We sat down with the two creators of Deadly Premonition, Hidetaka "SWERY" Suehiro from Access Games and Tomio Kanazawa from Toybox, to talk about their cult hit. First released by Marvelous Entertainment, Deadly Premonition brings players to Greenvale a small town where a strange murder takes place. Deadly Premonition is one of the few open world games developed in Japan and it incorporates minutiae like York eating and changing his clothes into gameplay. There’s Zach too, but I shouldn’t talk about him when he might be in front of us.
Can you tell us about the process of creating the story for Deadly Premonition? (Spencer’s note: The text in black is a spoiler if you haven’t played Deadly Premonition before!)
Hidetaka "SWERY" Suehiro, Director of Access Games: My answer is going to be pretty long, are you ready?
Tomio Kanazawa, Vice President of Toybox: First of all, I gave him the concept of an overworld plus a mystery, then he started considering what he could do. Normally, a creator starts with a storyline, but Swery’s approach was different. He started designing the countryside town first.
HS: What kind of countryside town is in this game? What kind of story is there? I started placing the people who live in the town. This person lives here, and that person lives there, then I connected them by creating relationships. I started to think who should be the first victim. Who should I kill first? I decided to kill the most popular girl in town. I completed the design of the town and I was compelled to make York a contrast to the people who live in town. York easily says things without thinking, he’s arrogant compared to the other people.
TK: In my memory, the most surprising thing was the appearance of Zach. Zach wasn’t in the original plan, but all of the sudden in the middle of the night he went "aha!" The next day he called me and said, "Tomio, I had a very good idea! Why don’t we have Zach, a character York sees in his mind as a friend." I listened to him and thought that was a very good idea. Other games don’t have that kind of element. Because Zach is, you know, the player. Of course, the player controls York, but York is always talking to the player. Having a character that talks to the player, I think that is the most unique point in this game.
[Swery makes a playful motion where he looks up at the ceiling and points at the sky.]
Other than ideas from the heavens, what else inspires you to create your games? People have compared Deadly Premonition to the TV series Twin Peaks from David Lynch in the past.
HS: I like David Lynch’s works, they are fantastic and very interesting. There are different movies, novels, and dramas I see. My video game creation is a mix of experience and entertainment. I visited Washington, Oregon, and California [to do research.]
I visited those three places to see what’s different from towns in Japan. There, everyone drives a car! In Japan, you might know that not everyone has a car since we can travel by train easily. Especially, in the countryside, everyone has a car. Also, convenience stores are so huge! I spent a long time in those towns and I noticed people live in the same routine everyday. They show up at the same restaurants at the same time, so I put this in Deadly Premonition to give the game that kind of small town feel.
Is the new content in Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut based on content that was cut from the original version or are these ideas brand new?
HS: The Director’s Cut has completely new content created after we decided to start the project.
Are there ideas or concepts from Deadly Premonition that didn’t make it into the game but you wish you could have added in.
TK: There were many features that were cut from the original version. We didn’t add those features because the purpose to release this game is to bring the Deadly Premonition world to the PS3 audience. Adding cut features, we think, would not be fair to the 360 users. We planned to deliver the same concepts as the 360 version.
Of course, we added a new scenario, but it didn’t destroy or affect the original storyline because Swery didn’t want to alter it. It’s already completed and he thinks it’s perfect.
HS: There is one feature cut from the original version that I wanted to bring. I had to cut some violent scenes from it.
TK: When I was working for Marvelous, I decided to cut those violent scenes because we wouldn’t be able to release the game with those scenes. Swery wanted to bring those scenes into the Director’s Cut, but again I had to cut that content because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to release it.
When Deadly Premonition was in development you received feedback from overseas partners even before it came out. Like the protagonist was supposed to be female, but was changed to male. What feedback from the West did you feel was critical to the game’s development?
HS: Yes, we received a lot of feedback from overseas, but I can’t remember which feedback we took and which ones we didn’t.
TK: Originally, we had a female main character. To me it was Natalie Portman. To him it was…
HS: Jodie Foster [laughs].
TK: We wanted to have a female character. At the same time, I was working at Rising Star Games since it was a subsidiary of Marvelous. I talked about our idea to my friends at Rising Star Games, but everyone rejected the idea and said "no, no you should have a male character." I said, but Tomb Raider is so successful, so why not? They said Tomb Raider is successful, but what else is there? After discussing deeply with our overseas friends, we decided to switch to a male character. We think it was good advice because everyone loves York as a character. I think if we had an arrogant female character she wouldn’t be as loved. We got a lot of good advice like that from overseas.
Do you feel adding combat, which was added in later on, was a good decision? Or do you think that should’ve been cut?
HS: Originally, Deadly Premonition didn’t have combat. At that time, I think it was Marvelous USA that gave us feedback and said we should have combat like Resident Evil or something like that just to fit the Western market.
TK: I accepted this idea, but I wasn’t interested at first. I think now Swery feels it was a good idea since some people say this game is a kind of survival horror. We don’t think so, but that’s OK with us.
HS: Most people say the combat scenes are too difficult in the original version. I thought they may be right, so for Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut, I changed this. The original version has three difficulty levels, this time there is just one difficulty level. I made it much easier than before so everyone can reach the ending and see the surprise. There is a new surprise to see too.
TK: Another change is this game also has 3D stereoscopic graphics because we love 3D movies.
What can you tell us about the new scenario?
HS: I can’t say too much because I want players to experience it. I didn’t want to alter the original storyline because it’s completed, so I decided to start with a new opening and a new ending. That way even old players can get a new interpretation about the Deadly Premonition by watching the new opening and ending. Players might feel the new story a side story at first, but eventually it connects to the main storyline.
Do you think the low price point helped increase the game’s appeal in America? In Japan, I remember Deadly Premonition was released as regular priced game at around 8,000 yen.
HS: Yeah, I think it helped. Overall, I think the current price of video games is too expensive compared to movies. Games should have a lower price so they can be more accessible for players and more people can play them.
TK: Separately from Swery, I think $20 is too cheap. [Laughs.] So, I was surprised to hear from Ignition that they priced the game at $19.99. I said, "oh, wow…" Considering the development costs, $40 is more reasonable. On the other hand, Marvelous’ price was too high. At $20 we can’t develop anything, but I think it helped Deadly Premonition since more people got to play it.
This isn’t related to Deadly Premonition, but some of my readers want to know if Access Games have to talked to Square Enix about bringing Lord of Apocalypse overseas.
HS: [Laughs] Please ask [Takamasa] Shiba-san at Square Enix!
So, Kanazawa-san I heard you have a new horror game…
TK: Ahh… that’s secret! We are talking about a new concept.
Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut will be available for PlayStation 3 on April 30.