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GDC 2011:  Deadly Premonition 's 7 Steps To A Memorable Story
GDC 2011: Deadly Premonition's 7 Steps To A Memorable Story
March 3, 2011 | By Brandon Sheffield

In 2010, Deadly Premonition was a surprise hit among players searching for a deep narrative single player game, and went on to win over a dozen end of the year awards from a variety of media outlets (including Gamasutra).

At GDC 2011, Deadly Premonition director Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro, revealed his seven tactics for creating a memorably story that will inspire a strong fan reaction.

Point 1: Make gamers think about your game when they aren’t playing it.

Relate actions in the game to actions players take in real life. “Gamers who smoke have said this a lot – when they see York smoke in the game, they want to light up in their living room,” said Suehiro. “Sleeping, Hunger, and Shaving, wanting to stay clean. Though these things seem unnecessary at first glance, they help with the cause and effect.” The goal is to link memories of Deadly Premonition with the player’s actions real world.

Suehiro says he likes to put daily human needs in the game, because they help affect the player outside the screen. “Playful elements” like predictions in the coffee, discussing movies lead to players identifying with the characters. “They’ve also told us they’ve rented one of the movies York talked about in the car,” he said. These things linger in your mind.

Point 2: Make gamers actively “want” to play through your meticulously scripted story.

Being forced to play through a tightly-bound storyline is a chore. “Those rails make the player feel like they’re being forced to do something. How do we alleviate that?” he asks. “How do you make them want to play through it?”

There are two pre-existing methods; multiple endings, and side quests. DP used a third method – freedom of timing – allowing for a “change of heart” from the player. They can stop whatever quest they’re on at any time, and take another path. It creates the illusion of freedom. “Once they’re comfortable, they’re more willing to get involved in the story,” he says.

In other games, including his previous game Spy Fiction, you get scolded for failure. In Deadly Premonition they wanted the main character, York, to go along with the player when he changes his mind. “That’s exactly what I was thinking,” is the feeling York gives the player when he or she goes off the rails of the story to pursue their own path. In fact, an important character within the story itself tells the player that timing is what’s important, not speed.

The goal is to earn the player’s cooperation with the story and suspension of disbelief. To do this, you’ve got to allow for a retry at any time, support the player’s actions 100%, and modify the story to allow for a player’s change of heart. Player feels empowered due to decision being allowed.

Point 3: Creating a storyline for a free-roaming open world game.

“We need to make a universe and characters in our game that are unique,” he says. Vague characters never stick in anyone’s mind.

When creating a storyline, it’s not uncommon that you’d figure out the map of the game world, and character details after the script for the main plot is complete. In DP they created the high level synopsis, then the map and character details, then made a 24 hour action table for each character’s daily life. Only then did they finalize the plot.

“The universe, the environment, and the characters are just as important as the storyline,” he says, especially for a free roaming open world game. “When we started making this game many years ago, there weren’t many games with free-roaming storylines that we could refer to,” said Suehiro, and this was the solution they came up with.

Point 4: Prevent players from quitting the game at the result screen.

Any game that prioritizes getting the player to finish the game over getting the player to want to learn more of the story is already dead. Every pause in a game, such as a results screen or chapter end, is a place a player might choose to quit.

“We inserted a glimpse of the next challenge before the results screen, making them want to know what happens next,” Suehiro said, though he did not address the idea of making a game where results screens and stages aren’t necessary, such as in larger open world games like the Fallout series.

Point 5: Make appealing characters.

“If you can’t remember any of the names of the characters, then that game is crappy,” said Suehiro. Note down everything you can possibly think of about a character, to really develop them so that they’ll stick in players’ minds. “You need to spend a lot of time to make deep characters,” he says. “It really helps to generate a resume for every character you make.”

He creates a mind map for each character, including habits, hobbies, the character’s first love, and so forth. Signature phrases and poses are also important, he says, because they’re easy for fans to recall. “It’s important that your fans can copy the poses and use the phrases,” he says. “You want your characters to have these elements that are copyable and mimic-able.”

