name, I have to understand the part they play; and three, I try to create a dissonance between their personality and their actions. That formula will usually leave you with some rather strange characters.
But I have to wonder what made people think Duncan was gay? Sukey is unmistakably a female mannequin!
Regarding your characters again, is there any relation between the characters you make and the people you’ve met in Osaka?
When thinking about characters, it’s important to observe people. But really, just copying the odd people you see in the city wouldn’t be very interesting and I don’t know if it would fit the aims of the game. That’s why it’s important to take those special characteristics and break them down into easy-to-understand pieces before putting them back together and implementing them.
The worst thing you can do is take strange people who everyone already know are strange and simply use them as they are. Doing that, these folks wouldn’t come off as well-crafted characters but simply something imported from reality. It wouldn’t stick with the player any more than a colorful mailbox, a strangely shaped tree, a flashy car, or a brightly lit billboard.
In Deadly Premonition and especially in D4, players can interact with objects in rather ordinary ways like trimming a hedge or reading a magazine. In other games, simple actions like that might just get ignored. But in this game it seems like actions like these are very much your style, or that the world is composed of things that interest you. What is the reason behind putting in simple actions like this in the game? Or, if this is an important point that makes a game distinctively SWERY-like, what kind of background is there in that?
It’s to recreate a sort of “true-to-life” feeling in the game. What sets games apart from movies, TV shows, comics, and novels is that the player really enters the world and takes part in it. It’s not just about enjoying the look of D4, but as if you’re going along with Young as you both work on continuing the investigation. For example, if you were to take away everything non-essential to the story/gameplay and had the entire game work around a small set of symbols and inputs, D4 could be reduced to a game made out of nothing but writing on paper.
But a D4 like that would be something else entirely and not D4 at all. Basically what I’m trying to say is that the games I design aren’t just about telling a story, but about creating an environment and designing a world. In order to create that feeling like that, it’s extremely important to draw the players into the game world by having characters do things like hedge trimming or reading magazines.
What do you think of the idea that another important point in each of your games is the music? What sort of standard do you have for the music in the scenes? Or how do you decide what music to put in the game? Do you enjoy the music that’s in your games?
Music is an essential part of life. Don’t you think?
Also, Deadly Premonition and D4 both have stamina systems and involve eating strange foods or eating in odd ways, but why? Is it out of an interest for the foods you or others like?
Food is an essential part of life…
Okay, fine, I’ll actually answer this one.
In my games, I almost try to recreate “playing house,” where I focus strongly on creating simulated experiences, which makes elements like food and hunger (stamina) essential to the experience. Changing sensations that can’t be seen into gauges with numbers creates a new form of visualization, and the player can begin to slowly adapt to it until it’s something that seems natural to them.
For example, when Young inspects some shelves, his stamina drops. Because food will restore some of the gauge, players will come to realize things like “opening shelves will make me hungry.” Afterwards, the player themselves will begin to grow hungry. The settings in the game begin to match real life sensations, and fiction begins to synchronize with the player’s actual psychological, creating an even deeper emotional connection to the world of D4. It’s like, “I’m tired, so I’ll drink some coffee. Oh, hey, I should get Young something to drink too.” I think this is the same effect as in Deadly Premonition with the beard growth and the flies buzzing around.
Speaking of interests, what sort of food have you experimented with?
The “Sinner’s Sandwich” was a little experiment of mine. I’ve also taken the soft white part of bread and kneaded into a clay-like consistency, and then made things like animals and dice out of it, though I was always severely scolded. I’m not sure why though? We even have special bentos with character designs in Japan!
Do you find it useful to use the way a character eats as a simple way of displaying their unique traits?
Yes, I do. The way a person eats matters just as much as the way a person talks, walks, and sleeps to reveal not only their personality but their past. That’s why I really want animators to study these sorts of things.
You’ve put a lot of effort into changing the Xbox One’s motion controls into mouse controls. But what’s the importance behind synching that sort of sensation with the controls? Is it about immersing the player into David’s world, or to make the action sequences more enjoyable?
I wanted to be able relax, like when I’m watching TV, but also enjoy a high-end product in a more casual manner. That’s where I got concept for this approach. And I also wanted to break the misconception where people think “Using casual controls, creating a high-end game with stylish gameplay is too difficult. I can’t do it!” Plus, I realized that this approach simultaneously adds an extra sense of immersion. Three birds with one stone! Frankly, I think this is something totally new!
The PC version of D4 does seem to have an easier update process than the Xbox One, but do you think you’ll use the PC community to assist in the game design? For example, will you take into account the players’ opinions at various stages of development?
It’s important to listen to users’ opinions, but we don’t have any plans to do anything that’s just to earn flattery or to make any sort of built-to-order design changes. That’s because there are several people who want to see what they haven’t experienced yet.
Regarding these questions, do you think the voices of other departments influence your game production in your role as game designer, writer, and director? For example, how much of an effect do the opinions of play testers, producers, and others have on your work?
I listen to everyone, really. But when it comes to what exactly gets implemented… At that stage pretty much everyone not on the development team gets ignored. It’s because the players are people who play and producers try to sell as much as they can. They don’t make games. They’re probably just stating their personal opinions, rather than understanding just what the creator is trying to make.
Earlier, you were thinking about a story of a high school girl who masturbates to get the imaginative powers she needs to solve murder mysteries, but all publishers have turned it down. Have there been any other stories you’ve had to give up on due to publishers refusing them? And why were they refused?
Too many to count. In 2005, I was thinking about making a game focused on cannibalism, such as in Hannibal, but I got a lot of criticism from outside the company. Also, during the planning of a “find the hidden creature in the jungle” game, members of the board had a problem game elements such as sniffing feces to track the creature, identifying proper bait for the target, and going through and analysing the animal droppings.
And there were others like that as well… I thought they were all good ideas, but maybe they were just a bit too “out there.”
I think we’ve covered a lot of issues today. Thanks for having me!
To anyone who took an interest in D4 after reading this article, it’s definitely an experience I encourage you to take part in! And it’s only $15.00!!
I Love You All!!