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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 3 of 3

These moments are arguably the heart of Deadly Premonition, the ones that work best to draw the player in and identify with York: cinema offers a common language, and even if you can't remember Douglas McKeown's 1983 horror The Deadly Spawn, York's humorous take on it will spur recognition in any player. By having York converse directly with the player throughout the game -- referring to them as "Zach" -- Suehiro places the player in a position that perhaps no game has before: the main character's best friend.

This leads to perhaps the game's key storytelling moment, when York is kidnapped and begins to realize -- and relate to the player as Zach -- his feelings for Emily, the Sherriff's deputy that has been helping him on the case.

"In life, there are things that are hard to say even to your best friend," said Suehiro. "Maybe if you go on a camping trip with them, before bed you might let slip something you wouldn't usually say. Having built up your relationship with York, I wanted a moment that would put you off-guard, and let his real thoughts be placed directly into your heart."

Such sentiment might seem corny, but reveals the careful ways in which Suehiro orchestrated Deadly Premonition's dramatic arc -- a massive achievement, considering the open world allows extensive opportunity for players to abuse the system.

But by placing the player in the role of Zach and keeping York in constant contact with them, he encourages the player to not just "play" but "play along."

"When I was creating the storyline, I was developing it with the intent that they player would hopefully feel they had matured a bit by playing the game; that some kind of growth had occurred. In a similar fashion then the main character also needed to have some change in their life: they would have to lose something dear to them," explained Suehiro. "York loses Emily, Zach loses York, and ultimately the player loses Greenvale. These losses linger with the player so that even when they are no longer playing the game, they still think about it."

It seems hard to believe that a game still largely defined in public discourse as "wacky" and "broken" could hold such power over the player, and Suehiro admits that when the title was released the reaction to it was crushing.

"The bad news came with the first review's low score. I felt really sad, and then someone uploaded footage of the final battle to mock it before the game was even released in Japan. Having those things happen in quick succession was a really low moment in my life," he said. "But with a few days, people who had enjoyed the game started to contact me and tell me how much it meant to them. It totally changed my mindset."

It's not that Suehiro doesn't see the game's awkwardness ("If I could do anything right now, I'd at least change the controls to make them more modern and alter the enemies to make them easier to beat," he reflects) but that they matter less to him than the overall experience of the title: that he successfully managed to create a "Swery game."

Indeed, his plans for the future concentrate on continuing to evolve the hallmarks of the "Swery game" as embodied by Deadly Premonition: a commitment to deep characterization to draw the player in.

"The thoughts I have right now are to create a game where even the secondary characters can be as fleshed out as the main character, so the player can take control of them at points and 'play off' the main character, increasing their understanding of them."

Such thoughts of a multi-character epic might bring Suehiro close to a work like David Cage's Heavy Rain (a title Suehiro would admit to only beginning to play, after this interview was performed, via his Twitter account) and it's interesting to consider what he'd be able to do with the kind of support Cage receives.

Released the very same day in North America, despite the obvious gulf in polish, Cage's work misuses the aspects of both interactivity and narrative that it seems Suehiro understands effortlessly, and yet is taken completely seriously by the same establishment that has ignored Deadly Premonition's depths. We can only hope that with the next "Swery game," Deadly Premonition's importance is more widely examined.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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