“It could be a lot more natural though,” he said, acknowledging that his own poses and phrases for his main characters were a little extreme. The most important point is that the characters have good and bad points. “They say every rose has its thorn,” he says. York, for instance, is a good looking agent, but he’s an otaku and inconsiderate. Each character has a main overlying good quality, but some weaknesses built in.

“It takes courage as a game designer to add a bad side to your character,” he says. “Of course you want everyone to love your characters.” But putting flaws in them makes players actually identify with them more.

Point 6: Direct voice recording sessions.

Characters should speak in a memorable way. How did he voice direct without knowing English? He referred to music and thematic ideas when dealing with the actors. Agent York’s manner of speech is inspired by the Liverpool sound and the British Invasion. “I focused on the how of the lines being spoken,” he said, focusing on rhythm and “musically, how they work in the scene. You need to make sure you have your own set of rules when you go to a voice recording.”

Point 7: Use your ideas whenever and wherever you can.

“What’s most important are your ideas,” he says. You should use all your ideas while you can use them! Even if you feel people may not see everything you’ve put into the game, unnoticed ideas explode when they do get noticed, he says. “You should use your ideas when you can. Don’t hold on to them until a rainy day.” As an example, he showed the fact that the town of Greenvale where the game takes place, is actually an outline of the Dalmatian in the game.

In the end, Suehiro closed with the thought that that, “If I get the chance, I’d like to make another game that makes larger leaps for a world-wide audience.”

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Ronildson Palermo
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Loved the tips, some were dormant ideas in my mind, like the first and the second one. Some were completely new. Wish I could've watched that presentation.

marty howe
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Finally some good articles tricking in to this site from prominent industry pro's.

(would it have been too much trouble for Gamasutra to run a spell check before posting?)

Edward Green
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The wacky story themes, great characters and terrible action stage gameplay tend to be talked about a lot so I was very pleased to see the non-linear side of the game, its 'fluff' and its storytelling discussed here. I hope some other developers take the strengths of DP on board because there's a lot of great stuff in there.

Kamruz Moslemi
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Too bad the disastrous shift of strategy embraced by all big Japanese developer/publishers approximately five years ago has put their entire home console market in such shambles that the pure unique Japanese flavour in games such as was found in Deadly Premonition is becoming so rare. SWERY could have done great things had he had the proper financial backing, but at least he used what he had in the places that mattered. Sure the shooting portions were awkward, but if I wanted tight shooting then there are already dozens of titles that provide it every eyar, and I lost interest in those over a decade ago.

august clark
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With no irony whatsoever, I can say that Deadly Premonition was one of the best games of last year. It had a lot of issues, but it took so many chances in its style, with its subject matter, and on its characters, that you have to respect it for pushing some boundaries that a lot of the industry seems to have forgotten exist. In the parts that it shined, it shined like no other.

Kamruz Moslemi
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With a similar lack of irony it too was my favourite gaming experience of last year, right along Cave Story on Wiiware.

Daniel Martinez
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Forgive me, I have been living under a rock... what disastrous shift in strategy are you referring to?

Kamruz Moslemi
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I am doing a series on exactly that, here are the first two parts:

Daniel Martinez
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Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Ujn Hunter
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I wish I was at GDC to see Swery speak! I loved Deadly Premonition! Good stuff!

Robert Bevill
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I haven't played Deadly Premonition myself, but from what I've seen it looks like a great deal of care was put into its characters and its world. Shame the gameplay turned me off from wanting to actually try it out.

Leonardo Ferreira
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Wow, after so much time reading GDC articles, finally stumbled into something actually fascinating!

Alex K
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"revealed his seven tactics for creating a memorably story that will inspire a strong fan reaction."

I figured he was just going to mention 1 point: "I watched Twin Peaks". So says Mr. Stewart

I'm just poking fun, the game was good

Rodney Brett
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It was a great lecture! Awesome guy, too. My favorite part of the talk was at the end where he told us "I love you all" Then took pictures with everyone that wanted one and gave out cards/stickers. His studio reminded me of Suda51's Grasshopper Games. Real "out of the box" game company.