We spoke with the staff of Calling about designing their first horror game. Did you know one of the team’s ideas was to create a Wii Remote microphone attachment? Read on to find out about that and background on all of the main characters.
Can you tell us about the plot and the main characters?
Kazufumi Shimizu, Director: A few years before the timeframe of this game, there were…incidents that would ultimately lead our heroes and heroines to their paths.
The first event was a death of a girl, Reiko Asagiri. She had been hospitalized for a long time because of her illness. To top that off, her mother – her only family member – had died prior to Reiko’s own death. All of the grief surrounding Reiko was simply unbearable for the young girl.
There were people who watched over her during her troubled times; an old man who was also hospitalized in the same wing, and his wife, who visited him frequently. After the loss of her mother, Reiko was grateful to the old couple for the warmth and comfort they gave her as if she were family.
Reiko gradually got better and started to enjoy interacting with others on the Internet, using the computer in the hospital’s recreation room. Without any real friends, a chat room was an easy way for her to communicate with other people and to come out from her shell. However, on occasion people hurt her with irresponsible and crass comments.
Reiko met Rin Kagura on the Internet.
They had never met nor knew each other’s real names. The only connection between them was their screen names; Reiko’s screen name was Kuroneko (“black cat”) and Rin’s was Rin.
Through several conversations, Reiko and Rin became friends and Rin came to truly care for Reiko.
One day, Rin promised to visit Reiko at the hospital.
For Reiko, the joy of finally meeting her friend kept her going.
But then everything fell apart…..
The kind old man passed away and his wife stopped visiting the hospital. Rin still had not visited, and Reiko began to lose hope.
"… Liars… Everybody is a liar…"
"… Everybody’s happier if I go away…"
On the day of their planned meeting, Rin was on her way to the hospital when she suddenly felt a bump and lost consciousness.
When she came to, Rin realized that she was in a hospital bed. She learned that she had been in a car accident. Her memory of the accident was very hazy, but the one thing she did remember very clearly was her promise to visit Kuroneko that day.
“I couldn’t keep…. the promise.”
Tears and time pass…
The noise of the keyboards as they type their thoughts is as loud as their intentions.
They are typing away on a site called the “Black Page,” seemingly in the chat room on the site.
“The Black Page”….. A rumor says it is a strange site.
There’s no credible evidence to these rumors. They are urban legends, but it seems quite a few people are interested in this particulate site.
There have been recent incidents of people dying from comas induced by unknown causes. There is a rumor that this “Black Page” might have something to do with these deaths, along with other rumors that visitors to this site can communicate with dead people.
A peculiar thing about this site is how it looks. Usually, there is just a counter within a black background. Some say that the number on the counter shows the amount of people who have visited the site and died. The site itself is easy to access, but no one knows how to enter the chat room within the site.
But right now, luckily or unluckily, four people have successfully connected and are chatting in that very chat room. Needless to say that they have never met each other. Mere coincidence brought them together to the chat room, where they have now started a conversation. They only know each other through their screen names.
“Anonymous” is Makoto Shirae.
His coworker recently died mysteriously. Makoto found out that he was investigating “The Black Page” and is here to find out more.
“Mako” is Shinichi Suzutani.
His passion is for the occult. He heard rumors about “The Black Page” and had visited the site before.
“Mie” is Chiyo Kishibe
Her husband passed away a few years ago and she has been extremely depressed since then. Her grandchild gave her a computer to cheer her up. She learned how to use the Internet, and had heard that this site can let visitors converse with the dead.
“Rin” is Rin Kagura
She regretted that she couldn’t keep her promise to Reiko after the accident and hopes to get back in touch with her friend on “The Black Page.”
These four people visit “The Black Page” in doubt, hope, and fear. They are taken into the strange world called “The Mnemonic Abyss.” “The Mnemonic Abyss” is the world that exists between life and death. Souls that are taken from “The Black Page” wander around this world.
