Wednesday, December 1, 2010
While the name SWERY 65 may not be instantly familiar to the electronic audience yet, anyone keeping even cursory tabs on the year's events in gaming has undoubtedly heard of his creation – it's easily 2010’s most talked-about title, the infamous and revered Deadly Premonition.
Striking several chords with both the review and sphere and gamers at large, it's quite safe to say that anyone who's spent time with main character Francis York Morgan and the town of Greenvale has walked away with strong impressions. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to name a game in recent memory that has been (for good and for bad) so utterly divisive.
Whether you’re a fan or not, the fact is that Deadly Premonition has made quite a splash, and eliciting such a response doesn't happen with just any title. Clearly, the director is onto something here, and the goal is to find out what. So, without further ado, here are Twelve Questions with SWERY 65.
…Oh, there are answers as well. Right, Zach?
Thank you very much for being willing to answer our questions! To start off, some reviews have said that Deadly Premonition is "so bad it's good." How do you feel about this description?
I think it is wonderful. In a way it means that you can make a game that people will love, even if it has graphics and controls that are hard to accept.
In other interviews, you've mentioned that you went to college to learn about film, and movies obviously play a large role in York's life. How did studying film influence your approach to game design? What differences in the two mediums are important to consider when trying to tell a story?
I think it had a tremendous impact on how I design games. For example, in movies you often have scenes where people are eating or driving or working. There are lots of scenes that depict daily life, and it is within them that the lines needed to unfold the story are spoken by the characters present.
However, most games don't have these scenes. The characters speak to the player in locations purposely built for the game, like corridors and open spaces. As a game designer, this feels so out of place to me. This may not apply to Western games, but most Japanese games have yet to escape this method.
You've said that when creating characters, you take inspiration from people you know, and even incorporate aspects of yourself when creating personalities of the cast. Was this a conscious method or did it come naturally? How do you think it impacts the player's connection with the characters?
I imagine characters as people I see around me. When I see someone intriguing on the street, I make a note of it. I never even read most of these notes, but by making these notes I've come to pay attention to people around me, and because they've caught my attention I observe and remember them. As a result, when I come to the production phase, I already have this "character bank" that I can withdraw from, even without my notes. I fumble about with these to create new characters.
As to your second question, I must say that games as a medium comes into being only when the player (audience) intervenes in what's happening, so you must always consider the main character and the player to be a set.
You’ve used the phrase "lovely useless elements" to describe parts of Deadly Premonition's design that have no obvious practical function, but which add to the sense of environment and the narrative. Do you feel this is a vital element missing from modern games?
Yes, they are essential to a game. The reason is that games themselves are lovely useless things in our lives. You can live without playing games, but I love games and I think they enrich our lives. So, that's why games need to include silly, useless things.
In the original 2007 TGS trailer for Rainy Woods, the FBI agent looks very different from York and quite noticeably, he does not have a scar. Why was York’s appearance changed so much, and was his scar part of a story change after Rainy Woods was cancelled?
The Rainy Woods project was halted and eventually cancelled. The Deadly Premonition project didn't start until after that. Please understand that the earlier FBI agent was a completely different character.
There are many details early in the game that contain clues to the final revelation, but are only referenced again much later and the game's mysteries are presented in a very non-linear way. How did you go about coming up with such a plot? Once you came up with the setting and the characters, did you have individual scenes in mind that were expanded upon, or was the ending planned from the beginning?
I will have a session at GDC2011 in which I will reveal the secrets of how I wrote the plot, so I would like to speak about it then. If I am selected as an official speaker, I will try to let everyone know. By the way, I worked on the ending right up until my deadline, writing, thinking, and rewriting.
What was your inspiration behind the York/Zach relationship, and how much detail was put into mapping out York's life from beginning to end?
The York/Zach relationship came out of a conversation I had with my co-writer, Kenji Goda.
We thought it up while in the midst of a brainstorming session based on some key words: "Talkative Characters", "Monologue", and "Player in front of the TV". York's life is still full of mysteries, but I have mapped out in detail the parts of it necessary to the story.
It’s been said that combat was a last minute addition once the bulk of the game was completed. If so, what was the reasoning behind adding combat?
The combat was added after we received advice from our publisher that Western audiences would have difficulty accepting a main character who didn't fire a gun. I don't know if that's entirely true, but our audience certainly accepted Agent York.
What's going on with the three farms? Each one is named and singled out on the map, and they've been populated with animals, but nothing ever happens there during the game. Were they originally connected to some cut content?
There are several elements that were cut, but I can't disclose for certain whether the farms fall into that category. Thinking about it realistically though, American small towns need farms. That is certain.
The game’s map is incredibly difficult to use. It’s far more troublesome than other games’ maps, or even maps in real life. Was that intentional? What's the reasoning behind navigation being so difficult?
This question is often asked of me, but the positive response would be that we wanted the player to travel freely about the town and learn where things are based on landmarks. However, I do regret how unusable it was. I will try to improve this if I get another chance.
Can anything actually be discovered through peeping in windows, or is it just for flavor? Also, what's your favorite thing in the game that average players won't see?
By peeping in the windows, you get to see a glimpse of the lives of Greenvale's residents.
For example, let's say that you heard about how Nick was telling Diane about Rembrant and Turner at the museum, and you saw him painting a picture at home. I think it [peeping] improves the reliability of the information you get from the townsfolk, and you, as a player, will feel a deeper connection to the game.
My favorite events to peep on are dinner at the Ingraham house, and Nick closing up at the diner.
You've said before that you may want to expand on the Deadly Premonition universe. Are you interested in doing a sequel or prequel, and would you like to explore York further? You've also mentioned that Deadly Premonition used to be an urban forensics investigation with a female protagonist. Would you re-visit this idea or start fresh?
If I have a chance to, I'd make a sequel or off-shoot of Deadly Premonition in a heartbeat, because people around the world have really accepted and come to love Francis York Morgan. It would be depressing to have to bring an end to a character that has been so loved. But, if we accept that his story is over, I will still bring other charming characters to you.
It might be a female forensic scientist or it might not, or it could be a retirement-age veteran of the force, or a gossipy florist… whichever it is, I will continue to make "lovely, useless elements".
I love you all! - SWERY 65
Infinite thanks to SWERY 65 for taking the time out of his schedule to speak with me, and for being willing to answer every question that was sent!
Thanks also go out to Michael Bitker of Marvelous Japan, in addition to Daniel Weissenberger, Jeffrey Matulef, Matthew Weise and the wonderful Animagess of top-notch Deadly Premonition fansite Planet Redwood for their assistance in putting this piece together. Couldn’t have done it without them.