There's something about SWERY.
There's something about the broken English in his tweets, in his love of American B-movies, his extreme caffeine addiction, and in the way he got so excited when I introduced him to Out of this World creator Eric Chahi at a party that he accidentally spat on his face.
SWERY (or Hidetaka Suehiro, if you want to get formal about it) is a character for sure, which made him something of a media darling when his open world occult mystery adventure Deadly Premonition came out in 2010.
It was perhaps one of the more polarizing games of this generation: On the Metacritic scale, Destructoid gave it a 100. IGN gave it a 20. (I gave it a B... that particular outlet didn't score numerically).
But the game -- a clear Twin Peaks homage with an unreliable narrator that spoke to an imaginary friend, a town full of inhabitants that wore gas masks and carried around casseroles, and a shaving and washing mechanic that would punish you and call you a "Stinky Agent" if you didn't participate -- was hard to ignore.
Many of those who vocalized their love of the game (including the game's publisher, Ignition) focused on its absurdity of the dialogue, the oddly chipper music, or the PlayStation 2-at-best graphics. The majority of the praise was just about how damned weird the game was, but there's more to Deadly Premonition. Under its surrealist exterior (and fairly awful, unnecessary combat mechanics) lies a brilliantly designed interactive narrative that left players actually wanting to engross themselves in the story of what was, on the surface, a silly zombie game.
SWERY is a gifted designer, and Deadly Premonition introduced a lot of fresh ideas that most of us ignored.
Now that a Director's Cut version of the game is on its way, I thought the time was right to revisit this previously-unpublished interview I conducted with SWERY at the 2011 Game Developers Conference, just before his rather inspiring Game Design in the Coffee lecture (click for video!)
You have a set of game design rules, one of which is "Freedom in gameplay is the freedom of timing." What do you mean by that?
Hidetaka Suehiro: When people talk about freedom in game design, freedom is considered choices for the player. And when you're creating a storyline, sometimes it means side quests, and other times it might mean having multiple endings.
But when I was thinking about the freedom that we wanted to put in Deadly Premonition, I didn't think that would be quite enough. I was aiming to create this stronger sense of freedom that the gamer might be able to attain by doing something else.
In normal games you're told what to do, and you're given a challenge to do that, and then the game tells you if you did good or not. And if you did good, you get to move on in the storyline. For Deadly Premonition, I wanted to put a twist into that flow. I wanted to make a small little change in that, so that we have an extra branch there.
At first you're told what the quest is about, and then from there you're given this choice of whether you want to take on that quest, or if you want to do something else. Normal games would probably find a way to... not scold the player, but try to force the player back onto the rails, so that the player sticks to that challenge. But for Deadly Premonition, I wanted to allow the player to decide that, "Hey, I don't want to do this right now. I want to do this later, so I'll go do something else."
So that's why the game forgives you for missing scheduled appointments, letting you try again the next [in-game] day?
HS: That's right. As a creator, by doing this, I'm allowing the player to have a stronger sense of freedom. Then at the same time, in his mind, somewhere unconsciously or consciously, the player is becoming more willing to play along with the story. So when I reach a point in the storyline where I need to have the players play a certain element of the game, then they're more willing to take part in that.
When you complete side missions in Deadly Premonition, your reward isn't necessarily an item or a goodie in the game. The reward is often just more dialog and more story, and more depth to the characters. It struck me that the game was rewarding the kind of player interested in learning more about the world. I'm wondering if that was an intentional design decision?
HS: It's intentional. In other kinds of games, when you finish one part of your missions, most of the time you just get access to other areas. You get to go to another island or village or whatever. But in Deadly Premonition, I wanted to make your rewards come inwards, not outwards. So the rewards would be to get to know more of [the game's fictional town of] Greenvale, and its inhabitants.
So with more knowledge of what's going on in the town, or more knowledge of the people that you're interacting with in the game, you become fond of the people in this small town. So the reward is not just about hearing more dialog, it's also intended so that the player would feel more comfortable within the city.