Jon Williams of Tokyo-based game studio Cherry Mochi was born in Britain but moved to Japan out of fascination for its geek culture. He’s now found himself creating a game about Tokyo, involving its urban myths and street culture, called Tokyo Dark.
It’s a sidescrolling adventure game that follows detective Itō as she searches for her missing partner around modern day Tokyo. It delves in real life aspects of the city, as well as the paranormal, as you shape the story around your actions.
Siliconera threw some questions about Tokyo Dark to Williams to find out more about it. He talks about its anime inspirations, his own fascination with Tokyo, and how seeing all of the game’s endings will require research and actions outside of the game.
As a British guy who has moved over to Tokyo, and is now making a game based in the city, what would you say is the allure of Tokyo for you?
Honestly, I was first attracted to Tokyo by its reputation as a Mecca for geeks, but after living here for 5 years I’ve learnt that it is so much more than that. Tokyo is a metropolis of hidden worlds, buildings that look like plain simple office blocks on the outside might in fact be a hive of small market stalls.
One time I wanted to track down a board game. I ended up going to a “shop”, in a block of residential flats that was actually just someone’s flat they had converted. I found it via word of mouth, they had no website or signs outside.
I think that’s what I love about Tokyo; its millions of hidden treasures tucked away that you’ll only find if you speak to the right people at the right time. Often even just navigating around the city feels like a game.
Could you tell us a little bit more about Tokyo Dark’s plot and the background of detective Itō?
There is an urban legend in Tokyo that says if you take the wrong corridor in Shinjuku station (the world’s busiest train station) you’ll disappear and will never be seen again. When you are trying to get through Shinjuku station that can often feel true! It’s a maze of endless corridors and tunnels.
In Tokyo Dark it is true. Deep below Tokyo, under the subway, under the sewers, there is a red door. Anyone who passes through the door is never seen again. But sometimes people come back through it.
Although Tokyo Dark is a paranormal mystery, most of the game is actually spent dealing with the consequences of the paranormal, rather than with the paranormal itself directly.
I think there is a much more interesting and rich story in, for example, a girl who wants to die, tries to commit suicide but can’t, and keeps coming back and is tortured by what she has seen, rather than a straightforward zombie who wants to attack you.
At the start of Tokyo Dark detective Itō`s partner has gone missing and she is trying to track him down. Things quickly spiral out from there. The game includes sequences that take place now and there are flashbacks to expand on the character’s backstory.
Shooting your gun is very serious business in Tokyo Dark. I think we are making one of the only games where shooting someone (or something) might result in your character needing therapy to deal with the consequences.
What aspects that are recognizably characteristic of modern day Tokyo and its citizens have you integrated in Tokyo Dark?
One that I mentioned earlier is the high suicide rates, but we also plan to touch on reasons behind the suicides. Institutionalized sexism is rampant in Japan, far more than in any western country, detective Itō will have to deal with those issues.
Our main focus is on telling an honest story that, although dealing with the paranormal, also does touch on what life is like in Tokyo. The good and the bad, we plan to release the game in Japan in Japanese, so it must ring true to the players who live here.
What other media – games, film, anime etc – are you taking inspiration from when creating Tokyo Dark?
Tokyo Dark takes its modern detective noir styling from Se7en, its anime style and focus on its character’s psychology from the anime movie Perfect Blue, and the twisted mind of manga writer Junji Ito.
Its endless tunnels and darkness beneath Tokyo from the Japanese horror movie Marebito, a pinch of gameplay from Heavy Rain, a dash of 42entertainment’s ARGs and a lot of eldritch horror from Lovecraft and Del Toro. Its final seasoning of adventure gaming is from the Blackwell series by Wadjet Eye Games.
How does the stats system work in Tokyo Dark, and how does it affect play and the story?
An example early on in the game is a locked grate with a digital lock. Do you spend the time trying to crack the lock and hack your way through the door? You can, it will be a challenging puzzle for the player, and if you solve it you’ll be awarded with an intelligence bonus. Or, perhaps you don’t think Itō would waste time on that and you’d rather smash your way through with a sledge hammer, fine, you’ll earn a determination bonus.
At points in the story, options will only be available if you have a high (or low) enough rank in a specific stat. This makes for some interesting gameplay choices as the method you choose to solve the puzzles really does affect the story.
Does Itō do most of the detective work or is the player required to piece together and find clues? Likewise, can we expect this to be a non-linear game with multiple endings?
Yes, the game will have around 10 different endings and is very non-linear.
The work required to `solve` the game really depends on how deep the player wants to go. On one level a player can avoid all the difficult puzzles and take the game to a conclusion with little effort. They can just get into and follow along with the story, treating the game almost like a visual novel, and that’s fine.
We really want to support this type of player. But on a whole other level there are very very difficult puzzles buried deep within the game. Some endings will even require research and actions outside of the game itself to solve. To truly understand what is happening in Tokyo Dark will take many replays and lots of effort.
You’ll be taking Tokyo Dark to Kickstarter in 2015. What do you intend to put the funding towards?
The funding will go mostly on developing and creating the assets we need to finish the game. We’re working with a fantastic 2D character artist who will be creating lots more art for us. We also want to hire a composer to create a custom score. The more money we raise, the more art and audio we can afford.
We plan to finish the game’s prologue before we launch our Kickstarter and give it away for free, so that our backers can be sure of what they are supporting.
What platforms are you aiming to bring Tokyo Dark to? Would you bring it to consoles, if possible?
At the moment we are planning for Windows, Mac and Linux. If possible I would love to launch on Wii U too.
In the future we might look into releasing a graphically stripped back version for iPad (we actually have the current build up and running on iPad now) but mobile is not a priority for us while we develop the game. We want to make a fantastic desktop experience first and foremost.