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Developer Chat: Deadly Premonition Creator Hidetaka ‘Swery’ Suehiro

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Posted on February 4, 2013 AT 12:05pm

Deadly Premonition stands as a fantastic example of Japanese gaming. On a purely technical level, the sandbox adventure of an FBI agent called to a small American town in order to investigate a bizarre murder often seems rough and quaint when compared to the mammoth open-world releases we’re used to from Western developers. And yet, what Deadly Premonition lacks in power it makes up for in charm. While some wrote it off, those who really gave a chance to the project Japanese creator Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro poured his heart and soul into found a game overflowing with personality, attention to detail, interesting characters, and a style of storytelling that you won’t find coming from any other country.

While the original Deadly Premonition only saw release in the West via its Xbox 360 incarnation, those PS3 owners who felt left out of the fun will now have an even better experience to look forward to. Coming this April to our shores is Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut, a new remixed version of the game where Swery and his team have gone back and tweaked various gameplay elements and improved the quality of the game’s graphical elements and textures. During a recent press tour with the game’s publisher Rising Star Games, I had the chance to sit down with Swery—along with Toybox vice president Tomio Kanazawa—to talk Deadly Premonition.

EGM: At GDC last year, I had a chance to attend Yasuhiro Wada’s presentation on the development of the original Harvest Moon. Near the end, he suddenly mentions, “Swery is working on a director’s cut for Deadly Premonition.” Of course, I and a few others in the audience were surprised to hear this announcement—especially given the circumstances under which it was being mentioned. Did you know that he was going to say that, or was that a surprise?

Swery: Of course I knew.

Tomio Kanazawa: However, I asked Wada-san not to mention the platform the director’s cut would be released on. So, he didn’t say it on stage. But, after that, you and some other media talked to him, and said, “You mentioned a director’s cut for Deadly Premonition.” And Wada said, “Oh, it’s for PS3.”

After that, I told him, “Wada-san, I read the articles, you said PS3! [laughs] But, we haven’t gotten the proper approval yet, so you shouldn’t have said that.”

So Wada replied, “Oh, did I say that? I don’t think I said that.”

“No, it’s in the article,” I said. [laughs]

“Oh, sorry… I may have said that.”

So, yes, we planned on Wada-san mentioning the Deadly Premonition director’s cut, but not the platform it would be on or other information—just that Swery was working on the game. That was it; that was our plan.

EGM: Of course, a lot of PS3 owners were happy to hear that a PS3 version of the game would be coming to the West, as it didn’t originally. However, the way the game gained the popularity it has in countries such as America was via the Xbox 360. Do you worry if those fans will get upset that they can’t play the director’s cut?

Swery: I’ve received some feedback from Xbox 360 owners, saying that it’s a pity that the director’s cut won’t show up on that platform. But, the main purpose to release this version of the game is to deliver Deadly Premonition to those players who didn’t have the opportunity to play it previously. So, that’s why we chose the PS3. The additional work that I could do for Deadly Premonition was completely up to the kind of chance that I was given to do so—and, in this case, that chance was for a PS3 version. If I had the chance to do an Xbox 360 version as well, I probably would—but my goal was simply to develop the director’s cut on the platform that I had a chance to.

Kanazawa: Actually, I decided the platform, because I wanted to bring the game to PS3 owners in countries outside of Japan. The problem is, sometimes doing a game cross-platform isn’t a reality. You have costs, development time, and other factors. So, I made the decision to do the director’s cut for the PS3—and, also, I wanted to try using the PS Move as well.

Swery: If I was feeling selfish, and demanded, “No, I want to develop the director’s cut for the Xbox 360 as well,” Kanazawa-san might then say, “Fine, let’s not make a director’s cut then.” That could mean I’d completely miss the chance to make this updated version. So, I feel like my job is to concentrate on doing the best with the opportunity I was given, and not be selfish.

EGM: When you go back and change the controls, or map, or whatever, do you feel like the original game was wrong, or was it that that was your opinion of how things should be, and the fans ended up having a different opinion?

Swery: Of course, when I did what I did in the original version, I thought the decisions that were made were good at that time. Now it’s two years later, and I’m also two years older—so now I feel like this “two-years-older Swery” must go back and make these changes. [laughs] Looking at the game again after two years of reflection, maybe my feelings about certain decisions have changed, or maybe I’ve had other experiences that impact the way I feel. For the director’s cut of Deadly Premonition, it’s now me going back to do what I can for the game after two years—for myself, and for fans.

EGM: Are you familiar with the Japanese horror game Rule of Rose?

Swery: Hmm. I’m not sure I’ve heard of that.

EGM: Yoshiro Kimura worked on the game.

Kanazawa: Kimura-san?

EGM: Yeah. He was a designer on the game.

Swery: Really? I don’t know it! [laughs]

Kanazawa: He’s our friend! Why don’t we know that game? [laughs]

EGM: I was sitting with Kimura-san during Wada-san’s GDC presentation, and before it began, we were talking about Rule of Rose. I really loved it, but a lot of people thought that the gameplay had some serious problems. It reminded me a bit of the reaction that Deadly Premonition got when it was released over here.

Kanazawa: Was Rule of Rose popular in America?

EGM: Not really—but I think it does have a small cult following. While it wasn’t received as poorly as Rule of Rose, with Deadly Premonition, the reaction was very mixed. Some like myself understood and enjoyed it, yet others thought it was a terrible in a number of ways. When you were reading those initial comments about the game, from people who didn’t really “get” it, how did you feel? 

Swery: I never get hurt when I read comments from people who actually played the game. When you have people who bought the game—who paid money for it, and who are spending their valuable time playing it and beating it—I want to hear the feelings of those players. If there are players who spent their money, played the game, and for some reason the game made them give up, I feel like that’s my responsibility.