The story is developed in the four different perspectives of these characters.
These total strangers struggle to survive in “The Mnemonic Abyss” and their narratives connect together to become a single story, even encompassing each character’s past. They are tossed into “The Mnemonic Abyss” without any knowledge of the place. Yet by following their destinies….. a single truth will be revealed by the end.
What inspired the game’s story?
Satoru Yokota, Concept Planner: Before there was any story, I first had to decide whether to give the characters their own personalities and histories. Without any history, the main character could act as a pure vessel for the player, as in many FPS games. The down side to that is a potential lack of drama. If I were to give the characters strong personalities, the dramatic aspect of the story would surely be enhanced, but at the cost of the connection between the main character and the player. In the end, I decided that I prefer the certainty of dramatic effect and game depth and chose to have four main characters.
I’ve also tried to incorporate the inherent horrors of modern communication, especially of the computer and the Internet. Our society’s ever-increasing dependence on cell phones, blogs, chat rooms and other technological tools inevitably results in a great conflict for individuals – that of self-centered egos and greater anonymity than ever. People can do great harm to others through these technologies.
Akihiro Shibata, Scenario Writer: The playable characters of Calling each have unique personalities. But to have the players actually experience the same events as the characters, most of the game is from the first person point of view. The most important aspect of livening up the first person game system is to have the players emotionally attached to the characters they are controlling.
Several knickknacks that bring the players emotionally closer to the characters are placed within the scenarios. By having the player make these discoveries, he/she is no longer an observer. The player identifies with the character, ultimately becoming and experiencing the event through a first person’s point of view.
When I first saw Calling it seemed like the team was trying to maximize the use of the Wii remote. Was this one of your goals with Calling and what challenges did you encounter?
Yes. Cell phones are key items in this game and was one of our challenges. There is an important reason why we choose the Wii to be the game’s platform. The Wii Remote was the perfect item to utilize our ideas. We thought that its design and usage were perfect to be used as a phone. We also thought it was an important aspect of the game for the Wii Remote to be used as a flashlight, with its beam of light leading our way in the darkness. In order to provide players the natural movements as much as possible without discomfort, we went through a lot of trial and error in our adjustments to the Wii controls. We wanted the Wii to be used as a flashlight from the player’s point of view. The flashlight operation smoothly links to the player’s eye movements. the Wii Remote also acts as a cell phone with a voice transmitted directly to the player through Wii Remote speaker. We had to also make sure to keep a careful balance with environmental sounds from the game as well. To do so, we had the Wii Remote function as an item and the Nunchuk serve the player’s movements. This allows players to focus their attention on what’s going on in the same. By creating these natural controls we hoped to make the gameplay more natural.
Is there anything you wish you could have done with the Wii remote?
We discussed many uses for the Remote that might enhance its use as a cell phone. Though it was not implemented, one of them was to add special parts on Wii Remote to make its shape and functions even more like a real cell phone. We also thought of putting a microphone on the Wii Remote so player can send signals and "talk" to other players and be able to communicate that way. We considered the necessity and the feasibility of these ideas and came up with some cool ones to make the game more fun.
This is Hudson’s first survival horror game, so how did you make Calling scary?
What makes people scared and how we can increase the scary feeling within them were very important to us. Of course, fears that stem from threat or attack are important but we want to put more thought into creating a scary atmosphere from psychological fear or pressures such that players will feel fear just see something there or the thought that something might happen.
We researched the various Japanese horror materials already on the market. We didn’t want to go too crazy. We didn’t want to include concepts that weaken the player’s sense of real experience within the game, even though they may be common in movies or TV shows.
We tried to incorporated the abnormal events of the game with a sense of balance. From this perspective, we made each character’s personality and abilities that of an “ordinary person.” We tried to avoid suddenly giving them a special power or having them behave unnaturally to finish the adventure – for example, we didn’t want the characters to be shooting guns in a place like The Mnemonic Abyss. If I had to face the situation like this game, the only thing I can do is desperately try to escape.
