These questions and answers are from two different interviews with SWERY during Tokyo Game Show in 2010 and 2011. Thanks goes out to Michael Bitker for organising these, and all of Access Games for being so helpful in general.
How would you describe Deadly Premonition to someone who has never played the game before?
Deadly Premonition is set in a small town where a murder took place and you're the FBI agent trying to get to the bottom of it. In this town you meet strange characters and there are a lot of strange things that happen. But while you are in this town you lead your life and you kind of just follow the daily routine as you get on with the case. As you play, the story eventually changes into a kind of horror world and leads into a completely unbelievable and surprising ending. You will definitely be surprised.
How did you try to make the love story between York and Emily believable?
The player is actually York and he's going to a new town that he has never actually been in. There he is going to meet new people and start having all kinds of relationships and separations. Having some form of love is definitely important and so we wanted to create somebody for the player to want to protect and have that same person be somebody that he falls in love with.
What I aimed to do with the characters was try to create a gap between the way they look outside and their inner qualities. As you get to know them as the player, you get to close this gap. You see how they actually feel about each other inside. What we didn't want to do is have a happy ending where the hero and the heroine get together, fall in love and live happily ever after because that's kind of clich?d and boring, so I created the ending that I did.
York often talks about his love for cult movies and I understand you have a love for cult movies too. Did you hope that Deadly Premonition would be seen as something of a cult classic or did you want it to be more of a blockbuster?
At the time of development, I wasn't thinking of either, I was just thinking about trying to make the best darn game I could and have as many people that can possibly play it actually play it.
Are you pleased that it's taken that kind of turn then? That it's become maybe a bit more of a cult classic?
Yeah. At the time I was just thinking of trying to have as many people play it and enjoy it as possible, but at the same time I didn't want to make a game that anyone else could make. I wanted to make a game that only I could make. There are a lot of elements in the game that other people would probably not have put in. Considering all of that, and how it has been received, if people are going to call it a cult classic, then that's definitely a good thing.
What scares you?
...That's a joke. I'm not scared of much, but I'm afraid of water because I can't swim.
Can you explain the giant demon dogs that roam the streets of Greenvale at night?
Essentially, the demonic energies that are in the red trees seep out and get into to all kinds of dead bodies. It doesn't matter whether they are human or animal - they evolve into a kind of monster shape. So that's what dogs become when the red trees' energy gets into them. At first the dogs were quite small, but I wanted them to be bigger and bigger, so eventually that's what they turned into.
When Shadows get very close to York why do they try to stick their hand down his throat?
The Shadows are dead people, kind of like zombies, and they are jealous of people who are alive so what they do is try to enter their bodies to try to posses them. They really want to get in.
So are they actually physical then, not just in York's imagination? As far as I remember the only other person who sees the Shadows is Emily.
Yeah, they are physical. At the very beginning the only people who can see Shadows are people who can detect the energy of the red trees. However, as the trees become more powerful, other people can see them too.
Where did the idea of the red seeds and the red trees come from?
My coffee cup!
Where did you get the idea of people being "sprouted"?
When we were writing the scenario up, we really wanted to use some way of killing a person using the red tree. I actually filled an entire notebook with different ways I thought people could die from trees. When we went back through those we chose the ones that were most interesting. Eventually we came to sprouting.
What's the back story behind the Sinner's Sandwich and have you made it yourself?
Goda-san and I were thinking about putting some kind of food or dish that doesn't look enticing but actually tastes awesome and delicious in the game. Initially I had the idea of using some fried salmon with some thick powdered corn cream soup, and putting it on top of the hot salmon. That tastes really good although it looks really bad.
Have you had a taste of the Sinner's Sandwich yourself?
Yes, once the game was finished the players were telling me "you should try this!" so I tried it. It was delicious! When I travel overseas I go to the breakfast buffet and now I get some cereal to make one!
Do you think it's important to dry clean your suits regularly?
Normally, I don't wear my clothes until they attract flies! But if I wear a suit once I would normally take it to the dry cleaner.
I read that you absorbed a lot of media for inspiration during the planning stages for Deadly Premonition. Are there any games that influenced you more than TV and movies?
I play a lot of games so I'm most likely being influenced without being conscious of it. But two that played a part would be The Legend of Zelda and Mother series. Those games use a big, huge field and are still created in a realistic and believable way. In that light, as you have mentioned, maybe those games have had an influence on me.
The NPC routines and sidequests are a very prominent part of Deadly Premonition. Were you influenced by games like Shenmue and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask that focused on these kind of aspects?
I haven't actually ever played Shenmue but as I said, I do like Zelda so I'm sure there's a bit of an influence there.
Which is your favorite sidequest?
Brian the gravekeeper's. He has a secret!
When it comes to Greenvale, it was originally meant to be a denser town with more going on in it. What did you want to be there that didn't make it to the final version?
Oh, many things. But we had to start shaving things out that weren't important for the main part of the game. Things like being able to go to a theatre to watch a movie or go to the forest to hunt. I wanted to put in many more animals too, but that didn't happen.
It sounds like Red Dead Redemption used some of those ideas...
Were there any other ideas that were left on the cutting room floor?
There were a lot of ideas... I wanted York to be able to take a shower, get naked and change his clothes. We wanted to add more of that. I wanted York to be able to change his hairstyle, but pretty much everything important I wanted to have got in.
There are a lot of interesting moments in the game and I was wondering - did you have any real life inspiration for Emily's cooking and Thomas' cross dressing?
Well, it's very private. I'm not sure I want you to write this down, but I do have a friend who is male that became a female and also a friend that has got married twice in his life and the quality of the cooking changed. Those people might get angry if you mention it!
Any other parts in the game that might have been taken from real life?
I'm hoping that the mother in the basement part was taken from Psycho rather than from real life.