EGM: On the other side, via Twitter, I often see people sending you kind message about the game, or fans showing you photos of their coffee or cosplay or whatever—how does it make you feel when you receive that kind of love from fans of Deadly Premonition?

Swery: I remember when I first started receiving fan comments about Deadly Premonition. It was shortly after IGN reviewed the game—giving it a 2 out of 10—and yet, I was starting to receive some wonderfully nice comments from players. It was a Saturday morning; when I checked my Twitter, I had received so many comments that I thought maybe I was hacked. [laughs] When I started reading them, I saw that they were about Deadly Premonition, but I didn’t believe that they were actual player comments. I replied with things such as “Are you teasing me?” or “Please don’t hack me.” [laughs] But then, the commenters said, “No, we’re actual fans!” So, at first, I was totally shocked—however, once I realized that those fans were indeed out there, I understood that I had to be better at showing them that I cared about them as fans.

EGM: Twitter has really opened up the chance for players around the world to talk to Japanese developers. Do you think it’s good for those in Japan who are making games to be able to hear those voices from other countries?

Swery: Of course, I’d had some chances to speak to people in American media, or in the UK, or other examples like that. But, I’d never really had the chance to get feedback from people in places such as Sweden, Denmark, or Finland. Now I can. Personally, I think things like Twitter are a really good opportunity to receive comments from other countries.

EGM: One of the things people love most about Deadly Premonition is its main character, Francis York Morgan. When you were creating York, did you go in with a feeling of “I want to make a cool character people will love”, or were you surprised by the attachment many have come to feel to him?

Swery: My initial thought was that I wanted to make a character who was kind of strange, a geek, and fitting the “kuuki yomenai” style of personality. (ED: Literally translates to “cannot read the air”, as in a person who doesn’t notice the atmosphere in a room. Somebody who may often be unmindful to the feelings of others, or the current situation beyond their own attitude or point of concentration.) I wanted him to be very unique, and somebody who would say what they were thinking no matter the situation. But, I also wanted him to have kind of a “cool” look that the players would hopefully take to.

EGM: In a recent interview, you talked about how you had originally considered making the main character female—but that you had received some push-back to that idea from some on the Western side of things. Do you feel at all that it’s a problem that there seems to be this fear of basing games around female characters?

Swery: Originally, making the main character female was indeed my request, and at the beginning of the project, the team agreed on that.

Kanazawa: Your original image for the character was Angelina Jolie.

Swery: No no no. Jodi Foster! [laughs]

Kanazawa: That’s right. And I wanted Natalie Portman. [laughs]

Swery: But, after talking to our Western publishers, and others who had experience with such things, they recommended that we not use a female main character. At this point, I feel like that was probably good advice, because we ended up with the character of York. I’ve talked to a lot of people in the media or whatnot, and when they find out York was originally female, they say, “Oh really? No, York has to be male! That’s why we like him!”

EGM: For me, I love the character of York, but maybe for your next game, I’d like to see you try a female character.

Kanazawa: Really? Do you think such a game could be a success in the Western market? Because, so many people were against that idea.

EGM: I think maybe companies are just too afraid of taking the chance. Of course, you have some examples of successful leading females—games such as Tomb Raider, which is a popular action series built around a strong female character.

Kanazawa: Other than that, though, I can’t think of any other popular games with female main characters.

EGM: Well, of course there’s also Metroid, with Samus.

Kanazawa: Metroid! Of course.

EGM: There’s another character that I want to ask you about, and that’s Thomas. When you first really find out about his character, it’s easy to write him off as a total weirdo. By the end of the game, however, you realize that he’s taken seriously as a character in a number of ways, and York doesn’t look down on him due to who he is. Often times, characters like Thomas are used either as comic relief, or for the “creepiness” factor—but I never really felt like either of those was the intention here. Can you speak at all to your intention with Thomas?

Swery: I think that York has a very “real” way of thinking; he has the capacity to accept everything. Part of what I wanted to express through Thomas was the idea of “love”—that love isn’t just something between a man and a woman. People who are gay, lesbian, or in other situations, they are all forms of love. When I come up with expressions of love, I don’t need to stick to just one way of exploring that idea.

EGM: In Japan, this game was called Red Seeds Profile, and in the West, Deadly Premonition. How do you feel about the name Deadly Premonition?

Swery: Actually, I think Deadly Premonition is a good title—it kind of feels like it could be the name of a new James Bond movie. “James Bond 007 stars in Deadly Premonition!” [laughs] The name has kind of a “cool” feeling to it, I think. However, in Japan, the word “Premonition” would be very hard to pronounce, and not many Japanese people would understand its meaning. A friend of mine came up with the name “Red Seeds Profile” for Japan, and in the West, the promotional team helped come up with “Deadly Premonition”; for me, both are okay.

EGM: So if the next game had an English title more easily understood by Japanese players, would you use that name in both territories, or would it be like “Red Seeds Profile 2″ for Japan?

Swery: I do personally prefer titles that are a little hard to pronounce in Japanese—I think it’s kind of a trend in Japan. For example, you have a movie like “Minority Report”, where when you use that title in Japan, the word “minority” isn’t exactly understood.  Or you have “Catch Me If You Can”, which isn’t so hard to pronounce, but the actual meaning might be lost on Japanese people. Maybe both of those movies kept their Western titles in Japan because it was Spielberg’s rule. [laughs] I feel that, if we had a title that as “Deadly [Something]“, and that other word was easier for Japanese people to pronounce, that might be best.

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got his start via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as he can convince them to fit in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk him on Twitter: @pikoeri. Meet the rest of the crew.

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