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The 'Swery Game': Hidetaka Suehiro on Deadly Premonition
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The 'Swery Game': Hidetaka Suehiro on Deadly Premonition

June 3, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

This importance stressed on a world that is "believable" is one of the reasons that the open world works differently from the currently established style of series such as Grand Theft Auto (though with Grand Theft Auto III making only a small splash in Japan, Suehiro admits there "wasn't much else to look at in terms of how other developers were doing it.")

Pairing the base framework of the story -- an FBI agent visiting a small town to solve a murder -- with the decision to create an open world, Suehiro stressed that the characters of the world were the shared key between the design and story.

"When we started thinking about the kind of open world we wanted to create, instead of going in the direction of creating the storyline and blocking things in, we started thinking about the characters in the town and what kind of lifestyle they were living out," he said.

Suehiro and his team went as far as planning the individual life of characters, their daily movements across the town, before beginning to flesh out the story, giving the world an unusual depth: the town of Greenvale has a small number of inhabitants, but most can be involved in York's story in some way -- and when they aren't, they continue to go about their business.

This also influenced the design of the game's side quests, almost all of which relate to the main story in some fashion.

"The game has a main line, a tree trunk, and as long as that main path is interesting, even the player who doesn't go along the branches is going to be satisfied," Suehiro said, "but I think it's also important that the branches are connected to the trunk; that they offer more perspective on what is going in the main path. They should trigger the desire for the players to consider what changed in their minds, how they look at what's going on. A lot of games have side quests that are just simple chores, that don't really add to the story, and we really wanted to avoid that."

In fact, Suehiro described that the team went as far as frequently exploring parts of the main plot that could be turned into side quests without breaking the central experience. "The side quest featuring Anna's dress is something that we took out of the main path," he said as an example.

This kind of design is part of the reason that -- although an open world -- Deadly Premonition is more successful at creating the feeling of an episodic experience than Alan Wake (released three months later after a similarly protracted development cycle.) The game is split into chapters, but within each the player is given the option to take the time to explore the town and experience side quests, which work within the context as subplots do within a television show -- something Suehiro had deeply considered.

"Definitely when we started the project there was the question, 'Do we want to make it movie-like, or do we want to make it feel like TV, episodic?' We opted to go for the latter; episodes with cliff-hangers at the end. That the player would want to see the next chapter was very important to the project."

Greenvale may be deep, but spatially it is also broad, with a map that requires minutes to cross even by the fastest vehicles. Considered irritating by many commentators -- the driving physics are unrefined -- Suehiro considered its vastness important to the game's stated aim of believability.

"When we started development it was a smaller town, more like a European village," he said. "But after I went to the U.S. for research [Suehiro took frequent trips to the Pacific Northwest during development for inspiration] I realized the roads are much wider; that you need to drive to get anywhere."

Adding this element led to a happy accident: observing that the lengthy drives were often boring, Suehiro added one of the most memorable features of the game: York's meandering discussions about cult film with player-surrogate Zach, which reference everything from Richard Donner's Ladyhawke to utterly forgotten fare such as Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.

"When I was in the U.S. to get reference material, I noticed whenever we were stuck in a long drive we were always talking… well, talking or eating something. So I thought if in the game people were going to have to use driving as a mechanism to get from point A to point B, it only made sense to add some conversation."

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