In the sense of realism, when you think about people who are married you know they fight and bicker about the smallest of things and then after some better communication they realise how silly that was and they become closer because of that. It's something that I wanted to put into the game using Nick and Olivia, because they're married, just to make things more believable in the world by having real things like that that occur within a real marriage. Also, Kaysen's dog, Willie, actually lives at my friend's house.
Speaking of Willie, why did you put the dog walking chapter into the game? It's quite different from everything else.
When you walk Willie you hold on to the leash and you walk him. When you let go of the leash he goes off in a crazy direction. That happens in real life too, and it's always fun to go chasing after the leash.
In the final chapters of the game two characters take on very freakishly mutated forms and the tone of the game changes quite a lot. Also, there are no bosses until the end of the game. Why does it change so much?
I don't consider it strange as the game comes on gradually in the sense of you fighting the Shadows. There's already some kind of craziness going on. That craziness ramps up, and as an extension of that ramping up there's two characters that mutate and take on bigger, weird forms. The storyline still tries to maintain the realism and believability. Sure, there may be gaps requiring suspension of disbelief, but the curve itself is designed to have those two characters towards the end where the craziness is ramping up.
If the game were to have merchandise what would you like?
Well, t-shirts definitely come to mind. We can use a lot of artwork to create different designs for T-shirts. That would be very cool. Having beer nuts or crackers in the shape of red seeds would also be very cool.
Any chance of a York action figure with coffee mug?
I hope so!
As you're playing through the game it seems like there's not so many pieces of music. However, when you start collecting cars it seems like many of them have their own theme song, as it were. Was it a deliberate choice to use only a few different pieces of music through the main story to control the player's emotions? What was your reasoning?
Yes, it is deliberate. We chose a song per emotion that we wanted the player to be feeling. So in the sad moments in the game we trigger the sad songs. We had rules on which song to use in each different situation.
Sometimes two pieces of music change really quickly and it creates a moment of levity, because it moves from being very dramatic to being very comedic or vice-versa. Is this timing deliberate too?
Definitely yes, they're deliberate. A lot of the storyline uses similar emotions in the cutscenes and we did not want them to be coming one after the other. So we calculated where it would be good to have comedy relief. When the comedy relief kicks in, as you mentioned, it creates this sense of levity and that makes it easier for the next sad thing to occur; it's all part of the emotional curve that we were drawing.
Do you have a favourite piece of music in the game?
"Life is Beautiful."
You used your own engine for the game - were you happy doing so or do you wish that you could have saved time or cut costs by using a middleware engine?
The engine itself that we were using is not that bad. It's the way we were using it that led to problems. We were probably still in the learning phase of how to use it. I have no regrets using it though. The game engine did not take much time to create.
Would you use that same engine again?
That would depend on the platform we'd be developing it for. Hypothetically, if our next project was multiplatform it would be worth considering some sort of middleware.
How has feedback been from European gamers since the European release? It was localised into several different languages, so have you had interesting feedback from places like Spain or France, for example?
It's interesting. In the beginning we put the game out in the US, then received a lot of feedback from gamers in the US, and then after a long period of time that simmered down. Then, all of a sudden, we started to get a lot of feedback from Brazil. When the Brazilian feedback tailed off, the UK came next, then Spain, then Australia. The countries took turns; it didn't come in all at once. That was kind of interesting. It was also interesting to hear about different countries reacting very well to "F K ...in the coffee" and the "Sinner's Sandwich" - everybody seemed to say "that's wonderful" or "that's cool." Brazil, was kind of surprising in that they seemed to react well to York mentioning Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. I received a lot of feedback about that. That movie must have been extremely popular over there!
Why do you think that not so many copies were sold in Japan compared to the West?
There are probably many, many reasons for that, but one that comes to mind would be the cultural difference. There's probably a larger amount of people in the West who dream of becoming some kind of a detective or an FBI Agent. More so than people in Japan. That might be the cause. But recently I have been receiving more and more feedback from fans within Japan so maybe there's something else going on there.
Do you think the price point might have been an issue?
It's hard to say. Those are all business decisions that kind of ended up being made. When you look at the market, if the game is good then regardless of the price people should be buying the game. So maybe the game was not good enough.
The game has this 24-hour cycle time line where every character has something that they're doing and a reason for what they're doing that at that time. The game uses this as a tool to get the player interested in following other characters around figuring out who's next or who's more suspicious. That kind of game play was maybe not so appealing to Japanese people. The characters in the game were doing a cycle of going to work, then going home and having dinner with their family and that kind of thing. It's probably that the kind of lifestyle these characters were leading is so different from the lifestyle in Japan that they can't relate to it.
You said in the Game Developer article that you cried at one point during the development stage - why was that?
Well, there was a time during the development stage where things really weren't going well. The team members were having conflicting feelings about how to proceed. They were meeting together to talk it out and decide what to do and I just got overwhelmed and my feelings came out because I cared so much.
What have you learnt from the experience of developing Deadly Premonition and its worldwide release?
Looking back, one thing I can say I really learned is that when you have ideas that you think are fun and make notes of them in the game design, you will get other people looking at it and saying "that little line here seems to be a little bit too risky." Another person might point at a different place and say "that's going overboard;" another might say "that's crossing the line." Looking back, if I had listened to all of them and started removing all of those things then the game would have ended up being something that anyone else could have created. Holding on to the original vision of what I thought was fun was very, very important for the final product.
So how did you manage to stand up against people telling you to cut things out?
You have to do it with a smile! (laughs)
Anything else you would like to add?
It's been a while since the game was released and it's great that even after so much time, it's awesome that people are interested in a game that came out so long ago. I want to thank everyone for all their support and to please continue their support for my next ventures. We are still trying to figure out what to do next but that support is greatly appreciated.