In order to enhance the atmosphere we thought it was important to stimulate the player’s five senses, including sound. I think that that casual sound effects are elements that contribute to the slow buildup of “fear” as a player concentrates on the game. Even the state of “nothing” will create inner fear with the right sounds.
What did you learn about scaring people from development?
I don’t know if this is a trick but I start learning ideas and techniques of creating within the horror genre. There were a variety of difficulties in this challenge, but we confronted them with trial and error until we got it right. We improved the good aspects of the game and thoroughly reviewed the bad parts. We asked for input from a variety of people to find out what scared them or which scene resulted in which responses. However, it became difficult to implement major changes to the game as we neared completion, which I’m sure was its own horror for the development team. In the end, the final version of Calling was the result of our achieved goals.
I think that people feel “fear” because they expect or predict something might happen. I tried to take advantage of this type of psychology in the game.
Calling is quite different from the typical family friendly Hudson game. Why did you decide to target a different demographic?
The reason is simple. I really wanted to make a horror titles. That might be too simple, but in our development side, we don’t really have that sense of “Hudson= family oriented.” Rather, we want to enjoy making games even when they take different directions. We wanted to create this game without fearing failure or difficulty.
We are determined to build a new reputation for Hudson with Calling so that gamers can say, "Hudson horror is pretty good!"
Was it difficult to lead Hudson, as a publisher, in a new direction?
There was no difficulty from management with regards to the "horror" genre. However until the project was fully operational, we had to explain the game many times through presentations to make sure that we agreed on the project and had a mutual understanding of the game.
If there were any difficulties, it was the pressure that we had never produced games in this genre. Because this was a new challenge for us, we needed to meet new standards and expectations without losing the quality work of Hudson.
Japanese horror has its own unique flavor. What are some of the difficulties of localizing Calling, which is rooted in that genre, for a Western audience?
Our development team wanted to provide the original Japanese version as it is. Since the world view and the game scenario was based on Japan, we thought it was best to leave the voice from the phone in Japanese and just use subtitles
However, as the production proceeded, we considered the opinions of our target regions’ industries and marketing. We hired native voice artists to dub the voice and localized the on-screen text for each target region. Although a considerable amount of work and effort was needed, we didn’t mind the effort if it was necessary for international players to have better experiences with the game. The game still offers the option to play with the original Japanese audio for players to enjoy Japanese version as well.
Otherwise, we tried to retain the Japanese atmosphere and feel. We considered adjusting the design according to the target region, but after considering the game’s overall balance, we decided to keep the original as it is. We kept the Japanese text in the game’s environments. For example if a Japanese sign in the school environment were replaced with English, it doesn’t quite fit. The text shown at the end of each chapter, “章” also was left as it is. We separated the parts that needed to be localized and other parts that needed to remain in Japanese in order to emphasize the Japanese horror aspect. We did add support features such translations of Japanese signs for those who want to use them.
Since this title is a Japanese horror game, keeping the Japanese environments gives the game more dramatic effect.
Was anything changed or upgraded for North America?
We mainly changed the visibility of the main screen and the camera movements thanks to feedback from our American staff. These subtle differences are very difficult to perceive, but if you play both the Japanese and US versions, you can feel the difference.
Do you view Calling as a series you want to continue?
For this game, we focused on the Wii platform but we strongly hope to continue Calling in various ways. This game only reveals a part of the world of Calling. I’m always thinking of new ways of experiencing this game. I want to use the experience I’ve gained through working on this title for our future endeavors.
What is the Calling team working on now?
The team is working on other projects and honing their talents in other ways. They hope to use the experiences they gained with Calling and utilize them for something new.
Calling has been a positive experience for us, and we were able to work with some great technology and materials for this. These are assets for our latest projects and there’s no limit to the ideas and concepts we come up with every day.